One of the features of modern church life is the dependence on some sort of fundraising. Undoubtedly it started off in a small way, as a way to bridge a minor gap between income and expenditure. But over the years, for many churches, it has become a major source of income, for which they depend upon for their survival.
Now, no doubt, some might consider fundraising an essential part of church life, as a way of keeping in touch with the non-churched. But is fundraising – that is, asking people outside of the church to contribute towards a church’s income – a legitimate practice for the Christian church? And, indeed, does fundraising come at a cost to the Christian church?
Well I’m going to suggest that it is not a legitimate practice, and that the practice does more harm than good. And to support my argument, I would like to refer to three stories in particular from the Old Testament which speak to the issues involved.
The first story is the story of Abram’s encounter with the king of Sodom. (Genesis 14:18-23) Because after having rescued his Nephew, Lot, from the kings from the north, Abram returned to the King’s Valley not only with Lot, but with an amount of booty as well. Now the king of Sodom, even though he had no legitimate claim to the booty, laid claim on it. And in response, Abram relinquished any claim, lest he be considered indebted to the king in any way. In other words, Abram quite clearly understood the problem of being beholden to others. And was prepared to relinquish his claim to the booty, rather than let that happen.
The second story takes us to Mount Sinai (Leviticus 27:30-33). For there God gave his chosen people a law regarding tithing. The idea was that one-tenth of a person’s income was to be given to God, and that that tenth was then to be used for God’s work. However, importantly, the law was only given to “the congregation of Israel”. In other words it was specifically for God’s people, who at the time were all those whom God had rescued from Egypt: i.e. the members of the 12 tribes of Israel, plus and foreigners who had come with them but who were part of the congregation. In other words the system that God provided to maintain his work in the worshipping community, was to be fully funded by the worshipping community. Indeed there was no provision for any contribution outside of the people of faith.
And for the third story, I’d like to refer to King David. Because after having authorised a census, he needed to make his peace with God. So he sought a site to build God’s Temple (2 Samuel 24:18-25). In his discussions to purchase the threshing floor, however, the owner offered it to him free of charge, with as much wood, and as many animals as he needed (which must have been a very tempting offer). However, David knew well that if his gift to God of the Temple site was to be worth anything, then he needed to pay full price. He also realised that using a gift that have been given by someone else would not be acceptable to God.
Now in these three stories alone, then, we can identify certain principles regarding giving to God. And I believe that the church today needs to apply those principles when it is tempted to “fill the gap” with fundraising. And for me the two obvious principles are as follows:
The first principle is that, like Israel, the church is intended to be distinct from the outside world. As a consequence putting itself in a position where it can be beholden to others, should clearly not be an option. Indeed how can the church be totally dependent and reliant on God, and how can its message remain totally unadulterated by the world, if it puts itself in a position of influence by others?
Secondly, God has already provided the means for which the church can be maintained, and even grow. As a consequence the quality of the giving within the church, is a reflection of the quality of the relationship between the faithful and God. Poor giving, then, may be a sign that the faithful are not being as faithful as they should be. Indeed lack of finances may well reflect that the faith has been watered down, to make God far more affordable. As a consequence fundraising does not solve the problem. But with increasing dependence may make the situation increasingly worse.
Now with those two principles enshrined in the Old Testament, we could easily ask: what does the church think it is doing in accepting other people’s money? After all, there is a common belief amongst the unchurched that they can do their bit for the church without a biblical faith, and without belonging to an actual church. And fundraising encourages that attitude. Some even conclude that they can earn salvation by their financial contributions; that God will honour what they have given. Now that is not what the church should be teaching, even though that may be what the church is encouraging.
The problem of fundraising then is, yes, it helps with the survival of the church, but survival at what cost? Fundraising, isn’t a fix to the problem, and in many cases simply slows the decline of a congregation. It does nothing to help spread a gospel of faith; but it does encourage a gospel of works.
Instead of fundraising, the church should be looking at a different, more spiritual, approach. Now Malachi, faced the same problem: the “faithful” just weren’t giving. But he didn’t encourage others to give. Instead he encouraged the faithful to stop robbing God, and to recommit their lives to God, including with their finances (Malachi 3:6-10).
Now many Christians today consider that tithing is old hat, because Christians are not living under the old law. And there’s an element of truth in that. But lest anyone think that that leaves Christians off the hook in regard to giving, then they would be quite wrong. Because in the story of Jesus at the Temple treasury (Mark 12:41-44), Jesus watched people as they brought their tithes and offerings to God. As a consequence he was able to commend the poor widow for her sacrificial giving, whilst others simply put in their affordable 10%.
Fundraising, getting others to contribute to the church, then, is a noose around the church’s neck. It doesn’t solve the problem of giving. On the contrary it makes things much worse.
My hope is that someday enough people will realise the seriousness of the problem of fundraising, and, with God’s help, provide enough impetus to return the church to God’s control, using the resources that he has given his chosen people.
© 2015, Brian A Curtis