Moderator’s August Synod Emphasis
Denominational ministries have long been a part of the ARP Church – as in other Reformed denominations. Many do not give these ministries of Synod much thought – unless they are in- teracting with them or serving on one of the boards. Lately though, denominational ministries have been more in the forefront in multi- ple denominations due to decreased giving from local congregations – putting the squeeze on what each ministry is able to do.
As recently as the summer of 2011, both the ARP and PCA debated the funding of denominational agen- cies. In the PCA, proposals were brought to mandate funding from local churches; these were defeated. In the ARP, discussion centered on whether to require local churches to “tithe” from their budget to the Synod.
Aside from the fact that tithing is aimed at individuals, not groups in scripture, this move amounted to the same thing some in the PCA wanted: mandated instead of voluntary giv- ing to denominational accounts.
Both denominations recognized the problems inherent in such pro- posals, such as the lack of precedence for such a move in historic Presbyte- rian polity, and the likelihood that such measures would be practically impossible to enforce.
In the 19th century, a debate en- sued between theologians James Henley Thornwell and Charles Hodge over whether church boards were legitimate. Thornwell argued they were not legitimate, and his in- fluence lingers in Southern Presby- terianism. Hodge’s view that boards may be employed for scriptural ends has more prevalence (I am oversimplifying the debate).
Wherever one stands on that de- bate, it’s fair to hold all of our agen- cies up to the light of scripture and ask if they are truly legitimate and biblically based. Currently our Syn- od is examining the operations of its boards and agencies, but more so to determine operating efficiencies.
Evaluating the faithfulness of every ministry should be an ongo- ing practice – lest any veer off their path. Those serving on an agency’s board or staff should freely and willingly submit to the Church as unto the lordship of Christ, worshipping Him and not mere hu- man institutions.
Once again, money creates much of the friction over ministries. The denomination encourages the fund- ing of all its ministries from every church through “voluntary sup- port.” Yet some churches have re- stricted their giving to only certain agencies they approve. The denomi- nation at some point recognized this and made allowances for designated contributions in the annual Easter and Thanksgiving offerings.
Whether it’s individuals or churches, for some to contribute to a particular ministry they deem un- faithful, amounts to a violation of their conscience and convictions. It’s certainly more desirable to see them give freely from their hearts to the cause of Christ.
Scripture reminds us, “… whoever sows sparingly will also reap spar- ingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under com- pulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 ESV).
Today, many churches claim re- sources are being stretched thin. The bottom line: giving in our local churches is down, and is often the case – even if the number of mem- bers has not decreased. So why are Christians not giving as significantly as they did in the past?
Though the causes of this de- cline are many, I would suspect far too many of those in our pews are claiming to know Christ, but are instead worshiping the gods of their own appetites – being con- sumed by consumerism, or as Paul identifies it more pointedly in Co- lossians 3:5 (ESV), “covetousness, which is idolatry.”
We need to be confronted with the lordship of Christ in the realm of how we view money and pos- sessions, submitting to Him fully in such things as naturally as we would in any other aspect of our lives.
We give to God of our firstfruits, and we do so in faith and joyous gratitude for the immeasurable treasure that is ours in Christ, not to try and ingratiate ourselves with God and force him to pour out resulting blessings on us. If every believer gave to their local church out of such sacrificial love for Christ, we would not be having a discus- sion over how to fund our denominational ministries.
Then, Christ will be glorified in his people and the Church will flourish.