Although the eleventh article of our church order literally speaks only of supporting the ministers of the word, it goes without saying that implicit in this is the obligation of every member of the church to support, according to their ability, the church or cause of Christ in the world in all her needs. This duty is rather clearly defined in the thirty-eighth Lord’s Day of the Heidelberg Catechism. In discussing the requirement of the fourth commandment of the law this thought provoking answer is given:
“First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, to hear his word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord and contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian. Secondly, that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works; and yield myself to the Lord, to work by His Holy Spirit in me, and thus begin in this life the eternal sabbath.”
From this answer it is evident that supporting the cause of God is more than contributing materially to the church. It includes this, to be sure, but there is also a spiritual side evidenced in faithful church attendance and a godly life. These two are so related that laxity in regard to one of them becomes evident in neglecting the other. Sometimes it is said that, “Contributing to God’s kingdom is a thermometer by which one’s spiritual life may be measured.” There is, no doubt, some truth in this saying although it is not all truth. InLuke 21:1-4 the Lord teaches us that the two mites of the widow cast into the treasury of the temple measured a far greater spirituality than the abundance cast in by the rich. It is better, therefore, that we say the spirit and manner of contributing to the kingdom of God is a proper thermometer of our spiritual life rather than the amount of giving. They who are truly spiritual will not cling to the material things and if they are rich they will give much and if they are poor their giving will be according to their ability.
The true member of the church regards this duty as a privilege rather, than a burden. It is part of the easy yoke which Christ exhorts his disciples to take upon themselves. Easy it is even as the burden of Christian service is light, not according to the flesh, but always in the strength of that grace wherein we stand. Then the contributing to the support of the services of the church becomes the response of a conscious sense of spiritual obligation and its performance is constrained by the love of the king and, His Zion. To contribute otherwise makes our offering abominable in God’s sight and our giving is then devoid of blessing and joy. Remember, “God loveth a cheerful giver.” Let us never forget this so that we may do all things without murmurings.
Sometimes, however, objections are raised to the methods used by the church to obtain funds necessary for her support. It used to be (and perhaps still is in some places) a custom of the churches to rent the pews similar to the practice of charging admission to the games in our modem sport world. Much can be said in disfavor of this practice. It certainly is not as much as suggested in the word of God. In actual practice it separated the rich from the poor which is altogether contrary to the Lord’s admonition found inJames 2:1-5, “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool; Are ye not then partial in yourselves and become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?”
Other churches frequently resort to money raising schemes such as bazaars, sales, auctions, socials and what not. The rightness or wrongness of these things has often been the subject of debate in the church. Some, who evidently have a Romish idea of the sanctity of the church building, consider any activity in the church which is not directly spiritual as wrong. It is wrong to drink a cup of coffee and eat a piece of cake in the church. It is wrong to serve dinners as we do at our Classical and Synodical meetings. All socials are contraband. We wonder how these people are able to partake of the sacraments unless their conception of them is also the Romish notion of transubstantiation. Have they never heard that “eating and drinking is also to be done to the glory of God?” (I Cor. 10:31) Then there are others who are obviously more interested in a social or an auction sale than they are in the Men’s or Ladies’ Societies. They rather eat and drink than be busy in the word. Both of these extremities in our opinion are sinful.
As to our view of this question we may briefly state the following: (1) We claim that whenever any of these methods are used as means to raise the budget of the church they are wrong and ought to be banned. Supporting the church must be by voluntary alms and under the constraint of the love of Christ’s cause. If the church must resort to other means to raise her budgetthere is a sign of carnality and spiritual lethargy. The love of Christ has waxed cold. (2) We further claim that any form of “auctioneering” in the church is wrong. Our reason for this contention is that it, too, makes separation between rich and poor in the congregation which is in violation of the passage of God’s word afore cited. Frequently, under the enthusiastic pressure of the auctioneer (who means well) the cause of Christ is used to soar the price of items far above their actual value and beyond the reach of the poor or those with moderate income. This is a double evil which consistories ought to stop. (3) We. can see no wrong in socials in the church. We do not believe it wrong for the Marys and Marthas and Lydias of the church to busy themselves in making various useful items and selling them to the members of the church and turning over the proceeds either to charity or some improvements in the church which lie outside the usual budget. With such practices we not only can concur but would also encourage them. Our young people, for example, would spend their time and efforts much more profitably along these lines working for their Federation and Beacon Lights than, as we hear of some, by loitering in the bowling alleys and roller rinks and ball parks.
Sometimes the question is raised as to whether or not it is proper for the church to obtain her support by what is commonly called “the budget system.” Space does not permit us to enter into a detailed discussion of this subject here nor is that necessary. The arguments pro and con which have been advanced in regard to this matter would more than fill our space in any single issue of the Standard Bearer. However, we would note that decency and order in the church certainly requires some form of budget system. Any well-ordered home operates on some kind of budget. No government—city, state or national—could operate without one. And in so far as the church also has a material side while she is still in the world and must reckon with financial receipts and expenditures she must budget. The church must be informed as to what the estimated expenses are going to be over a given period and in the light of this each family must prepare in as far as possible to carry its part of the obligation. Thus far objections are usually not raised. Most people can understand the reasonableness and necessity of budgeting in general. The criticism, however, arises against the practice of some church using the envelope system by which the deaconate tabulates what is contributed by each member. This system, it is said, is using coercion to make each member comply with a certain budget standard and this is in conflict with the principles of love and ability. Granting that this question is debatable, we, nevertheless, must point out that the church may and should know who contributes faithfully and who does not and with regard to the latter she must know the reasons for neglect and if these are not valid she must admonish the negligent to fulfill the obligations laid upon them by Christ. There are some churches where the envelope system is not needed. There are others where it is not wanted. This, in the last analysis, is to be left to the discretion of the individual consistories. Each must know what is the best method to use in their own circumstances.
In concluding this matter we would also mention that those responsible for making the budget must do so with greatest care and sound reason. We refer now especially to Synodical budgets. The congregational budgets are in the last analysis approved by the individual churches but synodical budgets, approved and adopted by synod, do not come under the scrutiny of each church. The figures are announced and each church is expected to pay its portion. Frequently synods, burdened with much other work, do not devote sufficient time and study to the matter of budgets which results in careless spending. This is not conducive to good order. We believe it would be a good policy to have a standing committee of lay business men who throughout the year would take into study and consideration all matters relating to finances and report each year to the Synod with sound recommendations. To mention just a few items that might be taken under advisement by such a committee we might cite mission expenses, support of needy churches, travel expenses and others. Also in regard to these matters the inviolable rule of Scripture applies: “Let all things be done decently and in good order.”