Question:

I have read the following writing by John Woolman, which touches my heart:

Friends in early times refused on a religious principle to make or trade in superfluities, of which we have many testimonies on record; but for want of faithfulness, some, whose examples were of note in our Society, gave way, from which others took more liberty. Members of our Society worked in superfluities, and bought and sold them, and thus dimness of sight came over many; at length Friends got into the use of some superfluities in dress and in the furniture of their houses, which hath spread from less to more, till superfluity of some kinds is common among us.

In this declining state many look at the example of others and too much neglect the pure feeling of truth. Of late years a deep exercise hath attended my mind, that Friends may dig deep, may carefully cast forth the loose matter and get down to the rock, the sure foundation, and there hearken to that Divine voice which gives a clear and certain sound; and I have felt in that which doth not receive, that if Friends who have known the truth keep in that tenderness of heart where all views of outward gain are given up, and their trust is only in the Lord, he will graciously lead some to be patterns of deep self-denial in things relating to trade and handicraft labor; and others who have plenty of the treasures of this world will be examples of a plain frugal life, and pay wages to such as they may hire more liberally than is now customary in some places.

I believe God has taught us frugality in Proverbs 21:17, and some other verses.

However, from what I have observed, my congregation seems to be contrary to God's teaching on frugality:

  1. When we gather together to worship, or have a Bible class or a Bible class, the air-conditioners are almost always on, consuming much energy. I believe we can still worship God in spirit and in truth without using any superfluities such as an air-conditioner.
  2. The minister of our congregation, who is a full time worker for the congregation, usually dresses himself very nicely with expensive clothes, drives a good car, stays in a large and well decorated apartment, and has dinner with his guests in expensive restaurants. As he is a full time worker for the Lord, I believe that he is setting a bad example by the way how he spend the money from God. Actually, from how he lives his life, I believe he is earning more than he deserve as a full time servant of the LORD.

In this case, shall I talk to the minister about this problem, or should I simply leave and find another congregation that follows the teaching of God as closely as possible?


Answer:

"He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not be rich" (Proverbs 21:17).

Frugality is making wise judgments in avoiding waste. It should not be confused with being miserly, which means being cheap or stingy. A frugal person replaces his incandescent bulbs with florescent bulbs because they save money over the course of time. A miserly person takes out all the bulbs in a room but one and says that no more is needed.

Proverbs 21:17 points out that the pursuit of luxurious living will impact the pocketbook. I might like the taste of steaks and lobsters, but having expensive meals regularly will impoverish me. But it is wrong to assume the correct answer is to go to the other extreme and declare that I am able to survive on oatmeal for every meal, so it is sinful to by a hamburger.

"Do not eat the bread of a miser, nor desire his delicacies; for as he thinks in his heart, so is he. "Eat and drink!" he says to you, but his heart is not with you. The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up, and waste your pleasant words" (Proverbs 23:6-8).

"There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun: Riches kept for their owner to his hurt" (Ecclesiastes 5:13).

Can we survive without air conditioning? Certainly our ancestors did. But we overlook the fact that they were often miserable because of the weather. Not long ago I spent a week in Texas. The temperatures ran between 106 and 113°F for highs. The lows were in the upper 80's to 90's. I'm sure church services could have been held in such heat. Perhaps by moving the time to the early morning hours and shortening the services. Even then many of the elderly and very young probably would not have been able to come for fear that the heat would make them ill.

"There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty" (Proverbs 11:24).

"He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor" (Proverbs 22:9).

Now, I will admit that the church here has air conditioning. Our weather here can be extreme. Years ago, when our old system failed, we replaced it with a high efficiency model that dropped our utility bill to 1/4 of what it used to be. That was frugality at work. But you see, the church sees our class and worship times as an opportunity to invite others in. As our guest we try to make their visit comfortable. We don't want things distracting from the purpose of our gatherings. But during the off-hours when I'm the only one in the building, I set the heat very low in the winter and only heat my office when I am here. During the summer, I set the air-conditioning temperature very high. Since my office is in the basement it is tolerable to me and I dress lightly. I'm being frugal, and not impacting anyone else with my choices.

I have several friends who choose not to run air conditioning at their homes, though air conditioning is common in the region. That is their choice about how they want to live and where they want to spend their money. It doesn't impact anyone else.

A better question is to ask yourself what do the homes and places of business in your area do? Are you extending the comforts that most enjoy and come to expect? Or are you asking for sacrifices from people to simply to save money?

In the parable of the vineyard workers, complaints arose when the master chose to overpay workers who worked few hours. The question put is a telling one: "Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?" (Matthew 20:15). You do not judge a person as to whether he is paid adequately or not by how he chooses to spend his money. I generally suggest that a preacher should be paid roughly the same as a school teacher with similar experience is paid in that particular area. If a congregation chooses to be a bit more generous to one who is serving the Lord and pay a bit more, then that is the congregation's choice. If a congregation is small and can't afford to support a preacher fully, such as the case here in La Vista, then the preacher may be helped by other congregations that know him or he may work a second job.

Remember the woman who anointed Jesus? "But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, "Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor." And they criticized her sharply. But Jesus said, "Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me"" (Mark 14:5-6). Should she have used something cheaper? Should she have spent her money differently? I think not. It was wrong of the disciples to decide for another person what she should or should not do with the money she had earned. Because of this, they lost sight of her generosity and her love for the Lord.

I have no idea what your preacher is being paid, but you can always look at the congregation's budget and check the area job market to see if what is being paid is reasonable by comparing it to comparable salaries.

Thank you so much for your detailed answer. I learned a lot by reading it. I really appriciate that you answer questions with great patience. May God bless you.