Economy: The Ephesus Syndrome

Circa AD 50-

…Serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with … a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. He called the craftsmen together, along with others employed in related trades, and addressed them as follows:

“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. As you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t gods at all. And this is happening not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis–this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world–will be robbed of her prestige!”

At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” A crowd began to gather, and soon the city was filled with confusion.

~The Acts of the Early Church, Chapter 19.

I’ve been interested in this event in the history of our people, the followers of what was then called “The Way.” At first glance, I merely assumed that the message that the Apostle, Paul, preached was so radical that it stirred up some social and religious dust. But upon taking another look, I have to wonder if there wasn’t more to it. These were business people that got their togas in a bundle. You have to wonder if there is something about faith touching economics that causes a reaction. Apparently, the earlier Christ-followers weren’t content to just go to meetings and blend in with the cultural flow of Ephesus, but they actually put their money where their faith was, which meant that they weren’t spending it on worshiping Artemis.

OK, there is a religious component to the story. Artemis, after all, was a pagan deity. Still, the faith of the Christ-followers had made its way into their practice. They were true believers, that is, their intellectual assent gave impetus to their daily practice, including where they spent their money. That is what caused the uproar: faith followed by consistent practice-ideas with feet.

I have often despaired that the community between the worlds doesn’t seem to have much influence on the world we live in. Perhaps it is because we aren’t being careful enough to adopt the standards of our new citizenship. The uproar in Ephesus suggests that when we do regard the standards of the coming kingdom as more relevant to us as Christ-followers than the standards of the world, stuff happens. It’s not that our goal is to get people to notice, but that when we live as outworlders, they do notice because…well, they just do.

When that happens, we shouldn’t be surprised that the “in-worlders” start taking exception to the “out-worlders.” Moreover, it doesn’t matter. The call to life between the worlds requires intentionality and consistency irrespective of the culture. Our choices shouldn’t be made because we want to be like the culture, or because we want to make a statement against it. Our choices should be made because we want to be consistent in living our lives as followers of Jesus and nothing beyond that matters.

Regarding economic consistency with Christ’s message, I happened to hear about a group of people in San Francisco who call what they are doing, “The Compact.” Here’s a piece of an article about them:

A small group of Bay Area residents who made an informal vow to not buy anything new in 2006 have found themselves in the middle of an international fury over consumerism, ecology and middle-class hypocrisy that has spread around the world in just days.

It’s been totally insane. We’ve had a lot of people say we’re smug, self-congratulatory braggarts,” John Perry, one of the founders of the original Compact group, said today. He has spent much of the week fielding calls from national TV and radio stations.

“And we’ve had other people say it gives them hope for the future. It has definitely touched a nerve,” he said. “We’ve been staggered by the response.”

The Compact, named after the Mayflower pilgrims’ revolutionary credo, started at a dinner party two years ago as a way to fight what members consider a rampant consumer culture wreaking global ecological havoc.

~San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, February 16, 2006. By Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer

I don’t believe these folks are doing this because of their commitment to follow Jesus. If they are, I haven’t heard them say so. But I include this article because they are doing something that surely is consistent with what Jesus taught:

  • Take no thought to what you will eat, what you wear…
  • Take no provisions for your journey…
  • The parable of the rich man who built his barns to store wealth…
  • Jesus warned of greed because life doesn’t consist of possessions…

What would happen if the outworlders, the ones living between the worlds, decided to reevaluate their economic life? Maybe this “Compact” thing isn’t such a bad idea for those that want to live faithfully between the worlds. What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Economy: The Ephesus Syndrome”

  1. Man…imagine what a widespread commitment like that could do in protest to larger structural injustices in how the “free” market is run. Imagine what the brethren could be like if we depended on each other more and more and were serious about making sure “he who has much does not have too much, and he who has little does not have too little.” I think we’d end up buying less just by consequence of understanding how much of a resource we are to each other.

    I like the new design!

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