Church Finance (No. 3)
Continuing our study of the subject of church finance as it relates to the matter of spending of funds from the church treasury, we shall notice next that the church has a work to perform in the field of
That the work of edifying its members is one of the responsibilities that has been placed on the church is evident from the numerous passages of scripture. To the church at Corinth, Paul said, "Seek that ye may abound unto the edifying of the church." I Cor. 14:12. Again in verse 26 of the same chapter he said, "Let all things be done unto edifying." In Eph. 4:16, Paul spoke of the church "Edifying itself in love."
The edification of the church is accomplished by the teaching and preaching of the word of God. When Christians are taught from the word of God what their duties and responsibilities are, they are edified, - built up, The teaching or preaching that is done only for the purpose of filling in time, entertaining, or tickling itching ears is not edification and has no place in any assembly of the saints.
It has been pointed out in previous articles that any incidental that is necessary to the carrying out of a command, is authorized by virtue of the fact that it inheres in the command, just as the necessary tools inhered in God's command to Noah to build the ark. We shall now proceed to show that the matter of edifying the church, anything that is incidental to, or which serves as an expedient to teaching God's word inheres in the command, "Seek that ye may abound unto the edifying of the church," and is thus divinely authorized even though it is not specifically mentioned in scripture. Of course the expedient, itself, must be lawful. I Cor. 10.23.
It seems rather strange to this writer that many brethren have apparently not yet learned the scope of generic authority or else have failed to make the proper application of the principle involved. Consequently when present issues are being discussed and it is pointed out that certain man-made arrangements are without divine authority, all too often we are met with the rejoinder, "We do many things for which we have no authority." Some time ago a good brother said to me, "After all, there is no scriptural authority for the church to own a meeting-house." Such efforts to justify one unscriptural practice by what may look like another unscriptural practice are unworthy of brethren who claim to be guided by the Bible in their service to God.
In the matter of teaching to edify the church there are many incidentals that are involved. If the church is to meet for edification, there must be a place to meet. That is certain. But what kind of a meeting place shall the church use? Does the congregation have scriptural authority to own it's building? Briefly scanning the sacred record we learn that congregations met in numerous places, in the temple, in synagogues, in upper rooms and in private dwellings. From such examples it is evident that the church in the days of the apostles exercised choice in the matter of a meeting place of worship and was not limited to all one particular type of place. So there is the church's authority to buy or build its own meeting house. God has authorized choice in the matter of a meeting place and it is a wise choice for a church to own its meeting place, since rented quarters are seldom satisfactory. But whatever provisions the church makes in regard to a place of worship, since it is necessary to the congregation's carrying out its obligations, the church is thus authorized to pay for it from the church treasury.
Another thing that is necessary to carrying out the command to edify is the division into classes for the teaching of God's word. God's order is, the sincere milk of the word for babes in Christ, and strong meat for those more advanced in knowledge. Division into classes makes necessary different classrooms so that teaching can be carried on without confusion.
In carrying on a program of teaching it is often helpful for the church to use some form of Bible school literature. Of course care needs to be exercised in the selection of such literature. It must teach the truth. Of equal importance is the fact that it must be such as to stimulate and encourage Bible study. We have but little use for sorne of the pre-digested literature that has been used by some churches in times past, that does all the thinking for the student and provides no incentive for study. Be that as it may, when suitable literature can be found that will assist in edifying the Church, it is divinely authorized by generic authority and may be paid for from the church treasury.
The fact that the church is to edify itself through the teaching of the word of God will exclude some things. There are some today who are coming to look upon the church as a social institution with social functions, and consequently they are using money from the church treasury for things of a social nature. In some places where new meeting houses are being built, the Lord's money is being used in equipping such buildings with kitchens and dining halls where brethren can get together and eat and drink in what they call fellowship meetings. Very often too, such buildings are equipped with recreational facilities on the plea that we have to give the young people some form of entertainment if we are going to hold them. What such brethren need to learn is that while coffee and doughnuts may tickle the palate they do not edify the soul and that the apostle Paul put his veto on the matter of confusing social matters with worship when he reproved the Corinthians for turning the Lord's Supper into a feast, saying, "What, have ye not houses to eat and drink in?" I Cor. 11:22. And, if any man is hungry, let him eat at home." Verse 34. Such brethren need to learn, too, that while "Bodily exercise profiteth for a little." I Tim. 4:8, the church has never been authorized by the Lord to provide recreation for its members, and consequently when money is used from the church treasury to provide social and recreational facilities, it is misappropriation of the Lord's money.
The church has a function in the field of benevolence, or helping the poor among its members. In the sixth chapter of Acts we read of how the disciples in Jerusalem cared for certain poor ones of their number. In the eleventh chapter of Acts we read how that a report reached Antioch of a famine in Judea and the church in Antioch sent a contribution to the poor saints in Judea, sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. In I Corinthians the sixteenth chapter, also in 2 Corinthians, eighth and ninth chapters we learn of a contribution that was made by the churches of Macedonia, Achaia, Galatia, and probably some other places for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Rom. 15:26. In I Tim. chapter 5, Paul speaks of the responsibillity of the church regarding the care of widows.
It is certain that the examples given in the fourth and also the sixth chapters of Acts teach that if the church has any poor among its membership it has all obligation to care for them. What incidentals are included in the work of church benevolence? That would depend on circumstances. It is certain that the church is obligated to provide only the needs of the poor, and only while such need exists. If the poor have their own home, then the help might be no more than providing them with food and clothing. If the poor do not have a home, then the help would extend to providing them with a home. In such a case the church could buy or build a house for them to live in or pay for their keep in a private home, or in some existing institution. All this is of course on the condition that such poor have no relatives to support them. I Tim. 5:16. In any of the above methods it would be merely the church providing for those for whom it is responsible.
It may happen as it did in Judea that the churches were not able to care for all the poor among them. Then it was that other churches responded and sent them help. Some years later when a similar need arose in the church at Jerusalem, the churches in Macedonia, Achaia and Galatia sent help to them. There is a thought that should not be overlooked in this connection, and that is that so far as the New Testament record is concerned, no church ever sent money to another church unless the receiving was in need.
But there is another conclusion that emerges from the examples of benevolence in the New Testament. So far as the record shows, the church never extended benevolence to any except saints. Take the examples one by one and see if there is even a hint any church ever contributed to helping people of the world as a drawing card to induce them to hear the gospel preached. As individual Christians we are commanded to work that which is good unto all men. Gal. 6:10. But individual action is one thing, while church action is another thing. Why, even within the church, its benevolent responsibility is limited. In the fifth chapter of Timothy, Paul taught that all widows are not the responsibility of the church, but only such as have no relatives to care for thein. What would be true of the widow would surely be true of any member of the church, unless we are to believe that Paul discriminated against widows and placed a restriction on helping them that he did not place on any one else.
Just as the benevolent work of the church includes those things that are necessary to the carrying out of its work, so it also excludes some things. The fact that certain responsibilities toward certain poor has been given to the church, rules out any other institution but the church doing this work. The church is no more authorized to build and contribute to a benevolent society to do its benevolent work than it is authorized to build and contribute toward a missionary society to do its evangelistic work. The benevolent society is not a means that the church may use in doing its benevolent work, but it is a rival institution to the church, and must use the same means in relieving the poor that the church would use.
Faith cometh by hearing the word of God. Romans 10: 17. Thus where the Bible is silent, there can be no acceptable faith. "The disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread." Acts 20:7. Since we can read this in God's word, we can do it in faith. Since there is nothing said in God's word about meeting on any other day of the week to break bread, it goes without saying that such could not be done by us in faith. In summarizing the teaching of the Bible on the subject of church finance, we shall proceed on the basis of what we read in God's word, as opposed to what we do not read.
1. We read that churches made up their funds by the contributions of their members. I Cor. 16:1, 2.
What we do not read is where any church ever made up its funds by fowl suppers, bake sales, rummage sales, or by soliciting from other churches.
2. We read where churches sent money to other churches when the receiving churches had a need of their own. Acts 11:27-30; 2 Cor. 9:12.
What we do not find is where any church ever sent a contribution to another church to do a work to which the sending and receiving church were equally related.
3. We read that when churches did send contributions to other churches that were in need, they sent it by their own messenger, and it was sent directly to thc place where it was needed. I Cor. 16:3, 2 Cor. 8:23, Acts 11:27-30.
What we do not read is where one church sent its contributions through another church.
4. We read that when churches supported a preacher, they sent directly to the preacher by means of their chosen messenger. 2 Cor. 11:8, 9. Phil. 4:15-19.
We do not read of where any church sent their support for evangelism through any central agency such as a missionary society or a sponsoring church.
5. We read where churches were commanded to work according to their ability, which was determined by their financial resources. I Cor. 16:1, 2. In other words, when every member of the church at Corinth gave as they had been prospered, that constituted the financial ability of that church, and thus its responsibility.
What we do not find is where any church was ever commanded to, or ever assumed a work that was beyond its financial ability and then solicited money from other churches that were equally related to the work.
If it be objected that we do not read where any church sent money through a post office, we remind the reader again that churches in New Testament times were allowed to choose their messengers by whom they sent their funds. I Cor. 16:3. Such a choice would have allowed them to use the postal system had there been one in existence then. But all the facilities were in existence to set up a sponsoring church system of evangelism. The fact that no such sponsoring church was ever set up in the days of the apostles is conclusive evidence that it has no more place in God's plan than instrumental music has. They are both without divine authority, and men act presumptuously when they bring unauthorized practices into the worship and work of the church.
Truth Magazine IV:7, pp. 15-18