Wednesday, 11 June 2014
Time, Talents & Tenners
Many free churches, especially those on the religious right, hit the tithing button: telling members it is their religious duty to pay a tenth of their income to the church. This is usually presented as a Biblical demand, ignoring the fact that it is a part of the Jewish Law and that Christians are supposed to be free from the demands of that Law. Indeed, Jesus once said that God's children are exempt from paying such 'duties and taxes'.
Other churches have 'stewardship campaigns' - bundling the money issue in with other contributions people make to their church: 'time & talents'. This makes rather more sense, but if you look at the supporting literature and listen to the supporting talks then you can see where their heart really lies. Some churches focus on their ministries: the things they do for others and how people's contributions, of whatever form, build God's Kingdom. That suggests they are genuine. Others just focus on money, with any reference to time and talents as an inadequate fig-leaf, and service to others notable by its absence.
As something of a Bible geek, I do find it really aggravating when such churches abuse the Bible to get their demands across. I've already mentioned the tithing demand, but another aggravating claim is that giving to God and giving to church X are the same thing - they are not! Giving to God could be helping your elderly neighbour, with time, talents or even cash; giving to the church of which you are a part is more like giving to yourself.
Likewise the claim that such giving is all about generosity: if you are part of that church then that is really nothing more than "generosity begins at home". This often gets linked to a passage in Paul's second letter to Corinth, in which he talks about taking up a collection for famine relief. As soon as you think about that famine context it is clear that it has nothing to do with giving to your local church, but that doesn't stop preachers from abusing the passage to try to get people to give them more money.
It seems to me that Jesus' comment about children and taxes can be taken further. I don't charge my kids for staying here - what parent would - indeed they get cash from me in the form of pocket money or student grant/loan top-ups. But my son is currently job hunting. If he gets a job with a decent salary and remains living at home for a while, it would be entirely reasonable, I think, for him to pay a share of the household costs.
I am a part of a church which costs a fair amount per year to keep running, as well as additional costs for all the things we would like to do, together as a church and in our community. It doesn't just cost money, it also costs time and effort and skill and dedication. It seems entirely appropriate to me that those of us on a reasonable income who use and value the church should make our monetary contributions to the running costs, and those of us with reasonable health should contribute with time and effort, and so on.
A church is people, not a building or an organisation. Its running costs are our running costs, to be shared fairly between us, according to what we have to offer. An annual reminder that costs are increasing, preferably tied to a review of what has been achieved over the year, and what we are hoping to do over the following year, is a reasonable and sensible thing to do. Incessant nagging and arm-twisting is not, and misrepresentation of the Bible to bludgeon people into handing over their cash should be anathema.
There's God's work to do, a Kingdom to help build. As Jesus said, we should be focussing firstly on that Kingdom, and leaving the worrying and stress about resources to God.