“…there are no ‘professionals’ in God’s Church, only bondservants!”
Our considerations in this series couldn’t be complete without seeking to answer the obvious question of who/what should we give our money to? Looking into the pages of the New Testament it seems to me that there are three categories into which our giving falls.
1. The poor – generally
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms…” (Mat 6:2)
“Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation…” (Acts 24:17)
The word ‘alms’ by very definition means to give help to the poor. I think we all know what qualifies essentially as ‘poor’. We all need food, water, clothing and shelter whatever our country, culture, religious and political beliefs. I think that this area of our giving should be ‘without partiality’. In the Old Testament there was a particular obligation to look out for the stranger (foreigner). Such would not have necessarily been ‘Jews’ religiously speaking. I don’t think it matters what ‘persuasion’ someone is of; if they haven’t got the absolute basics of life then they qualify for our care. Showing such care and compassion in this way is as good a way as any to ‘preach’ the Gospel too. Who knows how much eternal good as well as temporal may come from simply giving to those who have basic human need?
Jesus said, “the poor you will have with you always.” We mustn’t become fixated on the idea of saving the world from poverty. That will not happen in a complete way until the Lord returns when He will put all things in their proper order but we can do something of good in this realm. Also, we do need to be wise about distinguishing between the genuine poor and the fraudsters! Some of the people who beg for help are sometimes better off than the people they hope to receive from. In some cases (often through the Internet) those who are soliciting help are involved in serious organised crime. (Beware if you receive emails from unknown persons asking for your assistance in some financial matter – no matter how plausible the story!). We must try to make our best judgement between the genuine poor and those who are mere abusers of people’s consciences. But don’t worry if you think you may have got it wrong – God knows our hearts. “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
2. Christian need – specifically
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10)
“…distributing to the necessity of saints…” (Romans 12:13)
The Church is a family. As much as the love of God is in us for all our fellow man there is also something more we have for our families. This is not ungodly partiality, we are told plainly in the New Testament to especially look out for our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we become Christians, for many people, (for various reasons humanly speaking) there is a weakening of natural family ties and in some cases the Christian is completely disowned by his family. For this reason there is a compensation factor in God’s heavenly economy here on earth. “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands…” (Mark 10:29,30). How can we receive a hundredfold the amount of brothers or sisters we lost? How do we become owners of so many houses? Simply by being a part of a new family, one that shares all that it has amongst its own and through the hospitality which all of the saints of God are called to – a ministry for all. Of course our Heavenly Father could provide all these things for us individually but what delight He has in seeing His children care for one another in such a way.
Acts 2:44 and 4:32 speak of believers having all things “in common.” Read these passages carefully and you will see that it is not talking of ‘communal living’, as in all living permanently in one big house together, but it is showing us plainly that we must treat our possessions as the communal belongings of the household of faith. When you were baptised into His Body, the Church, (by a spiritual baptism – 1 Cor 12:13) you became married to a million and more people all at once! Blood may be ‘thicker than water’ but ‘spirit is thicker than blood!’ – Hallelujah, I love this family of God! We have a family responsibility to look out for one another in every respect.
3. The work of the Gospel / The local church
“Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.” (2 Cor. 11:7-9).
First and foremost it must be stated that there are no ‘professionals’ in God’s Church, only bondservants. The use of the word ‘wage’ in the above quote does not literally mean ‘regular salary’ any more than ‘robbed’ can be taken literally! But what we do see here is that those who are appointed by God (here we must learn to discern) to minister in such a way that does not always permit them to be about normal work are worthy of our support. However, we also read that the apostle Paul renounced this support if ever it was liable to hinder the gospel: Acts 18:3, 21:34, 1 Thes 2:5-9
In the above quote we see that this support came from churches and the brethren. I am uncertain as to whether or not the latter (the brethren) is being used in this case synonymously with the churches or if it denotes individual Christians who gave as they were led to the apostle? I’d like to think it is the latter but in either case there is no stated constraint that we must only give in this way via the local church. This brings us to the next consideration within the context of giving for the work of the gospel…
Concerning church collections
The opening portion of 1 Corinthians 16 speaks of a church collection. However, this particular instance would not be a correct foundation for teaching that every local church must have an ongoing collection. It is clear here that the subject here is a specific collection for a specific need. It would though seem quite reasonable to conclude from other Scriptures in the New Testament that each local church did have some sort of fund. The above quote clearly states that various churches had been contributing to Paul’s needs, materially speaking. Also, the fifth chapter of 1 Timothy speaks of two more possible money needs in a local church: widows who were otherwise not provided for and elders who were labouring in such a way that meant they did not have so much time to cater for their own needs. I do not want to commence addressing these issues; I simply mention them as evidence for churches having some funds. (* See footnote below line for more on the subject of elders being paid.)
A church fund therefore implies that the believers gave into it (no New Testament church ever went on a money raising campaign!). I cannot imagine that such monies were gathered by means of passing a collection bowl/plate/whatever. To collect money in this way would to my mind contravene the simple principles that we looked at in the second part of this article. People may feel compelled to give if they are handed some receptacle in the midst of a meeting. I have little doubt, I am sad to say, that that is exactly the plan in many places that people call ‘churches’ the world over! God’s people do not need to ask, beg or compel. A discretely placed receptacle for those who want to find it would allow anyone who wants to give in accordance with the principles of willingness and discretion.
In respect of answering the question, “how should the local churches use their funds?” we have essentially summed this up already: It should be used for the support of those who are called of God for His work in such a manner that detracts from their normal ability to provide for all of their own needs and for essential social need within (e.g. widows without any other provision). No doubt we could include alms giving generally too. There are doubtless many permutations of things that fit roughly into these three categories.
Finally, a thought about what a New Testament church did not consume its money on. I would guess that the vast majority of what is paid into the coffers of most churches these days is used to pay for a ‘church building’ (be it owned or hired) and a salaried ‘minister’ (or more than one even). From long, honest and close study of the pages of the New Testament I am utterly convinced that neither such scenario existed during the 60 years of the Church covered by the Inspired Book we call The New Testament. Churches always met in their homes and never hired ministers. There is no hint anywhere that the established apostolic practices and methods of operating as churches were to be changed. I’m afraid if we step outside of these divinely given examples in one area then we will be immediately en-route to having to change God’s standards elsewhere too in order to accommodate our unbiblical practices. (* See footnote below again for link to ‘His Church’- a study of the New Testament pattern for the Church.)
Conclusions to all 3 parts of this article
Abraham gave a tithe as a willing, spontaneous gesture from his heart. Jacob ‘bargained’ with God in a more calculating way. Tithing, in the proper sense of the word (giving 10% of all increase), later became a ‘legal’ requirement under the Old Testament. It was not carried forward as a condition of the New.
Christians, by virtue of the indwelling Spirit of God, will want to give. It is an anticipated response to the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts. We are never told in the New Testament how much to give. We are told that our giving should be done: willingly, cheerfully, secretly, generously, unselfishly and unconditionally.
We should give to: the poor generally, to the needs of our fellow Christians specifically and the work of the Gospel. The latter being such persons who are the genuine ministers of Christ who live worthy lives of faith. The concept of the salaried ‘church professional’ is unbiblical. We should give to the local church’s collection, which can also be used in support of all three categories above.
A final thought
This series has been looking at the broad principles involved in Christian giving. I have on a few occasions touched very briefly on the subject from the perspective of those who may be the recipients of such gifts. In summary of this I would like to offer the following food for thought. No Christian or church or so-called Christian organisation should ever ask anyone for money to support their ministry. The genuine works of God never require us to beg, borrow or solicit the financial help of men. Paul may have (?) made known that others had need (the poor in Jerusalem) and may have (?) made request on their behalf (such could be thought from reading between the lines of various New Testament passages?) but he did not appeal to anyone for his own needs and he only collected for the poor in Jerusalem from other Christians not the unconverted.
Giving to the work of God is our privilege, we can be partakers of a meaningful ministry in this way but we must never think that God needs the money! The Lord owns “the cattle upon a thousand hills.” If the work is from Him (and all else is eternally worthless) He will somehow, through someone or something provide for the needs.
“God’s work, done in God’s way, never lacks God’s supply.”
* I have argued in the study ‘His Church’ that elders were not ‘waged’ by the local church but rather some were, if need required, supported in some measure. If you want to read this part of ‘His Church’ go to the end of section Authority in the local church and scroll down to subheading ‘Are elders paid for what they do?’ The subject of ‘professional ministers’ / ‘trained pastors’ etc. is addressed throughout this study.
Go to PART 1 of this article: Should a Christian Tithe? ~ Origins & Development