Separation of Church and Bank, pt. 1
There always seems to be some tension around the topic of giving. We talked about giving recently and tried to figure out why we don't like talking about it. Some people said it's because they just don't like giving. Losing money is tough. Others said it's too personal. Everyone has different incomes, needs, and giving capabilities. Still others hinted at the idea that money is mentally separated from church. The spiritual and the physical are not to overlap.
For me, I just don't know much about giving. I know I should be cheerful, but that's about it. I'm not really sure how much is appropriate to give, how much does the church need, how much should I give to other organizations, and how I demonstrate godly stewardship with each of those. I usually fall back on believing that since I'm a college student God will be content with me giving my time - which is the same as money, right? Though there's a bit of truth in all of these ideas, Satan harnesses these mindsets and uses them to poison the wealth.
In Randy Alcorn’s book, The Treasure Principle, he writes, “When it comes to giving, churches operate under a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy … Why are we surprised when, seeing no other example, the young Christian takes his cues from a materialistic society?” Often we have been so concerned with not letting the right hand know what the other is doing that we’ve subconsciously, or perhaps consciously, allowed the left hand to slip into secret indolence. Rather than letting the light of our giving shine before men, we’ve hidden it under a basket being passed down the aisle and we are losing joy because of that. Both the rich Pharisee and the impoverished widow gave publicly. So, let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Let us outdo one another in showing honor to the one who possesses and distributes all of the world’s wealth. Let’s talk about money.
Alcorn asks, “We can learn to give more, give more often, and give more strategically. We teach the pursuit of excellence in our vocations. Why not make giving something we study, discuss, & sharpen, striving for excellence?” What if we talked about giving, not in a vague sense, but very specifically? What if the contribution was not a “separate and apart” necessary evil, but a meaningful part of the worship service? What if we didn’t talk about 10% as a traditional suggestion, but a baseline? What if we set realistic goals that we publicly measured? What if we were ashamed of neither wealth nor poverty because we gave to all who had need? What if the church was a place we went to for financial planning and not just a place where we spent a quarter watching videos about how to be debt free? What if we believed greed was a sin?
Alcorn writes, “Giving isn’t a luxury of the rich. It’s a privilege of the poor … [Macedonian Christians] were dirt-poor but came up with every reason they could to give. They begged for the privilege of giving! What a contrast to us, who have so much more than they had but manage to come up with endless justifications for not giving!”
I typically consider giving more of a duty than a “privilege.” But it’s true – it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to have the financial capacity to give. It’s a privilege to know where my money is going and that it’s doing good to others. It’s a privilege to be more blessed to give than to receive. It’s a privilege to be able to take part in sustaining work that advances the Kingdom of God. But the question remains – why give?
“Our giving is a reflexive response to the grace of God in our lives. It doesn’t come out of our altruism or philanthropy – it comes out of the transforming work of Christ in us,” Alcorn says. In my life giving has been sometimes a response to passion, but mostly a response to legalism or guilt. I feel like I have to give or my it will look bad if I don’t or my salvation will be in question or some impoverished orphan in Africa will die miserably without my dollar.
As I put my dollar in the collection basket & see the usher carry it away I am rarely taking the immense grace of God into consideration. But that is what I ought to do. Christ relinquished the heavenly throne to become a lower class citizen of earth so that he may fulfill the will of God. He gave up everything so that the poor in spirit could be richly filled by grace. What option do I have but to pour that grace out on others and support others who are doing the same?
We cannot continue to live being stretched between the false dichotomies of the physical and spiritual needs of the world. Disregarding one or the other disregards the nature of Jesus's holistic ministry. Peter Greer & Phil Smith point out in The Poor Will Be Glad, “If an integrated approach to making disciples is a scriptural imperative, followers of Christ are not at liberty to choose between proclaiming Christ or serving the needs of the world.” If we are sharing the gospel with people without helping them physically, we are not truly sharing the gospel. If we are helping people physically without sharing the gospel, we are not truly helping them.
Our money should go to advance the message of God because in reality, it’s God’s money to use as he wills. We are but stewards on this earth. I Tim. 6.17-18 says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
The world is fleeting. Only in the work of God can we use money, which is momentary, and transform it into something eternal. Only in the work of God can we take something that has potential to lead to all manner of evil and use it to lead souls to Christ. Only in the work of God can we take something that seems to take hold of us and use it to take hold of that which is truly life.
So, once we give up our money we are finally able to have true life. However, I don’t think that we are to suppose that we generously give in order to pass the burden of money to other people. It’s not purely about money. As philosopher Amartya Sen describes in Development as Freedom, “Aristotle noted at the very beginning of Nicomachean Ethics … ‘Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else…’ The usefulness of wealth lies in the things that it allows us to do – the substantive freedoms it helps us to achieve.” Money enables people to have freedom. In the Church there is potential for money to enable people to have freedom in Christ. The spiritual meets the physical, the eternal grazes the temporary, and Heaven touches Earth.