The Local Church Treasury
My first experience with one who questioned a "church treasury" was in 1943, in Phoenix, Arizona. While taking some exercise, I made chance acquaintance with an elderly gentleman and we walked along together. When we passed a small church building with no sign, I asked if he knew anything of those meeting there. He said the church of Christ met there, and he was one of the members. When I told him I preached for the Westside Church of Christ he said we were different. "You have a church treasury, we do not," he explained. I asked if they ever collected funds for anything; and was told they collected funds recently to pay for a window the hail had broken. I got the picture! I told him our only difference was that we saw more things that needed to be done. We collected funds every week because every week we supported several gospel preachers, the assistance of needy saints, a gospel radio program, articles in the paper, etc.
The "Bottom Line" of a church treasury is the collective action of saints. If saints are to work as a team - on anything - there must be the essence of a church treasury: pooled means and abilities for the accomplishment of their task. If together they pull a wagon, the pooled energy is their treasury; if they gather canned goods for a poor family, while the pooled food is in their possession, it is their treasury; and if they pool a medium of exchange (money) by which such food is purchased, that is also their treasury. Although I feel certain some who have opposed a "church treasury" were actually opposing things done with the treasury (a very different subject), the real "issue" is whether or not saints are to work as a team on anything. We are not here discussing abuses of the treasury. That comes under the heading of the work of the local church.
We have said the church treasury is the pooled means and abilities of the saints making up that "team." Let us expand a bit by a simple illustration. If some saints wish to assist a preacher, each one could send assistance to the brother, and only those who gave could be said to have acted. Nothing wrong with that (Galatians 6:6). But Paul gave order to churches (I Corinthians 16:1) and messengers were chosen of the churches to carry gifts (II Corinthians 8:23). We conclude therefore that various churches acted; i.e., various teams of saints. Before Paul could take wages of churches each team had to have wages to pay; and that involves team treasuries. A few members could bring paint, and paint the meeting place. They might create a psychedelic effect but they could put on the paint. But the whole church shares in the painting when funds from a common treasury are traded for a paint job. We can apply this principle to all works of the local church.
"Getting to the Bottom Line" on the nature of the church (previous articles) should convince us that ceremonial and sacerdotal worship of Judaism was based on "carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:10); and is not the worship of Christians. The "contribution" is not a sacrament, and is not an "act of worship" per se. We do not "give to God" in the same sense the Jews presented a gift at the altar. The local church is a God-given tool by which saints function collectively, and the collection of funds is a very pragmatic means of pooling means and abilities so the "team" may carry out its purposes. It is as necessary, for team activity, as "going to church" (i.e., to the place of assembly) is necessary for assembling with the saints. Neither of the overt acts, in and of themselves, are worship. Becoming a Christian we "dedicate" ourself to the Lord (II Corinthians 8:5), and all else is the result of that dedication - service in the Lord's priesthood (Hebrews 13:16).
"The collection for the saints" (I Corinthians 16:1), is from logeuo (not lego) and Deissmann (Bible Studies, pp. 142ff, 219f) shows that this word indicated a special collection for religious, military, or other purposes. It can not rightly be said to mean "put your money under the bed at home." Of course, Paul corrects such a concept when he adds, "that no collections be made when I come" (I Corinthians 16:2). Some have argued that this only authorizes gatherings for needy saints, and I would have to agree that this is the special purpose of the collection under consideration here. But we can prove churches gathered funds for other purposes (Philippians 4:15; II Corinthians 11:8), and in the absence of further instructions as to how these collections were to be made, we believe it is safe ground to use the method described in I Corinthians 16. If not, why not? When brethren say this is the only purpose for church collection, they are ignoring the many other functions of saints collectively, which need funding.
How much should a saint place in the church treasury? "Each one . . . as he may prosper," and, "as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity," says Paul (I Corinthians 16:2; II Corinthians 9:7). But the questions continue:
- Must one do all his giving via the church treasury? No! When one has given self to the Lord (II Corinthians 8:5), obligations both individual and collective will be met. The care of one's own is an obligation with spiritual overtones (I Timothy 5:8,16), and must be met with a portion of one's substance. There are individual obligations to assist teachers of the word (Galatians 6:6; III John 5-8).
- How can one determine the required contribution? By determining the need, measured by vision and use made of the church treasury. Church treasuries process more funds as the members are converted to greater works for the Lord. The greater the knowledge of and confidence in the work, the greater will be the contribution. But church treasuries are not for "saving," they are for spending rightly.
I once had a man bring me his personal budget: salary, rent, payments, etc., and ask me to tell him exactly how much he should give to the Lord. I asked if he believed in visiting the sick, and he said he did. I asked, "How many times per week? "Till fifty visits?" He thought that would be exceptionally fine. So, the punch line: "you have made your fiftieth visit, and are coming home late Saturday afternoon, when you learn of a brother in great need. Is it right to say, 'Hang on brother, I'll put you on next week's list? If you have the means of helping him then, is not this your duty and privilege?" He decided it was, and his question was answered. Love for God and "neighbor" are not parceled out by dollars. The set of the heart determines our giving, to God and to man.