Church Giving

One of my least favorite things in which to participate, at any church, is a fund raising campaign.

If they are put on by an external committee or a fund raising team from the denomination they are often worse than awful. Here’s my list of beefs:

  1. They often utilize fliers that misrepresent Scripture. Often with quotes like this, “Are you going to build a house for me to inhabit?” 2 Samuel 7:5
  2. They take up a great deal of church service time that is explicitly designated for Word and Sacrament (or Ordinance if you’re Baptist).
  3. A great deal of stake is put on them that makes them a time of tremendous stress on pastors, deacon boards, and committed families.
  4. They feed into an event rather than Scripture/discipleship oriented church calendar.
  5. Giving is treated as a sort of supernatural transaction.

Now then, here’s the problem. Churches, particularly Baptist or non-denominational churches, are funded almost entirely by the local membership. Thus, giving must, at certain times be increased. But how can a church do this as a part of the process of discipleship rather than merely as a project of the current leadership?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. A church could move in the direction of treating the morning services as a time for discipleship (training people how to do everything Jesus taught Matthew 28:19-20) rather than programming designed purely to invite new people.
  2. In so doing, giving could then be taught about, not as a weird supernatural transaction between God and the giver, but as a way of sustaining the church community in actual human history. In other words, giving is covenantal with a concern about the traditions of the past (the message of Scripture), the present situation (people who need to eat and to know the gospel), and the future (whatever that may be).
  3. In this respect, the church, as an institution and as a people, would be able to focus on money in relationship to the teachings of Jesus. People who are learning to be frugal and generous would also be those in charge of the church’s finances. Thus the teaching about money from the pulpit and in Sunday school would not only be a begrudging moment wherein people are shamed into supporting a new building. Instead, handling money would be one part of the whole Christian life: being less worldly, more generous, more hospitable, and a part of a community (the church) that must function in a real world economy.
  4. So, if giving to the church took a back seat to the goal of training people to be like Jesus and to use their finances wisely, it would seem that capital campaigns and other such things could be done away with.

Loving your enemies and politics

Jesus is pretty clear about loving your enemies:

Mat 5:43-48  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (44)  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (45)  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (46)  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (47)  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (48)  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Luk 6:27-36  “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, (28)  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (29)  To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. (30)  Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. (31)  And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (32)  “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (33)  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. (34)  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. (35)  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (36)  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

I think his teaching here should become a controlling priority in lives of Christians. Be kind to those who oppose you. But there are two ways to get this wrong (btw, I’ve preached on this and maybe blogged about it…if I have, sorry). I’ll use a political metaphor because in my experience people of different political persuasions are usually (though not always) more likely to fall into the corresponding trap:

  1. The error on the right
    This mistake is simply that of finding exceptions to Jesus command here and immediately inferring that it therefore never applies. This error comes up more in conversation than in writing. It often goes like this: You want me to love my enemies…but what about Hitler? Or perhaps Christians who are unaware of Jesus’ teaching on this score will equate kindness to enemies with weakness.
  2. The error on the left
    This error is equally silly but more compelling at first glance. It goes this way, “Did you hear about that horrible tragedy that did not befall me? I totally love the person who did that. Therefore, I am a disciple of Jesus regardless of how I treat those around me.” This error comes with other blanket statements too: “Christians should never use violence,” “Christians should forgive everybody,” etc. In it’s stupidest expressions, this view essentially internalizes that nobody is the Christian’s enemy.

The problems with both of these errors are obvious, given a little thought:

  1. Both errors require their adherents to assume that exceptions to the rule of enemy love invalidate the teaching as a general stance. If there are times when violence is necessary helps accomplish a provisional good, then Jesus is wrong. On the right, the teaching is tossed out. On the left it is misapplied. Yet, there are exceptions in the gospels and the epistles to almost every imperative in the sermon on the mount. The Biblical authors knew that Jesus’ teachings assumed valid exceptions.
  2. Both errors make kindness to people with whom you actually have contact unnecessary. The error on the right makes kindness to local enemies seem like weakness (that would be like forgiving Hitler). The error on the left makes it unnecessary (I forgive all the terrorists, I don’t have to be kind to you).
  3. Similarly to problem 2, both ignore that the command is meant to be a general stance (kindness/mercy) toward the people in one’s immediate circle of experience: “Bless those who curse you,” “Pray for those who persecute you,” “Go be reconciled with your brother.”
  4. The error on the right ends up being a way for ill informed Christians to shame informed Christians for following Jesus’ teachings.
  5. The error on the left ends up being a way for ill informed Christians to shame Christians who have used things like violence to save a life, protect a child, or who have called the police when in danger.

The actual teachings of Jesus about loving your enemies are transformative, just as he meant them to be but it has to be something we commit to doing, not something we find exceptions to or merely claim to do.

Tips for loving your enemies:

  1. Remember that your enemies might also be the people that you wish to curse, persecute, or hate. Pray for forgiveness, pray for their well being, and be intentionally polite to them in the near future.
  2. When somebody obviously hates you, pray for them.
  3. When such a person is rude to you in person, try having an actual conversation with them about why.
  4. If such a person is dangerously, violently, or illegally treating you poorly notify the authorities. Seriously, sometimes the loving thing to do is to ensure that somebody does not hurt somebody else.
  5. Or even, avoid the person. Paul says, “as much as depends on you, be at peace with all people.” Given time to cool off, perhaps both of you could learn to be cool with each other.
  6. Whether you view the passage as being about pacifism or not, do not use your interpretation as an excuse not to actually do what Jesus says.

The Transfiguration

One of the weirdest stories in the gospels is the transfiguration. Despite how strange it is though, its meaning is apparent. All three versions of the story contain God’s command to the bystanders:

  1. Mat 17:5  He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
  2. Mar 9:7  And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
  3. Luk 9:35  And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

In all of these gospels, the story happens shortly after Jesus’ revelation of his impending death to his friends.

In all of these gospels, Moses and Elijah (two of the biggest names in the Old Testament) are present.

In all of these gospels, of all the people who could have spoken, God spoke to the disciples and told them to listen to none other than Jesus.

I think the point is obvious. Our response to the gospel must be faith in Christ and they only kind of faith that will due is the kind that trusts Jesus as a man with something to say. Jesus had something to say about his death, his resurrection, about God, about life, about forgiveness, about sin, about history, and about you. The question the gospel authors leave us with is, “Will you listen to him?”