Churches and money

Prophets Bushiri and Uebert "Angels" Mudzanire

The Church is not listed on the stock exchange. The Church does not buy and sell. She is not maximising profits. If a particular church is aiming primarily at making money for herself, her leaders or members in general, it is not a church at all, but a business.

By Fr Oskar Wermter SJ

The aim and objective of the Church is to share God’s message and gifts of the spirit with the people. This divine treasure is the end, visible structures like staff, buildings, finance are merely means, or tools for the achievement of that end.

If in a church accumulating money becomes the end, the aim and objective of all activity, then the members are no longer worshipping God, but “Mammon” (Aramaic for “wealth”, see Mat 6:24), which is an idol or false god. Finance and all other assets must remain tools. They must not become an end in itself.

The situation is paradoxical. The Church needs money and yet must shun wealth as the devil the holy water.

The old missionaries had their families and friends to ask for donations for the “missions”.

Now they are largely gone, so the people have to learn what it really costs to run a rural mission school or a hospital. And what is more: they are to pay for it themselves. Some of us find full responsibility more difficult to handle than dependence.

Not that this is anything new. That little band of Jesus’ disciples did not live on thin air. “Eat and drink what is offered to you for the labourer is worth his payment,” Jesus advised them. And yet he warned against greed and accumulating wealth (“Blessed are the poor”: Luke 6:20. The Parable of the Rich Fool : Luke 12:16 -21. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: Luke 16: 19 -31, and many more). But even among his own followers there was a thief.

Jesus was not a clever fundraiser.

He praised the widow who gave a tiny coin which was all she had, and lambasted the Pharisees who undoubtedly paid their tithe (10 % of their income) and were proud of keeping the law to the letter. He was not destitute though, since some well-to-do women among his followers “provided for them out of their resources” (Luke 8:3).
When the Church and her leaders get too comfortable they lose touch with the poor. They are no longer concerned about justice, the common good, sharing God’s blessings with everyone and protecting the dignity of all of God’s children, including those of low status.

Again and again in the life of the Church people have gone back to Jesus who “had nowhere to lay his head” and was close to the poor and despised in society. Francis of Assisi, son of a rich businessman, and his brothers and sisters saved the Church from her wealth and corruption when they followed in the footsteps of the man from Nazareth.

Their simple lifestyle healed the Church made sick by greed and selfishness. Wealth engenders jealousy and envy in people’s heart. The Franciscan movement restored the Church as a welcoming, loving community of brothers and sisters. The poverty and simplicity of genuine followers of Christ leaves no room for barriers of arrogance and pride. But it gives space to love and compassion, and new impetus to community living.

A church welcoming the poor as Christ did deserves to be supported by her Members. This is the important point: when we give a donation we give it to the community of the Church, not to the minister as if he owned the church. We do not recognise in a church, that merely benefits a self-made church leader, the Church of Christ. Seeking riches makes us self-centred, sharing builds community.

The Church, not some individual, receives all incoming contributions and decides on the stipend the minister receives. The honesty and integrity of all officials handling church funds is vital for the well-being of the Church.

Every congregation has among its members professional financial administrators and should make use of them, rather than leave finance entirely in the hands of the minister.

Financial irregularities, corruption, bribery and theft are a disease corrupting the whole nation. The Church can do a great service to the people of Zimbabwe by getting rid of all forms of corruption in her own ranks, thus teaching the nation as a whole by example.

Citizens of Zimbabwe are deploring official thievery causing misery for many.

Public denunciations alone will not transform our society. But our acting with integrity might have an impact. Or are we members of the Church merely for greater economic security, better education and prosperity, with no regard for the Gospel?

We should pray, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, lest being full, I deny you, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or, being in want, I steal, and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30: 8). What we want is inner freedom. “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance,” Paul wrote to the community in Philippi (Phil. 4: 12).

And if we happen to have plenty we know how to share with the starving. We can let go. We are not attached, or tied down, to anything, or obsessed with grabbing more and more.

We need such freedom in the Church and such free spirits in our society.