The Christian and Minimalism

Bible on desk with cup and clock

If you have spent much time online looking at articles and videos about personal development – how to make the best use of your time, get the most out of life, and focus on what is important – you have likely come across the concept of minimalism. Many self-help gurus promote this philosophy and there are a number of people who describe the benefits they have seen in their own lives by adopting its principles. There are some concepts found in minimalism that will be appealing to most people, even if they do not embrace it in its entirety.

What is minimalism? And what place, if any, does it have in the life of a Christian? Let us briefly consider this concept.

There are some positive ideas associated with the philosophy of minimalism, including a simplified life, being less burdened by material things, and the determination to focus more on what is important. While no two minimalists implement the philosophy in the same way, there are some basic principles that those who have adopted it will hold in common:

  1. Reduce excess and eliminate what is unnecessary – Some will limit themselves to owning a certain number of possessions (perhaps 100 or less) or only keep one of a certain item and get rid off any extras they may have.
  2. Focus on what is necessary/fulfilling – They identify what they are passionate about and focus as much attention as they can on that, even to the point of limiting work and social engagements that interfere with this.
  3. Freedom from unnecessary burdens – As they try to intentionally focus their lives in a certain direction, they will often avoid the obligations and debts that are common for many in our society.

There are benefits in life that come from such an approach – less stress, less debt, and more time for things that matter. This philosophy can also benefit our spiritual lives:

  1. We can focus more on spiritual things as we strive to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
  2. We can reduce distractions as we “lay aside every encumbrance…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
  3. We can become unburdened from materialism as our “character is [to be] free from the love of money, being content with what [we] have” (Hebrews 13:5).

However, there is a danger that will arise if our identity as a minimalist takes precedence over our identity as a Christian. Serving God is most important and must take precedence over everything else. Therefore, any minimalist principles must support that before we can implement them. We must not consider – whether consciously or subconsciously – ourselves to be minimalists first and then feel compelled to adapt our Christianity in order to fit our minimalist philosophy.

How can minimalism change our Christianity? Consider a few possibilities:

  1. We eliminate “unnecessary” assemblies – The New Testament teaches that Christians are to come together and assemble with their brethren to worship God at least once a week on Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 16:1-2). However, many of us are blessed with the opportunity to assemble more often than this. Furthermore, if we are a member of a congregation that has determined to meet at certain times (such as Sunday evening worship services, mid-week Bible studies, and semi-annual gospel meetings), then we have made a commitment as a member to be present at those assemblies as much as possible (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25). Yet if we are minimalists first, we will be tempted to reason that only one assembly on Sunday is really necessary and that any additional assemblies or Bible studies are superfluous.
  2. We ignore “unnecessary” doctrinal matters – Those who teach have an obligation to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, KJV) and declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, NKJV). Churches are to support those who proclaim the truth (3 John 8) and reject anyone who “does not bring this teaching” (2 John 10-11). While we want to be careful not to bind the teachings of men (Matthew 15:6-9), we must also be careful not to discard certain teachings of the Bible as being unimportant. Yet some have rejected various teachings of the Bible (such as what the Bible says about the days of creation, gender roles, instrumental music in worship, divorce and remarriage, etc.) as being unnecessary. But what would they consider necessary? The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ? Belief in Jesus as the Son of God? Something else? If we are minimalists first, we will be tempted to cast aside any Bible teaching that is potentially difficult, controversial, or unpopular.
  3. We seek personal fulfillment first – The philosophy of minimalism is about each person pursuing whatever brings him/her joy and meaning. In reality, our joy ought to be in the Lord (Philippians 4:4) and our fundamental purpose is to fear Him and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Yet the temptation is to go along with others who have embraced this philosophy, not to improve our walk with the Lord but to focus on whatever we are passionate about in this life. Yet in the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus said that those who were invited “paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business” (Matthew 22:5). He used this parable to describe the response people may have to the invitation to join with Him in His kingdom. Farms and businesses are good and important, but not more important than the kingdom of heaven. There are many pursuits in life that are important and bring us personal fulfillment, but they must never trump our spiritual obligations. But if we are minimalists first, we will be tempted to pursue our own personal fulfillment while trying to fit spiritual things in whenever it is convenient to do so.

Paul told the brethren in Colossae, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Everything we do must be done because it is in harmony with what the Lord has revealed in His word. We must put spiritual things first (Matthew 6:33) and “[count] all things as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). If there are any concepts in the minimalistic philosophy that help us do these things, we should embrace them – not because they are minimalist, but because they are Biblical.

Paul also warned the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Human philosophies can be deceptive. Because they will often contain some tenets that harmonize with the principles of the gospel, there will be a temptation to adopt these philosophies in their entirety. Yet we must never allow ourselves to become so zealous in our implementation of the principles of minimalism – or any other philosophy – that we fail to live up to the Lord’s standard.

In the end, when we stand before the Lord in judgment, we will not be judged on how well we have adopted the philosophy of minimalism; we will be judged based on how we have conformed our lives to His word (2 Corinthians 5:10; John 12:48).

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