Separation of Church and Bank, pt. 2
I have begun Part 2 as I ended Part 1 – a declaration that money is more than paper. When we seek after money, it is not wealth that we seek, but that which wealth can enable us to buy, see, and do. We then understand that in giving, we do not give to merely increase wealth, but to increase “substantive freedoms” of the church and those it reaches. So, how do we go about doing that?
Randy Alcorn claims in The Treasure Principle that, “Giving should start with your local Bible-believing, Christ-centered church, the spiritual community to which you are accountable.” A friend once told me that she had decided to forego giving at church because it “just goes to a salary & cushioned seats.” This is partially true. It does indeed go to the salary of those who have decided to dedicate their lives to full-time ministry. In exchange for this decision to sacrifice a more economically, relationally, psychologically gratifying career, the congregation you choose to be a part of may agree to support their choice by supporting their families.
There has also been a recent surge of angst against the “cushioned seats,” or the so-called luxuries of the Western church in comparison to the lower-income churches of the Global South. While there may be some truth in the fact that many Western churches have become consumed with wealth and are more culturally-led than Spirit-led, it is ignorant to disregard the contextual purpose of the “cushioned seats.” We are not of the world, but sent into the world, and called to minister to the world in which we live. The world in which we live likes cushioned seats and well-formatted PowerPoints. Western disciples will not typically come from those who are uncomfortable and unengaged.
However, I do not say all this to say that there is no truth in the matter of salaries and seats. As Alcorn noted, the church to which you are accountable should be Bible-believing and Christ-centered. If your congregation is these things then you should have no problem financially supporting its efforts. If it is not, perhaps it is time to have a critical conversation or find a new congregation.
Alcorn goes on to say, “Beyond that, you can generously support worthy missions and parachurch ministries, carefully evaluating them by biblical standards. I have seen an interesting irony when it comes to giving beyond the church. It seems that when we’re giving to church we have many standards – the preaching quality, the comfortableness, the nobility of missions, etc. – but when it comes to charities and non-profit organizations we just throw our money at them, all willy-nilly. When we hear that someone is helping the poor in far, far West Africa, we hand them a $20 bill without understanding the organization, knowing where the money is going, or having any expectations at all. We have countless standards when it comes to our investments – why not with our altruism as well?
It is not wrong to have standards for giving. If we truly believe that we are stewards of the financial gifts that God has given us, why would we ever want to waste it, or worse, give to the detriment of another? Yet, many times, that is exactly what we do. So, I have a few standards to suggest:
Give to the holistic advancement of the Kingdom of God. Bringing about the Kingdom of God takes place in the form of overt evangelism, service to others, enacting justice, environmental activism, and so much more. And it takes money. Christ was a balance of the physical and the spiritual, and our giving should take that balance into account as well. Look at where you're giving to see what they're doing to bring about God's will on Earth as it is in Heaven.
ive to what you love. Where you're treasure is, there your heart will be also. Your money follows your heart, and vice versa. You will be more inclined to cheerfully give and keep up with where your money is going if you are giving it to something about which you are passionate. Whether it is cancer patient rehabilitation or education for girls in Afghanistan - there's an organization that is doing it.
Give to what works. This standard should be a qualifier for the first two. Just because it claims Christ or you're passionate about the work doesn't always mean that it's doing good. Don't waste your money on an institution that is not putting money where you think it should go, that is contributing to aid-driven dependencies, or not showing any signs of advancing Kingdom work. This requires a little more research on your part, but it is most certainly worth it to know that you're giving to an organization that really is serving and using your money well.
So, what does a giving standard look like for an entire congregation?