Friday, February 23, 2007

Letters to My Non-Churchgoing Friends (#4: The Church Only Wants My Money)

Dear Friend:
Today I want to discuss a fourth reason people give for not being involved in a church. Some say: "The church only wants my money."

I need to tell you something. As a Lutheran, I'm part of a Christian movement which, secondarily anyway, began with disgust over money the Church was "guilting" people into giving, usually money they didn't have to give.

Martin Luther, a German monk, priest and professor, began our movement and what's called 'The Reformation' when he nailed ninety-five theses--or statements for theological debate--on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. The immediate motivator for Luther's action was his digust with a practice of the Roman Church of his day, that of selling pieces of paper known as indulgences. The church claimed that people who bought these documents got time out of a place called purgatory for themselves or their loved ones. (Luther also came to challenge the very idea of a place called purgatory.)

At the root of Luther's challenge of indulgences was the idea that a relationship with God or eternity with God could be bought or sold or earned. Luther insisted, and Lutherans insist today, that God's gifts of everlasting life, reconciliation with God, and forgiveness of sin are really gifts. They're freely granted to people willing to give up their dependence on sin and entrust their lives to Jesus Christ.

Having said this, you should nonetheless know that churches do want your money. They want my money, too. But, I hope they do so for the right reasons, two of which come to mind immediately.

The first is a practical one. Simply put, without money, churches find it harder to fulfill their missions.

But there's a second reason. One movement in the Church calls it, "the need of the giver to give." When we willingly make giving to God's work the first expenditure to come out of our paychecks, we drive a stake into the heart of our common tendency toward selfishness. (This is what the Bible calls crucifying the old self.) We tell God that we're grateful for Christ and that we're putting Him first in our lives.

For years at our congregation, we've made an announcement at the beginning of our worship celebrations, asking first-time visitors not to give any money when the offering baskets are passed around. "It's our privilege to have you with us today," we say. We want visitors to know that we care more about them as people than as owners of wallets.

But not every visitor likes it when we say this. One person who worshiped with us for the first time several years ago had already become an enthusiastic believer in giving the first ten per cent of her income to the work of the church. She eventually became a member of our congregation and told us that when, during her first visit, first-timers were urged not to make an offering, she thought, "There's no way you're going to keep me from giving!" That woman is what the Bible calls a "cheerful" or "hilarious" giver. She understands that the church needs money to do its work and that giving to God's work feels good. Giving has become a huge blessing in her life!

Honestly, giving doesn't come easily to me. And I hate it when churches become obsessed with money, treating people like sources of revenue rather than children of God. But people like that woman remind me of why the church wants our money. And why that's a good thing.

Sincerely,
Mark

[UPDATE: Spencer Troxell, one of my favorite people, responds to the first three installments of this series here. PS: I've never met any Zoroastrians either.]

1 comment:

Spencer said...

Thanks for linking to me! Zorastrians sure are elusive folks, aren't they? Anyway, I've rewritten my response since you read it. You've touched on a subject very relevant to me. It's given me alot of thinking to do.

PS, I'm glad I made your favorites list.