Part of our clear understanding of Scriptures regarding the local church is that the financial income of the local church is to be solely based in the tithes and offerings of its people. The local church is not to “sell” anything, not even cakes or cookies. They are not to have bingo nights, or charge for their services. In some churches understanding (and I am in total agreement here), not even the visitors are asked to participate in their offerings. They clearly release the visitors from any idea of obligation on their part before every offering is taken. This is visitors that are unsaved and even visitors that are visiting from other good churches.
The thinking here is that if tithes and offerings are spiritual sacrifices by which God does His work, why would God even want the unsaved or the unspiritual to partake in the work of God? By their participation they contaminate the work of God rather than help it. If the visitors are members of good other local churches, then they should be tithing and giving there and not here.
Mat 10:8 …freely ye have received, freely give
Acts 8:18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, 20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
When Christ sent out the disciples, he established a principle that the gospel is to be given out freely. The way God has established things is that those mature people of God in a church pay for everything that is needed because they are mature and see the need and obligation to do so so that the work of the Lord goes forward. In the process of maturing new converts, part of their “education” is to understand that they too must partake of the financial burden of the ministry. But nobody keeps tabs on how much you give, or even if you give. Things are seen more generally.
For example, we have 30 families each making around $30,000 per year, so each would give a tithe of $3,000 times 30 is a projected income of $90,000. When the offerings are only $15,000 for the year, somebody is not giving. A lot of somebodies are not giving.
This principle is difficult sometimes to keep straight, but the principle God has laid down for us is that we (saved people that are spiritually mature) are supposed to support the work of God.
1 Corinthians 9:14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
Galatians 6:6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.
What happens when we charge for ministry?
It would be considered extremely unethical by almost every Christian for an evangelist to charge before giving the plan of salvation to someone. This is simply wrong. But why is it wrong? Because we have the salvation of God as a direct result of the grace and goodness of God who has provided it for us at his own expense, and we CANNOT buy it or purchase it even if we wanted to. This basic concept of the gospel is very clear in the Scripture and I do not think anyone in their right mind would argue it, except…
When we speak of salvation, this is the norm. But when we speak of Christian doctrine, of teaching, of training, of spiritual counseling, of spiritual help, it seems that it is okay for us to charge. Did I say ok? No it is not okay, but it is an absolute essential that we charge. Those “in the loop” laugh at anything that seriously tries to teach others like a Christian school without charging. Many “Christian counseling” ministries including family counseling ministries are now on a charge basis, comparable to Psychoanalysts’ fees (resulting in hundreds or thousands of dollars per session). Not without notice is the fact that many of them position themselves as Psychologists or “Christian Psychoanalysts” and therefore they should charge similarly.
Christian schools also take the same tact of presenting themselves as “alternatives” to secular education and therefore they have to charge. But God set up a system whereby within the local church the new Christians can learn and grow freely without having to be forced to pay. He pays according to a percentage of his income, and as God burdens his heart and opens his understanding, he gives above and beyond this percentage.
Exactly why do Christians schools have special prices or rates for some “underprivileged” in Christianity? Is it not that they try to duplicate imperfectly what God has done perfectly? The best way then, the way that God has shown us and ordered us is to give the services freely without any charge.
The issue here is very simple. Christian ministries make charges for what God has given us direction that it should be free. They say, “we cannot operate without charging. It is impossible!” Exactly, their structure does not permit their freely giving on a uniform, extensive basis. But God’s perfect structure of the local church can and does this often and it works beautifully. Here we see the genius of God and the utter failure of man’s fabrications.
I know of churches that have outings, retreats, camps, and even in house Bible study programs similar to University Bible courses, and they carry out these ministries year after year without charging the people who receive these benefits anything. It is purely on a basis of mature Christians giving because of the love of Christ in their hearts.
What’s more, the Christian fund raising element in Christianity would totally fade away if people would just understand that these ministries work under a local church which houses it, funds it, staffs it, and oversees it. Take it out from under a single local church and everything falls apart. These ministries try to keep the legitimate appearance of things by making a board of pastors of local churches, but that does not obligate that pastor and people to the dedication to make the thing work. Nor does it address other problems.
Here enters another aspect of the genius of God and the stupidity and awkwardness of man’s imperfect fabrications.
Communal Property versus Private Property
When we talk about making a ministry, we need to understand how God has wisely set up things when he set up the local church as the exclusive and only method for doing the work of God. God’s people need some place to do ministry. This place is the local church, or as some call it the temple throwing back to the Old Testament temple.
In the New Testament tradition, the New Testament churches were set up similar to the Old Testament synagogues. These were founded wherever there were 10 or more Jewish families. They would call a rabbi (teacher) and they would each donate time, labor, materials, and buy a piece of land and build the actual physical building. Each of the 10 families would tithe a tenth of their income, including the rabbi. The tithes and offerings would go to the rabbi for his salary, and his own tithe would pay for the candles, and other incidentals of their worship center.
The New Testament church appears to follow closely this example. The members were to support economically their ministers with a “worthy or dignified salary” (Mat. 10:10). This would be something justifiable as far as what a person can live off of, or commensurate with the medium or average income of the members of that church. It would seem from a close study of Scriptures on the issue of money and the ministry, that then the principle expense of a New Testament church was first and foremost, the salaries of their ministers (including here missionaries like Paul and Barnabas), then the economic needs of the poor brethren among them (not the unsaved outside), and then other brethren under distressful economic or persecution situations. We would assume that each church took care of its own in house ministry expenses, such as renting or buying their own meeting place, although this does not really surface. In some cases churches appear to have their own building and land and in others (some presume probably correctly that it was a beginning mission church) they met in people’s houses.
Now the genius of God shows through here. The redeemed get together and sacrifice over the years to purchase land and build a building for their ministry purposes. Who owns this property? Nobody (in the sense that somebody can build a personal house on “their” land) and everybody (in the sense that everybody took part in gathering funds to purchase it).
Now let’s posit that the church is run by the men of God in that church. This is both the pastor, deacons, and spiritual men in the congregation. We should recognize that a good church has a plurality of elders, whether that be pastor and assistant pastors, or you care to call them elders. But nobody outside that church has any say so over the affairs of that church, especially in money matters. God places a great importance in transferring the truths of God from one generation to another and this is seen in the context of a single local church preparing young men for the next generation. The men of God in that place have the obligation to protect their investment and all others rallying around the spiritual truths, doctrines, and practices (a set of biblical norms) of those who sacrificed for it to be so. Moreover they have the responsibility to protect God’s invest, His money, from corrupt people.
So the men of God in a local church are the ones who should protect the financial invest that God’s people have made over the years, and which they gave to God, for the work of God. As people die and a new generation takes over, it is almost always a constant that the next generation will be weaker. They did not have to fight the spiritual fights to get where they are, they did not have to sacrifice financially to build the church, and as such, they are not so determined to defend and protect what they have “inherited”.
Speaking of the genius of God and the stupidity of man, God designed churches to do his work. Man designs religious organizations. Now the big difference here is that churches pick their own “next generation” on the basis of doctrinal profession, actual conduct, and the dedication, service, and spirituality they see in the young people among them. Since the responsibility is spread over the men of God still financially sacrificing for that work, the transition is slow usually. Some men leave, others come in, but in general the norms and goals of that church remain pretty much the same, except if they get a pastor that is very different from their stated goals and norms, in which case there is a fight, and either the pastor cleans the church of the “old guard” and brings in all new people, or the “old guard” removes the pastor and finds another.
Here we note that nowhere in the Bible do we see churches seeking their pastors from outside their own fellowship. Today this is almost the absolute norm. This is a denial of the ability of a church to reproduce themselves. We are not self-propagating if we cannot replace our pastor internally from our own men of God. Why doesn’t this work like this? Because (1) no church can have more than one top dog. (2) every other minister in a local church has to be a follower, not a leader. (3) We are too cheap to pay a good man capable of being a pastor to minister but not in the top dog slot. (4) This is how Christian schools locate their people (inculcated in their doctrines and beliefs) into local churches. These men come complete with brochures and propaganda for their favorite local school.
In the case of religious organizations, we need to understand how this issue of communal property is greatly flawed. All religious organizations are owned by men. Churches can be said to be owned by men, but those owners are not legal owners the same as in the case of a company. Church people cannot do what they want with the property of the church because it is truly communal property, and to sell property, they need to vote on it and agree (majority) as a church. The norms, doctrine, and conduct of the community have to be respected by whoever is in charge, or legally they can be challenged. For example, a church cannot change from Baptist to Catholic just because one of their deacons decides to do that.
But in all religious organizations, this is exactly the case. A single man or family usually owns the “ministry”. This being the case, if that man professes everything we believe in, then we give them money (whether directly or through churches missions programs). But that man suddenly decides to become Charismatic, speak in tongues, work with Catholics, or even become a Satanist, there is no recourse for anybody because he is the owner of the property. Of course we can stop giving to him, but the point here is that there is no communal property for donations to Christian organizations as there are for churches. Simply put, the ministry is in one man’s hands. If he dies and he wills it to his Catholic aunt Jenny, that is what will happen.
Religious organizations and ministries try to down play this aspect of things by making a board. What a board is is simply a bunch of pastors whom people trust that get together to give credibility to the ministry. They are supposedly overseeing that ministry. But are they? They neither have the commitment (because they are not 100% economically supporting the ministry) nor do they have the authority to make changes and remove key top level men. This is seen when a board member challenges and goes directly against the property owner’s will, and shortly the board member is no longer a board member, and the issue that caused this mess remains unfixed.
Where goes the owner, so goes your tithes. If he wanders doctrinally or fellowships with unsound groups, your tithes and offerings go there also. Years ago, many pastors warned about not getting involved with the World Council of Churches. Many listened, but many did not, “because it is such a good ministry.” Later when the WCC began sponsoring groups in Africa involved in rebel causes, those tithe dollars were actually spent on buying arms and ammunition for a war. Who can justify that? This can happen with even a church (because many people gave to the WCC through churches) but it is less likely if the church has this view of not giving funds to Christian ministries but through local churches that use the money in their own personal ministry.
If we understand that God desires us to ministry without charging beforehand, just living off of the goodness of God’s people, we understand that many modern day ministries are against the purposes and plan of God, and we must reject them as valid objects of our giving. We must not participate with them nor give them credibility.