Did you ever stop to consider just how much, or how little, our church and denomination really cost us and how much we receive for the price we pay? People complain at times about the size of their congregational budget or the (rising cost of denominational life. In this article a few pertinent facts and figures will be given.
We do not mean to be profane or sinfully mundane when we speak, in connection with our congregational and denominational existence, of “cost” and “price” and “budgets” and “assessments”. Some good people have a strong aversion to the use of such terms and feel that they give too much of a business aspect to our church life. They would prefer to speak of contributions or donations.
Our own Heidelberg Catechism, however, uses the term “maintain”. To the question, “What doth God require in the fourth commandment?” the answer is given in Lord’s Day 38, “First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained”. This answer has frequently amazed me. At first glance it seems evasive and irrelevant. One almost feels that the fathers made a studied attempt to dodge the issue. The fourth commandment reads: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God, etc.” That charges us, say our fathers, “first, to maintain the ministry of the gospel and the schools.” A deeper study of the commandment, however, will reveal that our fathers knew precisely what they were talking about and that this answer is indeed beautiful and to the point. We are not particularly interested, however, in an exposition of this commandment, but only in this one clause of the catechism, “First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained.” We underscore the word “maintain”.
Most of us have families to maintain. That costs money. We have our homes and other things to maintain. That costs money. Thus we have a ministry of the gospel and a school to maintain. That costs money.
Our catechism, you will notice, does not speak of maintaining religion. Religion as such man does not maintain; God does. It is the mystical flame that only the almighty Spirit of Christ can kindle. It is life itself; the wonder of the grace of God; the gift of divine love. All the saints together, with all their zeal, cannot keep one smoldering ember of religion aglow. Hence, what we are called to maintain is not religion, but our divine worship; the divinely ordained form of religious life; the institute through which it pleases God to bless His people and which it pleases God to maintain through His people.
Obviously, Lord’s Day 38 identifies that divine worship with the sabbath. Apart from the former the later means nothing. It is because of the church that we love the sabbath and need it. It is to the church that we dedicate our time and talents on the sabbath. Through the church we are enriched on the Lord’s Day. Without the church and divine worship you have no sabbath. There God dwells among His people. There is the communion of the saints and the blessing of Jehovah. There alone, nowhere else, not at work, not at home, not in a cottage by some lake, not on the beach, but in the house of our God,—there you find your God on the sabbath. Our vacationers had better bear this in mind. That is, if we are able to attend divine worship, we shall not find God anywhere else on His day. Church and church life, therefore, are of paramount importance to every child of God. To maintain the “ministry of the gospel” means to maintain that church in its widest significance.
The heart of that church life and divine worship is the ministry of the Word, in preaching and sacraments and catechism instruction, in the direct and narrower sense of the word. This is the core of our entire church life for the sake of which our entire ecclesiastical structure must be maintained. On That ministry of the gospel, the preaching of the divine Word, to which all else in God’s house is subordinate, depends the welfare and life of the church and the individual Christian. Weak and uncertain preaching must cause decay, retrogression, spiritual blindness. The weaker the preaching the less spiritual growth can be expected, the more heresy will run amuck and the more our garden will be overrun with weeds. God will never speak the almighty word of salvation through the lie. Sound preaching gives strength, life, growth, vitality. Above everything else in the world, therefore, we need a sound ministry of the gospel. It is the business of every one to make certain that we get it.
However, to maintain such a ministry involves many things. An adequate ministry of the Word requires well-trained ministers. Our catechism has this in mind, too, for it speaks of “the schools”. Hence, we need a well-equipped school. We need students who desire to be trained for the ministry, competent professors to give the best instruction possible, and a suitable place where such training can be given. Once in the ministry a man needs a home and an income. We need church buildings where the Word of God can be administered and these buildings must be maintained, heated and lighted. We need organists to lead us in our congregational singing and additional catechism teachers, perhaps. All these must be provided and are included when we speak of maintaining “the ministry of the gospel”. Also, we must have affiliation with other churches of the same faith, and these must come together from time to time in classes and synods. We need missionaries, too, and they need an income and means with which to labor, for the Word must be administered to others too, even to the ends of the earth. Maintaining “the ministry of the gospel” means a great deal.
It is not at all difficult to see how the schools fit into this picture. How can the ministry of the gospel be maintained properly without well directed schools? In the broader sense we may think here of all our Christian institutions of learning, since there is a definite connection between our divine worship and all the training our children receive. The great Dr. Kuyper stressed correctly that ministers are prepared to preach and listeners to listen from childhood on. We do well, also as Protestant Reformed people, to see this point. However, at present we are thinking especially of our theological school, where our future ministers receive their training. That school, friends, is of the utmost importance for the welfare and future of our churches. Are we as conscious of this as we should be? The future of our churches and the whole of our divine worship depends on our seminary. As the school goes our churches go. If you are at all concerned about our Protestant Reformed Churches you had better be deeply concerned about our Protestant Reformed seminary.
That “ministry of the gospel” must be MAINTAINED.
We know what it means “to maintain”. It means: to support, to sustain, to keep from declining, to bear the expense of, to keep up, to conserve and uphold. We maintain families, homes, cars, schools. We maintain properties, roads, bridges, parks. Thus we must maintain the ministry of the gospel and the schools. That, say the fathers, is our initial sabbath obligation.
Whether this is done by means of voluntary contributions or by means of budget and assessments is quite beside the point here. If only we understand that we are morally and financially obliged to maintain church and school; that church and school on !he one hand and the poor on the other do not stand on one line; and that the support of the former, therefore, is not a question of mere donation. The catechism speaks of “contributing to the relief of the poor”, especially on the sabbath, but of “maintaining the ministry of the gospel and the schools”, quite independently of the sabbath day as such. What you contribute toward the maintenance of church and school is not a question of voluntary donation, in the sense that you are doing something you need not do, but it is a matter of moral and financial obligation. Church and school are your “business”. Ministers and professors are not objects of charity. They do not live from “alms”. They receive and are entitled to salaries. As laborers they are worthy of their hire. It is your financial obligation to pay your full share toward church and school, according as the Lord has prospered you, just as well as it is your financial obligation to pay your gas and electric bills. Only, in the church of Jesus Christ the obligation is determined by our means. The former grows with the latter. We do the maintaining together and Christian love dictates that the strong carry the weak. It is not my purpose now to break a lance for the budget system, but I do suggest, that this system must not be rejected on the grounds that the support of church and school is a matter of donation. It is not! It’s a question of maintenance.
Now this takes money, of course.
However, let us ask ourselves in all seriousness: Did the Lord ever ask too much of us? Have we any reason to complain? Remember, we are speaking of our churches and theological schools. Let me give a few figures, not for the purpose of underrating the efforts of our people, for there is more to pay than the running expenses of church and school, but of coming to a somewhat better understanding of cost and values received.
Do you know what it costs to maintain our seminary? For the year 1949 the assessment was $10.50 per family. That amounts to less than three cents per day, less than the price of three sticks of gum, less than the cost (synod pays six cents per mile) of operating a car four city blocks. For three pennies each day we have our seminary, three instructors, and we lay aside one penny for the purpose of some day securing a humble school building of our own. And remember, our future rests on our school. Is that too much? You say: but the school is only a single item on our ecclesiastical budget. Oh, but it’s a vital one! How many of us do not spend many times three pennies for things that cannot compare with a seminary in importance, and we think nothing of it.
Do you know what it costs to maintain our entire denomination? For the year 1949 the total assessment was slightly over $32.00 per family. According to the
Christian Reformed Yearbook of 1949, page 239, their churches were required to raise $39.15 per family for their denominational needs. Hence, we have no complaint on that score. Our denominational obligations amount to about nine cents per day, the price of one Melba cigar, the cost of operating a car from Fuller Avenue to Division St. For that amount we have our school, our instructors, our missionaries, we support our needy churches, we have our classes and synods, and provide funds for other essential purposes.
Do you know what your entire budget amounts to? I have before me the 1948 Church Directory of our Fuller Avenue congregation. On page 11 I find the Adopted Budget for 1948. At the bottom of the page I read: “The Weekly Budget Amounts to $2.00.”
Just above this I read: “The item for “Our Poor” formerly included in the budget has been excluded but the monies for this purpose are to be raised by means of free offerings to be collected during the services.” Now I know that some of our smaller churches have budgets larger than Fuller Avenue, but on the whole the difference is not great enough to make a substantial difference. Two dollars per week comes to about twenty eight cents per day, less than two quarts of milk or two loaves of bread. Now, let us glance over the budget and see what we have for 28 pennies per day. Here is the list: Three ministers and all the labors they perform, three services each Sunday, sick visitation and family visitation, funeral services and instruction of the covenant seed; a janitor and janitor supplies; fuel, phone, gas, electric and water; stationery, bulletins and budget boxes; pulpit supply, organists and extra catechism teachers; consistorial and communion expenses; insurance and maintenance of several buildings; classical and synodical expenses; theological school and three instructors; two missionaries of which one is supported by Fuller Avenue alone; radio preaching from Sunday to Sunday. There is even a substantial amount for new pianos. All this for 28c per days, not per individual but per family. Now, that’s a bargain that no White Elephant Sale can begin to duplicate.
That means that the average man today works no more than fifteen or twenty minutes per day for his whole denominational and congregational existence; and some of us work less than ten minutes.
I know, our religion as a whole costs more than that. I know that extras like new organs and new church edifices are not included in our calculations. I know that Christian school contributions and tuition amounts to considerable for many of our families, and that if you add all these things together you get a burden that some people find difficult to bear. For that reason the strong must continue to shoulder the lion share of the burden. Nor is there reason to become careless and wasteful. However, we are speaking now about our normal church and denominational expenses, and they, certainly, are not prohibitive.
Least of all when we consider the values received.