“Welcome to The Church of Christ Federal Trust and Savings Corporation. Our assembly hours are Sunday morning from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and again from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Wednesday evenings from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. We are open, however, for your deposits from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Let us help you convert your material wealth into spiritual gold! We will accept all of your freewill donations– cash, checks, stocks, securities, livestock, or any other commodity– and we will convert these material goods into programs to make more members of The Church of Christ Federal Trust and Savings Corporation and also to convert your material possessions into your treasure waiting for you in Heaven. We will even help advise you in your financial matters to maximize your potential earnings– and also your ability to give to The Church of Christ Federal Trust and Savings Corporation!
So please call us or stop in and open your account with The Church of Christ Federal Trust and Savings Corporation. Neither time nor Christ will wait too long, so begin conversion of your wealth on Earth to your treasure in Heaven now!
And remember: at The Church of Christ Federal Trust and Savings Corporation, you deposit your material wealth, but you withdraw Heaven!”
The above promotion might sound ridiculous to some and scary to others, but it represents a not-too-overblown exaggeration of the types of attitudes and actions performed by many so-called “churches of Christ” around the country today. While probably every church involved in such affairs would vehemently deny any possibility of turning the church into a form of bank they yet demonstrate a “bank-like” attitude toward the reception of funds from the members (and non-members) and the way those funds are used in their churches.
I am discussing this after having visited the website of the West-Ark church of Christ and having examined their members’ Guide to Giving. It is not my intent to “single out” this church, for I am sure that there are many other so-called churches of Christ throughout the United States involved with many of these same practices, and I use this church only as the reference to demonstrate what types of activities are going on in many of these “churches of Christ.”
In the “Guide to Giving,” we may see the following practices currently in place within this church:
- The use of envelopes for the weekly contribution with a unique number given to every member to track contributions for the given reason of “tax deduction purposes.”
- The existence of a “West-Ark Church of Christ Business Management Team” to assist members who contemplate giving a “special donation” and who determine the viability of whatever gifts members desire to donate according to their church’s “Gift Acceptance Policy.”
- Encouragement for all members to have wills and to leave a bequest to their church, with instructions on how to do so.
- Encouragement to make the church the beneficiary for a checking or savings account and for any retirement accounts. It is stated that this setup for the retirement account helps to avoid major taxes on the funds involved.
- Encouragement to give gifts of funds or stocks or whatnot to the “West-Ark Church of Christ Endowment Trust” which was set up for “the benefit of the evangelistic programs of the West-Ark Church of Christ,” (West-Ark Guide to Giving, http://www.westarkchurchofchrist.org/guidetogiving.htm).
- A discussion of how to give other forms of capital, notably stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, and/or any other form of property. It is also encouraged that if one desires to give the proceeds from “appreciated securities” to not cash it in and then give it but to give said securities directly to the church, for then it will not be taxed. Instructions for giving U.S. Treasury Savings Bonds are also included.
Many reasons are also stated for why gifts, especially the “special gifts,” should be given, including the following:
Special giving can help church members to pass a spiritual heritage to their children and heirs as well as financial resources to meet their needs. Parents and grandparents who combine charitable giving plans with an inheritance may find this an opportunity to convey their faith values to those who receive personal bequests. This may come in the form of a letter of explanation as to the values and faith of the person planning for their heirs. Or, it may be a gift that benefits both a charity and family members such as a charitable gift annuity or charitable remainder unitrust.
Special giving often provides tax benefits for the donor that will enable them to give significantly more to the Lord’s work and to their families. Of course, every donor needs to review this with their professional advisor to see how this would work in their specific situation, (West-Ark Guide to Giving, http://www.westarkchurchofchrist.org/guidetogiving.htm).
It also should be noted that on their main page, the church purports that:
Christians at the West-Ark church of Christ plead for a return to the religious practices and teachings of the New Testament. It is our desire to restore in the 21st century the original Christian church of the 1st century. It is our prayer that you may understand and obey the will of God so that you can spend eternity in Heaven.
I desire to reiterate that I am by no means “singling out” the West-Ark church of Christ, but simply am using their materials posted clearly on their website. The question must be asked: how can a church assert that they are attempting to restore the church of the first century when they have devised all of these means for increasing the church treasury? Do we see in the New Testament any example of such things? Do the disciples all turn to Matthew for advice on how to sell their properties and whatnot to avoid as much taxation as possible to maximize their gift to Jesus? Did the church in Jerusalem set up a “Business Management Team” to handle the property and possessions that were sold to assist the saints in that church? By no means! I believe that the following questions must be asked of the members of the West-Ark Church of Christ and any other groups of Christians participating in similar types of practices:
- If you are attempting to restore the first century church, why do you have an “endowment trust” and everything that it stands for?
I ask this because an endowment trust and such things are used as legitimate “tax shelters:” major donations can be made with the least amount of taxation possible. This trust– along with the other advice given about giving stocks, securities, bequests, etc.– demonstrate an attitude of attempting to maximize the gift given and the willingness to do anything (according to legal standards) to achieve this end.
I will not deny that the practice is legitimate from a legal standpoint, but I must ask if it is profitable? We may see the example of the first church in Jerusalem in Acts 4:34-37:
For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need. And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of exhortation), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, having a field, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
We see clearly that all the property and possessions were first sold and then given to the Apostles. Was the property and/or possessions merely handed over to the Apostles so that they could maximize their profit on these items? By no means! For a church to accept such things it would become a player in the stock market or in the business world in general even if for a very short time. Is this what the church is about– profit? Working in the business world to maximize that profit? Should not the church be content with what it receives, allow Caesar to have what is Caesar’s on any other occasion, and use what it is given for the glory of God?
This is not an attempt to assert that the whole focus of the West-Ark church or any other church is to make money, but when one of the prominent links on their main page is a long discussion about what and how to give– and another link to a policy the church developed on how to accept such gifts– gives the impression that this church spends an inordinate amount of time being concerned over money and business matters. We can see in the New Testament a more simple concept: sell the property and/or possessions and then give them to the church. In this situation the church has no need to be involved in the business world and can direct its attention to the far weightier matters of which it has been assigned.
- If you are attempting to restore the church of the first century, what authority or need is there for a “business management team?”
The presence of such an institution within a church demonstrates a business-like attitude toward the work of the church. What is the business of Jesus Christ and His church– money or souls? The only authority for a “business management team” that would exist from the Scriptures would be a group of Christians who got together to evangelize an area or to encourage the weaker Christians, for they would be active in the true business of God– and they would not call themselves a “business management team,” but be content with the term “Christian.”
- Is the presence of such material prominently displayed on the website profitable?
Even though the rest of the site may perhaps have good information about how to obey the Lord and be saved, the material about giving is prominently displayed and may give many who are searching for the truth the wrong impression about churches of Christ. If such people were to read about how to avoid taxation as much as possible to maximize not only the current gift to be given but also allow for larger donations in the future, will he or she conclude that this church is focused on the spiritual things of God or the worldly drive for money?
I am sure that many would respond that the material is provided to inform the members about how to be the best stewards of their funds. I will not deny that the church requires the freewill donations of its members to survive and maintain the work in that place and perhaps in others, but in what Scripture do we see any church soliciting such funds or giving advice about such funds? In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, Paul teaches Christians to give cheerfully as they have intended in their heart:
But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
I will also not deny that Christians are called to be good stewards of not only their money but also their talents (Matthew 25:14-30). This does not, however, authorize the church to go to any length to maximize the gifts of the individual members.
I am also sure that to many of the more conservatively minded members of churches of Christ that these practices will never enter their own churches since they can see the Scriptural problems with endowment trusts, a business management team, etc. Yet we may see today that there are some churches who will not give benevolence to non-saints but will have no problem establishing a Certificate of Deposit (CD) from their local bank to make a buck or two on the Lord’s money at the bank’s expense. The justification of these practices? “We need to be good stewards of the Lord’s money.” This type of argumentation is the same as that being used to justify the practices of endowment funds, business management teams, and the church owning (even if temporarily) real estate! I will not deny that the church does need to be a good steward to the Lord’s money, but we must ask ourselves: are we being good stewards according to the world’s definition or according to the Lord’s definition? Taking funds and placing them in a CD to gain interest is certainly good stewardship according to the world, yet such funds have a greater purpose for the Lord. Good stewardship of the Lord’s money according to the Lord is to fund evangelists and evangelism (Philippians 4:15) and to help needy saints (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). The church does not have the commission nor the time to establish certificates of deposit to make a little on the Lord’s money since souls are perishing daily without the benefit of hearing the news of salvation. We are good stewards of the Lord’s money only when we use them to be busy in the Lord’s business of saving souls.
The Church of Christ Federal Trust and Savings Corporation might be a fictitious organization, but the principles on which it would stand are not too far off from the attitudes and practices of many so-called churches of Christ today. When the members of a church place a strong emphasis on the funds that the church ought to receive and create trusts and teams to help facilitate the maximizing of the funds received, the difference between such a church and a bank is that one is for profit and the other is not. The only legitimate business of the church is the salvation of souls, the edification of those within and the funding of evangelism of those without. The business-like attitude which has entered many churches is not the spirit of the Lord’s church as seen in the New Testament. The mission of the church is too precious and too critical to be desensitized into a system of number calculations, where people are mere numbers and not individual children of God. If we truly desire to be the church of the New Testament, we must recognize truly what the business of our Lord is and the means by which we must perform that business from the Scriptures: saving souls, and proclaiming the message to all who will hear.