Mr. Donald L. Norbie of Greeley, Colorado, a frequent contributor to Focus, serves the Lord in assembly building and student work. In this timely article he lays stress on an all but forgotten principle midst today’s maze of religious hucksters.
Which country in the world has the most Christian beggars?
Perhaps some would suggest India with its six hundred million people, many living in extreme poverty. Others might suggest underdeveloped nations of African or South America.
Few would suggest the United States. Is not this country the most affluent nation in the world? Christian beggars here?
And yet through the mails and media, such as radio and television, the public is constantly bombarded by pleas for money. Pledges, faith promises and gifts are solicited, accompanied by desperate pleas and eloquent pictures.
Courses are being offered now to sharpen one’s skills at solicitation. The University of Colorado offered a two day workshop in 1979 entitled: “How to Solicit Big Gifts.” It was designed “to help you successfully win large donations from wealthy people. It has been developed using proven techniques front behavioral science, sales training, and fund raising … In class you’ll learn techniques for getting big gifts of $5,000, $10,000, $50,000, even $1 million.” (Quotations from a brochure.)
There are several “evangelical” agencies which specialize in fund raising. For a fee these will guarantee to raise the money needed by Christian organizations. The latest psychological and promotional tactics are used. Slick Madison Avenue advertising is sure to produce results.
Results? What kind of results?
Such methods discredit the Gospel. The unbelieving world scoffs and ridicules religion. It is just another business conning the gullible. This sort of thing cheapens the Gospel. Where is the God of Elijah?
Such methods promote competition for the evangelical dollar. Everyone jumps on the band wagon. Mailing lists are sold or exchanged. Massive computers process thousands of mailings daily. Automatic typewriters rattle off canned responses to earnest donors. And millions of evangelical dollars are spent to promote and to maintain corporation structures. Several religious leaders and their organizations gross over fifty million dollars annually in the United States.
Advertising can become deceptive very easily. Each organization must project a “success” image. Who wants to give to a loser? And so self-promotion abounds.
Does it not seem a far cry from the spiritual teaching and life of Christ? In fact, it is a repudiation of His teaching. When He sent the Apostles out to preach he said, “Freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). He forbade them taking along a wallet or “beggar’s bag” (Matt. 10:9), such as some itinerant preachers carried. (Cf. the Greek text.) They went in the dignity of Christ’s calling and commission. Those who felt the truth of God’s message and were moved to help, supported them. But there was no solicitation, no promotion.
Those who follow promotional methods also reject the continuing example and teaching of the Apostles in the early Church. Paul claimed to be a pattern for Christian service — “mimic me.”
Paul, with the other Apostles, walked the quiet pathway of faith, trusting God to supply. He was not afraid to work if necessary to be an example or to provide for need — “these hands have ministered unto my necessities and to them that were with me” (Acts 20:34). Various churches voluntarily sent funds to help (Phil. 4:15). Paul could say, “I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel” (Acts 20:33).
One hundred and fifty years ago (1829) Anthony Norris Groves set out from England for Baghdad and later India to preach the Gospel. He determined to follow New Testament practice for the Church and his ministry. It was a pioneering venture. Heady stuff this, living by faith! No salary, no solicitation, no promotion — Groves said, “God can provide my needs.” And He did.
The churches had not seen such practice for centuries. Would faith principles work? Could God provide for His servants?
George Mueller and a host of other preachers caught the vision, served God in faith and did exploits. Missionary work along faith lines spread like wild fire and girdled the globe. These were great men, heroes of the faith.
But today these men and faith principles are being belittled and put down as not being exemplary. The positive example of the New Testament is put aside as outmoded. This is the 20th century with computers, photography and mailing lists. People respond to solicitation so why not solicit? Jesuit philosophy prevails —“The end justifies the means.”
This vital spiritual heritage is in danger of being jettisoned by some assemblies. Salaries are being discussed; solicitation is being practiced; workers’ needs are advertised. The errosion of the faith principle is well advanced in certain areas, a sad commentary on the spiritual state.
To serve the Lord along faith lines is not just an interesting option for the Church. If Christians take seriously the teaching and example of Jesus and His Apostles it is imperative. And a practical outworking is the honing of the cutting edge of spiritual life in both the Lord’s servants and His churches.
The principal of faith for financial support of Christian service is as vital to the churches as the truth of baptism or the Lord’s supper. Let us pray for a revival of faith among us as God’s people.