By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article Originally Printed October 15, 1982)
It is almost a daily experience to pass signs advertising fund-raisers for some church or religious group. Television programs associated with religion constantly make a plea for money to aid their labors. The pleas are pitched toward anyone and everyone out there. This raises the interesting question of why those who claim to be God’s people seek the financial aid of those who make up the world? How did the early church support itself in carrying forth the name of Jesus? Does the Bible set forth principles regarding the funds of the church or is it left for man’s way?
It is evident the religious world gives little thought about how money is raised, but much thought to how much money they can raise. Surely, this is wrong and reflects the general mood of society. Concession stands or Games of chance are a constant source of money for “Good works” today. But what does the Bible teach about church fund raising?
What is most likely wrong in this area is the same as with many other Bible subjects. People are no longer willing to declare anything is wrong. They might say they wouldn’t do it that way, but we are not judging others practices. We bear this so much any more, we are beginning to wonder is this love, indifference or lack of conviction to stand with the Lord and his word? Does the New Testament present to us the will of heaven for earth or not? How much longer can we neglect the positive teachings of the Lord, by saying he never said you couldn’t? This type of reasoning is a sure trap to make men pay lip service to the word of God, while erasing the very principles God put there for our guidance.
Jesus made it clear we shall be judged and we know where to look for the standard of that judgment. “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. (John 12:48).” The word of God has much to say about giving and we find no reason to believe it is outdated. It appears man has nearly taken the instruction of the Bible out of his life by saying that there can be no judgments and reasoning that “we all serve the same God.”
When you consider what the New Testament reveals about giving it is rather astounding that the subject of how the early church gave is so easily dismissed. We never find one occasion where the church made any plea for funds from the world. Does this mean anything to the Christian today? If so, why do men run roughshod over the teaching of the word? The New Testament reveals the church handling their needs through the giving of the members. Does this mean nothing today? There is no example or command showing the early church functioned through pledges. It is high time to recognize that the positive teaching of the New Testament is a pattern for mankind to follow.
The church met her own needs through God’s care. There is no hint of being hindered by financial needs in carrying forth the gospel. The most likely reason for this was not the individual wealth of the members, but that the membership was only involved in what the Lord said was necessary for the His work to be done. The strained need for money by many religious organizations today is due to involvement in programs not ordained by the rule of the scriptures. “Let us beware of extending the work ourselves, for if the extension is of man, we shall have to use man-made methods to meet the new demands (Nee. P.107).”
“Now, concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:1,2).” The immediate need to aid the poor saints was met by apostolic instruction and we see no reason why such should not serve to guide the church in gathering of funds now.
The early church gave regularly or periodically. This was done upon the first day of the week and the reading in 1 Corinthians 16 supports the idea that this was done every first day of the week. This time seems highly appropriate in light of others spiritual truths. The church gathered on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10). Their giving was to assure help for the needy at that time and was an expression of the Gentile and Jewish fellowship in Christ. The wisdom of giving regularly to meet the needs of the church should be rather clear to all.
Giving on the first day of the week certainly fits others factors regarding the spiritual maturity of the givers. The contributing on the first day of the week permitted Christians to give of their first fruits and not merely the leftovers. Faith was the stimulus behind this kind of giving and without faith what do we really have? The assembly on the first day of the week was primarily an assembly of the believers and free from the world. What better time for the saint to give of his means? We can not see by faith the way or necessity of contributions other than those endorsed by the word of God.
3 John 6&7 reads, “Which have borne witness of the charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.” Clearly, the church did not seek support for the Lord’s work by taking the alms of the unsaved. There would be no charge of preaching for financial gain, when they did not seek support from their audience. We do not declare the gospel for personal gain.
There was no charge of shame or reproach brought upon the church when she supported herself and sought no help from the world. But this is no longer true. Why? Because man is going his own way in this matter. Today many live not by faith in Christ, but the pleas of pure commercialism.
The child of God gave as he was prospered. There is no indication of a system of pledges or gatherings that cunningly appealed to emotion or to do as much as others were giving at that moment. These things are frequently being ignored under the guise of trying to further the kingdom. We should give as we have prospered by the hand of the Lord.
The word prosper conveys the thought of granting goods for a prosperous or expeditious journey. One travels well and in a good manner. See Romans 1:10 and 3 John 2. The idea is to be able to make the journey adequately and complete the task of the journey. This is illustrated by Abraham’s oldest servant traveling to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:21,40). God has never expected anything from man without providing what is necessary to fulfill that expectation. Read Isaiah 55:11.
The disciples gave according to their individual ability (Acts 11:29). Again, the idea is as the abounded or prospered. The principle of giving according to ability is not new to God’s arrangement. A number of Old Testament references reflect the recognition of according to ability. “They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work… (Ezra 2:69). When the law was given we can read, “…and they shall not appear before the LORD empty; Every man shall give as he is able… (Deuteronomy 16:16,17). The law also allowed for consideration of financial ability for fulfilling a vow (Leviticus 27:8). Read also Numbers 35:8.
It is unfortunate, but true that many churches attempt to make people feel compelled to give by putting giving in a public comparison situation. This is subtle, but a very ungodly way for those claiming to be children of the kingdom to act. The Bible is not vague on this issue.
Matthew 6:3 reads, “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” This specific instruction is found in the context of Matthew 6:1 where men are told not to do their deeds of righteousness for eyesight of man. Giving is not a show. When men begin bidding wars to see how much they can raise for a project they are not abiding by Biblical principle. One writer has commented on these verses by saying our giving should be unobtrusive. No church should create or even attempt to create an atmosphere that takes away from God’s teaching on this matter.
2 Corinthians 9:5 has much to say about appeals for giving and the purpose for our giving. It is one of those overlooked verses. “Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, not as of covetousness.” Paul’s appeal to Corinth is to give as a gift bestowed and not a forced portion from solicitation. Don’t let this gift be forced by having a knowledge of what others have done or from the urging on of others. We quote, “…as a gift willingly bestowed, and not as a thing extorted from you by my importunity, as from persons of a covetous disposition.” This verse has much to say in light of present disposition and methods in Christendom for raising funds.
The Bible premise for the financial affairs of the early church was regular giving on the first day of the week by every Christian. They gave according to their ability or as they had prospered. We also see where they individually cared and helped in times of special needs or problems. It is highly disturbing to see the Lord’s body being maligned because some men have left the New Testament pattern of giving and caring for the work of the church. Many have rationalized various methods to raise funds by saying it is for a good cause. This kind of thinking eventually brings poverty, because it blinds itself to what is wrong. We dare not become blinded.
Let us recognize the word of God delivers to us the way the Lord desires his body to function on earth. The way the early church gave and conducted her financial affairs is not a matter of ignorance for us. Let us learn how the early church gave and let us do for the glory of God and the welfare of all.