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Confession of Faith - Article 21:
Christian Stewardship

   

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We believe that everything belongs to God, who calls us as the church to live as faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to us.

As servants of God, our primary vocation is to be stewards in God's household.1 God, who in Christ has given us new life, has also given us spiritual gifts to use for the church's nurture and mission.2 The message of reconciliation has been entrusted to every believer, so that through the church the mystery of the gospel might be made known to the world.3

We believe that time also belongs to God and that we are to use with care the time of which we are stewards.4 Yet, from earliest days, the people of God have been called to observe special periods of rest and worship. In the Old Testament, the seventh day was holy because it was the day God rested from the work of creation.5 The Sabbath was also holy because of God's deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery.6 Through Jesus, all time is holy, set apart for God and intended to be used for salvation, healing, and justice.7 In the present time, the church celebrates a day of holy rest, commonly the first day of the week, and is called to live according to Sabbath justice at all times.

We acknowledge that God as Creator is owner of all things. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath year and the Jubilee year were practical expressions of the belief that the land is God's and the people of Israel belong to God.8 Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, announced the year of the Lord's favor, often identified with Jubilee. Through Jesus, the poor heard good news, captives were released, the blind saw, and the oppressed went free.9 The first church in Jerusalem put Jubilee into practice by preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and sharing possessions. Other early churches shared financially with those in need.10

As stewards of God's earth, we are called to care for the earth and to bring rest and renewal to the land and everything that lives on it.11 As stewards of money and possessions, we are to live simply, practice mutual aid within the church, uphold economic justice, and give generously and cheerfully.12 As persons dependent on God's providence, we are not to be anxious about the necessities of life, but to seek first the kingdom of God.13 We cannot be true servants of God and let our lives be ruled by desire for wealth.

We are called to be stewards in the household of God, set apart for the service of God. We live out now the rest and justice which God has promised.14 The church does this while looking forward to the coming of our Master and the restoration of all things in the new heaven and new earth.

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Commentary

  1. The word stewardship in the New Testament is used primarily in connection with stewardship of the gospel. But in the broader sense, stewardship is related to the idea of God as head of the household, in which Christians are God's servants or managers or sons and daughters entrusted with responsibility. First-century households acted as economic units and often included people not biologically related. Thus, the term stewardship has come to refer to our responsibility both for sharing the gospel and for managing time, material things, and money.

  2. Our tradition of simple living is rooted not in frugality for its own sake, but in dependence on God, the owner of everything, for our material needs. We depend on God's gracious gifts for food and clothing, for our salvation, and for life itself. We do not need to hold on tightly to money and possessions, but can share what God has given us. The practice of mutual aid is a part of sharing God's gifts so that no one in the family of faith will be without the necessities of life. Whether through community of goods or other forms of financial sharing, mutual aid continues the practice of Israel in giving special care to widows, orphans, aliens, and others in economic need (Deuteronomy 24:17-22). Tithes and first-fruit offerings were also a part of this economic sharing (Deuteronomy 26; compare Matthew 23:23).

  3. Economic justice is an integral part of the Sabbath cycle. The Sabbath year, like the Sabbath day, brought rest and freedom for the land and for laborers. The seven-times-seventh year or the fiftieth year, the year of Jubilee, also brought justice and mercy by the return of family land, release of debts, and freedom for bound laborers (Leviticus 25). The effect of the Sabbath-Jubilee laws was a return to relative economic equality every fifty years. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). In the age to come, the saints will have the economic necessities (Revelation 7:15-17). We are to seek first the reign of God and to cease from consumerism, unchecked competition, overburdened productivity, greed, and possessiveness.

  4. Not only was the Sabbath observed in Old Testament times; there is evidence that the sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee were also observed. Jubilee law appears in Leviticus 25; Leviticus 27:16-25; and Numbers 36:4. Other references to sabbatical or Jubilee years occur in Deuteronomy 31:10; 2 Chronicles 36:21; Isaiah 37:30; 61:1-2; Jeremiah 34:8-22; and Ezekiel 46:17. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus refers to a time when the Jews in Palestine went hungry because of a sabbatical or Jubilee year, when the land lay fallow. The Roman government exempted Judea from tribute during the seventh year. The practice of the Jerusalem church and the continued financial sharing of Christian congregations is evidence that the economic aspects of Jubilee continued to be practiced and adapted to urban settings.

  5. The theology of stewardship makes us aware not only of care for human beings, but of care for the rest of creation. Animals and fields benefited from the Sabbath and the sabbatical year. An observance of Sabbath-Jubilee calls us to take care of and preserve the earth. We are to commit ourselves to right use of the earth's resources as a way of living now according to the model of the new heaven and the new earth.

Visit the More-with-Less and stewardship sections of MennoLink Books.

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Scripture references

  1. Luke 12:35-48; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2.
  2. Peter 4:10-11; Titus 1:7; 2:5.
  3. Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 3:1-10.
  4. Psalms 31:15; Ephesians 5:15-16; Colossians 4:5.
  5. Exodus 20:8-11.
  6. Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
  7. Mark 2:27-28.
  8. Leviticus 25:23, 42, 55.
  9. Luke 4:16-21.
  10. Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15.
  11. Psalms 24:1; Genesis 1:26-28.
  12. Phillipians 4:11-12; 2 Corinthians 8:13-14; James 5:4; 2 Corinthians 9:7.
  13. Matthew 6:24-33.
  14. Matthew 11:28-29; Revelation 7:15-17.