Believers and Giving - Part 2
In “Believers and Giving - Part 1,” we mentioned there are a plethora of other gifts, just as significant as giving money (Rom 12:3-8). One should not restrict “giving their gifts” to just money by elevating its significance above the rest. However, when we speak of money exclusively, and the handling of it, Jesus spoke a lot about it, and the early church modeled how and where money was spent out of their abundance.
The first-century Macedonian Christians gave freely, out of a cheerful heart, without guilt, religious obligation, or manipulation and they generously helped those who were in need (2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 9:6-15: see also Rom 12:13, James 1:27).
To illustrate, Wolfgang Simson gives a background for this understanding in his Starfish Manifesto:
“Looking into the financial system of the early church, we can see how his disciples understood the revolutionary economic message and life of Jesus – and put it into practice. They did not romanticize the revolutionary economic teachings of Jesus or claim that he only meant all this in a figurative sense; they seriously put them into practice. It does not do justice to the finance principles that Jesus lived and preached to simply declare that they are nothing but a romantic fiction of a bygone era which we can safely ignore simply because our cultural times have changed. Some dismiss the idea that the corporate way the early church in Jerusalem handled money was in any way prescriptive because, so the argument goes, it was only temporary, and therefore cannot and should not serve as a prescription for the church later on. However, the early church, in the time just after Pentecost, lived in the closest possible proximity to Jesus’ physical time on earth, in a phase that historically came immediately after the ascension of Christ. This was a time, as the book of Acts records, when God frequently intervened in strategic ways into the unfolding of the history of the Kingdom, and it seems a legitimate point that God would have clearly stepped into the picture through prophetic words, visitations, or the outcome of apostolic councils, should the church have behaved clearly off the wall in the area of finances.”
Whatever abundance believers had (beyond their own needs), they brought it to the apostles, and they distributed the funds to those who had need in order that “there was no needy among them” (Acts 4:32-37; Acts 2:45; 1 Cor 16:2). This is not a Scriptural support for a redistribution of wealth such as in socialism or communism, rather the intent was simply for the means of the early church to ensure there was “no needy among them,” and thus those who were able, gave from their abundance. These are mandates for believer’s giving in Scripture:
“If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion--how can God's love be in that person?” - 1 John 3:19 (NLT).
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. –Matt 6:1-4
(See also Luke 6:30-38 when Jesus speaks about giving).
When money was distributed by the apostles, what was it spent on? (Wolfgang Simson, Starfish Manifesto pgs. 369-370)
FIRST - It was to “do good to everyone, foremost to those in the family of believers.” (Gal 6:10; see also Gal 2:10). “Caring first for the disadvantaged that are now part of God’s family, especially orphans and widows, is not only a natural response of any healthy parent, but also a biblical requirement.”(Simson, 369).
SECOND – It was for spiritual mothers and fathers who were of the household of faith. Those who had become mature trainers, coaches and equippers of others had developed into spiritual parents, “workers worth their pay” (Luke 10:7; 1 Cor. 9, etc.). People who fully invest themselves in others (Eph. 4:11-13), those who are the workers in the harvest, are worth their pay (Matt. 20) and were supported out of the general apostolic pool in similar ways that those who followed Jesus “and had left everything” were supported out of “the purse.” These equippers had a parental function in the Body of Christ. Just as a healthy extended family would never let down their Grandmas and Grandpas financially, the church as a whole needed to care financially for those who cared for them. This did not mean they received regular annual or monthly salaries, an idea completely alien to the New Testament, as it creates dependency and false security, laziness and “artificial” ministries not directly linked to what was happening in the church. Rather, the giving consisted of material resources and monies were given according to the need. This is in a dynamic link system that was tailored to the needs of everyone who could no longer work in a secular business (which then meant mostly working on a farm).
THIRD - The outside poor. Doing good to those outside the church was third on the priority list of giving: After taking care of one’s own weak and disadvantaged as well as the vital financial empowerment of those that existed for the equipping of the saints, the word was: “Do good to everyone” (Gal 6:10). Giving to the poor who were outside the church was not compulsory, but voluntary (Mark 14:7: “…and if you want, you can help them anytime”), a very wise emphasis for giving-priorities by Jesus. Otherwise the never ending need of the poverty of this world would completely sap the entire budget of the church in no time, if it were not for the partnership of apostles and deacons working together to make sure the budgeting is and remains God-driven, not need-driven. If the spending of church money were directed by pastors or anyone with a compassionate heart, but without any apostolic or prophetic understanding, the money of the church would quickly evaporate, dictated by the screaming need of the horrendous injustice and poverty that stares into our face at every corner, and budget items 1 and 2, ensuring the longevity and long-term strategies of the church, would have to be sacrificed in the name of the pressing, immediate need.
FOURTH - Apostolic projects. Paul arranged a financial collection for the aging grandmother-church of Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3), and the church in Philippi raised a substantial and liberating sum for the needy apostle Paul who, lacking support from a church that should support him, had no other choice than to “make tents” for a limited time (Acts 18:1-5; Phil 4:15). It seems that issues like mobility - to keep mobilizers mobile and on the run – and their daily support were legitimate and key financial reasons to keep ministries aﬂoat that, in turn, existed to keep the church aﬂoat. Once these mobilizers lost their financial support from the church, they literally drowned in tent-making and had to use their own hands to support themselves, severely limiting if not eliminating their existing contribution to the church that was dependent on them for their very future and expansion.
Since the beginning of part 1 of this blog “Believer’s and Giving,” we’ve established principles for giving as well as where money was spent, modeling the early church practices. So why then do church institutions spend 90% of their income on salaries, programs and buildings rather than on their own poor and needy, or to the outside poor as the early apostles modeled? James said it this way, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world”(James 1:27).
Notice, there is no mention of programs, salaries or buildings being funded anywhere in the early Church. It wasn’t in their DNA as the Body, and since it had nothing to do with fulfilling God’s purpose in Christ, it would have been unnecessary for growth. Three major problems exist in these systems that waste money on God’s mission.
Problem #1: Buildings
Frank Viola, talks extensively about this in his Pagan Christianity stating the problem with the church investing in buildings:
The church edifice demands a vast infusion of money. In the United States alone, real estate owned by institutional churches today is worth over $230 billion. Church building debt, service, and maintenance consumes about 18 percent of the $50 to $60 billion tithed to churches annually. (Smith, Going to the Root, 95. George Barna’s research).
Point: Contemporary Christians are spending an astronomical amount of money on their buildings. All the traditional reasons put forth for “needing” a church building collapse under careful scrutiny. (Howard Snyder demolishes most common arguments for “needing” church buildings in his book Radical Renewal: The Problem of Wineskins Today (Houston: Touch Publications, 1996), 62–74.
We so easily forget that the early Christians turned the world upside down without them (see Acts 17:6). They grew rapidly for three hundred years without the help (or hindrance) of church buildings. In the business world, overhead kills. Overhead is what gets added on to the “real” work a business does for its clients. Overhead pays for the building, the pencils, and the accounting staff.
Furthermore, church buildings (as well as salaried pastors and staff) require very large ongoing expenses rather than onetime outlays. These budget busters take their cut out of a church’s monetary giving not just today, but next month, next year, and so on. Contrast the overhead of a traditional church, which includes salaried staff and church buildings, with the overhead of a house church. Rather than such overhead siphoning off 50 to 85 percent of the house church’s monetary giving, its operating costs amount to a small percentage of the budget, freeing more than 95 percent of its shared money for delivering real services like ministry, mission, and outreach.
Viola, Frank; Barna, George (2008-01-17). Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (p. 41). BarnaBooks. Kindle Edition.
The only hint in Scripture of believers ever using money to support the function of a building was for a special occasion. “Paul rented the Hall of Tyrannus (two years for discussions) when he was in Ephesus (Acts 19:9-10), and the church of Jerusalem used the outer courts of the Temple for special gatherings”(Barna, Pagan Christianity, 46). Other than that, the Church regularly gathered in homes and public areas and did not feel the need to invest in a permanent building for meeting (Acts 2:2, 46; 8:3; 20:20; Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Philemon 1:2).
Problem #2: Salaries
We have already established the issues of salaries in part 1 of this blog “Believers and Giving”, and in the 2nd point Wolfgang Simson makes, he mentioned giving to spiritual fathers and mothers, rather than salaried professionals. See also Frank Viola’s chapter 8 in Pagan Christianity?, “Tithing and Clergy Salaries: Sore Spots on the Wallet”
Problem #3: Programs
Often times, programs are the primary driving force of the institutional agenda, to keep congregants at arm’s length, and to insulate them from one another. They are designed to serve as the driving machine of the church, to fuel it, market it, and treat people as cogs in it. These programs are also dominated by leadership, adopted from pagan culture and Greco-Roman philosophies, to control its operation. (paraphrased: Viola, Reimagining Church, 274-275).
The problem with programs is that the Holy Spirit no longer necessary to Lead. Since there is humanely-engineered programs and social activity to displace Him, they no longer require the Body to listen and obey to what He wants us to do (except within the confines of the program they’ve created) for making disciples. These artificially, humanely-controlled environments of structure, stifles the spontaneous, yet orderly and sovereign exercise of the Holy Spirit among the Body of Christ.
In addition, programs cost a vast of amount of money to sustain operation and overhead costs, most of which are funded by the tithes and offerings coming into the institutional system. We’ve already determined that the tithing system of taxation is foreign to early Christianity.
Ross Rohde, in Viral Jesus stated, “Ministry has become an indoor sport with special hours. At best we can now be what Frost and Hirsch call “attractional”: “an approach to Christian mission in which the church develops programs, meetings services or other ‘products’ in order to attract other believers into the influence of the Christian community.”
Rather than Christ’s Spirit leading, humans create and lead their own inventions apart from God’s eternal purpose already established for His Body. Instead of asking, what He is doing today, they ask, how can we systematize and organize to reach people? Organizations are developed to create “controlled and safe” environments for people to serve the cause, “project,” or agenda to gain more members. Even the “best” programs, with the best intentions are humanely-controlled or human-centered towards needs, rather than the God-driven purpose for making disciples in Christ.
“Simply put, the first century church knew no sustaining influence other than the life of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t rely on clergy-led, man-programmed, humanly planned, institutionally fueled system to preserve its momentum.” (Viola, Reimagining Church, 63).
The point of this is to show the reader that giving to religious programming was a completely foreign concept to the early Church. In the early Church, there were face-to-face, shared-life relationships, mutual submission, openness, freedom, mutual service, and “one-anothering” in an organic organism we call “Family.” The Church operated like a spiritual organism (Family), not a human institution. This could all be done with out the need of money to sustain its function and health (even though they used money to help others, it was not exclusive for doing so and their survival was not dependant upon it), it was not dependant upon lots of money, programs, buildings or specialized professional taking salaries. Notice how these human “things” are all required for an institutional system to operate. If you take them away, the institution dies. The last one out, turns out the lights.
Not so with Christ’s Family…
Families don’t make programs for one another to survive or to sustain life. Instead, healthy families invest themselves fully into each other in a very personal and direct way. Family builds each other together into Christ, into His life, and He provides the momentum for them. In Christ, they extend themselves to a hurting world (not at arms length) in a very compassionate, close, and personal way. The Church family (ekklesia) learned to follow Christ’s way of life together (discipleship). Christ sustains the body life of believers, and the love and servant hood in Christ they have for each other.
Listen to the podcast, "Mammon, Systems, and Tithing" by Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings.
To conclude, true giving (regardless of the gifting with or w/o money), is born by Jesus Christ Himself. It is in His life; the Family of Christ selflessly, sacrificially, with no self-interest, glorifies Him only in building up each and one another. It starts with His Family, and those who are in need, and He pours Himself out to those in need around His people. Jesus is taking us on a daily journey with Him, to cooperate with Him in His Purposes and plans for giving and living unto Him, poured out to others. Will you join with Him in the journey and forsake all other ways?