Follow Up: The Judas Argument

A few weeks back I wrote a blog called “Professional Christians (and Other Oxymorons).” In short, I shared my distaste of paid salaries and wasteful spending—in my opinion, one in the same—in the modern church.

I’ve also since written a response to the responses of that post called, “A Thick Skinned Grin: My Reply to Your Response.”

As promised, I wanted to write a follow-up to a specific comment that came in. Anna from http://cannopener.wordpress.com/ (an awesome blog) wrote a comment on “Professional Christians…”, regarding what I deemed unnecessary and poor spending, that has since stuck with me.

Just a little question. Wasn’t it Judas who said “this [expensive perfume poured out in worship of Jesus] should have been sold and the money given to the poor”?

JudASS

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across this argument. The church spends a $1000 on a new drum cage; I say the money should be spent on more substantial purposes like the poor or sex-trafficking awareness (or maybe even… I don’t know… drum lessons so the drummers can learn volume control, a basic skill most educated drummers have).

What happens? Someone always says, “What about Judas and the perfume?” And another, “Remember when Jesus said, ‘the poor will always be with you’?” For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, go read the Gospels. I believe this story is mentioned, oddly enough, in each Gospel account.

In the story, a woman, Mary, anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. As Jesus points out, she is preparing him for burial and doing “a beautiful thing,” despite the grumblings of Judas and maybe other disciples.

This act is definitely a beautiful thing, and one of the most sentimental in all of scripture.

But here’s the deal: we can’t excuse the church’s poor spending habits by taking Jesus stories out of context, the perfume story especially.

My Quick Three-Point Rebuttal

1. Not every Jesus story can, or should, be flipped and turned to fit our modern times to solve our modern problems. The perfume story, I believe, falls into this category (this statement, of course, is worth arguing in better detail). To me, the perfume story speaks of the disciples’ sadness and confusion, as well as the humanity of Jesus, NOT an open door to spend money as we please. Jesus was to soon be tortured, executed, and buried. At that moment in time there was no better use of that or any perfume.

2. The Gospel of John states that Judas desired the money for himself because he was a thief. This was hardly my intention.

3. Jesus is not here any more. Not in the flesh, at least. Spending money on giant buildings with top notch gear and a full salaried staff (flying to conferences) is NOT synonymous with pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet. Our consumerism driven church is often wasteful and greedy—in light of the troubles of the world—and represents Mammon more than Christ.

mary-and-jesus-feet

This is my rebuttal. It may need some tweaking. I’m leaving soon for a cross-country road trip to Upstate New York, and I thought it’d be best to respond before this issue got too far away from me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter! What’s your take on the perfume story? Does it excuse all church spending?

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24 comments

  1. I just find this whole blog and line of thought refreshing, and I like the points you bring up here (especially about sound control…though I attend a church who still thinks 90’s maranatha songs are…contemporary…ha!).

  2. I find when I get into the mode of “everybody else has the problem” it’s usually me.
    As far as spending – I don’t know. I look at what I spend money on and is it any different? Perhaps, I need to change first.

  3. Kevin, you are spot on in your critique of wasteful spending in the typical American church.

    To provide a positive alternative, look to conservative Mennonites (the branch I know best is called “Eastern Pennsylvania”) They have scheduled weekly designated offerings for particular causes. The typical rotation is: Global Mission, Emergency Relief, Church School, and Local Needs . Giving varies depending on needs, but I venture to say well over 50% supports extraordinary health care expenses and maybe 25% supports Christian education. They worship in buildings member built themselves. Ministers, who work a whole lot harder than I ever did, receive a stipend of maybe $1,000/year.

    This is an ideal model, I agree. But Ed’s point is well taken. The typical American Christian “donates” less than 2% of his income to the church. The church certainly wastes this 2% and maybe if it didn’t, it would get more. But the larger question is, what is the average Christian doing with the other 98% of God’s money entrusted to him?

    Great topic. Keep up the good work.

    1. Tony, thanks for the comment. The Mennonite format sounds great! I think, if the Open-Mic church ever got off the ground, I would envision an offering/tithing routine such as that.

      I guess I see what Ed is saying. It’s easy to judge the church without looking at ourselves first. At the same time, that’s no excuse for an organization to continually spend—in my humble opinion—poorly.

      YES, it’s up to us to individually spend wisely. But whose responsibility is it to speak up for the church when we see her acting irresponsibly?

      Do I just drop it and hope they get the memo? Isn’t this what church (and fellowship) is all about?

      1. You are absolutely right to prophetically point to the typical American church’s wasteful spending. By all means, keep it up.

        And, if you want to strengthen your critique, do what I call “confessional confrontation.” Point out how, in your life you have spent money on yourself rather than on God’s kingdom priorities and challenge others to prayerfully join you in changing.

  4. I’ve been mulling this over a lot since Professional Christians. My pastor was a professor at a big college around here but left that to pursue ministry full time. He has a PhD, I feel like he should generally get paid what he is worth in society. Being a pastor is a full time job, why not get a full time salary? Sure, some prolly make waaaaay to much but at the same time, they are being rewarded for their services to those in the kingdom. Also as far as nice churches with great sound systems, I feel like unfortunately, the majority of people in this country wouldn’t step foot in a shack like other countries have. We have a beautiful new church, we are still paying for it, but we have tons of outreach, missions, community aid, etc. But you still gotta keep the lights on and fit the amount of people we have.

    1. Hey, thanks for adding to the conversation. Excuse my absence (I’ve been on a road trip). I totally understand your point. My only counter to your wonderful comment is that “being a pastor” wouldn’t be a full-time job if everyone did the work.

  5. I absolutely agree that the story of the perfume poured on Jesus’ feet has nothing to do with churches decide to spend their money. That’s one of the most out of context things I’ve heard. I confess to needing to get better with my personal finances, but I have a tendency to give to other organizations than the church because I trust that they are doing more with my money.

  6. I think Judas did not really care about the perfume. He just had to say something negative about whatever he could find at the time. This is because Judas started noticing that the High Priests were becoming very jealous of the attention that Jesus was getting. Therefore, it made Judas nervous about Jesus, and all of the disciples getting into serious trouble. Back then, when someone pissed off the High Priest, it was not just minor jail time, but it was more like being crucified on a cross or other severe punishment. So, that is when Judas started becoming distant from the new testament gang in fear for his own live. He did not understand that Jesus would die, and then come back to life. Because of Judas’s misunderstanding and lack of faith, he chose to disagree with all the things that they were doing including the betrayal of Jesus. So,the expensive perfume story was just one example of Judas’s actions of not wanting to look like he is fitting in with the gang. I’m glad you and Megan got to watch Jesus Christ Super Star with me. That is an awesome movie that show that story well.

  7. ok, so you knew that I’d have to comment on this, right?
    First up- the link to the Judas argument etc- way out of context and shouldn’t be used to justify spending on buildings/salaries/drum cages etc. Good stewardship of the things we’ve received, allowing the oxen to feed while they work, supporting those who’ve shared the gospel with you… those passages can all be used to support some expenditure, but never when it comes as a higher priority than care for others.
    We’re in a bind at the mo- our building is falling apart. Quite literally… the floor, the window and the roof. Do we let it fall apart or spend money on repairs? Do we blame those before us who didn’t do the work or take up the responsibility ourselves? The bigger question for me is ‘WHY do we need this building?’. In our context it serves as a landmark and is the biggest public building in the immediate community. Its used for toddler groups, dance classes, elections etc… so its pretty handy. But people are still homeless and starving, both locally and globally. hmm.

    Ed’s comment a few back has some weight to it- what am i spending my money on? Do I take my wage from the church and spend it all on consumer electronics and top clothing? Or do I give it all away and then have to borrow someone’s laptop and wear the same shirt to all my meetings? There’s a middle ground that we need to hold, one which challenges others but also invites them to join us- if I want to model an alternative lifestyle to folks, it needs to have enough similarity to their own that they can conceive of making the change… so for many its a case of talking about priorities and percentages- could you live on 5% less than today? then give it away. Why? because you want to change the world…

    Sorry this is a huge comment!
    shalom.

    1. Andy, thank you for your wonderful comment. I wanted to respond sooner but I’ve been on the road, moving cross country! I don’t mind your “huge” comments at all, as they are always worth the read. I’d love to have you guest blog sometime. Maybe a post about the finding a connection, or middle ground, between believers on the outside and those on the inside of church? Grab my email off my “About Me” page if you’re interested.

  8. It is an insult to an honest question if someone brings up Judas as an example, mainly because they are drawing a similarity between the person asking the question and Judas. To me, the underlying message then is: “Your comments/questions/motives can’t be trusted, you are like Judas.” Which is basically an attempt to silence the one asking the question.

    Yes, we should look at ourselves and our own spending, but this does not give the Institutional Church a “pass”, nor does it mean we should look the other way because it’s members may or may not be spending correctly.

    From the view I have, the institution aka the church (little “t”, little “c”) wants to be the main representative image of The Church (The Body) and Jesus. It is precisely because of this that its members SHOULD ask questions and attempt to curb useless/wasteful spending.

    My .02 on the matter for now.

    Keep up the good work, man!

  9. Reblogged this on Life In The Question Marks and commented:
    Great article and very thought provoking.
    “Spending money on giant buildings with top notch gear and a full salaried staff (flying to conferences) is NOT synonymous with pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet. Our consumerism driven church is often wasteful and greedy—in light of the troubles of the world—and represents Mammon more than Christ.”

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