My first exposure to an evangelical church was an excellent independent Bible Church. Between September of my 17th year and the September of my 18th year I learned enough Bible knowledge that New Testament Survey was my first crip course in college my freshman year. Also, in that church I was initiated into minimalism. The building was a simple as possible to be functional. The one amenity was a good organ which was excellently played by the Pastor’s daughter. Every penny possible went to the world mission program. Offerings were “freely” deposited in boxes at the back of the church not collected in offering plates.
Engaging in Service Expands Theological Learning
During my college years, I worked with the son of the pastor of that church to plant a church near my home. My experience there was similar. During seminary years I worked as minister of youth in a church of the same ilk. Great Pastor from whom I learn much about being a pastor. Giving was by offering plates and giving was assumed. I do not remember a single sermon on giving only casual references from time to time in preaching of various texts.
Expanding My Concept of Giving
I spent two years working with Dr. Paul Van Gorder in Atlanta after finishing the ThM. Again, I served as Minister of Youth with the additional title of Minister of Education. In this church I learned about the Faith Promise Program for the support of World Missions that originated in highly respected church in Toronto. This program caught my attention and I adopted it being responsible for initiating it in three churches in succeeding years. Brother Paul did an excellent job of teaching the biblical doctrine of giving in its variegated dimensions with a New Testament perspective on tithing and offerings. His teaching and commitment to world missions inspired me and the congregation to the point that this church with an active membership of a thousand in 1967-68 had a faith promise (pledge) of $187.000 (that is $729,300 dollars in today’s money).
Excavating My Ignorance
Yet, all this, and I was never introduced to the concept of pledging. After planting a church and growing to the point of preparing to build the first building, I had an interview with a banker regarding financing the building. We established accounts at this bank in part because we had observed signs on other church building projects indicating this bank financed the projects. The first question the banker asked was, “How much do you have in pledges?” My response was, “Mr. Jones, I am not familiar with the word in terms of finances.” He was an elder in an evangelical Presbyterian church in the area and a gracious man. He did not make me feel foolish but educated me on the concept.
I accepted the idea as a cultural phenomena and saw nothing in it that would be counter to Scripture. Since then, I’ve been on other Presbyterian church staffs where pledging was the normal way of managing the budgeting process. Yet, to me, it was still a useful cultural tool, that is, until today.
Educating My Ignorance
In my time with the Lord today, I read II Corinthians 9:5 and realized that here was the biblical concept of pledging. That word does not occur in the passage. However, listen to Paul. “So, I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead (Titus and company) to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised (that is the definition of a pledge) bountiful gift, that the same might be ready as a bountiful gift, and not affected by covetousness (that would drain off the finances to assuage your personal desires). [Italics represents my understanding]
Evaluating Theology over Culture and Reconnecting the Two
Not sure how I’ve missed this previously, nor why I have not read it or heard it preached. Conclusion is this. The cultural tool, very useful in the cultural practice of budgeting, turns out once again to demonstrate how Christianity has influenced western culture and, as often is the case, became disconnected from its roots. Today it was re-rooted for me. Paul propagates the theology of pledging.
Enlightening Implications that Call for Implementation
There are so many lessons that can be drawn from today’s encounter with the Word in this ninth chapter of II Corinthians. Here are some for your consideration.
- The graciousness of the Holy Spirit to gently teach us and use us even in our ignorance
- The magnificence of the Word of God in its unfathomable depth
- The illustration of firm but gentle leadership exhibited by Paul in urging fulfillment of the pledge
- The recognition of the tension between a commitment by pledge and our desires which calls for sacrifice exercised by action before we yield to expend our pledge on our desires
- The reality that God often fulfills His promise to meet our needs through the mechanism of other believers fulfilling their pledges
- The use of social pressure to encourage the fulfillment of a voluntary commitment (promise, pledge) exhibited by Paul
- The economy of God wherein by giving we are enriched
- The recognition that the enrichment is certain, though not always in time and space. It is certain in the eternal
- Cheerful giving is an expectation for the Christian and the evidence of the Gospel in one’s life
- Cheerful giving motives the receiver to engage in prayer for the giver
And all this wonderment emulates God’s giving of His indescribable gift.