Church Finance (No. 2)
In a previous article we dealt with the subject of church finance from the standpoint of how the church receives its money to carry on its work. It was pointed out that the church is authorized to raise its money in one way only, and that is through the members contributing as they have been prospered on the first day of the week. The exclusive nature of this pattern forbids the raising of money by the church by means of chicken suppers, rummage sales or other business enterprises.
Just as important as the matter of obtaining the funds for the work of the church in a scriptural way, is the matter of the proper handling and disposition of such funds. The handling of finances imposes a serious responsibility on anyone who has been charged with such a trust. When a man or a group of men have been entrusted with the responsibility of handling, investing and spending the money of other people, they are morally obligated to handle and spend that money only as they have been authorized to do by those to whom the money belongs. The man who betrays his trust and begins to squander, or to convert to his own use money for which he is responsible, sooner or later is likely to face a prison term.
But if the handling of the finances of our fellow men entails such a responsibility, what shall be said with regard to the handling and spending of church funds? We use the term, church funds, only in an accommodative sense. Strictly speaking, it is not the church's money any more than the money in a bank is the bank manager's money. The fact that the money contributed by the individual members of the church on the first day of the week has been given to the Lord, makes it the Lord's money. The local congregation is responsible for collecting the money, and then having collected it the church is responsible for the proper handling and spending of it. It should alwavs be borne in mind by the elders, when planning a program of activity for the church that calls for the spending of money, that they are spending the Lord's money. This, the church can do, only as the Lord has authorized. So far as this writer is concerned, we would as soon be guilty of raising the money for the church in an unscriptural way, as to be guilty of spending one dollar of the Lord's money on something that the Lord has not authorized.
It will be obvious then, that on this matter as on all matters of like import, the all important question is, What has God authorized in regard to the spending of church funds? What does the Bible teach? It should be borne in mind that what we have done or what we have not done in the past is no criterion as to what is scriptural. From that standpoint church of Christ tradition is no more authoritative than Catholic tradition Only scripture can make a practice scriptural.
The Bible teaches, 1. By express command. Or, 2. By approved example. Or, 3. by necessary inference. It should also be remembered that a practice may be included within the scope of general authority, or it may be excluded by specific authority. To illustrate this principle, we observe that God commanded Noah, "Make thee an ark of gopher wood." Gen. 6:14. Was there anything inclusive in this command? Certain1y it must be obvious to every student of the Bible that Noah had to use tools in the building of the ark. And while nothing is said in the Bible about these tools, it is certain that such tools were necessary to carrying cut God's command to build the ark and thus were divinely authorized. But there was also something of all exclusive nature about the command . When God commanded Noah to build an ark, he thus excluded a ten story house, and when God specified gopher wood he thus excluded the use of any other kind of wood.
So as we try to ascertain how the church may spend the money from its treasury, we shall be guided by what the Bible teaches by command, by example, and by necessary inference, with due respect to what is included by general authority, and what is excluded by specific authority.
One of the tasks or responsibilities that has been laid upon the church is the work of preaching the gospel. Paul wrote to Timothy, "The church of the living God is the pillar and ground of the truth." I Tim. 3:15. In commendation of the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, "For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not speak anything." I Thess. 1:8. No other institution but the church has ever been authorized to preach the gospel.
Of course the church preaches the gospel by sending out and supporting preachers. Listen to the apostle Paul again. "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard ? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent? Rom. 10:14, 15. Thus when the church sends a man out to preach, it may be said that the church is preaching the gospel.
God has ordained that when a man gives his life to preaching the gospel he has the right to be supported. "Even so did the Lord ordain that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel," is the testimony of the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul. I Cor. 9:14. Again, in 2 Cor. 11:8 Paul said, "I robbed other churches taking wages of them that I might minister unto you." In view of the foregoing passages of scripture, there can be no question that the church is authorized to use money from its treasury to support those who preach the gospel. The fact that this right of the preacher to be supported has sometimes been abused does not alter the teaching of the Bible. It is the duty of the church to support preachers of the gospel to the extent of its ability. A preacher may, because of the poverty of a church, forego his right to be supported and may volunteer to preach at a great personal sacrifice. No church, however, has any right to ask or demand that a preacher make a sacrifice. Moreover it should be remembered that if a church has the ability to support a preacher, and the preacher declines to accept support, he is not doing that church a favor, but rather the opposite. Hear Paul in 2 Cor. 12:13, "For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong." Thus Paul taught that when a preacher declines to take support from a church that is able to pay him, he does them a wrong, since he deprives them of the opportunity of doing the thing they should do.
Just as there were incidentals in the building of the ark by Noah, and which inhere to the command to build the ark, just so there are incidentals to preaching the gospel, and which inhere in the church's obligation to preach. That being true, such incidentals are divinely authorized and the church may pay for such things from its treasury. Into such a class fall such things as meeting houses and baptistries. The obligation to preach implies that there must be a place to preach; and since God did not specify any particular meeting place, the church is at liberty to choose whether it will own a meeting house or rent a hall. Whichever the church chooses will depend on local circumstances. It has generally proved unsatisfactory to use rented halls, and so most congregations wisely own their building. The command to baptize implies that there must be a place to baptize. Thus the church is authorized to provide such a place. Here again, the Lord has not specified any one place to baptize, so the church is at liberty to choose what is best under the circumstances. Since the indoor baptistry proves most convenient, therefore most meeting houses are equipped with one. So there is divine authority for meeting houses and baptistries, and therefore the church mav provide those things out of its treasury.
Other such incidentals are the means that may be used in teaching the gospel. A radio program is a powerful means of reaching many people who could not be reached otherwise. The church can also teach through the distribution of religious literature. The use of a blackboard is very effective in teaching people. The list of such incidentals could be extended, but whatever the means used, if it is lawful in itself, and if it expedites the teaching of the word, it is divinelv authorized since it inheres in the obligation that has been placed upon the church to spread the gospel, and as such may be paid for from the church treasury.
When God commanded Noah to build an ark, the fact that he specified the ark excluded the building of anything else but that which God sanctified. The fact that God specified gopher wood, excluded any other kind of wood. Just so, the fact that God has specified the church, and particularly the local congregation as the institution to preach the gospel to the world, excludes the right of any other institution to exist for that purpose. It excludes the building and maintaining of missionary societies through which to preach the gospel. The missionary society, being a human institution, has no more place in God's plan than does a human creed in addition to the Bible. Therefore it is unscriptural for a church to contribute frorn its treasury to such a societv that it may preach the gospel.
The Bible plan of church finance excludes contributions to a Christian college. No, we are not opposed to the existence of such colleges. We merely insist that they keep in their place. The college is a human institution that exists for the purpose of giving secular education in a Christian environment, and while such is a good work, and worthy of the support of individuals, it does not come within the scope of what the church is authorized to do, and consequently has no place in the church budget. We have been informed of one college at least, that not only refuses to solicit from churches, but which makes it their policy to return any money that has been sent by a church. Our hat is off to them for taking such a stand.
The sponsoring church system of evangelism is excluded. The local congregation is the only unit that God has ordained through which the church must discharge its responsibilities. The church universal has no elders to oversee a universal program of work. The only elders that God ever ordained, have oversight only of the local congregation,-the flock that is among them. I Peter 5:2. Acts 20:28. Such oversight naturally includes the overseeing of the spending of the financial resources of that congregation. When elders turn the funds, or part of the funds of a church over to the elders of another church to be spent at the discretion of the receiving church in preaching the gospel or some other phase of the church's work, they have surrendered their autonomy to that extent. When a church decides to sponsor a work that is in excess of its ability and then begins to solicit money from other churches, all the while claiming that it is "their work" and that they make all the decisions pertaining thereto, it boils down to the fact that the only way the contributing churches can discharge their responsibility with regard to this work is through the sponsoring church. They may not favor the preacher that is being supported. They may not agree with some of the methods of evangelism that are used. But they can't do any thing about it except send the money or else refuse to send it and thus not have any fellowship in that particular work. You see, the sponsoring church says, "It is our work and we will make all the decisions." Such a plan is an invasion of the autonomy of every contributing church.
Does the New Testament furnish us with a pattern as to how money is to be sent to a work? We are persuaded that it does. When the famine arose in Judea, the disciples in Antioch determined to send relief to their destitute brethren. The money was sent directly to the churches in need. Acts 11:27-30. Some years later a similar collection was made by the churches in Macedonia, Achaia and Galatia for the poor saints in Jerusalem, and again the money was sent directly to the church in need by the hand of the messengers thchurches had chosen. I Cor. 16:1-3. 2 Cor. chapter eight and nine. It should he observed and remembered that so far as the New Testament record is concerned, no church ever sent to another church unless the receiving church was in need.
What is the New Testament method of sending money to an evangelist in a distant field? In writing to tire Philippians, 4:14-18 Paul said: "And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but Ye only; for even in Thessalonica Ye sent once and again unto my need ... But I have all things and abound: I am filled, having received of Epaphroditus the things that came from you, an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." Again in 2 Cor. 11:8, 9, Paul said, "I robbed other churches taking wages of them that I might minister unto you; and when I was present with vou and was in want, I was not a burden on anv man; for the brethren when they came from Macedonia supplied the measure of my want . . ." From these verses it is abundantly evident that when churches supported Paul in the preaching of the gospel they sent the money by the hand of the messengers they had chosen, directly to Paul. When churches today follow this pattern, and send their support directly to the evangelist in the field, they do something for which thev can find scriptural authority. When churches today send their support through some central agency such as a sponsoring church, they do something for which thev can find no scriptural authority.
Brethren who are committed to the sponsoring church concept of evangelism, sometimes argue that we find nothing in the New Testament about sending money through the post office, and vet we use this means of sending money to a work. Thev would leave the impression that a church is inconsistent in sending monev through the post office while it refuses to send money through a sponsoring church. There is no parallel between the two. In the first place, the post office exercises no control over the money, such as is exercised by the sponsoring church which decides how the money of another church will be spent. The post office merely acts as a messenger of the sending church. To the second place, churches in New Testament times were given the right to choose their own messengers by whom they sent money to its destination. I Cor. 16:3, 2 Cor. 8:18, 19. Had there been a postal system in operation in the days of Paul, churches would have had the right to use it as a means of sending money. In the absence of a postal system, they chose personal messengers. But, and here the parallel completely fails, there were many congregations in existence in New Testament times. Sometimes they co-operated in supporting one man, 2 Cor, 11 :8, 9. All the facilities were in existence then to set up one of them as a sponsoring church. But no such sponsoring church ever existed in New Testament times. Churches supporting an evangelist could have sent their money through another church, but they consistently avoided such and sent their monev directly to the work. Surely this is significant.
It is argued by some that if the direct method of sending to preachers is consistently followed, some preachers may receive much more than they need while other preachers will not receive enough. If a preacher takes more than he needs he is dishonest and it is the personal view of this writer that he should not be supported at all. He is preaching for the wrong purpose anyway. But are preachers the only ones that are susceptible to such a temptation? It appears sometimes that there are some promoting churches have an insatiable appetite for money. Elders are human beings, and is it not just possible that they could misuse the money of which they have oversight? Does the possible abuse of a scriptural practice give us any right to bring in something that is unscriptural? Brethren who oppose the located preacher system make their arguments from the possible abuses that may arise from such a system. If the fact that some abuses may arise out of the direct method of sending money to preachers, argues that the New Testament pattern can be set aside, we can think of some possible abuses that could arise among the elders of a local congregation in their oversight of church funds that would excuse the members of the church from giving of their means as the Lord has commanded them to do.
(More to follow.)
Truth Magazine IV:3, pp. 4-7