The apostle Paul, in urging brethren in Corinth to follow through on their desire to aid needy saints in other congregations, expressed that he did not want them to be burdened, "but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack--that there may be equality" (2 Cor. 8:14).
Though he never used the "equality" plea regarding evangelism and edification, we see that churches with financial ability made things more "equal" by supporting gospel preachers to work with other congregations (2 Cor. 11:8).
Here in the United States, scriptural cooperation flourished during the decades of the 1950's and 1960's with able churches helping new or struggling churches by supporting preachers. The struggles and ultimate division over unscriptural methods of benevolence and evangelism took a huge toll on many congregations which had formerly been good about supporting preachers working with smaller congregations.
Now, several decades later, in much more prosperous times, there are many congregations which, because of their numbers and/or economic situations, have an abundance of resources for their work, while many other congregations lack the funds needed for productive work.
There has always been some inequality in such matters. Needless to say, there always will be some disparity, but it is my observation that an ever-widening gap regarding financial abilities has produced two kinds of churches--the "haves" and "have-nots." A growing number of congregations have huge treasuries.
In regard to finances, they "have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17), but have grown "lukewarm" when it comes to the support of the gospel in needy places.
Perhaps we would do well to examine some of the reasons this inequity has become so apparent, and look for ways that it can be lessened:
The problem has been increased in some areas by needless splintering. While we would like for there to be a thriving congregation in every town, in some areas that is simply not practical. If small congregations meeting within a few miles of each other would band together it would alleviate part of the problem. The expense of maintaining two or three meeting places could be cut significantly and make it more possible to become self-sufficient. Often the reasons there are multiple congregations within a given area is because of past divisions that have since been resolved, but neither group will budge to seek actual unity.
There are also some congregations which once were self-sufficient but have dwindled down to a point where they are merely "keeping house"--and not doing very well at that! If there are other congregations within reasonable distance, it may be time to fold up. If there are no other sound congregations reasonably close, these are the kinds of places that able congregations should be anxious to help by providing support for a man or two to work with them.
Speaking of having two preachers in one location, a growing number of large or affluent congregations are feeling the "need" for a second preacher, while ignoring the plight of many small or poor congregations which can't even support one man. I'm not opposed to a church having two preachers, but it's high time we realize that the need for two preachers in one congregation is more justifiable in new or needy places than it is in congregations with an eldership and many capable members.
Christians sometimes lament about a so-called "preacher shortage" among our brethren. I don't really think there is as much a preacher shortage as there is a "support shortage." As this is being written an online website has no less than 38 non-institutional churches seeking preachers, with only two claiming to be able to provide full support. There are 31 on this list that reveal their inability to support, informing prospective preachers of having to raise what is lacking. We all know there are many more churches throughout the world that are not on such a list that are in the same situation.
Another thing which has contributed to the disparity is the temptation for affluent congregations to spend huge sums of money on luxuries which appeal primarily to the flesh. This is often manifested in the construction of church buildings which are opulent instead of commodious. At the same time there are brethren in other locations who not only don't have adequate meeting places, but also can't support a preacher to work with them.
This emphasis on luxury is being fueled by a few "church growth experts" who are convincing brethren that they cannot grow unless they follow the lead of the survey-driven "seeker-friendly" advocates in the evangelical movement.
Then there are churches which have huge sums of money setting in bank accounts with no specific purpose in mind, while churches in needy areas are deficit-spending and their preachers are having to beg for support. It should not have to be said, but the church is not in the money-saving business, and an unused treasury brings no glory to God.
I will likely be reminded that the bank balance a church maintains, what it spends on architecture, or whether to have two preachers, are all matters of judgment. That is true, but let me remind you that we will give account one day for the judgments we make. While I am obviously disturbed by this widening gap, I am happy to say that there are still a good many able congregations that are resisting the "inward-looking" trend and are doing their best to support gospel preaching in needy areas, while at the same time being effective in their local areas. God bless them!
P.O. Box 891, Cortland, Illinois 60112
The beginnings of things always intrigue us. We often mark them with great ceremony at the time if we anticipate their importance (weddings, ribbon-cutting grand openings, signings, etc.). We frequently research beginnings if only later we realize someone's or something's importance (the work of historians). It is therefore of no surprise that thinking men and women have often pondered the beginning of the physical universe.
While many are content to not give it any consideration and perhaps assume that because it is here it has always been here, most observe and realize that all physical things have measurable deterioration and, therefore, cannot be eternal but must have had a beginning point.
Essentially, there are two possibilities for how the physical began: 1) It happened by accident, or 2) It happened on purpose. Expressed another way: 1) It happened by random chance, or 2) It happened by design. Stated yet another way: 1) It began spontaneously from ignorant nothingness, or 2) It began intentionally from intelligence.
In modern parlance it is the debate between "Big Bang" and "Intelligent Design" or "evolution vs. creation." While some have attempted to harmonize the general theory of evolution and creation theory, at its core such an attempt is futile. To borrow from the apostle Paul, “what fellowship has purpose with accident, what communion has design with chance, what accord has intelligence with ignorance, what agreement has creation with evolution,” (adapted from 2 Cor. 6:14-16). The answer is none.
When anyone is challenged to give a historical explanation for the existence of something physical, spontaneous generation from nothing is never considered sound reasoning. Yet this is what modern science teaches is the best explanation for the beginning of all things.
However, the ancient book of books, the Holy Scriptures, offers another explanation. Many find its explanation incredible, but it is far more credible than the spontaneous generation of something from nothing suggested by atheists and agnostics. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Indeed, mankind is without excuse for not drawing the basic conclusion that a powerful supernatural intelligence (God) is the cause of this physical existence (Rom. 1:20).
Scripture reveals that God simply spoke things into existence. “Then God said...and it was so,” is an oft repeated phrase in Genesis 1. To be able to speak material things into existence demands a power that is beyond nature and beyond our comprehension. It is super-natural. Therefore, it is understandable that atheists assume that this creation account (along with the rest of the first eleven chapters of Genesis) is mythical, legendary or, at best, allegorical, but certainly not literal. Yet, even some believers in God attempt to explain the creation using the naturalistic assumptions of unbelievers.
Forgetting that with God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26), many find these accounts incredible and unbelievable. However, again borrowing from the sayings of Paul, “why should it be thought incredible by you that” God spoke things into existence in six days? Of course, Paul was addressing Agrippa with regard to Jesus' resurrection (Acts 26:8). But beware! If you find a six-day creation incredible, you might have the same problem with the resurrection from the dead. Most people do. Whenever we doubt the power of God's spoken word, we have no foundation for faith in any aspect of His word.
As disciples of Christ, we would do well to follow His lead concerning the authority of the Genesis account. In responding to His adversaries about a point of great controversy regarding divorce, Jesus refers to the Genesis account of the beginning (Matt. 19:3-8). Jesus' authoritative use of Moses' account of creation affirms that He believed it to be accurate. Indeed, we cannot claim Christ as our Lord and reject the accuracy of Moses' words (Jn. 5:46,47). To adapt Jesus' words to the Sadducees and apply them to the present controversy over creation/evolution, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). Beware, a rejection of these beginning truths undermines the whole foundation of the rest of Scripture and, therefore, our faith in God's power to do anything.