There are a number of our Lord’s teaching stories that have to do, I believe, not only with individuals, but institutions. One is that of the prosperous farmer who thinks his success relieves him of the tiresome necessity of doing business with God. He decides to pull down his barns and build bigger ones to store his accumulated wealth, henceforth doing what he pleases. Another is that of the unjust steward who, when told that he is about to be discharged, calls the master’s debtors and strikes bargains with them, radically reducing their accounts so that when he is put out on the street they will owe him favors, thus assuring his survival.
The first story applies to a good many institutions with endowments, not because endowment as a form of stored wealth for continued operation in lean times is evil, but because as a matter of fact they often stand in the collective mind of the enterprise as protection against the direct action of a God who might otherwise tell it, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee!”
The second represents the mind of churches, schools, and other Christian agencies that are losing their grip on the faith they once guarded and advanced. For them, dealing with the Master’s debtors usually takes the form of becoming partisans of the Nice God, the God of Greatly Reduced Accounts, whose religion is nowhere as stark, bloody, and demanding as that of one’s less enlightened ancestors. These institutions are kept alive by those who appreciate this form of religion, since they have a strong personal interest in having it called “Christianity,” at least for a generation or two.
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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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