Monday, November 23, 2009

The Church's Finances

Every week, the plate is passed around the congregation.

Every week, the funds so collected are doled out according to the budget plan, paying salaries, electric bills, mortgages, TV show expenses, and if anything is left over, maybe an orphan's home or a few dollars into a local person's overdue medical bills.

That's the modern way of handling the church's money.

What was it like in the first century church?

The very first time a collection of money is mentioned in the church is Acts 2:44-45, which says:
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
Notice what is done with the money: it is shared with anyone having need. (I believe the context limits that "anyone" to "anyone within the group", but I could be wrong.)

And what of the very next example? It's in Acts 4:23ff:
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. For there was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet. This was then distributed to each person as anyone had a need.
Notice again what the Scriptures teach: money given to the church is to be distributed to those who have a need.

What about other examples?

The next example is in Acts 6, where we find that the distribution to the needy has become such a pressing matter that a special group of ministers ("deacons") are appointed to handle the day-to-day details, freeing the apostles (who had previously been responsible for the task) to do their job of preaching. The apostles were doing the preaching; the deacons were distributing the incoming funds to the needy, not to paying the church's bills.

1 Timothy 5 lays out some guidelines for this distributive effort, and in the process makes it clear that paying the bills of your own family takes precedence over other expenditures, but if you can't, then the church should kick in. Someone who doesn't provide for his own family is worse than an infidel according to this passage. And those who receive funds from the church should be known for good works.

2 Thessalonians 3:10 reiterates this last point:
If anyone isn't willing to work, he should not eat.
Titus 3:14 indicates that a main thrust of our efforts is to meet the cases of urgent need. As The Message puts it:
Our people have to learn to be diligent in their work so that all necessities are met (especially among the needy) and they don't end up with nothing to show for their lives.
The very purpose of having a job is not to give to the church to build a nicer building, but to give something to the needy, according to Ephesians 4:28:
... [H]e must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.
And again, Paul reminds the church in Romans 12:13:
Share with God's people who are in need.
Even that well-known passage from 1 Corinthians 16, read so often from the pulpit to persuade Christians to give to the work of the church, is ALL about giving to the needy, and not at all about paying church bills. This is clear from verse 1:
Now about the collection for God's people ....
Any other use of this passage for justification of doing anything except collecting for God's people, no matter how good those tasks may be, is a twisting of the scripture.

Now, let me make it clear that the church does have a responsibility to pay its bills, including the salaries of its staff. But I believe we've turned the pyramid upside down; the base of the pyramid, the bulk of church finances, should be going toward helping Christians meet their financial needs, with the tip, the small portion, going toward church bills. We've inverted that pyramid, and have done so at the risk of hearing these words from Jesus (Matt 25):
Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."

They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?"

He will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.


Anonymous said...

In reading your article on church finances being primarily for helping the needy of the group, I wondered what if there is no needy person in the group? I am the neediest person in our group but all my bills are paid and I have plenty of groceries.
Sheri Luckett

Tim Aagard said...

I think you may have missed Paul's teaching on "refusing the right to be paid". Institutionalized forms of church life only pay attention to Paul's speaking about the right to be paid. See 1 Cor 9 where Paul starts with many reasons why those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel. Then he instructs that by his example that this right is to be refused, even to the point of preferring death than to not preach free of charge. He continues with the freedom of ministry and the reward of ministry done free of charge. Acts 20 with Paul's instructions to the Ephesian elders adds to this. Also his instructions to the Thessalonians in 2 Thes. 3.

In the current institutionalized system, only 14 - 25% of "giving" goes beyond the givers. That means 75 - 84% is pooling. That is not giving. If believers give up special buildings for crowd oriented gatherings and hired expert Bible talkers, they can give 100% of their giving beyond themselves.

The above scriptures are rendered meaningless in institutionalized forms. What a shame.

In God's grace He has been able to accomplish much of his purpose. He has designed church life for something far different. He grieves for His body to grow up past their "corban" traditions that nullify His commands. Mark 7.