Sunday, July 5, 2009

Missions, Their Costs, and of the Needs of a Church

(EDITED: 26 July 2009 - see end of post)

In an earlier post, I mentioned a question that concerns many who want to give of their substance to a religious organization. This post will address that, and some related principles.

Should we support a religious-appearing body when they seek financial contributions?

Some religious organizations, such as the relatively well-known example of Jim Bakker's past indiscretions, appear to abuse the idea of 'prosperity gospel': 'give to us and God will bless you', 'if you don't have enough, give to us and you'll get all that you need', etc. Even less overt statements state or imply the same basic premise.

Others are far more conservative of their approaches: 'give your offerings' (some even going so far as to say - give your second offering, give your third offering...); 'give your tithe'.

You feel moved by their message. In some cases, you think they're doing good work. So... should you give?

Probably the best test to answer this question is, are they actually doing good work? Are they at least attempting to make good use of what they have, or have been given? In cases where such donations are abused and squandered, where huge overpriced houses are built (and in some cases, virtually never lived in), where expensive private aircraft are secured, and even in multiplicity, by those receiving donations - is this a use worthy to be called God's work? I think not.

Then, there are cases where good work IS being done. Helping people in times of need (such as the Bible's storehouse principle, mentioned elsewhere on this blog; helping people with food, shelter, or finding jobs [and hence purpose and potential]), or emergencies (such as Sabbath Grace Fellowship's 1stResponse Disaster Team Ministry), missions to lands to help other peoples be more self-sufficient, teaching people how to live better lives by showing them the example that God and Jesus teach us, these are all things that we would have a hard time discounting as worthy of support; and if this were all that we were asked to support, perhaps we would give more freely.

Then there are things such as publications, political activism, and the like. In these areas we often differ in some of our opinions.

There are other things to be considered, though; there are other expenses. If there are services that a church provides for its members, then those services have a cost, and somewhere that cost needs to be paid. If a church owns a building, or uses a building that is used primarily for another purpose, it may suffer less in the way of related costs and taxation. If a church rents a building, however, this can be quite expensive - and hence something that should be avoided whereever possible, as 'the power to tax is the power to destroy' (paraphrased from Daniel Webster and John Marshall: McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819, 17 U.S. 327), and no man (and by extension, no church) can serve two masters (Luke 16:13).

In most churches, there are other costs. There are costs of adminstration, of publication, of electricity. In some cases there may be paid staff. The Bible does not object to this, necessarily - in the Law of Moses, the tithe was to pay for the maintenance of the tabernacle, and to provide for the priests and the Levites, those in service to the temple who were otherwise relatively indigent for they had no inheritance, no land. On the other hand, Acts 20:33-35 shows us a little of both sides. Paul says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive", but he also says, "that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me." In Galatians 6:4-5, we read, "But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden."

However, God desires outreach. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus declared, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Is there no expense in bringing the message to others?

Further, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, "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." Obviously, there were needs that Paul had when he was ministering in his mission to the Corinthians - and someone paid for them, the brethren from Macedonia.

Are you taking part in God's mission? There is something I read recently, I believe it was in a BaptistWay Press quarterly, "Participating in God's Mission", which talked of two people meeting in an airport. My paraphrase follows:
Man 1: "What do you do?"
Man 2: "I'm a pilot."
Man 1: "Oh? What do you fly?"
Man 2: "Oh, I don't fly anything."
Man 1: "So, you're retired?"
Man 2: "No, I don't think that's for me, not yet."

Now, the first man is confused. The conversation stalls, because it doesn't make sense for a pilot to be a pilot, not be retired, and not fly anything. Similarly, a Christian who isn't taking part in God's mission doesn't make sense.
What is God's mission? As I have heard stated by Ted Noel, and can not recall the original source from which it came, God's mission is his "passionate pursuit of people." Therefore, any action that helps to bring people to God and to not drive people away from God is a participation in God's mission. These things should be first to be supported by us, and by our means.

A church should take care not to seek from those who do not have, however. It is not good for us to offend those of a weak conscience (Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 8:12), nor is it good for us to shame those that have not (1 Corinthians 11:21-22).

Further, when receive a benefit from a church, we should do our best to give of our own, of what we have to give (and not that which will cause us to be unable to keep to the agreements that we have made; faithlessness is not appealing to others, and no way to bring people to God). Often times we take so many of these benefits for granted: a church building and the expenses of its services, including but not limited to things like lighting, heating or air conditioning, the time of people, just to name some more notable and common examples).

Further, if you have a problem with your brother or sister in Christ, or with your church (which is merely a problem with those who are holding those offices, unless you have a problem with God or with Jesus), do not merely withhold when you might otherwise give when there is a good need; neither should you give when it will offend your conscience. Rather, set aside your offering, address and resolve your problem, communicate with those who you are offering your support and encouragement toward; then make your offering (paraphrase of Matthew 5:23-24).

We can lessen the expenditures, the burdens, of our church or assembly by contributing more - and not just in monetary forms, but by taking more action, giving more of our own time and efforts. When we give of our own to our church or assembly, to that organization that should be made up of those who we would be willing to call Christians, that set of members of the body of Christ, we should do our best to give not for mere restitution, but for the enrichment; and not for the enrichment of ourselves, or for any member or leader, or even for the church alone, but of all.

To summarize, if you find a group, church, assembly, or other organization that you believe is doing good, worthwhile work and you feel desired to help them then contribute. If you have problems with them, or with anyone, do your best to resolve those first. If you do not believe the organization is doing right and cannot resolve your issues with it, do not offend your conscience by continuing your support.

If you can, do not limit your contributions to money. If you have not money to offer, do not think that you have nothing for all can contribute something, even if it is only what seems a small thing such as greeting people, or participation in a Bible study class.

Remember, Jesus said, "I, if I be lifted up ..., will draw all men unto me." God's mission. Not all people have been drawn to Jesus, likely not even a majority of people. Jesus did not lie to us, so this must mean that we have, as yet, failed to lift Jesus up.

How will you help God in his passionate pursuit of people?

(EDIT: 26 July 2009)

There was a point that I realized I had missed mentioning in this post, one that I knew needed to be post at the first but had forgotten before posting.

That point is the test of Gamaliel of Acts 5:34-39. I believe attempting to use reasoning such as this as reason not to support a group effort, of the type discussed in this post, that you consider otherwise worthy of support is folly. On the other hand, if you are not moved to extend your support to such a group, if you have doubts and are not moved to either support a group or depart from it, perhaps it is worthy to keep in mind.

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