How Shall We Finance the Work of the Church? – Bob Terry

The earliest Christians did not worry about how to finance the work of the church. They simply gave their all. In Acts 2:45, the writer tells how early Christians sold their property and gave their money to be used for the work of the church. In those days, the church "had all things in common." Many of these early Christians expected an immediate return of Jesus, so concern about material things was of little value.

 

But as years stretched into decades and decades became centuries, Christians began to discuss the best way to carry on the work of the church. Early church fathers such as Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine offered that Christians should practice tithing as the Jews were taught in the Old Testament. Augustine supposedly declared, "To give less than the Pharisees was a meager standard for the believer."

 

By A.D. 567, the practice of tithing was recommended for all Christians during the Second Council of Tours.

 

Within 20 years, what was recommended became what was required. In A.D. 585, at the Second Council of Macon, it was decided that all Christians must tithe to the church or be excommunicated from the faith. During the rule of Charlemagne, tithing to the church was reinforced by civil law. A nontither was not only excommunicated from the church, he was jailed as a criminal.

 

As church and state became entwined, the tithes became taxes and went to the state. The state, in turn, financed the church from the public treasury. That was the status for many of the early American colonies. Everyone was taxed to finance the work of the established church of the colony. That pattern continues in many of the countries that still have established state churches.

 

A different approach surfaced in places where churches were forced to pay their own way. Churches began functioning like businesses. They charged for all of their services. Baptists joke about people saying, "You are sitting in my pew," but many churches forced parishioners to rent or buy their pews. In such cases, families actually owned the pew and it was theirs. Churches charged for special services and some still do. Private masses could be said, but the family had to pay for the service. The bigger the service, the more one paid.

 

Some churches resorted to membership fees. An assessment list was compiled, and people were told what they were expected to pay for the privilege of membership. When special projects came along, "subscription lists" were drawn up according to which each family was expected to pay its designated share of the cost.

 

Churches developed fund raising to an art, using everything from pie sales to bingo to lotteries.

 

Some churches have chosen to raise funds through manipulation and guilt. I have been in churches where the names of all church families were publicly displayed on a chart along with the giving record of each family. I have seen other charts on which family names were listed along with the volunteer service they did through the church. One prominent Baptist church regularly distributed the list of what each family pledged and how much each family had given toward that pledge at that particular time. There is nothing like public disclosure to prompt giving.

 

The idea of gaining blessings from God by giving and service has always been popular. Pope Urban II promised forgiveness of sin to all who participated in the Crusades. Pope Leo X sold indulgences for the forgiveness of sin. With the money raised, he built St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

 

There is another way to finance the work of the church, one that is closer to the New Testament. The work of the church can be financed out of a sense of gratitude for God's gracious act of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

God is a giver. Genesis 1:26 declares that God not only gave humanity life, He gave mankind His own image. That same verse announces that God gave humanity purpose, to be His partner in the caring for and guiding of creation.

God gave Himself for our sin through Jesus Christ. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). He endured the agony of the cross for us. He conquered death through Easter Sunday's resurrection and gave us the promise of eternal life.

 

God calls us to be givers–givers of ourselves and our resources, including our money. As we give, we acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives. We acknowledge our responsibility and accountability to God for all that we have. We demonstrate our continuing partnership and stewardship as God entrusts resources into our hands and we use them for His honor and glory.

 

The tithe is just the beginning because all that we have belongs to God. We do not give because it is required. We do not give to purchase services. Nor do we give to gain God's favor. We give to show our gratitude to God for the priceless privilege of knowing Him as Lord and Savior. We give to help care for God's people. We give so that others may hear the good news of hope through faith in Jesus Christ. We give to provide for the work of the church. That is how the New Testament teaches we should finance the work of the church.