I. What can the church treasury be spent on? Can the church support missionaries and evangelistic efforts?
A. Our arbitrary rules
- I thought this was a good question because a lot of arbitrary rules have been made that simply are not found in the scriptures. Many brethren have had a knee-jerk reaction to certain circumstances without realizing we are keeping a tradition or belief that has not authority from God.
- As we begin, a reminder concerning authority is always important. Authority from God is required for all our activities. The reason we cannot use hamburgers and coke for the Lord’s supper is that God commanded through approved example the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. When God states one way of doing something, it rules out all other options.
- We must also remember the distinction between general and specific authority. In the command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, we find there is specific and general authority. The specific authority is what is to be preached. Nothing else can be preached except the gospel of Jesus Christ. But general authority is found in the command to go. We are able to choose how we want to go. We can go by car, by plane, by ship, by foot, by animal, by any means possible that fulfills the command to go. We often call these expedients. Expedients are simply a variety of ways to fulfill God’s commands.
- For example, we are commanded to give as we have been prospered on the first day of the week. How can we give? Our expedient is to pass out a collection basket. Could we leave a box in the back for people to put their offering into? Could we all walk to the front and put our money in the basket? Could we offer the collection at night? The answer to all of these questions is “yes.” All of these are simply expedients and none of them are to be binding. Most Christians realize that the church has been authorized to use its funds in three areas: evangelism, edification, and benevolence.
B. Church treasury and evangelism
- There are many places we can go in the scriptures to show that churches used their money to support the preaching of the gospel. We have just noticed in tonight’s lesson that churches in Macedonia sent Paul money to preach the gospel in Corinth.
- Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 1:8, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” Here we read the church in Thessalonica was doing sounding forth the word of God in every place. Because of these actions, Paul did not have to speak anymore about the subject. The church in Thessalonica was doing the job that Christ had given it.
- We must also realize that the monies used toward evangelism fall under general authority. Can we use the money to have a gospel meeting? Can you use the money to have a radio or television show? Can we use the money to have more than one preacher here? Can we use the money to send to preachers in this country or in other countries? Can we use the money to buy Bibles and hand them out? Can we use the money to make study materials to give out? Can we use the money to buy study materials to hand them out? Can we use the money for a website? The answer to all of these questions is “yes.” We cannot come up with all the expedients that would fit under the command for the church to evangelize.
- It is very important for us to realize that the church will have to spend great amounts of money in evangelism. Paul understood this concept and applied it to the Corinthians as the reason why he did not ask the Corinthians to pay his way. If we make unbelievers pay for materials, they will look at us like televangelists and will stumble by our actions. We cannot charge people for the cost of materials in our children’s classes or any of our adult classes. How does it appear to the unbeliever if we charge them for a Bible? All of us realize this problem so much so that we rightly tell everyone each Sunday morning that our giving is not a request for money from our guests. We cannot ever communicate that for we will drive people away. God wants his money to be used to teach men, women, and children the gospel.
- There is only one great restriction found in the scriptures in regards to evangelism. One local church is not authorized to send money to another local church or any organization to do the work of evangelism. Money from a local church only went to individuals and supplies to do the work. Money was not given to other organizations to do the work of preaching and teaching. This is the prohibition we are given and should not declare any other rules concerning the local church treasury.
C. Church treasury and edification
- There are also many places one can turn to in the scriptures to show the authority for the church to edify and teach one another. Obviously, there is a bit of overlap in the authority to preach the gospel. The gospel then is being taught to unbelievers and to believers in the command to preach the gospel to every creature. Every creature is either a believer or an unbeliever, and the authority of evangelism will apply to both cases.
- But there is authority for the edification of Christians. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, where Paul is talking about the disorderly conduct of the use of spiritual gifts in their assemblies, Paul says “let all things be done for edification.” Here the congregation in Corinth was to do things that would edify the whole congregation. This was the very point Paul was making in Ephesians 4:11-16. One of the purposes of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers is given in verse 12 “for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Paul goes on to say that when we come to the unity of the faith, no longer tossed to and fro, and are speaking the truth in love, verse 16 says “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” So we see that edification is authorized and commanded by God for each local church to be accomplishing. The teaching of each other was also considered a very important work of the local church (Acts 20:32; Colossians 2:6-7).
- In the same way as evangelism, we have many expedients as to how we edify one another. Can we make study booklets to help teach each other? Can we buy study booklets to teach each other? Can the church have separate Bible classes for different ages? Can the church only have a single assemble and have no Bible class hour? Can the church have Bible classes on Wednesday night? Can the church have Bible classes on Friday nights, Thursday nights, Monday nights, Saturday nights, and Tuesday nights? Can this edification take place at the building, in homes, at restaurants, libraries, by the canal, or any other location? Can the church not have any midweek Bible classes? The answer to all of these questions is “yes.” All of these things are authorized expedients.
- So what is the prohibition? The prohibition is the same as evangelism. When the things that are going on are not centered around the gospel, then we no longer have church authority. The church cannot pay for softball leagues and call it edification. The church cannot pay for cake and coffee and call it fellowship. The church cannot pay for potlucks. The church cannot establish or run a college. The church can pay for things that center around the teaching of the gospel to believers and unbelievers, such as Bibles, study materials, and the like.
- Again, it is important that we see what the line in the scriptures is and not come up with traditions or make laws out of expedients. Overall, so far we should see that in the work of evangelism and edification the authority of God is very broad as long as the gospel is the center of the purpose.
D. Church treasury and benevolence
- Finally, there are many passages that speak about the need for the local church to be active in working to use its funds in the work of benevolence. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 we receive the command to collect funds. On the first day of the week, each person is to lay something aside. But notice carefully verse 1 again. The collection is “for the saints.” We are not told that the collection is “of the saints” or “given by the saints,” which is sometimes how we understand this passage. The money collected is for the saints. We will notice that money used for benevolence out of a local church treasury was always for the saints.
- In Romans 15:25-26 we read, “but now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints who are in Jerusalem.” Who was the contribution for? The poor saints in Jerusalem.
- Turn to Acts 11:27-30. Here we read about a famine that would take place through out all the world. In verse 29 we read, “Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.” Again we see the money was sent only to the saints.
- In Acts 4:32-37 we read of “the multitude of those who believed” had all things in common. It was the saints who had sold their possessions and the goods were distributed to each one who had need.
- We see this same situation from the very beginning in Acts 2:44-45. We read, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” Who are the people in need? All who believed. We can prove this even further when we move into Acts 3. As we have noticed, the possessions and goods are being sold and are being laid at the apostles’ feet for the distribution to needy saints.
- What we see is that there are many limits placed upon the local church in the work of benevolence. First, we do the see the local church giving aid to unbelievers. This is very clear in Acts 3: 1-6. Peter and John encounter a lame man on the way to the temple. In verse 3 the lame man asks for alms. Peter says in verse 6, “Silver and gold I do not have.…” Now Peter is lying, isn’t he? We know that he had plenty of money and goods available to him from the selling of the possessions of the saints that took place seven verses earlier. We know that he was not lying. What we learn is that a local church is not to use its fund for all the needy. The funds were to be used for needy saints only.
- Second, money given to Christians also had strict limitations. (1) We must be helping ourselves first (1 Timothy 5:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). (2) Family ought to help (1 Timothy 5:4). (3) A local church is last resort (1 Timothy 5:16). (4) If a local church was unable to meet the need, other local churches can help. The church is not to set up nursing homes and hospitals. Money is to be used for needy Christians with limitation.
- I hope we will discard our false tests and rules that we may have within our minds which have been established over time. It is easy to get used to various expedients and believe this is the only way to do it. But God has given us broad authority in these areas to operate and to teach that there is only one way is clearly false.