Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
The purpose of this article is to make our Protestant Reformed Churches and members aware of a concern that both the Foreign Mission Committee and the calling churches for the foreign mission fields have. The matter of concern is the giving of financial gifts to those who are the objects of our mission work. Specifically we are concerned about money that is given directly, and without the knowledge of the calling church or mission committee, to those among whom we labor.
We are convinced that such giving is detrimental to the cause of foreign missions. We feel compelled, therefore, to address this concern by means of an article that all the members of the PRC are able to read. We wish to make clear from the outset that it is not our purpose to stop or even to put a damper on giving to the cause of foreign missions. We have in the past received many generous financial gifts from our members, as well as from various other individuals who have shown an interest in the foreign mission work of our churches. Such giving is needed for foreign missions, and we are thankful for it. But our concern is with the method of giving. We hope to demonstrate, therefore, what we believe is the proper way to give monetary gifts to the cause of foreign missions.
It is very understandable that someone who has an interest in foreign missions, and who is in any way acquainted with those among whom we labor (at this time in Ghana and in the Philippines), has a desire to give financial help to these saints.
One of the main reasons for this desire is the economic difference between us and those who live in the countries where we are doing foreign mission work. We notice that they are very poor and that their earthly needs are great. We realize that we, on the other hand, have so much. We are very much inclined to give money to these saints, and to do so directly. We feel it is only proper and right to try to lift them out of their poverty.
What further compels us to give directly to these needy saints is the fact that we are well able to do so. It is not a hardship for us to give. We can give what would be to them a large amount of money, and we ourselves would probably hardly miss it.
Another factor is that we can feel guilty for not giving. We know from Scripture that we are often admonished to help the poor and needy. We are convinced, therefore, that it is right and proper to give directly and generously to the poor in these foreign lands. This is our way of helping out the mission work. This is our way of seeking first the kingdom of God with the abundance God has given us.
Such giving, thus, is usually done out of good motives and with the best of intentions. One gives out of the desire to heed the command to do good unto all men (Gal. 6:10) and to demonstrate true faith by works of kindness to those who are poor and needy (James 2:14-17).
It is possible, however, that such giving arises out of or is affected by a common misconception today concerning the purpose of mission work.
Many today have the idea that a significant aspect of mission work is to provide for the earthly needs of the poor among whom they labor. Mission work involves such things as building houses and supplementing incomes. One of the main purposes of many missionary endeavors becomes trying to raise the standard of living of the poor.
This is not true mission work. The purpose of mission work is not to provide financial help to the poor around the world, but to preach the gospel. That must be the goal and focus of all that we do. That is the command Christ gave to His church, as we find it in Mark 16:15 (and also Matt. 28:19-20)—”Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” The church is commissioned to preach the Word of Christ, and in this way to provide spiritual food for the people of God. As we do so, God is pleased to use His church as an instrument in His hands for the salvation of His elect.
It is important to keep this always in mind, for it directs us in our financial giving. We do not give in order to try to raise someone’s standard of living. As Christ said, “ye have the poor always with you” (Matt. 26:11). We give, rather, in order to support the work of the preaching of the gospel. Our goal and purpose in missions, and in our financial support of missions, is not to help people materially, but spiritually. The main focus must be the preaching of the gospel. We must be busy with that. And we must, both by word and by practice, teach those to whom we bring God’s Word the same thing, namely, that their focus is to be on the preaching and on their spiritual needs.
This means that financial gifts (even if very small) ought not be given directly to those who are the objects of our mission work. Financial giving is good and necessary. But it should be done in the proper way. All things in the church (and in mission work) must be done decently and in good order (I Cor. 14:40).
We believe that the proper way for financial gifts to be given is that they be given through the calling church and/or the mission committee.
This is proper because these bodies are responsible for the fields. That includes the important fact that it is the calling church that is responsible for providing financial help on the fields, and to do so by way of the work of benevolence. The help of the poor is the official work of the calling church through the missionary.
And not only is it true that the calling church must do this, but it is also the case that the calling church is best equipped to do so. The calling church, through the missionary, is well acquainted with the genuine needs of the saints on the field. It is best able, therefore, to supervise the funds that are going to the field. It is best able to see to it, as much as possible, that the money is distributed wisely, so that only those receive financial help who truly need it.
That this is the proper and orderly way for things to be done is evident from Scripture itself. We learn this from Acts 11:29-30. We read in the previous verses of a famine. As a result of the famine, the saints in Judea were poor and in great need. “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” This passage makes clear that the financial gifts were not sent directly to the poor, but were given to the elders of the church for them to distribute to those who had need.
We make note of the fact, therefore, that even though the purpose and focus of mission work is the preaching of the gospel, this does not mean that there may be absolutely no distribution of money on the mission field. It does not mean that we simply preach the Word without helping those who come to hear it with their earthly needs. We must and we do assist the poor on the field. But this is done through the benevolence work carried out by the missionary on behalf of the calling church. And as the Benevolence Guidelines that the Foreign Mission Committee and the calling churches have adopted point out, we provide such financial help for medical needs, hospital expenses, funeral costs, and le gitimate needs of daily bread (see Acts of Synod 2000 and 2001).
When gifts are given directly to the objects of mission work, this important work of benevolence is, in a way, undermined. And then the poor do not receive what they need most of all, namely, “comfortable words from Scripture” (see “Form of Ordination of Elders and Deacons” in the Psalter).
The proper way for the poor to be cared for on mission fields is through the work of benevolence. For this reason, financial gifts should not be given directly to anyone on those fields.
There are also certain dangers and problems that can result from giving out money on a foreign mission field.
A major problem is that it detracts from and seriously affects the work of the preaching of the gospel. If the giving out of money is prominent on a mission field, many are tempted to attend simply in hopes of financial gain. They do not all come because of a genuine desire to hear the proclamation of the truth. Instead, they are tempted to look to us as those who will remove them from their earthly poverty. They are tempted to see us as being there to help them materially, and not spiritually.
In addition to this, the temptation arises for them to become discontented with the Lord’s will and way for them. They are tempted to become covetous and to want more and more of this world’s money and goods. They are also tempted to become jealous and envious of each other, especially if in our giving we show favoritism and respect of persons by giving only to some, or by giving unequal amounts.
Another problem is that incorrect giving undermines an important principle of missions, namely, that those with whom we labor be self-supporting. Through excessive and incorrect giving, the danger arises that they become dependent upon others and do not learn to support themselves as families and as a church.
These problems are not unique to the foreign mission work of our Protestant Reformed Churches. Many others who are involved in foreign missions have written extensively concerning these things. They too have observed the same detrimental effects that handing out money has had to the cause of the gospel on foreign fields.
For example, Glenn Schwartz, the executive director of World Mission Associates in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, points out that providing outside funds undermines and destroys all efforts at establishing churches that are self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. He states that they become, instead, dependent upon those who provide the money, not only as far as financial needs are concerned, but also as regards decision making. (Schwartz has over fifteen articles concerning this at www.wmausa.org/artmain.htm. This site contains various articles by others as well.)
Another who writes about this is Glenn Penner, from The Voice of the Martyrs, an interdenominational organization in Canada that assists persecuted Christians around the world. In an article entitled “Dependency: When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough,” Penner points out that although intentions are good, outside giving must be avoided because it creates the serious problem of dependency. He lists sixteen negative aspects of outside funding. His list includes the following: that it hinders the expansion of the gospel, that it creates jealousy, that it exports and reinforces a materialistic mentality, and that it bypasses church accountability. (See Penner’s article at www.farmsinternational.com/dependency.pdf.)
In conclusion, we certainly encourage giving to the cause of foreign missions. We are thankful to the Lord for it. We hope and pray that it will continue. We simply ask that it be done in the proper way. Financial gifts (no matter how small they may be) should not be given directly to anyone on the mission fields. Instead, they should be sent either to the calling church or to the Foreign Mission Committee. In this way, through the grace of God, all things can be done decently and in good order.
God’s blessing will rest upon work that is done properly and well. It is our prayer that He will bless and prosper our work of bringing His blessed gospel of gracious salvation to His elect who are scattered throughout the world