You’re driving to work. Your morning beverage is in its trusty cup holder. Your brakes are getting their morning exercise. Your radio is tuned in to the local Christian station, giving you music the whole family can listen to, positive and encouraging. The song ends and the man and woman tag team DJs start bantering back and forth and finally one says, “And don’t forget, we are a listener-supported ministry. Call 1-888-OURPHONENUMBER now and contribute to our Praise Drive. Many of you, I know, are looking for ways to help out. Know that it’s very easy. You can contribute by Mastercard, VISA, American Express, and Discover. Call now!”
You think nothing of it. After all, just yesterday morning when the offering plate was passed at church you didn’t put anything in it. You didn’t have to. You’d set it up a few days earlier when, on the church’s web site, you typed in your credit card number, expiration date, and security code to give as unto the Lord.
Does this sound silly? It shouldn’t. Christian ministries, radio, television, or otherwise, have long solicited donations via credit card. Now, a new trend is sweeping churches, a trend whose time would inevitably come – e-giving – the ability to give your offering via credit.
We live in the age of mobility and instant communication. I can pull out my phone, for example, and watch a football game happening across the country as easily as I could turn on my television. We don’t have to look at bank statements in the mail anymore. We can do it on our computers and other mobile devices. I mean, every time I log in my bank is trying to get me to opt out of paper this and paper that. It comes as no surprise, then, that churches are forgoing the annual box of envelopes for a quick web site to log on to and get ‘er done.
On the one hand I commend churches for utilizing all the means they can to allow and encourage their members to give, as they should. The old ritual of passing the plate is, in and of itself, just that – a ritual. Giving is a central part of worship, not the means by which the giving is collected. Make giving as efficient as possible, I say. However, I have one very real concern about the trend and what it can and has led to: the idea of a church making available the option and then accepting an offering via credit.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: “Giving an offering by credit is better than not giving an offering at all. After all, it’s not like the one doing the giving isn’t going to have to pay off Mastercard/VISA/Discover/AMEX anyway.”
I commend those who desire so much to give that they are willing to go into further debt to support the work of the church and the ministry of the gospel. It’s the right motive, but it’s the wrong decision.
What do we know about giving in the New Testament? Well, let’s first consider 2 Corinthians 9:6-11:
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, “HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.” Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
The apostle Paul was going from church to church in Macedonia collecting funds so that he could take it to Jerusalem. The church in Jerusalem was very poor and suffering enormous persecution at the hands of the Jews. New believers in Jesus suffered the loss of all things in many cases, including family relationships, friendships, and jobs. It follows that the church had to band together and support one another with whatever they had, especially as time went on and persecution got even worse.
Paul commended bountiful giving from the heart, not by compulsion, but with cheer. The apostolic teaching was that blessing would come from liberality, but it must be noted that the content of such blessing is not defined by the apostle, so any (false) teacher telling you to sow a seed and you’ll get back 30, 60, or 100 fold is trying to sell you (pardon the pun) a bill of goods. So what we’re dealing with in 2 Corinthians 9 is the extolling of cheerful, bountiful giving. To want to give in such a manner is reflective of a new heart such as God gives us when He saves us.
Let’s look, then, at Luke 21:1-4:
And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”
Now this little story in the Gospels has long been used by preachers to illustrate the virtue of that poor widow what gave all she had. The rich are rightly excoriated for merely giving out of their excess and not truly sacrificing for the Lord’s sake. This, of course, has great application for the church in America today, where far too many who can give with liberality merely give what they don’t need to keep to maintain their standard of living. They worship their comfort.
I want you to notice something else about the story, though. The poor widow is shown to be an example not only because she gave ALL that she had, but she gave all she HAD. Quite simply, she did not and could not give what she did not already have.
Today, though, that has changed in some churches and ministries. Giving on credit is not only accepted, but condoned and, yes, promoted. And this, in my mind, is a great tragedy.
Americans already have a huge problem of using and abusing credit. Our government has set the example for a long, long time now of spending money it didn’t have, but it’s only doing what Americans are allowing it to do, because there is no large conviction among individuals to have financial responsibility.
Just in the past week the Crystal Cathedral, founded by Robert Schuller, the prophet of possibility thinking, brought reproach upon the name of Christ (in addition to their false gospel) when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. They have a long list of creditors and a debt of at least $55 million, including a $36 million mortgage. It turns out this “rich” organization was spending money it did not have, they would tell you, in the name of Christ.
This cannot be the case in the church. We are commanded to be good stewards of what we have been given. We must be above reproach with the world, keeping our behavior excellent among the nations, that we might proclaim the excellencies of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:9-10). How does the abuse of credit and the unnecessary increase of debt wash with that? Ultimately, personal finances are the responsibility of the individual, but why should the church provide an avenue for good hearted people to drive themselves further into financial peril? The goal of the church should be to encourage the financial freedom of its members so that they might engage in sacrificial, cheer giving and use the money that have with unselfish utility.
It’s one thing for the hucksters of the Christian world to be doing this. We expect this from the TBN crowd: Paul Crouch, Rod Parsley, Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, et al. But it’s quite another when true Bible believing, gospel preaching churches seeking to glorify God and make Him known to the world begin to do it.
If your church is considering going in the direction of online giving, I encourage you to at least foster some discussion about this issue. If the electronic plate is to be passed by your church, let it be done through checking accounts, not on credit. Give of everything you can that you have, not of what you are able to loan from another. Don’t enslave yourself to a financial master and don’t encourage others to become enslaved.