Church Contributions and Distributions
I, for one, have always believed that when God’s people know of a need that they will always meet it. When God commanded for goods to be given for the construction of His tabernacle with Israel, Moses had to actually stop the people from giving because they had given enough and then some (Exod. 36:2–7). Recent catastrophes due to hurricane damage have caused special contributions to be given by not only the folks at Glendale Road where I serve, but I suspect at other places too. I was not the least surprised when in an elders meeting one conscientious elder, citing the Scriptures, urged his brother elders that they reconsider the amount they had budgeted for emergency relief. This, he urged, was one primary reason the contribution was collected in the New Testament, so he believed that they ought to make it a more significant budget item to avoid burdening the congregation with special contributions when they already give generously.
In certain days when prophets occupied our numbers, Agabus notified the Antiochene church that a famine was coming. The disciples there determined to, as they each had the ability, send such relief as they could to those in Judea (Acts 11:27–30). This may have also been the offering Paul referred to when in 1 Corinthians 16:1–4 he wrote about the church laying aside each week as they could for Jerusalem. We who are able to participate in granting relief to our fellow brethren are but continuing an ancient practice carried on by our earliest brethren. They relieved others in need, and we can share in that too by our giving each Sunday or for special contributions as needs may arise.
In the earliest days of Christianity, the apostles were the guardians and stewards of the funds given. Though not stated explicitly as such in Acts 2:44, we see this to have been the case by Acts 4:36–37. Henceforth, whenever brethren sold possessions or lands, they brought the proceeds to the apostles which recall a familiar story of when Ananias and Sapphira weren’t forthcoming when they gave a partial contribution presenting it as the total sum (Acts 5:1–11). From what we deduce from the passages where funds were given was that the monies were used to ensure that no disciple went without necessities. The earliest givers and believers were so much of one heart and mind that they didn’t even regard what they owned as their own, but communal property for the use of the church. By the time the reader arrives at Acts 6, we see that distributions of daily portions were given to widows, and we know that the portions were unequal due to the controversy that arose during this period which was later rectified by the appointment of deacons who could oversee the food given. Elders are then identified as receiving relief funds, and responsible for distribution (Acts 11:30)—this move was likely due to the growing needs of the church.
Their attitude toward possessions was given to the early disciples by Jesus who urged that they forsake their possessions and give them to the poor (Luke 14:33; see also Luke 3:11; 12:33; 18:22). The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus illustrated that one so prepared for the kingdom of God was one who cared more for the welfare of another than their possessions, and many other such stories appear in Luke—a writing often referred to as “the social gospel” by commentators who use “social” in a modern sense. Not to mix modern ideas with ancient, we no longer see people selling all their possessions or living communal lives with other believers, but we do see later that the church often distributed funds primarily for benevolence, first, to disciples of Jesus. Guiding the giving of early Christians was also the second greatest command, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” No qualifier was placed on this command, and the parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates that helping foreigners—those who don’t share our faith—isn’t at all wrong but humane. Care for the poor was a concern for early Christians, but not if such poor was able and refused to work (cf. 2 Thess. 3:10). However, sometimes circumstances were out of one’s hands, and the church was on hand to grant them relief.
In addition to benevolence was also supporting those who made their sole focus the spread of the gospel—ministers (cf. Luke 8:1–3; John 12:3–8). Paul regarded, profoundly, the gifts given for his own support by the Philippians (Phil. 4:14–18). He rebuked the Corinthians because he had ministered to them off of the funds given by other churches when they should have been supporting his ministry themselves (2 Cor. 11:8–9). The elders who ruled well were to receive remuneration (1 Tim. 5:17–18). Both verses seventeen and eighteen attest to elders being compensated for their labor. These were likely those who, as Paul says, labored in word and doctrine. These were teaching elders who ministered as people use the term “pastor” today. These pastors actually shepherded and taught, and for such, they were to have received an honorarium of some sort. The mention of “double honor” leads either to double compensation or two forms of honor such as remuneration and respect because the word translated “double” should be rendered “two-fold” thus making the interpretation two forms of honor. Some have been of the mind that those who labor in word and doctrine shouldn’t rule as elders and that elders who teach should not be compensated for doing the work of ministry. I understand the argument for such, but most of the elders I’ve ever known who were also preachers (e.g., Sellers Crain, Jim Faughn, Jack Martin) ruled as elders but recused themselves whenever their personal compensation was discussed to avoid impropriety. An elder can be a preacher of a local congregation, can be paid, and still be an elder. This is biblical as we can clearly see here. The whole point and thrust of verse eighteen is indeed monetary compensation (cf. Deut. 25:4; Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7).
In early church history, the support of ministers (“clergy”) and acts of charity (“benevolence”) was the primary use of funds collected. When we survey our church budgets, do we do this same thing? This is not to say that all things must fit into one of these two categories, for if that were the case, we wouldn’t have a building in which to meet. Other things wouldn’t happen without money. I think, however, that these two ought to be important on any congregation’s budget.