When Organizations Become Empty Wombs & Dry Earth
A slogan I have heard, particularly in the business world, goes something to the effect that if you are not growing, you are shrinking—if you are not moving ahead, you are falling behind. Considered in absolute terms there is one sense in which this is true and another in which it is not.
The former relates to the grace of God which has been visited in Christ upon all men: If we do not respond to this as a plant that receives them responds to the ministrations of soil, sun, moisture, and all that is given it to live and come into its full fruit, then we have thwarted the just expectations of our Maker and our “end is to be burned.” This is the case whether one describes it in terms of sanctification, justification, or deification: The intended end of all is the same.
I recently received some junk mail, however, that caused me to consider the sense in which it is not true. It was from an immensely wealthy Christian organization whose activities over the last twenty or thirty years make me suspect it operates on the principle of indeterminate growth, the result of which is that it apparently has far too much money. It spends vast sums on projects and properties that seem to me at best indirectly related to the mission for which it still has a name and still takes contributions—having come upon and exploited what is perhaps the richest of all eleemosynary veins: its contributors’ guilt for not doing the duty which they pay this organization to perform.
I wonder whether such organizations are capable of seeing the danger of becoming like the empty womb, the dry earth, the grave, and the fire of Proverbs 30, which can never say, “Enough.” This means not recognizing the hubris in thinking, “God needs us,” or the desolation awaiting those who join house to house and field to field, or even the mere temptations of wealth and power (which tend to creep up gradually on the well-meaning).
There must be a place where sober reflection on the mission of the organization would bring it to the place of understanding which every active believer must eventually face in contemplating death: that we are well engaged in doing what we were called to do, that we are receiving enough to do it, and (even) that it is time to give over the work to others, and so increase by decreasing—eminently Christian ideas all, which I have never seen any of these Advertising Christian Organizations risk considering. (There seems to me an unrecognized but nevertheless bottomless chasm between an offering and a contribution.)
Allow me to observe that the only body of this kind upon which the Mandate of Heaven rests is the Church herself. All of her offspring must submit to, and make intelligent provision for, decline and death.
I don’t think of Touchstone as at this point, but do think such organizations would be wise to think of themselves as “mortal,” even when—perhaps especially when—they are doing well. The largest part of mortality in these enterprises involves spiritual failure, which can take several forms. Everyone has encountered the stench of living death in “Christian” institutions from which “the glory has departed.”
To be sure, we are always called upon to improve ourselves and our work, for it is this in which the confidence of our election is to be sought. Only a lean body can be truly healthy, though, and this is a body that has learned to know its calling, to be satisfied with the competence required for its labors, and to say, in a way proper to its original constitution, “Enough,” at the proper time.
— S. M. Hutchens, for the editors
S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor and the book review editor of Touchstone.
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