The Ancient Faith
THE CONTRIBUTION: HOW IT MUST BE USED
Jerry L. Cutter
The purpose of this article is not concerning the necessity of giving, but is rather concerning the proper use of what is given to the church. I long ago saw the futility of teaching people, who already know their duty concerning their duty to give, but find foolish reasons for not doing so. Those who spend themselves into overwhelming debt, and use it as an excuse for not giving properly to the church, should do so with some fear. Will a man rob God? The Jews succeeded in doing so by cheating in their “tithes (10%) and offerings,” and as a result were “cursed with a curse” (Malachi 323-9). We are not serving a different God.
GIVING IS COMMANDED
Some believe, and have taught publicly, that the contribution is not a command. This idea is based upon what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 8. This chapter has to do with the giving to the poor saints mentioned in I Corinthians 16: 1-4. In 1 Corinthians 8:3, Paul writes: “I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others.” The NIV has it: “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.”
The mistake in understanding this scripture is failing to realize that Paul is not commanding the Corinthians to fulfill A PROMISE that they had made already concerning the giving to the poor saints. The answer is clearly seen in I1 Corinthians 9:1-5, where Paul writes: “There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia [where Corinth is located] were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we – not to say anything about you – would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for THE GENEROUS GIFT YOU HAD PROMISED. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given” (NIV).
What was commanded is that a contribution be made in each church upon each Lord’s Day and set aside for the poor. Notice I Corinthians 16: 1-2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order (order is a command) to the churches of Galatia, even so do you. Upon the first day of the week (every week – see the Greek and other translations), let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings (collections) when I come.” Order can be translated as “directed, authorized, arranged, ordained or commanded” (see your lexicon). The same Greek word translated “order” in I Corinthians 16:1 is translated as “ordained” in I Corinthians 9:14 (KJV). The verse reads: “Even so hath the Lord ORDAINED that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” The NIV renders the verse: “In the same way, the Lord has COMMANDED that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”
We may be at liberty to choose which gospel preachers we will support, or what saints we will help, but this does not change the fact that “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up …
A MISUSE OF THE CONTRIBUTION
Almost innocently we have been lulled into using the contribution in ways not permitted by the Scriptures. There are commands involved in the use of the contribution. A command was given to the churches to lay by in store, upon the first day of every week, for poor saints. A command is also given by our Lord to support those who preach the gospel. It is important to remember that these commands given by Paul were given to churches in a very broad area. It was given to “the churches in Galatia” (I Cor. 16: 1). It was also given to the churches in Macedonia as well as the churches in Achaia, where Corinth was located (I1 Cor. 9: 1-2). This was a universal doctrine with Paul. Note I Corinthians 4:17 where Paul said Timothy would bring into their remembrance “of my ways which be in Christ, AS I TEACH EVERY WHERE IN EVERY CHURCH.”
What then about building church buildings and other things necessary for the worship and work of the church? Can they be scripturally justified? There is a simple rule one must always remember: WHEN ANY COMMAND IS GIVEN, INHERENT WITHIN THAT COMMAND IS EVERYTHING IT TAKES TO CARRY OUT OR OBEY, THAT COMMAND. This is true concerning any law, whether civil or religious. For instance, we have been commanded to baptize those converted. Inherent within that command is all that it takes to baptize someone, whether it is building a baptistry, going to a manmade lake or pond, digging a hole in the ground and filling it with water, or traveling to a lake or the ocean. So it is with assembling to worship. We must assemble upon the first day of every week (I Cor. 16:2). A church must agree upon a place to meet, among other things. We might have to meet under a tree (as I have done), rent a place, buy a building, meet in a home, or be given a place to meet. There is no other way to carry out the command. Many times, of necessity, a building must be purchased. Of course, this involves money, and the purpose for the building is to keep a command and for the furtherance of the gospel.
The church at Troas met in an upper room, where the public could gather. Seemingly the church at Corinth was not meeting in a private home, but had homes to eat in other than the place of worship (I Cor. 11:34). Their meeting places were situated to where the unlearned and unbelievers felt welcome to “come in” (I Cor. 14:24). Paul rented a house “and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ …” (Acts 28:30-31). Rent involves money. Certainly we must make ourselves available to the public in order to preach the kingdom of God and teach concerning Jesus. Thus, it is not unscriptural to use church funds for a place to meet, teach and preach.
What, though, about using church funds for more than that which is spiritual – worship, preaching and teaching about Jesus? It is unscriptural, and once begun has no stopping place. For instance, we cannot build a place of worship and spend church funds on a kitchen or a place to eat. We cannot use church funds to provide for places of entertainment, such as gyms, ball fields, camps, etc. And we certainly cannot form church choirs and ball teams to compete with the denominations.
Sometimes places of worship are purchased with kitchens and dining areas. This in itself is not wrong; however, if buying such a facility adds up to being more in cost than the cost would be of building a building without the kitchen and dining areas, then the building should not be purchased. More and more brethren are being “tempted” to go beyond the Scriptures in these matters, but the temptation must be avoided at all cost. The contributions to the church have specific uses, and any use other than that is clearly defined in the Scriptures as wrong.
And then, we will notice one last misuse of the contribution, and that is NO USE. The command to contribute to the church also carries with it the command Muse. The leaders of the churches must actively find ways to scripturally use the collections. Never let it be said that there is no need, thus no reason to give. Neither should the lack of need ever be used for an excuse not to give. Our obligation to give as we have been prospered never varies. We may live in a small community, but the world is a big place, and we are barely beginning to fulfill the great commission in our generation – and, comparatively speaking, none of us has much time left.
At this time in America there is tremendous wealth in the Lord’s church. However, despite this great wealth, it is still difficult to keep the work going worldwide, in many cases. Brethren, we must be very careful about how we are spending the contributions, and at the same time we must remember we are setting examples for future generations. We must be very careful not to set the stage for even more digression, by our use of church funds. A place to worship has its place only insofar as it is necessary for us to have a place to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
[This is from the March 2001 issue of the OPA]