Earlier this year I reported in this column the theft of a large sum of funds from within our Conference. Some upon hearing this terrible news actually responded by saying: “Wow, does the church have that much money for people to steal?” Earlier this year I reported in this column the theft of a large sum of funds from within our Conference. Some upon hearing this terrible news actually responded by saying: “Wow, does the church have that much money for people to steal?”
In reality, this case of stealing God’s money is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other such cases. Allow me to elaborate as I discuss the issue of stealing money within the church.
Stealing the tithe?
The Israelites had already been stealing God’s money early on! Take a look at what God said to them: “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.” (Mal 3:8-9)
Not only were the Israelites stealing God’s money, they were robbing God unknowingly! They did not bring the tithes and required sacrifices to God, thus bringing curses upon themselves. Today, are we also stealing God’s money unknowingly?
The law of tithing did not start from Malachi, but was already present in Genesis. Look at Abraham, he knew this law: “Then Abram gave [Melchizedek] a tenth of everything.” (Gen 14:20b)
If we do not tithe, are we not also stealing God’s money?
Stealing 4-item offering?
Besides personal stealing of the tithe, are there churches stealing money from the 4-items offering? The 4 items are offerings given to the Annual Conference each year from individual churches. They are New Year offering, Easter offering, Thanksgiving offering, and Ministerial support fund.
How do churches steal from the 4 offerings? This type of stealing is to withhold some money from the full amount that should be offered; and keeping it for local church use. For example, when the New Year offering has reached RM10,000, past the target of RM5,000, someone might be tempted to keep RM5,000 for their own church. This is similar to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the early church. The result was unimaginable – when they tested the Spirit of the Lord, they ended up dead, one after another. (Read Acts 5:1-11 for more details).
Brothers and sisters, the early church had a pooling system whereby in one heart and mind they offered all they had, in order to help those in need. Today our church also has the good tradition of a pooling system, that is, each church gives the 4-item offering and other offerings (e.g. missions, evangelism) to the Annual Conference so that the money can be distributed to churches and places in need to continue the work of the Gospel.
For example, this money is used to support the theological school, spread the gospel in schools, support the planting of preaching centres, fund social justice work, promote overseas missions and local evangelism, train pastors and workers, etc. All this work ensures each church, no matter its size, will not lack pastors. And each pastor, whether in a big city church or a tiny village church, will have the same salary scale and benefits.
Since our forefathers gave the Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference this beautiful tradition of the pooling system, other Conferences and churches have admired this system. Our pastors and co-workers were even invited to preach about the pooling system to encourage their churches to do the same. It is also because of this system that we are able to unite in sending out over 50 missionaries; support over 170 pastors and many other employees so that each person does their duty to spread the Gospel to build up the church to the ends of the earth.
We must make sure this beautiful tradition continues, and not allow any individual or church to destroy it for their own greed and selfish desires. We thank God that most churches do keep this tradition alive, resulting that the Annual Conference has an overflow of funds each year. Thus we can decide and plan how to use these funds for more meaningful work.
Stealing money from the offering bag?
Besides people robbing tithes in church, or people stealing from the 4-items offering, there are also those who steal directly from the offering bag! If the opportunity arises, let’s discuss this third method of stealing.
The Eighth Commandment: “You shall not steal.” (Exo 20:15)