As the United Kingdom tightens its belt following the emergency budget, Christians there are being challenged to live generously, invest in their communities and give society a taste of the kingdom of God.
Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a series of measures in his budget recently, which will hit everybody’s income as the British government seeks to reduce its national $234.7 billion deficit.
Combining tax increases, welfare cuts and a shrinking of government departments by 25 percent, Osborne’s package of announcements was quickly dubbed “the austerity budget.”
Yet this environment creates a unique opportunity for the church, according to prominent voices in the Christian community.
Through their examples and actions, Christians can encourage different values, make a practical difference through improved money management and step in when services are cut, The Baptist Times has been told.
Rev. Roy Searle, former president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and leader of the Northumbria Community, believes the current situation is “a summons for the church to live generously and embrace simplicity.”
“We have an opportunity to show that we have different values and to really critique consumerism. What do we build our lives on? Where do we put our trust?” he said. “If we have to live without some of our material possessions, then maybe we can discover what life has to offer and focus more relationships and on eternal values.”
Citing the Acts 2 verse on common ownership, Searle challenged the church to look at a genuine redistribution of wealth. “Don’t invest in buildings; invest in people. How many churches think about redistributing wealth across their congregations?”
He added that with the government likely to make service cutbacks, the church should be looking at stepping in. “Who is going to look after our youngsters on the streets? Who is going to reach out to those living with depression? We have an opportunity to say ‘We are doing this because we care for you, not because we can afford to care for you.’ If the church and the Christian community [are] characterized by generosity, then that is a sign of the Kingdom of God.”
The theme of generosity was picked up by Steve Pierce, head of content at Stewardship. Christians “do and should have” a different set of values when it comes to money, he told The Baptist Times.
“In global terms we are still fabulously wealthy – and it is important as Christians we sustain giving. We have a biblical mandate to. Look at the book of Haggai; God commanded his people to build a temple in a time of austerity. There is a danger that we unwittingly retreat to a defensive mode at a time like this.”
In financially tough times, it is even more imperative to be in control of your money, and this is where churches can make a practical difference in their communities, Pierce said.
“Money is something Christians can use to reach out in local communities, from debt advice centers to financial management courses. For example, a budget is a fundamental tool to finding financial freedom,” Pierce said. “There are lots of resources out there for the church, not just from ourselves but Christians Against Poverty, Credit Action and others that churches can draw on to make a difference.”
But while it is important to budget and spend wisely, Pierce said Christians should never stop campaigning for the poor.
“Christians across the spectrum will have different views on the politics behind the budget,” he said. “But we still need to ask questions, we shouldn’t just accept the status quo. If wealthy people are getting their wealth in ways that are less than moral, while some people are poor, is this the fairest way of distributing taxation? We still need to ask those questions.”
The Evangelical Alliance has challenged people to live on less through its Simplify campaign. The fallout from the emergency budget means this is a reality for many, according to parliamentary officer Daniel Webster.
“If we are able to afford luxuries, it can be quite a shock when we take stock and realize how much we spend on items that give us immediate enjoyment but don’t enrich our lives – something those of us who lived simply for a month as part of our Simplify campaign discovered,” Webster said.
“It’s often the poorest who are hit hardest when cuts come. As the cuts start to bite, maybe we can cut back on what we can live without and instead give to those who need it most.”
This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.