What do you think about accepting donations for teaching on the Internet?

Question:

Hi,

I'm a student and also preach the gospel when given the opportunity. I read your site often and I trust you to give the truth in a time when I sometimes feel that many congregations are straying from the original New Testament form. That is why I am contacting you.

I graduated with a BA in philosophy and am (hopefully) continuing on to graduate school. I am very interested in gospel preaching and apologetics in the line of Thomas B. Warren and Wayne Jackson and I wanted to know your opinion on something. With the advent of the internet, we have the ability to minister in new ways.

My question is: What do you think about organizations that receive donations? This would include the Gospel Broadcasting Network, Apologetics Press, etc. Now, I think they receive funds from other Christians, which is similar to Paul, etc. With YouTube, one would have the ability to do apologetics and gospel-oriented videos and allow people to donate to support them (via Patreon, etc.). Do you feel this is against New Testament Christianity? How do you feel about organizations in general? Where can the money come from scripturally? Wasn't money in the New Testament given by Christians (churches of Christ) to Christians?

By the way, I, in no way, think I can make a living at this right now but was interested in scouting out the terrain (options that are scripturally available) for possibilities in the future. There are so many people deceiving people on YouTube (false doctrine), it would be good to know possible ways to fight back. One thing I am sure of is that I am against running ads (before videos) on YouTube videos for money. I have seen some pretty bad commercials played before videos and I do not want to support that (or be the cause of someone seeing that) in any way. Any help you could give me would be appreciated!

Thank you for your time.

Answer:

There are things that you need to consider.

You don't want it to appear that you are teaching for the profit. "If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (I Timothy 6:3-5). Paul made it a point to not appear to be teaching simply for the money. "What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:18). It isn't wrong to be supported by others while you preach, after all: "If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?" (I Corinthians 9:11). But profit should not be the reason why anyone teaches.

But notice that the payment is coming from those who have benefited from your teaching. "The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him" (Galatians 6:6). The ad model breaks this connection. The advertiser is hoping to make money off of how popular you are and so is willing to pay money to have his products shown to those who visit your video or website. Thus, accuracy in teaching is no longer a motivator, but how large of a crowd you can draw. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths" (II Timothy 4:3-4). This desire for popularity generates a lot of false teachings. Speaking of false teachers, Peter warned, "and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep" (II Peter 2:3).

The New Testament talks about churches and individuals supporting preachers and teachers, but another layer is added when it is an organization is involved. This was the objection raised back in the 1900s about missionary societies. Who decides which preacher is sent and how much he is supported. When an organization is involved, then it is the organization and not the churches and individuals making the choices. If a website or video site is run by an organization, then it is the organization deciding the standards of what is posted and what contributors are paid. Once again, it changes the model established by God. Individuals have more freedom in deciding how they will spend their money, but churches are restricted to the will of God since the money they have is God's money. Without authority from God, churches cannot support man-made organizations.

Question:

Jeffrey,

I thank you for the detailed response. I think that you have some good points there. I think most of the church of Christ organizations are under the eldership of a church, but they call themselves by another name (besides the name of the church). Do you think that that would be acceptable, or do you think that if someone wanted to make content (say videos) for evangelism that they would need to use their own name or the name of the church of Christ they are affiliated with? And then only the church (not non-Christians) could support them financially?

This is a deep subject I've never heard discussed. Thank you for your time and help!

Answer:

Just because an organization happens to be headed by elders or other Christians, it doesn't make it a work of the church. Whatever it does is a work of that organization as directed by those running it.

Churches are funded solely by the voluntary contributions of their members (I Corinthians 16:1-2). No other way was laid out by God.

Man-made organizations can raise their funds in any way they desire that is legal. A problem arises when people try to make their institution a quasi part of the church. A church cannot push its duties off to an organization or an individual. An organization cannot become a money-making operation on behalf of a church. For instance, I know of churches that have bought properties for future expansion. A church cannot go into the rental business since it violates the command for how a church is supposed to raise money. Nor can they establish an organization to manage their properties for them and have the profits given to the church. It is still violating the command given to churches to raise their funds by voluntary offerings.

If a group of Christians buy properties and create an organization to manage them, then there is no problem. If some of the Christians wish to take out their portion of the profits and give it to a church, that is the individual's choice. "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?" (Acts 5:4).

In the same way, a church cannot create an organization to do teaching on its behalf. A church can support preachers directly. If a group of Christians decides to create an organization to produce Bible study material, then it is the organization that is deciding what material to produce. It is not a work of the church. A church might buy material for use in its teaching, but here the church is deciding what it will use. No outside organization is making the decision of what the church must teach or use.

If an individual or organization is making videos, then they must use their own name. It would not be a work of a church but a work of those producing it. If the individual or organization wishes to sell its work, that is their choice. If they wish to distribute the videos free of charge and ask for donations, that also is their choice. It still remains a separate work from that of a church.

Question:

This makes sense Jeffrey. Thank you.

One point of clarification. In the Bible, Paul was a tentmaker, and that allowed him to make a living - then also, sometimes, a church would support him as a minister (pay for his journey). Lay aside for a moment the fact that Paul often took no money for preaching because he did not want others to think he was doing so for gain. What I am wondering is if Paul (hypothetically), instead of making tents, preached in front of a group of people. In the crowd were various non-Christians, such as philosophers and other pagan people. After hearing Paul they decide that what he is saying is interesting (but they aren't yet ready to believe). Still, they decide to give Paul money (donate to him) to continue his preaching. Would it be wrong for Paul (or another minister) to take these funds?

To me, that is what YouTube seems like. Because many of the people watching you are not Christians, is it still OK to receive money (for preaching, as an individual) from people who are not Christians? We know it's OK to receive money from non-Christians for worldly services, etc., but what about for services like preaching the gospel? Should preachers only be paid by a church or can individual non-Christians pay them (or donate to them) as long as their ministry is separate from the church?

I want to be clear on this because I think your points are very good on this issue.

Thanks again for your time

Answer:

"The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him" (Galatians 6:6).

"So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:14).

I know of no command that states that a preacher is only to receive support from believers. The instructions are that a preacher is supplying a benefit and those benefiting from his work should support his efforts.

Now, in reality, you are not likely to find non-believers desiring to support something they don't believe in. But if they choose to help, that is their choice. You can see this in several cases in the New Testament. Cornelius was a Roman, but he supported Jewish people (Acts 10:1-2). Another Roman centurion had built a synagogue for the Jews (Luke 7:4-5). While they were believers in God, they were Gentile and not Jews.

The basic point is that we don't add limits that God did not limit.

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