Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 23, 1962
NUMBER 16, PAGE 1,12-13a

Churches In Business --- (2)

Herschel E. Patton

It was pointed out in the beginning that church enterprises have become "big business" in our day. The many efforts, from rummage sales and suppers to the operation of a million dollar per year business concern, are generally sanctioned on the ground — "The ends justify the means." It is argued that the money raised through these enterprises is used for a good cause, therefore, it is right. Of course, this could have been said of the sacrifices Saul and David proposed to offer, but "how they got the sacrifices" was important.

What is the motive behind church business enterprises? The chief aim, of course, is to raise money — for a good cause. If the righteousness of the cause is sufficient to justify the means used in obtaining the funds, why did the Lord require that the funds for building the tabernacle and temple come only from people with a "willing heart"? Why would David not make an offering of that which came to him without cost? And, why did the apostle Paul write, "every man as he purposeth in his heart"? Church business enterprises to raise money for buildings and works envisioned by churches simply provide cheap and convenient ways of obtaining their wants. They excuse the members from personal sacrifice (precious in the eyes of the Lord) which would be necessary were it not for the mercenary endeavor. The fleshly man is fed, entertained, or at least profited by the money he provides for a "good cause," and if this is needed before one will part with his money, then the spiritual man is without benefit.

Serious thinking upon the giving that pleases and displeases God, as revealed in the Scriptures, should make it clear to all that the mercenary spirit behind the "big (or little) business" enterprises of churches is as contrary to the letter and spirit of true religion as a thing can be.

The Work Of Elders

Another matter that should be considered in connection with churches in business is the work of elders. Faithful brethren have for years declared, with the Bible as their authority, that there is no organization larger or smaller than a local congregation for doing the work of the church. It has been admitted that while denominations, through their Conventions, Synods Boards, etc., could own and operate schools, publishing houses, business concerns, etc., such was not possible for the Lord's church, there being no scriptural authority for such organizations. However, this teaching is being discredited today by some who want arrangements through which hundreds of congregations can work and who are trying to lead the Lord's people into the "business enterprise" field.

These would-be "new frontier men" are being rebuffed, however, on every hand by those still holding the "Sword of the Spirit" in their hands. The word of God teaches that each local church is independent of every other church and has its own organization (saints bishops deacons — Phil. 1:1) and work.

The elders, or bishops, in each local church (Acts 14:23; 20:17) are responsible for feeding (tending) the flock among them and "over which the Holy Spirit" made them overseers. (1 Pet. 5:3; Acts 20:28) Their work is to feed (tend) the flock, watch for souls, rule well, convict the gainsayer with sound words and be examples. (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet, 5:1-3; Heb. 13:17; Tit. 1:9)

As overseers, naturally, the work done by a congregation would be done at their direction. They have not the authority to direct any activity of the church that is not within its mission. The mission, or work, of the church has been given by Christ, the head.

Elders may oversee the construction of a meeting house since the church is authorized to assemble. This command necessitates a place and facilities. But, before elders could oversee a construction business for the purpose of making money to be used in their work, there would have to be authority for thus financing the work of the church.

Elders may oversee a work of relief for needy charges of the church, but before they can oversee a farm, livestock or poultry enterprise to raise funds for providing said relief, there must be authority for this means of financing the Lord's work.

If it can be shown from the Scriptures that funds may be raised for church work through church business enterprises, then it would be permissible for elders to oversee such enterprises. However, until such authority is found, we must conclude that elders are functioning in unauthorized fields when they are found overseeing such business enterprises.

Is All Income Which Is Not A "From The Heart" Gift Unacceptable?

Here is a realm in which many difficult questions arise. The questions are the outgrowth of churches acquiring, owning, and disposing of property. There is no record in the New Testament of a church owning a meeting house or a preacher's home. Nevertheless, the command to assemble necessitates a place and facilities. In New Testament times, the saints did meet in a place. It may have been some brother's house or a place rented for the purpose. Phile. 2; Acts 28:30-31) 1 Corinthians 11:22 seems to make a distinction between a house to eat and drink in and one in which to worship. James 2:2 mentions "your synagogue" with the reference being to a place, for seating arrangement is discussed. Scholars tell us that the meaning of synagogue moved from an assembly to a place or building. But, regardless of this, the command to assemble gives authority for a place to assemble with necessary facilities. Also, the command to give a preacher "wages" could include a place to live as a part of said wages.

Some Questions

A congregation purchases some property for the purpose of erecting a meeting house. In process of time another place of property is found that would seem to serve their purpose better. The first property is sold, but property having increased in value, it brings more than that given for it. Is the profit, applied to the later purchase, acceptable?

A man dies leaving acreage on which oil royalties are received to the church of Christ and to the First Baptist Church in the community where he lived. Since both heirs must sign to sell the property, and one hesitates to sign, may the lease money be received and used by the church until arrangements for disposing of the property are made?

A fire badly damages the school building in a certain place. Just across the street is the house where the saints meet for worship. The school board arranges for the use of the church building during week days while the school building is being restored, agreeing to pay rental to cover utilities and depreciation on the building. Would such be wrong?

A church builds and uses a house as part of the "wages" of a preacher. In time, a preacher working with them has his own house, or perhaps, being unmarried needs only a small apartment. Rather than let the house stand vacant, could it be rented and the rent money used in the work of the church?

Being desperately in need of parking space, a congregation buys an adjoining lot on which is an old apartment building when the property sells after the death of its owner. The purchase is made with plans to have the old apartment building removed and the property made into a parking lot. But, before the old building can be removed or the congregation can proceed with its parking lot plans, rent is received from the occupants of the house. Has wrong been done?

A new meeting house being needed, a congregation starts a building fund to which is added certain amounts over a period of time until enough is on hand to begin the building. The bank where the fund is on deposit adds 4% interest to the amount deposited over the period of time it is there Is this a business enterprise? Is there a difference in this and the church establishing a small loan company or association where transactions over a period of time bring in a considerable amount of interest?

THESE ARE NOT IMAGINARY CASES, but actual experiences of certain congregations. They show how money does sometimes come into the treasury of the church that is not a "from the heart" offering. Great problems have arisen, even strife and divisions, over such circumstances and actions.

I do not claim to have the answer to all such problems. Congregations have met these problems in different ways. Rather than have the church appear "in business" one congregation refused to accept interest on a building fund. Another congregation with a preacher's home, whose preacher has his own, lets it stand vacant. Another, in the same situation, turns the preacher's home over to the preacher to either live in, or rent. He rents the house and the money is part of his wages.

Surely, there are Scriptural principles to guide us in facing problems of this kind and that will keep churches from becoming commercial-"big business" bodies.

— Box 282, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee