The other part is “celebrating the abundant life God wants us to enjoy,” says Williams. “In God’s presence, enough is abundance. Bread and cheese and a glass of wine with friends is abundance. A simple life with contentment is rich.” This, says Williams, is what God reminds us of in the eucharist, which unfortunately “we have spiritualized to such an extent that it is divorced from real life.”
4. Practise jubilee
The biblical concept of jubilee, says Williams, is about deliverance, freeing people from mistakes of the past and giving them a new start. Practically, this might mean the church paying off debts for people who are unable to pay them on their own. This would have to be done “with wisdom and care,” he adds, so it does not encourage people to incur more debt.
There is a longstanding “church tradition against debt,” notes Williams. We need to help those in need and “if we have no spare money for that (because we are in debt), we need to confess and repent, for Scripture tells us over and over not to be indebted in that way.”
5. Practise hospitality
Another key thing for Christians to do, says Williams, is to practise hospitality. This means being generous to the poor, to the newly jobless, the newly homeless. It also means changing “the way we live together and care for each other.”
“We need to recover the communal corporate expression of the church,” he adds. “A lot of church life is still very individualistic. We are very reluctant to genuinely sacrifice some of our independence and autonomy for the sake of the community.”
Hennings says he is concerned that “funding for relief and development work will tighten up.” When “institutional funding” for charities — money from governments and businesses — is declining, it will be important for Christians and churches to increase their giving, he adds.
Churches should be helping people, says Jackson, but “one of the areas where the church has gotten off track is that we have been spending way too much money inside the walls of the church.” Often churches have left the work of evangelism, caring for the poor and protecting unborn babies to parachurch organizations.
6. Spend prudently
Christians and churches should be prudent and not go into debt, says John Boersema, a business professor at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario. But if they have the money, now would be a good time to spend it because everyone “cutting back now is going to exacerbate the problem.”
In fact, he adds, Christians may be freer to spend now than other people. “If your identity is tied to wealth, you are more likely to panic than if you say God will take care of me.”
Christians can contribute by bringing a different perspective and “not panicking as much as those with a bigger investment in the system,” says Hennings. The church needs to “make the broader values — prudence, thrift, communal care — part of the conversation.”
Several of the experts, on all sides of the economic questions, say the church should be praying. There are no simple solutions, says Boersema, so one of the most important things Christians need to do is to pray.
8. Preach the gospel
Some good may come out of the economic crisis if it leads people to pay more attention to God and the Bible, says Jackson. “It is much easier to enter the Kingdom poor than rich.”
We are at “one of the periodic turning points in history that force us to reconsider deeply what we are doing,” adds Beukes. The economic crisis “could lead to a resurgence of Christian faith,” but the focus should be on “living right in this world, in the way we deal with the poor and the environment.”
The recession is “an opportunity for churches to engage people” in conversations about ultimate values, says Hennings, and Christians “need to be ready for that conversation. What can we offer in terms of hope and meaning?”
“God works in mysterious ways,” adds Boersema. “We hope people will look to God (in hard economic times), but I can’t say we have statistics to say they do.”
The recession is “an opportunity for the church to impact society,” Williams said, “but we have to live it out, to embody it before we can talk about it. The surrounding culture doesn’t know what to do and is desperate to see something authentic. When people look at the church, they should see a foretaste of heaven in the way we live together as a community.”
Read Part 1 of this series.