P1030504The last post ended with this question: “Why do Christians give to churches?” I think most church-goers cannot provide a clearly thought-out biblical answer to this question. The minds of my brothers and sisters, sincere and faithful believers in Jesus, are infused with a mish-mash of misapplied beliefs and traditions, patch-worked together with vague biblical statements they have learned through the years—from churches using a mish-mash of misapplied beliefs and traditions, patch-worked together with vague biblical statements. After reading this post, I think you will begin to understand why Christians’ perceptions about giving to the church are so clouded.

Let’s begin by looking at the giving statement of a well-known mega-church to discover how they encourage their attendees/members to give. What follows is a direct copy and paste, with no editing.

“Why We Give: We give because Jesus has given His life for us, we live lives of response to His goodness and grace. We give because we know the mission of Jesus is moved forward by the people of Jesus.”

Let’s start with the first statement: “We give because Jesus has given His life for us, we live lives of response to His goodness and grace.”

This sounds good, doesn’t it? This premise is a general Christian truth with which everyone would agree. However, it doesn’t help the reader come to a reasoned decision about why he or she should give specifically to this church. In other words, this assertion has meaning only when read this way: We give (to this church) because Jesus has given His life for us, we live lives of response to His goodness and grace.

Perhaps an analogy will help clarify the point I’m trying to make. Let’s say that you and your friend are having a conversation about his upcoming mission trip. He asks if you would help support him financially. As a justification for why you should do that, he says, “You should give to my mission trip because Jesus has given His life for us, we live lives of response to His goodness and grace.” How would you answer your friend? You very well may say, “What you say about our response to God’s grace toward us is true, but that doesn’t mean I should necessarily give to your mission trip.” Therefore, a reasonable response to this church’s giving statement would be just the same: “Yes, God’s Word tells us to be generous givers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I should give to your church in particular.”

The second statement offered on this church’s website is, “We give because we know the mission of Jesus is moved forward by the people of Jesus.” Our reply to this general truth would match the first one: This is does not give me a satisfactory reason to give to your church in particular.

However, let’s pause for a moment. Why did the leaders of this church think these two vague declarations would be sufficient justification for giving to their organization? I think the answer is that, within the church world, there exists a default understanding that the church is just simply the termination point for your giving. You attend here. You should give here. However, when we read the New Testament, we do not find evidence for this behavior. Instead, we find abundant proof that Christians are to give to the poor.

Paul wrote this in Galatians 2:8–10 after he had first met James, John, and Peter, pillars of the church: “…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”1

A question immediately comes to mind. Why didn’t John and Peter, two of the twelve disciples of Jesus Himself, and James, Jesus’ own brother, tell Paul to remember the church? Why didn’t they expect Paul to give to a church establishment “in response to Jesus’ goodness and grace,” or because they knew “the mission of Jesus is moved forward by the people of Jesus”?

Acts 4:34–35 says, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

In the very beginning of the Church, people sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus told His disciples to do in Luke 12:33? “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that the disciples and the early Church gave in this manner in obedience to their Savior. So, yes, the money of Christians, in response to Jesus’ goodness and grace was given to the Church—to people—to the poor in the church, not to a religious institution.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Paul told the Ephesian church that the money Christians earn by the work of their hands is to be given to those in need, not to a church structure.

John wrote, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17).

Christians are to give to other Christians in need.

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13).

Christians are to give to other Christians in need.

Is generous giving a biblical response to God’s goodness and grace? Yes. Is giving to a church establishment a biblical response to God’s goodness and grace? No, but giving to Christians and others in need clearly is. Does giving to the church move the mission of Jesus forward? Well, according to the verses above, giving to people in need certainly does, because the mission of Jesus was indisputably moved forward by the early Church. They turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

1All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society

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