Some people depend on raising tobacco for income. Is it good for the church to use the Lord's money to sponsor this kind of agriculture?
I found this question particularly intriguing because of the underlying assumptions. In order to answer the question well, I need to address several related issues.
How may a church fund its operation?
At least two passages give us understanding that a church must have a treasury from which to finance its responsibilities. "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come" (I Corinthians 16:1-2). Paul is not asking for individual Christians to start a savings plan. The purpose of laying aside funds was to prevent the need to make collections when Paul came to Corinth. If each individual did their own laying aside of funds, then there still would remain a need to make a collection when Paul arrived to gather these individual savings. Hence, the implication is that the church was pooling the saints' contributions together so that Paul could easily and quickly collect their gift as he traveled through Corinth.
The second passage is found in Acts 4:34-37, "Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet." Members of the church in Jerusalem were laying money at the apostles' feet to take care of the needy saints in the area. In the following verses (Acts 5:1-4), Peter states that this money was given to God and that once it was so given, it was no longer under the control of the individual. Hence, the conclusion is that the funds given were held by the church in order to perform the work of the church.
The church has several responsibilities which require available funds. Preachers are to be paid for their work. "Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:13-14). This would include local preachers as well as supporting preachers working in remote areas (Philippians 4:14-19). Elders, too, are worthy of a congregation's monetary support. "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages"" (I Timothy 5:17-18). We also know that churches were to keep a roll of widows who needed care (I Timothy 5:9-12, 16). Such care is demonstrated in Acts 6:1-4 when the church in Jerusalem was daily serving food to such needy widows. Finally, the church has a duty to help relieve brethren when disaster strikes, such as the major famine that struck the Jerusalem area (Acts 11:28-30).
The source of these funds came only by voluntary contributions. Christians were told to be prepared to give a portion of their means. "Now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have" (II Corinthians 8:11-12). As we saw in I Corinthians 16:1-2, the funds need to be set aside in advance of the need. This implies preparation and purpose on the part of the giver. God doesn't desire impulsive or haphazard giving. "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (II Corinthians 9:7). The giving is to be done cheerfully because one wants to give and not because he feels is being forced to give.
Paul urges Christians to give generously. The impoverished Macedonians were praised for their generous giving (II Corinthians 8:1-4). "For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men" (II Corinthians 9:12-13).
This leads to the question of how much should a person give. Consistently, the rule is "in proportion to your income." Even though the Macedonians were giving much, Paul does warn that a person must not go into debt in order to give. "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have" (II Corinthians 8:12). The instruction in I Corinthians 16:2 was "storing up as he may prosper." And the early disciples in Acts 11:29 gave "each according to his ability." The amount was not fixed, nor was there a set percentage required, but rather the individual is to decide the percentage that he is willing to give to God. Such is accessible to poor and rich alike. A poor person who is not generous with the little that he has will not be generous if he suddenly becomes rich (Luke 16:10-12). Yet the rich are especially expected to be generous with the blessings that they receive. "Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share" (I Timothy 6:18).
One last consideration in deciding how much to give is found in the Old Testament. When David wanted to offer a sacrifice to God, a farmer standing nearby offered to supply the animals. David's answer is interesting. "Then the king said to Araunah, "No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver" (II Samuel 24:24). This is especially applicable because the burnt offering was a voluntary sacrifice. It wasn't required nor was the amount to offer fixed as with many of the other sacrifices. But David realized that a sacrifice that cost nothing to the giver was not really a sacrifice. Nor is the size of the gift important. "Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."" (Mark 12:41-44). The widow gives more because it cost her more.
You see, the question is actually, how much do you keep of the blessings that God has bestowed upon you and your family? The attitude of the giver means more to God than the quantity given.
Paul warned us not to change the pattern given to us (Galatians 1:6-10). There is no record of the church raising funds by any means other than by voluntary gifts of its members. Denominations have become involved in sales to raise money. They operate bookstores, coffee shops, and offer concerts; the proceeds of which are placed into the coffers. But nowhere in the New Testament do we find any authorization for a church to operate a business by command, example, or inference.
So returning to the original question, suppose a church loaned money to its members. A loan means there is an expected repayment. This violates Jesus' teachings. "And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back" (Luke 6:34). It would make the church nothing more than a common bank. Since a repayment would be expected, it would remove the voluntary nature of giving to God. Instead of an amount fixed by the desire of the giver to please God, it would be an amount forced upon him by the church. Recall that Paul said, "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (II Corinthians 9:7). Who enjoys having to repay a loan? Especially since the need for the loan means you don't have the money readily available in the first place? Finally, repayment of a loan cannot be considered a contribution to the church. The returned money did not cost the farmer anything. Since the church would have financed the crops, it would be the church who is taking all the risks.
Can the Church Finance a Member's Business?
When we look into the New Testament, we find the Lord's money being used to pay for services, such as the work of preachers or elders. We see the church was involved in the long term care of certain widows who had no other means of support (I Timothy 5:3-16). And we read of the church helping members out of short term disasters, such as famine (Acts 11:28-29) or poverty (Acts 4:34-35). What we don't find is the church being involved in the business of helping members become wealthy or earning a living. Hence, we must conclude that a church cannot purchase a business for the purpose of providing work for its members. It can keep a member from going hungry, but it cannot set that member up in a business or finance the operation of his business.
Can a Christian be Involved in Any Business?
Many evils in this world have been justified because a perceived good would result. Hitler justified the killing of Jews as a way of building a superior race. Even in the New Testament times, Paul tells us that some saw God's grace as a benefit and argued that since the more we sin the more God's grace would be given to us, we should sin all the more. Paul argued that such ideas were totally false (Romans 5:20-6:2, 15). In fact, the whole concept of doing evil because good may come is false. "For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? --as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:7-8).
Hence, a Christian cannot operate a house of prostitution, justifying it because a portion of the income would be contributed to the church. The contribution does not make the means of gaining income righteous. Sex outside of marriage remains a sin. Nor could a Christian justify gambling because he plans to give some of the possible winnings to God.
Tobacco is a crop that is known to be poisonous to the human body. Yet Paul warned, "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (I Corinthians 3:16-17). He also stated, "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Corinthians 6:18-20). While it is talking about fornication, the reason fornication is wrong is that it is harmful to one participating in it. The same can be said for those who are smoking tobacco.
Smoking is popular primarily because of its addictive properties. Yet we are warned about letting anything replacing God as our Master. "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16). "... for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved" (II Peter 2:19). While there are a few alternative uses for tobacco, the big money is in the making of cigarettes. Can a Christian be involved in producing what is harmful to others? I would hope such is not the case.