Money is a big part of life. Religion is also a big part of life, at least for religious people. Therefore it is inevitable that the two get together after awhile. To put it in the nomenclature of Babylon, not only do "people go to church," but money "goes to church" as well. Money always winds up where people are, and vice versa.
In an earlier study (The Examiner, July 1989 ), we looked at the financial aspect of our personal faith, or the faith aspect of our personal finances, if you prefer. Now we need to deal with the faith-finance connection more directly. That is to say, we need to look into the Scriptures and learn what we can about the "holy money" specifically generated by the faith of the early disciples. In reality ALL the money possessed by each individual Christian is a "faith fund." At the same time, however, a certain amount of my money and yours may get mixed up together because of our common faith. This mutual fund is sometimes called Church money for want of a better term. It is usually collected on Sunday when Christians "go to church" and take some money with them. We are all familiar with the program.
First, let us note again the movement of money. There are really only a few things that cause money to move. 1) LUST. We will spend money to satisfy any fleshly craving. 2) PRIDE. We will buy anything that makes us look good or seem superior to someone else. 3) GREED. We will always spend money in order to make more money. To this short list must also be added FAITH. Our desire to serve God will also make us turn loose of a few shekels. At the moment we are interested only in this last entry - the money that faith moves. I have looked into the Scriptures and found the following facts about money that moved under the direct impulse of faith in Jesus Christ.
1) THE MOVEMENT OF MONEY WAS ALWAYS VOLUNTARY. It was never captured, confiscated, or in any way coerced into moving where its rightful owners did not want it to go. There was no holy "tax" to compel money to transfer from one location to another. No force was involved. Only faith. If money went from point A to point B it was because the one who possessed it decreed such a move. Even Ananias was told, "Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" (Acts 5:4). Right or wrong, what he did was done of his own volition.
2) THE MOVEMENT OF MONEY WAS ALWAYS DOWNHILL. This is the natural way for any liquid to flow, including liquid assets. In more monetary terms this means that money among N.T. Christians always went down the economic hill, from the "haves" to the "have nots." It went from disciples who had financial ability to disciples who had financial needs. To my knowledge it never traveled from the poor to the rich, though sometime it did go from poor saints like the Macedonians to even poorer saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:1-4). It is therefore a strange set of events for poor groups of Christians to send money off to rich groups of Christians. This happens all the time in our modern world. The creator of most all the "needy" projects in the Brotherhood are the large, wealthy congregations. Yet they depend on and beg from the small, poor congregations for support. This situation needs to be revised and made more biblical. If anything, the big Churches ought to be sending money to the little Churches.
3) THE MOVEMENT OF MONEY WAS ALWAYS TEMPORARY. There was a need, such as in Judea. Word got out about the need and the disciples decided to send money for the relief of their brethren. They did this (Rom. 15:26). But this was not a permanent arrangement. One problem with the monetary system of contemporary Christendom is the permanency of it. Financial pipelines, once in place, are there to stay. Remember the "temporary tax" that goes to Washington. Temporary means forever. There is no such thing as a temporary need of an organized missionary society, or an organized anything. The "need" itself is organized into permanency, therefore is guaranteed to be always great and growing. It is the essence of organizations that they seek to increase their size and function. As this occurs the need for additional funds is automatic. Have you EVER heard ANY organization announce that it now has all the money it will ever need, so no more donations will be received? I trow not. Each year the financial appetite of organizations grow. Consequently, under this system the money always flows in the one direction. In New Testament times it was not this way. Back then they sent money WHILE there was a need for it. When circumstances changed, when the need no longer existed, the money flow ceased. Perhaps it even changed directions entirely. At least this idea is expressed regarding the money moving toward Jerusalem at the time. Paul said:
"I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened; but by an equality, that NOW AT THIS TIME your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want; that there may be equality" 2 Cor. 8:13-14).
A later version says, "At the moment your surplus meets their need, but one day your need may be met from their surplus." In other words, money moved in one direction only for a while, then it stopped.
In any case, remember that money moves in only two directions: toward us and away from us. As indicated in the earlier study, God is interested m both movements-how we get our money and how we spend it. Much the same can be said about collected money involving a group, of people. How is the money raised? How is the money spent? These are the questions.
It is hard to raise a lot of money without also raising eyebrows and perhaps a few questions. This is especially true of funds raised in the name of the Lord. Great care should be taken in this area.
For Christians to collect money to be used for righteous purposes is neither unusual or unscriptural. This was done in New Testament times, almost from the beginning (Acts 4:34-37). There is much to be said, however, about the kind of methods used in such a delicate operation. Religious organizations (sometimes called "Churches") are perennial fundraisers whose techniques have ranged from poor to horrible in this regard.
Remember the infamous practice of selling indulgences? John Tetzel, a well-known merchandiser of his day, once declared, Indulgences are the most precious and noble of God's gifts. Come and I will give letter by which even the sins you intend to commit may be pardoned." This has to be one of the most unholy transactions in all history. Not far behind, and just as ignoble, was the selling of holy relics like pieces of the cross, thorns from the crown of Jesus and hairs (in all colors) from the head of Mary.
Modern methods are not quite so far out, but are still far from N.T. principles, being better suited for human organizations than for the citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Some Churches now employ professional fundraisers to help them increase the cash flow for the Lord. With or without professionals, the appeal is often to the lower levels of human nature. The competitive spirit is generally utilized, with giver pitted against giver, each being urged to equal or exceed the amount given by the other. Personal glorification for generous donors is standard fare. One thing is sure, major league contributors are never in danger of doing their alms in secret. They are tacitly, if not explicitly, guaranteed plenty of publicity and praise. A big enough donation will get a building named after them. Therefore pride enters in. Greed is even involved in some cases, as in "Church sponsored" bingo or the "God-will-meet-your-financial-needs" gospel.
Churches may also make money by selling products to the public, by charging for their community services, even by operating commercial businesses in competition with the world. Evidently all these methods work to some degree.
To their credit leaders in Churches of Christ have never employed many of these practices. (I did hear recently of a Church that bought a rental house next door to their place of business, not because they needed it for any reason but because it was already rented out and would make the Church some money as an investment.) Instead, the custom in Churches of Christ has been to preach money out of their patrons by means of misapplied Scriptures.
One of the favorite texts is 1 Cor. 16:1-2. The preacher will cite this passage to prove to all church members that it is their God-given duty "to give to the Church." To the contrary. It was the "church of God at Corinth" (ch. 1:1-2) that did the GIVING in this case rather than the receiving. They also assume the practice was continued after Paul came by and picked up the money. If they kept on "laying by" this money for the poor saints, did Paul come back and pick it up a second time? Did the money flow to Judea never cease?
Preachers also like to use that "eleven percent verse, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:20). This verse is usually cited to prove that since the Jews had to pay ten percent, Christians, who must excel them in righteousness, must give at least one percent more. Of course, this doctrine is never enforced, nor really taken seriously; but it is preached in order to make average church members feel bad about their pitiful donation so they will perhaps increase it a dab or a dollar. Evidently it works to some degree.
While the New Testament is not a very good textbook on how to raise money, it does reveal that the first century disciples gathered money together from time to time. Yet in each case one thing is clear. They gave. They gave of their own free will according as each "determined" or "purposed" in his own heart (Acts 11:29, 2 Cor. 9:7). They did not BUY anything, although Simon Magus tried (Acts 8:18-19). They gave. They did not PAY for anything, for no one was charging for spiritual services in those days. They gave. They did not SELL anything, hoping to make a tidy profit for the Lord. They gave. They did not OWE a certain amount, eleven percent or otherwise. For them there was no finance charge, administration costs, or corporate overhead to deal with. The early Christians simply GAVE. It should be so today.
The only reason money is raised in religious circles is because money is spent there. But how is it spent?
Religious organizations spend money the same way individuals do; wisely and foolishly, especially foolishly. They spend vast sums on extravagant luxuries. Just look at the marvelous temples that have been constructed over the years to the glory of God." Please note that these are not mere "meeting houses" where disciples can find a quiet peaceful place in which to mix and mingle their faith. Often they are showplaces built with a great deal of earthly pride. A news report about a ten million dollar "church plant" is enough to make one wonder.
Standing in sight of the incredibly impressive Acropolis in Athens, Paul spoke of the God who "dwelleth not in temples made with hands." Has this truth been entirely forgotten? Jesus, by status a poor carpenter, died owning nothing but the clothes he wore. How comfortable would Jesus feel today sitting in a multi-million dollar palace erected in his name, presumably with his money? It is a question perhaps best not asked, or answered.
However, it is not just "holy places" that call for larger and larger expenditures. It is the program. For the simple ecclesia of Christ has today been transformed into a Super-Church with a super-program. A recent author described this semi-spiritual system as "a hybrid of cathedral, corporation and country club."
Not long ago I read of one great SuperChurch amongst our religious neighbors that featured "two full-size basketball courts, a roller rink, six bowling lanes, four glassed-in racquetball courts, a suspended jogging track, saunas, whirlpool baths and a restaurant called the Garden of Eatin." Needless to say, a few widow's mites will not underwrite an operation such as this. It takes big bucks, megabucks, millions of them. Of course, Churches of Christ do not have anything quite this elaborate - yet. We always lag a lap or two behind the denominations. But not for long. Go to a metropolitan area and examine any large "progressive" Church of Christ, its facilities and functions. It will be only about one lap behind.
So where does all the "raised" money go today? How is it spent? Look at the typical Church budget. A pittance goes to the poor. I saw one study (of a hundred large congregations) that showed $3.66 per member PER YEAR spent on benevolence, and of course much of that was routed through wealthy benevolent organizations that siphoned off a portion for administering it.
Another pittance goes for preaching the gospel to those who never have heard it. Take your next Church budget and compare the cost of "in house" Ministers and "in the field" missionaries. The big dollars in the collection plate are clearly spent selfishly, on the organization itself, mainly for two items; an attractive building and a professional staff of ministers. The bulk of the balance is then spent on general upkeep, expansion plans, frills, luxuries and creature comforts, or merely on fun and games for children and grownups alike. Bear in mind that all this "righteousness" is paid for with tax deductible donations! It was somewhat different in New Testament times. Then the money collected seemed to go rather directly to those who were in actual need; either the poor saints who did not preach (like those in Judea), or the poor saint who did (like Paul, Phil. 4:15-16).
Another difference. Back then the money was not raised first, then spent. It was pre-spent, or spent before it was raised. I simply mean there is no case where the apostles, or anyone else, ever solicited or received donations into a fund where someone would decide LATER ON what it would be spent for; whether it would be "best spent" on the poor saints, some poor preacher, or the "poor" parking lot. The famous 1 Cor. 16 collection was predestined (already allocated) for the poor saints BEFORE it was "laid by in store." However or wherever the Corinthians did their "laying by," they knew for sure where their contribution was going. As far as the record reveals, it was this way with all the money put together by early Christians. A lot of problems would be avoided if this were the fund spending policy today.
Two aspects of a religious enterprise tell the truth about its character: how funds are raised and how they are spent. The truth is not particularly pretty on either side of the Church ledger today. The point? Simply to suggest that the fiscal policies of modern Churches are at least suspect; and surely, we ought to be a little suspicious of what is suspicious looking. We need to examine again how money moved in New Testament times, what moved it, where it went and what it went for. Then we need to look closely at the movement of money in and among modem Churches. Then we need to compare, and make corrections where needed.
Like it or not, money has always played a starring role on the religious stage; at times as hero, at times as villain. Which role does it play in our life today? This should be our only concern about it. What we need to remember is that money is merely a MEANS. This is why a fellow with a fat pocketbook is called a "man of means." He has the "means" of doing things. Money, like every other resource in our possession, is both a means of doing great evil and a means of accomplishing much good. It can be a wonderful asset that will help us get to heaven, or a great liability that will keep us out. Which will it be? Perhaps we will not know for sure until Judgment Day when our financial records, religious and/or otherwise, are checked and balanced. Let us hope the bottom line turns out to be correct.