Trinitarian Economics

Traditional economic theory is all about how people compete for scarce resources, as if Me-Getting-What-I-Want is the center of the universe.  But what if the center of the universe is occupied by something (or Someone) else?

The word “economy” has beautiful roots in Greek, evoking the image of making a home (Greek: oikos) for yourself and your family.  The truest economics class you ever took was Home Ec.  Because the reality of economics begins and ends in the Triune life—Jesus, his Dad, and their Spirit, each one being “at home” in each other’s life, and each one working to make himself a home for the others.

But it doesn’t stop there.  The Triune Home-Making decided to open itself, to make itself the home of others.  There were no “others” yet, so Father, Son and Spirit made some.  They began the hard work of including finite creatures into their infinite life.  We made messes on their floor.  We stuck things into our mouths that weren’t food.  We were reluctant to share our toys with each other.  Housebreaking us was a messy, painful business for the Triune persons.  They re-arranged their life in unthinkable ways, so that they could live in ways that are hospitable to us.  In short, they made their shared life into a home for us.  And it was their joy to do it.

This is the ground and grammar of economics.  What does that say about human economic life, which lives and moves and has its being within the Triune economy?  Some preliminary observations and questions:

  • Economics is primarily about persons and their relationships.
  • The point of economics is hospitality.
  • Hospitality is primarily about self-giving, and only secondarily about stuff-giving.
  • The giving of goods and services is secondary, not primary.
  • Hospitality is costly to the giver; it involves sacrifice.
  • It is up to the giver to decide if the cost is worth paying.
  • Hospitality is other-centered.
  • Hospitality is motivated by love.
  • Hospitality is the driver of creativity and innovation.
  • At the most fundamental level, economic relationships are mutual.  They involve giving AND receiving.
  • At the most fundamental level, economic relationships are free.   They are covenantal rather than contractual.
  • At the most fundamental level, economic transactions are gifts.  Whatever else buying-and-selling is, it is a form of gift exchange.
  • The ultimate product of economic activity is joy.
  • The Triune economy is incarnate in the earthly human economy.  The Triune mutual gift-giving is present (in varying degrees of pleasure and pain) in every human economic transaction.
  • The earthly human economy involves clouded, darkened minds that see reality with less than perfect clarity.
  • Therefore, the human economy involves fear, dishonesty, and malice.
  • It is fitting and good for humans to protect themselves from economic predators.
  • A contract is a tool for clarifying economic transactions and making people safe from predation within the system.
  • Can a covenantal relationship have contracts in it?  In other words, can my friend also be my customer?  I don’t see why not.
  • What does it mean for a piece of creation to become my “property”?
  • Or to put it another way, how does a piece of creation come under my stewardship?
  • Is poor stewardship a form of theft (For example, if I poison a well, am I robbing future generations)?
  • If poor stewardship is theft, what role does human government have in enforcing basic standards of stewardship?
  • In what ways is my neighbor’s well-being under my stewardship?  In what ways is it not?

~ John Stonecypher

27 comments so far

  1. Pastor Jonathan on

    Brilliant, as usual. Your preliminary observations and questions are a much better articulation of what I’ve been trying to say in posts such as “Taking Care of Each Other” and “Rich People Entering the Kingdom.”
    I’m looking forward to seeing how we can keep thinking about everything in human existence in the light of who humanity is in Jesus as the adopted children of the Father and I think these preliminary points will make a good jumping off point for that reflection.

  2. John Geerlings on

    Thanks John
    One component that continues to keep me humble and seeing very dimly is that God has opened the door for all humanity to live by His faith. In His own economy He does not require to do so, however the things hoped for and not yet seen are given as a gracious gift to all humanity in Jesus. He has lowered Himself to be faith for us, a gift for the here and now as living human beings (souls). This gift is so far removed from the knowledge of good and evil that it required new creation and new beginnings. His faith is our salvation so that we may be saved as His economy steps outside into our inside to embraces all of us in gentle love! jg

  3. boyd merriman on

    No wonder you have been quiet for a while. You put a lot of economics into this! GREAT WORK!


  4. purplehymnal on

    Funny you should mention economics. Why is Grace Communion International/Worldwide Church of God not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability?

  5. Pastor Jonathan on

    I don’t know why. Neither Tim or I have any role in decision making at the denominational level in G.C.I. and John attends an independent congregation not associated with G.C.I. Perhaps your question would be better directed to the denominational leadership through the G.C.I. website.

  6. purplehymnal on

    Here’s the thing, Jonathan (and Tim): You are (both) still attending (pastoring, even) services in Grace Communion International/Worldwide Church of God congregations.

    Have you never asked your own denominational leadership, why there is no accredited financial accountability for the church?

    Further, have you never asked your own denominational leadership why you are not a member of the church you were baptized into and are currently a pastor of?

    It’s true, ask to see the By-Laws, Joseph Tkach Jr is the lone member of the Corporate Sole of WCG/GCI. Baptized attenders of WCG/GCI congregations are not members of their own church.

    You and Tim should have, by all rights, roles in decision making at the denominational level. As should every single member of both of your congregations, and every single member of every other congregation. That is the way a democracy works, and that is the way other Christian evangelical churches work.

    If you or Tim have not asked your own denominational leadership these questions, why haven’t you?

  7. purplehymnal on

    Heh, it’s funny to write about WCG/GCI being “denominational”. I can still reel off “We were a non-denominational Judeo-Christian sect!” like it’s second-nature! 🙂

  8. Pastor Jonathan on

    You raise some good questions but I don’t know if I can offer answers that will really satisfy you. (And by the way, I’m just speaking for myself – not Tim or John.)
    At the most basic level the answer is relational. I’ve lived my whole life (36 years) in G.C.I. I stay here because this is where my Christian family is and I really like our new focus on Trinitarian Theology. I don’t agree with or like everything G.C.I. does and the denominational leaders probably don’t agree with or like everything I do. But I feel liked and accepted here and I haven’t seen anything immoral or criminal taking place.
    With regard to the membership issue: when I think of my “church membership” I think of Good News Fellowship and New Hope Fellowship, the two churches I pastor. I think of myself as a member of those churches and I think of those two churches as chartered congregations of G.C.I. I haven’t thought of myself as a “member” of anything but my local church in at least 10 years, maybe longer.
    That also impacts the financial question. 85% of the money I give to my churches (GNF and NHF) is accounted for, managed, and spent by my churches. I, along with all the members of my congregations, know exactly how that money is spent each year. For example, everyone in my churches is told each year, to the penny, how much I am paid.
    It’s only the 15% we send to the denomination that we don’t have hard numbers on. But when you live your Christian life in a community as small as G.C.I. you get a pretty general idea of where the money is going. The denomination is providing my churches with liability insurance, human resource services, IT support, and legal services. It’s pretty clear that the regional and national conferences take a chunk of the budget. And the rest is probably going to salaries for the 5-8 people who aren’t in insurance, HR, IT, or legal.
    So, to summarize: since G.C.I. feels like my extended spiritual family, and only 15% of my donations are going to G.C.I., and since I don’t see any signs of malfeasance or bad faith, I’m content to let events take their course over time. Assuming G.C.I. has a future as a denomination beyond the current generation of leadership I expect that many of the changes you suggest will eventually get made.

  9. purplehymnal on

    Thanks for the financial information, this helps greatly. We were assuming that only a 10% tithe was being sent from each congregation to Headquarters. 15% ups our figures considerably.

    I’m sorry you don’t feel the need to have the same kind of financial oversight (knowing “to the penny”) where that 15% is disappearing to, that you obviously feel (and rightfully implement in your own congregation), on a denominational level.

    I cannot understand the disconnect there, perhaps you can explain it to me? It’s important for your congregation to know how much you make, and where every penny is going, but it’s OK to have “a pretty general idea” of where the 15% you send to Headquarters is going?

    “Assuming G.C.I. has a future as a denomination beyond the current generation of leadership I expect that many of the changes you suggest will eventually get made.”

    That’s an intriguing statement.

    Thanks for your honest input, Jonathan. 🙂

  10. Pastor Jonathan on

    I do think we should have the same kind of reporting from the denomination about where that “15%” is going that we have in our congregations. And I think that eventually we will. Until the denominational leadership agrees with that idea I am okay with just having a general idea.
    I don’t know if that makes sense to you as an outside observer, but within the network of relationships that I am a part of within our small denomination it feels right to me for now.
    Hope that helps to clarify a bit what I’m trying to say!

  11. purplehymnal on

    Yep, that clarifies it, thanks!

    I’m glad you think reporting on that 15% is necessary. Do you think there’s some reason the issue has not been brought up with the denominational leadership? Or are you aware of whether or not the issue has been brought up, with the denominational leadership, prior to this?

  12. purplehymnal on

    “I’ve lived my whole life (36 years) in G.C.I.”

    I just caught this on rereading through our (very pleasant and civil, thank you) exchange; this statement is somewhat imprecise, and quite physically impossible.

    Grace Communion International (G.C.I.) only became G.C.I. early last year.

    It would be more precise for you to say you “have been a member of the organization that is now G.C.I [your] whole life (36 years)”, in my opinion.

    To say you’ve “lived [your] whole life (36 years) in G.C.I.” implies that G.C.I. has been around for 36 years, and has been trinitarian for 36 years, neither of which is true, and which the general public reading this blog, may not understand, from our comments here.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to nitpick, nor is it my intention to offend or be uncivil with this remark. I just think you need to be really careful, when referring to the current denomination, so as not to lose sight of G.C.I.’s non-denominational, WCG, past. If, for no other reason, than to be able to judge the distance, how far the organization has come, between then and now. Just my opinion.

    Thank you for this conversation, your insights have been very helpful, and will be very helpful to us in the immediate future, I hope! 🙂

  13. purplehymnal on

    “Grace Communion International (G.C.I.) only became G.C.I. early last year.”

    My turn to be imprecise. I was going by the 2 February 2009 date on the Ambassador Watch post. The actual email announcing the name change was sent on 18 December 2008.

  14. Pastor Jonathan on

    I personally don’t know of any situations where the issue has been brought up with the denominational leadership.
    I think the main reason for this is that the GCI culture is just very different than it was 20-30 years ago. When I was a kid in the ’80s everything centered on HQ in Pasadena and what Herbert Armstrong was doing. 30 years later everything centers on our life in our congregation. There really has been a complete inversion of the system. 30 years ago, if you asked the people in my congregation “what church do you go to?” they would have said “Worldwide Church of God” but today these same people would say “Good News Fellowship.” In addition, about 1/4 of the people in my congregations have just started attending in the last 10 years, so for them the identification with the denom. is even shallower. There are probably a couple of them who can’t even remember the denom.’s name 🙂
    It’s not that the denomination is irrelevant to people’s Christian lives, it’s just that it is very much secondary to life in the congregation. People read Christian Odyssey and Together and sometimes look for useful info on the website. Otherwise the average member of a GCI congregation has little interaction with the denomination.
    Those who are interested – and those with leadership roles – will attend the one or two events a year when HQ personnel conduct seminars or regional conferences.
    Otherwise, the only time most people interact with the denomination is when something goes wrong. When we need help with an insurance issue, or a human resource problem, or a legal issue. On those occasions the folks from the denom. are great. They are professional, knowledgeable, and bend over backwards to help us out.
    The denomination really has become a support system for our congregations and congregational leaders. And to be fair to them they are actually very good at providing helpful support and giving us the freedom to do ministry.
    There is room for improvement in areas such as the financial reporting we’ve been talking about, but the average person in a GCI congregation sees a denominational system that is helpful, that isn’t doing anything criminal, and therefore there just isn’t anything driving people to ask probing questions. To be blunt, 99% of people in GCI congregations have many priorities in their lives that are much higher – jobs, kids, marriage, etc.
    Regarding the use of the word “denomination” in the past: I know we used to say we weren’t a denomination, but I personally believe we have always been a denomination whether we were willing to use that word or not – going back all the way to when we were named Radio Church of God. In my opinion GCI has no “non-denominational” past. We are a denomination founded in the 1930s by Herbert Armstrong that has had three different names.
    Which brings me to the name issue. I don’t say “I live in the territory that is now Tennessee” because the native people of this area once called it something else, I just say “I live in Tennessee.” So I’m not going to say “I have been a member of the organization that is now G.C.I” either. Communities, be they geographic, commercial, or religious, sometimes change their names. When the name changes you use the new name.

  15. purplehymnal on

    Thanks for clarifying. I hope I didn’t come across as too defensive or nit-picky. Your honest assessments of the situation does help, in understanding peoples’ attitudes on the ground, at least yours and your congregations’ attitudes, I guess.

    Re, saying you live in Tennessee: I would at least think you’re beholden to acknowledge, especially to those who have joined your congregation(s) since the changes, exactly where you have come from, regardless of whether or not you think it’s significant. Someone looking to join up may very well think it is significant (whether it actually is or not), and it’s your (in the general “you”) responsibility to acknowledge their rights to religious freedom in that respect, IMO.

    As long as you do that (ex., the sentence “founded in the 1930s by Herbert Armstrong that has had three different names” when they express interest, or even “founded by Herbert Armstrong”), I don’t see a problem with your saying you’ve always belonged to G.C.I.

    I’m not sure what to think on the denominational vs. non-denominational issue. I know I recited it back by rote when I was a kid, whenever it was absolutely necessary (I’m from the generation where we absolutely did not talk about the religion we belonged to, if we could at all avoid it!), but I don’t think even today, that I have a full appreciation of what it actually means or meant; nor do I really understand what “denominational” means as it applies to the church today; after all, your “denomination” is now Evangelical, is it not?

    Given that we were truly a denomination unto ourselves back in the day, we weren’t really a part of any other religious system or structure, by both design AND theology. At least, that was my understanding of it at the time.

    As I’m not involved in any kind of religious organization or religion now though, I suspect stuff like that will always remain a fuzzy, grey area for me. Which is fine by me! Ever try reading Wikipedia on Christianity? I get five links in every time I try, and my head just starts swimming, and I give up! 🙂

    I do hope that some attenders of congregations under the umbrella of the denomination do feel a bit more strongly about the financial reporting of that 15% (The Missing Dimension in 15%?) 😉 and Internet hearsay suggests that (at least) a moderate-sized group of congregational attenders might very well be very concerned.

    In my opinion? It is beholden upon the denominational leadership to recognize the need for honest, transparent, financial stewardship, and an elected board of directors, voted in by the members of the church. Which means, of course, that all baptized attenders must be added as members in good standing to the rolls of the Corporate Sole, Grace Communion International.

    Good church stewardship can actually be Biblically-based, according to the research I’ve done. I can even provide scriptures, if you’d like!

    My $0.02 worth.

    Thanks for the interesting conversation! 🙂

  16. Ben on

    Fun converstaion…
    GCI, the denomination formerly known as WCG, is annually audited by an accounting firm (currently Capin Crouse). This is an independent, external body that checks GCI financials. Adding the EFCA would just be another layer of accountability.

    Denomination means, “a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices.” So by dictionary definition the RCG-WCG-GCI has always been one, but just didn’t always like the word. And that’s OK because I believe people and organizations have the right to self-name and self-define.

    As for member, you seem to be confusing the legal role the President plays in the corporation and the spiritual role all members have in the church and the Body of Christ as a whole.

    Democracy is different from a democratic republic. And both of these are different from a corporation. All of these are different from how a church or religious organization may be run. We shouldn’t confuse the legal rules for running an organization and the way we have chosen to run the spiritual family we call a “church.” We also should be clear on whether the Bible even tells us how to organize a church or the legal entity it works through. We have much (but not all) detail on how a nation called Israel was founded and run. We have some (but not all) info on how the church functioned as a spiritual family. We have zero data on how the church functioned as a legal entity, because at the time there was no possibility. So GCI, like all churches and/or denominations, tries to organize its spiritual life and accountability based on its best understanding of Scripture and in studying other groups in history and extant today. We structure the legal entity in accordance with the laws of the USA.

    Fun discussion… Thanks!

  17. purplehymnal on

    We have been unable to obtain documentation (or, indeed, any kind of a response) from Capin Crouse, and Capin Crouse is not listed with ECFA either. Saying an external auditor confirms your organization is accountable is one thing; failing to provide the documentation to verify this is quite another thing, indeed.

    There are several verses from the Bible that *do* demand accountability from churches which, like it or not, as organized entities, *are* legal organizations, and are beholden to act as such. As well as acting in the best interests of those they serve, of course. Failing to provide adequate documentation to prove that they are not mishandling the 15% of every congregation’s donations that are sent to Headquarters, is not acting in the best interests, either legally, or spiritually, of the church attenders of Grace Communion International.

    You also seem to be skirting a very thin line, with your comments, attempting to defend an Armstrongist form of governance (hierarchical, from the top down), without saying that that’s what it is. Oh, and I *do* hope your comments about “Israel” are not an indicator that you still “hold fast” to Anglo-Israelism, Ben.

    Additionally, if the church, as a “democratic republic”, should be run differently from a corporation, why do the last By-Laws to made publicly available still have the church listed as a corporation? Have these by-laws been changed? Where is the documentation?

    One further question: Where is the money being sent to Headquarters “for Haiti” really going? And don’t say “to Haiti”, because if the church was really collecting donations to aid Haiti, they would be directing their members towards charities that are actually there, providing aid. Instead of asking that the money be sent to directly to Grace Communion International, in Glendora.

    With absolutely zero accountability.

    • Ben on

      Hello again,
      It seems this is an understandably emotional issue for you so I apologize if any of this comes across badly. But I will try to answer questions you have directed at me personally.

      Capin Crouse is an accounting firm. I didn’t say it had any relationship to the ECFA. It’s website is:
      They are competent, non-members who provide external, unbiased affirmation that the “books” of GCI are clean. I don’t need any more than this because I’m not an accountant. Even if the books were opened I wouldn’t be able to find error anyway.

      Transparency is good and it would be great if GCI opened its books. But that’s not the core issue. The core issue is not about being able to see numbers or not. The core issue is trust. Trust is necessary in any relation–be it in a church, a corporation, a government or a book club.

      Absolute, transparent openness does not exist in any relationship except for the Father, Son and Spirit. Everybody hides and reveals in their own freedom. I assume you exercise the same freedom, so please let others do so as well.

      All human relations exist in varying degrees of being open or closed. GCI leadership is the most open it has ever been and I am thankful for that relational reality. Do we have room for growth and progress? Yes, but that takes time, just like any other relational or group dynamic. Patience is also a virtue I cherish in relationships and communities.

      As for your confusion over my comments…
      I mentioned democratic republic because that is a specific form of representative democracy in which citizens are elected by their communities to act in a layer of governance (i.e. congress, executive office) on behalf of that region (district, state, etc.) in accordance with agreed upon law (we call a constitution). A direct democracy is one where ever citizen votes on everything. To increase efficiency most democracies are representative. I allow my congressperson or senator to make decisions on my behalf to allow the country to run more smoothly (in theory).

      Some churches incorporate this more than others. One form of secular governance (no matter how good or popular) does not dictate how a church (as a spiritual community) should be run. I don’t feel the need to vote on every dollar, or every administrative decision–as a denomination or as a local church body. Voting and other group decision making processes occur, but the church would never get anywhere if we voted on everything.

      I mentioned Israel because they were established by God but were not a democracy. I also mentioned them because we have lot of detail about how they were organized and functioned. It was to serve as a contrast to how little the New Testament discusses church governance and organization. God works in every culture to bring about the goodness of his will. God worked in and through a theocratic monarchy so that a people could bring forth a savior of the world. No I don’t agree with Anglo-Israelism.

      I was also hoping to point out the distinction between GCI as a corporation and GCI as an ecclesiastical body. I am a supporter of an ecclesiastical body, a denomination, a religious movement. I am also a member of a local church–my primary place of spiritual involvement and expression.

      This has little to do with the distinct legal reality of GCI, inc. It functions in the way it does in submission to the mission of the gospel. It is a combination of open and closed relations to allow for efficient functioning in order for the rest of us to do the work of witnessing. We witness to the reconciliation of all things in Jesus to the Father by the Spirit. Does this have implications for things like budget, governance and other community issues? Of course, do we as humans have it all figured out? No. Do we try to better than the day before? Yes. Do I care what was the budget for copy paper in 2009 in Glendora, CA? No. Will it matter ten years or five minutes from now? Not really.

      I am sorry if you’ve been burned before. I hope it doesn’t happen again. I’m truly glad you have found some non-religious peace. I hope and pray you have much more peace and a long life.

  18. purplehymnal on

    Nice, you’ve edited the conversation. Yeah, that’s not transparency and honesty at its finest!

  19. Pastor Jonathan on

    What are you talking about??

  20. purplehymnal on

    Sorry, I linked to the wrong thread. Fixed.

  21. Pastor Jonathan on


  22. purplehymnal on

    Have you asked the denominational leadership for the documentation that Ben is talking about, Jonathan? Both an itemized list of where the “Disaster Relief Fund” donations are currently being spent in Haiti, as well as a breakdown of where the 15% from the congregations that you have personal responsibility for, are going/

  23. Pastor Jonathan on

    No I haven’t. I think they’ve made it clear that they’re not going to provide that sort of information and, as I’ve described above, I’ve decided to accept that as part of living within the GCI community.

  24. purplehymnal on

    It is unfortunate that they have made matters that clear (I was unaware that they had), but thank you for the information, and best of luck with continuing on in the WCG/GCI community, or even outside of it, should you decide to remove your congregations to a different, or to a more fiscally-responsible denomination. (Am I assuming too much that this would be possible, even though it’s something you clearly would not entertain?)

  25. Pastor Jonathan on

    I don’t really know what’s possible with regard to congregations exiting the denomination, I’ve never looked into it since – as you note – this isn’t something I’m considering. I suppose if a person or group of people didn’t like being in GCI anymore then the simplest thing would be for them to form a new group, with their own incorporation, name, etc. Which is exactly what thousands have done over the last 15 years.

  26. purplehymnal on

    Or the members could just quit and go to a different Christian church. I know of a lot of ex-WCG members who did that. I don’t know of any (from the congregations I attended) who ended up non-Christian and non-religious like me.

    I think the splinters are a thing unto themselves, and none of them seem to “hold fast to the truth” as much as they claim they do (each splinter changes at least one, if not more, things that were preached befoere). Although they did do their own incorporation, name, etcetera.

    There are a few splinters out there that didn’t treat it like a business, though. I think they’re probably the closest to being on the right track, regardless of theology. But that’s just my take on it.

    Thanks for the conversation!

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