Summary: This is an examination of how the early Church used the monetary funds contributed by its members. The practice of the early Church, under the directions of the Apostles, gives us a pattern to follow today.
Proper Use of the Church Treasury
It is proper and perfectly Scriptural for Christians in a community to put money in a common fund. There has never been a great deal of disagreement among brethren over this matter. Christians generally agree that it is right to contribute to a general fund to take care of mutual obligations and opportunities.
The problems arise over what this congregational money, once it has been contributed, can or cannot be used for. What can money in the ’Church Treasury’ be spent for? It is safe to say that few questions have ever been the occasion for more conversation, controversy and division than this one.
Like all things which pertain to the Church, I believe that we can avoid a lot of controversy and disagreements if we are willing to conform our conduct to the commands and the examples provided in the inspired Word of the New Testament.
It is my intent, at this time, to examine how the early Church used the money in the common fund or, as we call it today, the ’Church Treasury’.
I.Money Collected was from the Saints for the Saints.
The first point that we need to note is that the money collected was from the saints for the saints. There is no command nor example to be found in Scripture of a congregation’s resources or treasury being used or distributed to non-Christians.
In every instance, where the church treasury is dispensed, it is always an instance where the saints are the recipients of the funds. This is not surprising when we consider that the Apostle Paul refers to it, in 1 Corinthians 16:1 as "the collection FOR the saints".
C.) We have congregations giving funding-support to preachers of the Gospel. 2 Corinthians 11:8.
The New Testament provides the clear pattern of the Church’s treasury funds being used exclusively for the needs of members of the Church, whether they be near or far.
We do not have Scriptural sanction for distributing funds to meet the needs of non-Christians. Non-Christians are to be assisted out of the Christian’s personal finances.
2.Worthy Recipients of Church Funds.
We now want to turn our attention to answering the question: What Christians are worthy to receive funds from the Church? In studying the Scriptures, I find three classes of believers who deserve funds from the Church. They are: the destitute, congregational bishops or elders, and preachers of the Gospel.
A.) The destitute.
The most common examples found in Scripture of the dispersal of congregational funds was assistance to Christians who were in poverty; that is, without the basic necessities of life.
Acts 2:44-45, "And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need."
Acts 4:34-35, "Neither was there any among them 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] down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."
The word translated "need" in these two passages is the Greek ’chreia’. The more precise meaning of this word, according to Vine and Thayer, is: "destitution; the condition of one deprived of those things which he is scarcely able to do without; in want of one’s necessities."
We see that the congregation was providing for the basic necessities of life. The brethren who received assistance were absolutely destitute.
Several years later, in the midst of a famine in Judea, the entire congregation in Jerusalem found itself in this condition. Romans 15:26, "For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem."
The Greek word translated "poor" is ptochos. Again, according to Vine and Thayer, this word means "poverty-stricken; to be in the straits of a beggar."
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 9:12, states that that particular contribution was to meet the "the want of the saints" there in Jerusalem. The word translated "want" is the Greek husterema which means ’destitution, poverty’.
The examples we have are church funds being used to meet the absolute basic needs of destitute Christians. This is important to understand because, I’m afraid, we carelessly disperse the Lord’s money to people who are no where close to being in need of basic necessities.
We get some other good principles about church giving in 1 Timothy 5, when Paul addresses the issue of assisting destitute widows.
1 Timothy 5:3-5, "Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate...."