The North American Church and Global Stewardship

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“Remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.” With these words, Uncle Ben counsels Peter Parker, aka Spiderman, on how to deal with his newfound superhuman strength. These words imply a sense of stewardship, of a duty to use our abilities, powers, and knowledge for the common good.

This idea of stewardship is a recurring biblical theme, and one that Jesus summarized best when he said: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48 NIV). This applies especially to Jesus’ church, which has been given the gift of salvation and tasked with proclaiming the good news.

But how exactly do we do that in a contemporary context? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian whose hundredth birthday we celebrated in February, once wondered, “How we are to live as Christians today?” In the context of the church in North America, the answer to this question is increasingly becoming one of stewardship.

Christians in the United States and Canada live in societies that rank among the richest in the history of human civilization. According to the World Bank, in 2004 the United States ranked third in Gross National Income per capita (according to Purchasing Power Parity) and Canada ranked sixteenth. Outgoing Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has said that Americans have “the most extraordinarily successful economy in history.”

To a large extent Christians have been a part of the success of the North American economies. And with those material blessings comes the corresponding responsibility to use them for the advancement of the Gospel. Paul implores Christians, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10 NIV).

One such Canadian group that has taken this biblical responsibility to heart is Fraser Valley Christian High School in Surrey, British Columbia. The school has launched a capital campaign to raise funds for their new and renovated building. But instead of merely looking at the costs of their own facilities, Fraser Valley has looked beyond the borders of their own neighborhood and region.

As part of the capital campaign, Fraser Valley has partnered with Christian Extension Services to raise several hundred thousand dollars to build and maintain a Christian school in the African nation of Sierra Leone. The need in Sierra Leone is great indeed, as the nation consistently ranks among the poorest in the world, despite rich natural resources, including diamonds. When a brutal civil war ended in 2002, there were more than 2 million refugees in the tiny nation.

The students of Fraser Valley have undertaken the first portion of the fundraising and are working to come up with $25,000 to fund the initial school building project, according to principal Dennis DeGroot. He visited Sierra Leone firsthand in May of 2005 and returned to share his experiences with the school.

“People are very excited in our community about the possibilities,” he says. “In fact it is easier to generate excitement about the African project than our own.”

According to the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), Christian Extension Services is a national non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Sierra Leone, established by the CRWRC and Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) in the early 1980s. In addition to education projects like the one undertaken by Fraser Valley Christian High School, Christian Extension Services works on various agricultural and community development projects, including enterprise development for women through microbusiness endeavors.

The Fraser Valley vision is part of a broader trend among Christian youth in North America. Christianity Today reported on an effort late last year by Lauren Tomasik, a senior at Wheaton Academy in Illinois, to raise $75,000 among her classmates to build an HIV/AIDS clinic in Zambia.

There is no lack of economic need around the world, as any justice or mission group will tell you. And North American Christians, to a staggering degree, have the ability to provide for the material needs of Christians abroad. Efforts like those of Fraser Valley Christian High School are representative of authentic acceptance of the true “catholicity,” or universality, of the Christian church. The Christian church extends beyond every national and ethnic border.

All this is done in recognition of the communion of saints, and as the Westminster Confession of Faith states, Christians are bound to relieve “each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.”

This article originally appeared on Wednesday, March 22, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor is associate editor with the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich.