Flower Funds and Church Treasuries
The following article, written by a highly esteemed friend of mine, appeared recently in the bulletin of the good church of which he is an evangelist. It indicates a viewpoint that, we feel, needs some more careful thought. We choose to write publicly because the viewpoint set forth in the article is typical of several such articles we have seen in recent years from various parts of the country. We hope that calling attention to a flaw in thinking will be the means of correcting what is probably simply an oversight. The article, amended to conceal specific identity, is as follows:
" ___________ ___________ has agreed to be in charge of a flower fund to be maintained by members of this church. The money will be used to purchase floral arrangements or planters at the death or hospitalization of a member of the _____ ________ Church. Flowers will also be sent to immediate members of any families here.
"There will be no contributions' to this fund from the church treasury. It will be wholly supported by individual gifts. We hope that the fund doesn't have to be maintained by the same few Christians over and over. We would like to see a wide interest taken in this work. The fund is very small now and a large surplus needs to be built up. Why not everyone contribute a dollar to this fund this week?
"Let's get this fund off to a good start. Make your donations to Sister ______. We thank you in advance. We'll announce later when the fund gets low and your help is needed again."
It appears that this brother shares our misgivings, and those of many across the land, about having the money of the church used to buy flowers for the consolation of the sick and the saddened. We find it difficult to justify including flowers in the kind of relief of the needy with which the church is to be charged, according to the Scriptures. The practice of many churches today, and of some others of us in the past, has allowed some people to expect flowers from the church on such occasions. To satisfy their expectation, and at the same time to avoid involving "the church treasury" in such work, many have resorted to the practice indicated by the above article. We question whether this solves the problem.
We need to be discriminating in our understanding between that which is the work and the fund of the church collectively, on one hand, and that which is the work and the fund of a person or group of persons acting individually, on the other hand.
Many of us have learned that churches of Christ, while remaining separate and independent of each other may concurrently contribute to a common purpose. While doing this they must retain their own responsibility for that part of the work which they do, and retain their own identity in carrying it out. When Paul said, "I robbed other churches . . ." (2 Cor. 11:8), he could know just which churches were being "robbed." And when he said (Rom. 16:16), "The churches of Christ salute you, "he knew that certain specific churches did in fact send such greetings to those in Rome. If, on the other hand, individual churches so join together that they select a treasurer to act for all of them, to receive general contributions from any and all of them, and to spend those funds in behalf of all of them in such manner that they lose their individual identity and become simply an association of churches, we are compelled to recognize that they are no longer acting as individual churches but as a society in which the churches themselves are but contributing members.
This same principle operates in respect to individual persons. One person, or any number of persons, can individually buy flowers for the sick and the grieving. In doing so, each one acts on his own initiative and retains his own identity. If, however, those persons so join together that they designate some person to act as their agent to collect funds from them generally and to disburse those funds on behalf of the group as a whole, they cannot escape the fact that they have ceased to act individually and have begun to act as a collective body. If the people so acting are the members of some local church, and the person chosen to handle the funds is chosen in behalf of the members of that church, and the funds are solicited on the basis of membership in that church, how can they establish that the treasury thus formed is not in fact a treasury of that church?
If plates are passed on Sunday and the people are urged to contribute their money on the basis of their membership in the church, and then some brother is chosen to care for and disburse those funds on behalf of that group of people, it is clearly a church treasury, and he is its treasurer. If those same people, on the basis of the same membership in that church, collect money by some other method or at any other time, and it is placed in the hands of some person chosen to handle those funds on behalf of that same church, how can it he contended that this is not another treasurer of that same church who is simply handling another part of that church's treasury?
We are not arguing that a church cannot, for whatever reasons of convenience it may have, have more than one treasurer or treasury of funds. This is often done by churches in a building program. Our point is this, that such is still the action of that church. It does not alter the facts to say that it is not "the church" but that it is simply the work of some "individuals in the church." Signing the florist's card, "Friends of the _______ Church" does not make it an individual action. The same could truthfully have been said of flowers bought with any other of the church's funds.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 47, pp. 12-13