Church Finance (5)
Moose Jaw, Sask., Canada
We regret that a number of factors prevented our writing this concluding article of the series many months ago. However, we trust that the things herein presented will provoke some serious thought on the part of the reader, as we discuss some more questions that are involved, and which have come to the forefront in the issues that are disturbing the church today.
That the church has an obligation to support preachers in their work of preaching the gospel is clearly set forth in the scriptures both by precept and example. Paul said, "Even so did the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel" (I Cor. 9:14). Paul himself received wages from churches (2 Cor. 11:8).
Where a certain method of doing a work is specified in the scriptures by command, example or necessary inference we have no choice but to follow it. Where no method is specified, or where more than one method is revealed, it is obvious that man is left to use his own judgment as to what is best under the circumstances. There are many questions relating to the support of preachers that must be settled in the light of local conditions and individual circumstances.
How much should a preacher be paid? Should he expect to receive all that he would be paid in industrial employment, fringe benefits and all? Would not that place preaching on a mercenary basis? The Bible teaches that the support of a preacher is a matter of providing for his needs (Phil. 4:16). Beyond his needs the church has no obligation. A preacher's needs will vary under differing circumstances. A married man with a family will need considerably more than a single man. The need of native preachers in foreign countries is very modest, with the result that the amount required to support them is comparatively small.
Is it scriptural for a preacher to receive a regular salary? There are some who bitterly oppose such, and call him a hireling if he does. But if the scriptures authorize the support of a preacher (and they do), by what process of reasoning do some arrive at the conclusion that it cannot be regular and that it must not be a stated amount? Do the scriptures expressly forbid such, or do they exclude regular support by reason of the fact that they have specified only irregular support? Do not preachers have the same general obligations to meet as other wage earners? Does not the gas company and the electric power company expect the preacher to pay his bills on time. Does not the landlord expect the preacher to pay his rent promptly and regularly, the same as everyone else? Why then impose on a preacher, just because he is a preacher, an arrangement that no other man would tolerate? We have no defense to make for anyone who is "preaching for a living" if such there are. They should not be supported at all, since they have the wrong motive in preaching anyway. However it should be obvious to everyone that there is a vast difference between a man who preaches for lucrative gain, and a man, who because of a compassion for lost souls has given his life to preaching the gospel, receiving a regular and stated salary so that he can meet his financial obligations when the bills come due.
Sometimes preachers are paid a straight salary and they provide their own house either by renting or buying. Sometimes a church maintains a house which is kept as a home for the preacher and which is considered as a part of his salary. Such is a wise arrangement as it relieves the preacher of the problem of house hunting when he moves to a new place. Some promotional brethren have sought to parallel such an arrangement with modern institutional homes set up by churches to do the benevolent work of the church. They reason that if the church can provide a home for its preacher, it can also provide a home for widows and orphans. That the church has an obligation to care for certain poor, no one is disposed to deny. However the above mentioned situations are not parallel. The fact of the matter is that when some church sets up a home, whether incorporated or unincorporated, for the purpose of caring for the poor from other congregations, all the while soliciting and receiving contributions from those other churches so that the work can be carried on, we have the principal of universal church activation, or centralizing the control and oversight of the work of many congregations in one congregation. We can see a big difference between a church that assumes the oversight of the benevolent work of a number of other congregations. To have a parallel we would have to find a church that would assume the responsibility of providing homes for all the preachers of congregations in a certain area, provided, of course, that those other congregations would supply the necessary money.
Is it scriptural for one church to send to another church, money that is earmarked for a certain work? As an example, church A is sponsoring a number of gospel preachers. Church B sends a contribution to church A with the stipulation that it be sent to one certain preacher. Those who are committed to the sponsoring church concept of evangelism contend that under such an arrangement the receiving church only acts as a medium through which money contributed by other churches is forwarded to the work that they wish to support.
There are, however, several objections that we make toward such an arrangement.
1. Churches are autonomous in government (1 Peter 5:1, 2). Therefore churches are equal from the standpoint of their obligations to make their own decisions relative to whatever work they undertake. But if one church sends money to another church with instructions that it is to be used to support a certain preacher, the sending church is in effect telling the receiving church how the money is to be spent. The receiving church is acting as an agent for the sending church. Agency always means subordination. Thus it is seen that the equality between two congregations is destroyed.
2. It does not help matters for a contributing church to send money to another church and allow it to make the decisions as to how the money will be spent, for the situation is just reversed and the receiving church is in effect making decisions for the contributing church, thus destroying the equality between the two. If it be argued that the contributing church exercised its autonomy by choosing whether it would or would not contribute, we reply that churches that contribute to a missionary society choose whether they will or will not.
3. So far as the New Testament record is concerned, no church ever sent to another church unless the receiving church was in need (Acts 11:27-30; 2 Cor. 8:13, 14; 9:12). A church that has promoted itself into the position of sponsoring a work far in excess of its ability, and to which other churches are equally related cannot be considered a church in need.
4. While the Bible is silent as to how much in terms of dollars and cents a preacher should receive, and how regularly he should receive it, whether weekly or monthly, it has given us a definite pattern as to how the money was sent. When churches supported preachers, they sent the money directly to the preacher (2 Cor. 11:8, 9; Phil. 4:15-18). If we could find one instance of where a church sent its support to, a preacher through another congregation we would conclude that either method Was scriptural. In the absence of such evidence churches are limited to the direct method of sending support to preachers just as surely as Acts 20:7 limits them to the first day of the week for the breaking of bread.
Is there a difference between contributing to a human institution and buying services from it? This matter has proved to be a stone of stumbling with many in the crisis that now faces the church, since they tell us that to buy services from a human institution is in effect the same as making a contribution to it.
That the church must, and sometimes does buy certain services is obvious. Here is a church that decides to build a meeting house. It must buy lumber and other building supplies. It hires the services of a contractor, a plumber and an electrician. When the building is completed the church must then pay for fuel, lights and water. Certainly there is no question that the lumber company, the contractor, the fuel and light company are human institutions. But it should be just as evident that as such they do not exist to do the work of the church, nor do they depend on church contributions. The lumber company is engaged in the business of selling building supplies. It is not the work of the church to sell lumber. The contracting firm is in the business of erecting buildings. But it is not the work of the church to engage in the building trade. The fuel company is engaged in the business of selling fuel. The light company sells electricity to its customers. But the selling of fuel and electricity is not the work of the church. Certainly then it cannot be said that buying the services of the above mentioned institution is the same as contributing to some institution which has been set up to do the work of the church.
In carrying out the work of evangelism churches buy services from various institutions. They sometimes buy space in the paper to advertise meetings. Or they may pay the hotel bill for a visiting preacher. If a church is supporting a preacher in another area it buys the services to the post office to send money to him. While the post office is admittedly a human institution, certainly no one would contend that it exists for the purpose of doing the work of the church. The post office is a department of the federal government and its business is the work of handling the transporting of mail, for which it charges postage.
In the field of benevolence there are various services that the church buys or may buy. A member of the church for whose welfare the church is responsible is in need of specialized medical care. The church sends them to the Mayo clinic and pays the bill. Does anyone believe that the Mayo clinic exists to do the work of the church? Does anyone belive that paying for the services of the Mayo clinic constitutes a contribution to that institution? Or a church has in its membership one that is a widow indeed (I Tim. 5:3). The church places her in a home for widows operated by the Methodist church and pays for her board and lodging while she is there. Will any one say that this Methodist home exists for the purpose of doing the work of the church (of Christ), or that buying the services thereof constitutes a contribution to that home?
The difference between the buying of services from the above mentioned institutions and contributing to human organizations built by the church to do, the work of the church is this. The post office, the Mayo clinic and the Methodist home exist, each to do a work in its own particular field. The function of the Mayo clinic is to provide specialized medical care for which it charges a fee. The function of the post office is the transportation of mail for which it charges postage. The function of the particular type of widow's home that we referred to is to provide a home for widows for which it charges for board and lodging. These institutions are independent of the church. In other words they do not depend on the church for their existence nor for support, but would continue to exist whether the church bought their services or not. They receive money from the church only for the services that they sell. Such is not true of organizations that many brethren are attempting to defend. They are human institutions that have been built to do some phase of the church's work, and depend on the constant support of the church. They solicit and receive contributions from churches that never make any use of their services. If churches ceased to contribute to them they would cease to exist just as surely as would the missionary society if churches ceased to contribute to it.
Much more might be said on this subject of church finance, but we close here with the plea to brethren everywhere to study these matters in the light of God's word by which we will be judged on the last day. As members of the Lord's church we will have to give an account to God on the day of judgment for the way that we have administered the Lord's money from the church treasury. To use it in any way that God has not authorized is sinful.
Truth Magazine, V:4, pp. 21