As P&R believers we put money in the offering plate not simply to respond to heart-rending appeals for charity. We give as stewards. We affirm with the Scriptures that we as individuals give not from our own wealth but from God’s. That is to say, we do not claim to own anything, whether the Porsche or Kia we drive, whether the mansion or tent we inhabit, whether the stock portfolio or the barely-scraped-together coins we spend. It’s all God’s property. We manage that property according to God’s design — providing for the needs of our families and neighbors, for congregational ministries and mission outreaches, for necessities and luxuries.
Specifically, we fund the ministry of the local church (the “storehouse” — Mal. 3:10) in amounts proportional to the resources God has entrusted into our stewardship care. The tithe, the first tenth of our income/equity, provides a benchmark for that support. Many among us give beyond the 10 percent figure.
That’s the way P&R believers handle their personal finances.
When the elders form the congregation’s budget, they also keep in mind that this is not their own money but God’s, not their own facilities but God’s, not their own mission field but God’s. And because they are P&R believers, they provide a fair share of their presbytery’s, synod’s and General Assembly’s financial obligations, new church development investments, and all kinds of other ministry and mission support.
Yes, pastor, I hear you when you say that your session refuses to support the higher governing bodies of the church. But when you report that of them, you are exposing your own failure to do your job.
To become a teaching elder (aka pastor) is to accept the ministerial obligation to instruct the flock. P&R pastors instruct their flocks about the connectional ecclesiology that is central to being P&R churches. Sure, judicial commissions have allowed congregations to manage their money as they determine, but
P&R sessions will withhold or redirect funds from the larger church only in extraordinary circumstances and only for a brief time. Otherwise, they cannot call themselves a P&R congregation
But wait a minute, you say. What if the upper governing bodies are corrupt, or they are not managing the funds as well as you can?
Welcome to the church of Jesus Christ. Do you remember the churches of Corinth and Thyatira, with their carnivals of sexual immorality (not to mention the Corinthians’ denials of the resurrection)? Do you remember the church of Galatia, with its preference for legalism over grace … or the church of Ephesus, which lost its first love … or the lukewarm church of Laodicea?
And, do you remember where it is in Scripture that the scolding apostles delegitimized those churches, suggesting that the folks there should give to the Salvation Army instead of the church?
Then again, I don’t recall reading how the Geneva church’s complicity in the execution of Servetus disqualified Calvin’s congregation from being the recipient and steward of the congregation’s funds. I do remember that the P&R churches around Geneva did practice connectional stewardship.
And, I also remember how America’s Presbyterian churches have practiced connectional stewardship, even though they have sinned boldly by supporting slavery, opposing integration, spending irresponsibly, taking one another to secular courts, excommunicating innocent members, and indulging licentious members. Indeed, if you think the 21st century denomination is exceedingly more sinful than its predecessor( s), go ahead — be the first to cast a stone from your own glass house.
The sins of the church do not exempt believers or elders from being faithful stewards within it, whether local or trans-local.
Stewardship season is upon us.
It’s time for us to talk turkey, to think theologically, and to handle our money — our stewardship — as if we really are P&R believers in a P&R church.