Church Finance (No. 4)
Whenever controversial matters are being discussed, it is inevitable that certain questions are going to arise, and possibly some objections will be filed by those who do not agree with a stated position. It is not always possible to treat a subject exhaustively, nor to anticipate every objection that may be offered to what one may teach.
This is especially true when discussing the issues that are troubling the church today. In past issues we have discussed the subject of church finance from the standpoint of both how the church is authorized to raise money for its work, and also how the money from the church treasury may be spent. We wrote what we sincerely believe to be the teaching of God's word on the matter. However we make no claim that we exhausted the subject, nor are we under any illusion that we anticipated and answered every question and objection that may arise in the minds of those who do not agree with what has been said.
It is not necessarily any reflection on the church when members disagree on doctrinal questions, or on matters of church policy. Truth is not learned in one single step, but is learned gradually. That being true, when some members of the church learn new truth on some Bible subject that other members have not yet learned, it creates a situation where church members do not agree among themselves. Surely no one would claim that all church members have, or that any church member has all the truth on all Bible subjects. To make such a claim would nullify Peter's command to Christians to, "Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:18. More than that, it would be claiming infallibility for Christians. So we repeat that it is not necessarily any reflection on the church when members fail to agree on some matters. The sad part however, is when brethren allow themselves to be influenced by their prejudices, when they seek to resolve issues by an appeal to human wisdom rather than by the word of God, and when they fail to discuss differences in the spirit of love that should characterize Christians.
This article is written for the purpose of elaborating on, and answering more fully some of the questions suggested by previous articles.
What constitutes a Christian's ability to give? What constitutes the ability of a church to do the Lord's work? We are persuaded that these questions are deserving of our serious consideration.
In his epistle to the Corinthians, 16:2, Paul said, "Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper . . ." It is thus seen that a Christian's responsibility in the matter of giving is governed bv his ability to give - as he may prosper. His ability to give is determined by what he has to give, for Paul said, "For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not." 2 Cor. 8:12. So if a man has been prospered well - if his income is several thousand dollars per year, the Lord requires of him that he give generously, and he will have to answer to God for it if he doesn't. On the other hand, if a Christian is in the low income bracket -- if his income is merely a small pension or a low wage, he does not have much to give, yet if he gives according to ability it will be just as acceptable to God as the ten or twenty dollars given by the brother with a fat bank account. The lesson of the widow's mite demonstrates this principle. Jesus was standing over against the treasury of the temple, and he watched as the multitude cast their money therein. Those that were rich cast in much. But along came this poor widow who cast in two mites; which make a farthing. Listen to Jesus' estimate of her gift. "Verily I say unto you, this poor widow cast in more than all they that are casting into the treasury; for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living." Mark 12:41-44. Whatever else this incident may teach, it does teach this principle, that two mites given out of our poverty is "more" in the sight of God than much that may be given out of our superfluity. God looks at the heart of the giver as well as the gift.
But there is another point involved in the question of ability to give that we need to notice. Let us look at the language of Paul again. "For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not." 2 Cor. 8:12. Now if a Christian has five dollars to give - if that is the utmost of his ability, how much does the Lord expect him to give? Fifty dollars? No. Will the Lord condemn him if he does not give fiftv dollars? Certainly not. If he has but five dollars to give, the Lord requires that he give only five dollars - no more and certainly no less. It is accepted according as a man hath, not according as he hath not.
But let us suppose that I have only five dollars a week to give to the Lord. But I would like to give fifty dollars. Surely no one will question the fact that fifty dollars given to the Lord will do more good than five dollars. And surely no one will deny that God will be pleased with fifty dollars if I am able to give it. But I am not able to give fifty dollars, I am able to give only five. How then can I give fifty dollars per week? Of course if I adopt the philosophy of some brethren it is a simple matter. I just go to nine of my brethren and I explain to them that I have "assumed" the responsibility of giving fifty dollars a week, but since I can give only five dollars I will have to have some help. And so I suggest to them that each of them give me five dollars a week so that I can give fifty dollars a week. I would tell them further that anybody that would oppose such a plan was a hobbyist and anti-giving. Of course those brethren would probably not lose any time in telling me that the Bible teaches that I am required to give according as I have, and not according as I have not, and for their part they will just give their money directly to the Lord and let me do the same with mine. And they would be right about it.
The same general principle governs the question of how much God requires that any church should do. It will still be according to ability. Let us look at the church at Corinth for an example. Paul said, "Let each one of you lay by hirn in store as he may prosper." We submit that when the saints at Corinth did what Paul commanded, the sum total of the collection constituted the ability of the church at Corinth and therefore determined its responsibility. Therefore if the church at Corinth collected the equal of one hundred dollars on the first day of the week, then one hundred dollars a week was all that the church was able to spend in the Lord's work. Does anyone believe that God required the church at Corinth to do a work costing two hundred dollars a week when its ability did not exceed one hundred dollars? If so, did God make the same requirement of the other churches, the churches in Galatia, and the churches in Macedonia that were also sending relief to the saints in Jerusalem? And if God did require that each of these churches assume an obligation in excess of their ability, we are faced with the question of who became the contributing churches if all of the churches had to solicit help. Did they solicit help from one another? Did the church at Corinth send a contribution to each of the churches in Galatia and Macedonia and then turn around and ask each of these churches to send a contribution to Corinth? But, if this all appears ridiculous then perhaps someone can tell us on what basis God would pick out Corinth or any other church of that time and authorize it to become a sponsoring church into which all the other churches pooled their funds for carrying out the Lord's work.
These same questions face us when we grapple with present day issues, and especially the sponsoring church concept of evangelism. just what do brethren suppose gives one church today the obligation to undertake a work so far in excess of its ability that it requires contributions from hundreds of other churches to carry it out? Has this church received some special commission that other churches have not received? Does it have some special obligation in the field of evangelism that other churches do not have? Do not all churches have all equal responsibility in the field of evangelism? Do the elders of a sponsoring church have better business ability? Are they better able to properly administer the funds they collect from other churches than the contributing churches can themselves?
But, on the basis that all churches sustain an equal responsibility in the work of worldwide evangelism, we ask, why may not all churches become sponsoring churches? If one church is obligated to assume work in excess of its ability are not all churches likewise obligated? Picture, if you can, the situation if each of the churches that contribute to Highland church in Abiline for the support of the Herald of Truth were to decide to "assume" some large program of work far in excess of their ability and then begin to solicit help from one another, and not only that, but they would have to solicit help from Highland church as well. Who can denv that they have the same right to sponsor just as big a work as Highland does? But what a predicament it leaves each church in! If they do not respond to the appeals frorn other sponsoring churches they will be labelled "antis" and "hobbyists". But if they do respond to every appeal they will be sending out just as much money as they receive, in which case they will be right back where they started, and will not be able to do the work that they "assumed".
How much is a church obligated to do? The answer is simple. Elders are to tend the flock that is among them. I Peter 5:2. Their oversight includes the proper administration of the funds of the church. But they have no more oversight over the funds of another church than they have over that other church itself. Therefore, when each church, under its own elders has properly administered the funds of that church that were raised by each member giving according to his ability they have fulfilled their obligation. Beyond that, no church is obligated to go. When churches assume a work that requires soliciting from other churches, they do So presumptuously.
It has been pointed out in the course of our discussion on church finance that whenever a church sent money to an individual or to another church it was to provide for what was the distinctive need of that person or that church. 2 Cor. 8:14. It is thus important that we learn what constitutes the personal need of an individual, or the distinctive need of a church.
What are the needs of an individual that a church may provide for from its treasury? That will depend on circumstances. In some cases it may be only a matter of providing food and clothing. In other cases it may include providing a home and perhaps medical care. A man may be single, in which case he has only himself to be concerned about. If he is married the need of his family is his need and may be provided by the church.
What constitutes the need of a church? Of course if the situation is like the one of the famine in Judea, Acts 11:27-30, the difference between the need of an individual and that of a church would be mainly a matter of quantity, since a church is made up of a number of individuals.
There are other needs of a church that may be supplied by other churches. A church needs a place of worship. Since this is a distinctive need of a church, other churches may scriptually help in building or buying a meeting house. The same principle would hold true with regard to helping a church buy Bibles and song books.
It must be borne in mind, however, that there is a vast difference between providing for the personal need of an individual or the distinctive need of a church, and for that church or individual to assurne some obligation that it not necessarily theirs and then look to the church for help. It is one thing for the church to provide for the needs of an individual. It is another thing for that individual to gather in all his relatives and assume their care and expect the church to pay the bill. It is one thing for a church to help the orphans and widows that are its charge. It is another thing for that church to gather in all the orphans and widows they can find, who are no doubt the responsibility of relatives, and then claim that they are a church in need and must have help from other churches. It would be one thing to help a church buy or build a meeting place, which would be a distinctive need of that church. It would be another thing for that church to sponsor a program of building meeting-houses for all the churches and asking them for contributions to carry on the work. It is one thing to send money to a church to help them buy Bibles and hymn books that they need to carry on their worship. It would be another thing for that receiving church to set itself up as a sponsoring church with the purpose of supplying the entire brotherhood with Bibles and hymn books if churches will just send their money so the work can be done. It is one thing for a church to send its preacher to help build up a weak Church that cannot support a preacher. But it would be another thing for that receiving church to assume a nation-wide prograin of evangelism to which all the Churches are equally related, and then call on all the Churches in the brotherhood to send their contributions so the work can be done. The difference is that the first is a distinctive need of one particular church. The second is in obligation that church has assumed to which all churches stand equally related. The work of building up and edifying a congregation, directing its work and worship, maintaining discipline, is the distinctive responsibility of a congregation under its own elders. No other church bears the same responsibility to that work. But the work of world-wide evangelism is not the distinctive obligation of any one congregation. It is the equal responsibility of all congregations of the Lord. When therefore a Church says it has "assumed" some large program of work that it cannot pay for and must have contributions from hundreds of churches to carry it on, it is self-evident that such a church is not in need at all, but they have just promoted themselves into doing the work of other churches. They have stated the matter correctly when they say they "assumed" the work. God never authorized them to do it.
Truth Magazine IV:8, pp. 8-11