Imagine you are out of town on a Wednesday night, and you and your family want to find a sound congregation of the church of Christ with which to attend Bible study. You do some research and you find a local congregation that looks suitable. Bible study begins at 7 PM, and you drive your car into the parking lot at 6:45 PM. As you pull into a parking spot, you notice that there is a large line in front of the entrance to the church building. As you make your way toward the group standing outside, and take your place behind the next person in line, you notice that there are two men on either side of the building’s entrance. You ask the person in front of you who those two men are, and you are told that they are two of the elders of that particular congregation. As you draw closer, you see that the two elders are asking each person in line to give $5 in order to be able to enter the building and attend the Bible study hour and the Bible classes that will be taking place. You see that a large group has already paid their way into the building, and a large group is still waiting to pay outside.
Do you think that these elders were acting in accordance with the Scriptures? To answer this question, I would like for you to consider the following explanations regarding these matters. First of all, I would like to discuss Bible authority.
What is Bible authority? How is something authorized by the Bible? An act or event is considered authorized by the Bible when the Bible teaches that such act or event is accepted by God. If the Bible speaks about something as good, then that thing, act, or event is acceptable by God. Likewise, if the Bible speaks about a thing, act, or event as something negative and to be avoided, then we know that it is not acceptable by God. How do we know this? Because the Bible is the way that God reveals unto mankind His will today, in which He shows us how to be faithful unto Him. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. ” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
No matter what we do in this life, we must do it according to God’s Will. Colossians 3:17 states “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” The Bible is very self-explanatory and specific about how God wants us to handle certain situations. It is not our job to try to find “loop holes” within the Bible in an attempt to justify doing something that the Bible does not say we can do. Everything we say and do is to be condoned by the Bible, and when making a decision about how to handle a something, we should be searching the Scriptures about what they say regarding the situation. What we should not do, however, is to use our fallible and very limited minds to try and “fill in the blanks” of what is not said in order to fit our agendas. Of course, when looking at Bible teachings, it is important to remember that we are no longer under the Old Law as it is nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). We are now under the New Law (Galatians 6:2).
Also, even if the Bible does not speak about something directly as being acceptable or not acceptable, this does not mean that we are to do it anyway. This is true for the various aspects of our lives, including as it relates to how the government, home, and church functions. We must follow God’s authority in the area of the acts of worship, for example. Even if God does not say to do this or that in a worship service, this does not mean that we have free reign to do whatever we want in our worship to God. This would be “adding to” God’s Word, and we are not to “add to” what’s already written, nor should we “take away” from what is written in the Holy Scriptures. We are to live our life and conduct ourselves and how we worship solely according to what the Bible says. “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19). We cannot present another Gospel (Galatians 1:6-10). We are to conduct every aspect of our lives according to what is authorized by God as found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, back to the scenario I gave at the beginning of this article. Was the eldership at that congregation authorized by the Bible to charge people money to attend a Bible study class ? To answer that question, let’s look at what forms of giving that are authorized by the Bible for the church.
The Bible speaks about giving and how we are to give of our means to support church works. We are to give of our monetary means on the first day of the week (I Corinthians 16:2). We are also to give cheerfully of our own free will, and not begrudge the money that we give. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:7). Also we are to not give because we have to, which is what the word “necessity” means in this verse.
If we are to give according to how we have prospered to promote church works, then what is considered an actual work of the church? Any spiritual work that is overseen by the elders or men of a congregation in the absence of Elders is considered a church work. This would include Gospel Meetings, Bible Classes, Lectureships, worship services, and the like. Since we are to engage in “free-will” offerings on each first day of the week, this means that there is not Biblical authority for the elders or men overseeing a congregation in the absence of Elders to use anything, BUT free will offerings to fund church works. Whether it be a Gospel Meeting, Lectureship, Bible Class, or some other church work, only free will offerings can be used to fund these things.
Why can only free will offerings be used? Because that is the only way in which the church has been authorized through which to take in funds. By saying that an Eldership can collect money through any way foreign to Scripture is without Scriptural precedent. For example, we do not change the singing by adding mechanical instruments of music to this singing. Why is this? We are not authorized to do so in Scripture. There is no authorization for us to do this in the New Law. God did not tell us to do it, therefore we cannot do it. He told us to sing (Ephesians 5:19). Now, as it relates to another act of worship, giving, we, likewise, cannot say that the church can take in money through any way other than free will offerings. Why is this? God did not tell us that we could, therefore we must respect his judgment as should every eldership. Therefore overseeing elders or men of a congregation who are requiring a certain amount of money to be paid as a necessity of being able to participate in a church work are not acting in accordance to II Corinthians 9:7 and certainly not by the authority of the Scriptures! Doing something that goes against Bible authority is a sin, and this sin rests upon the elders or men of the congregation who are taking in the money, not those who are paying to hear the Gospel.
Some have made the comment that it is not unscriptural for an eldership to require those who wish to participate in a worship service, bible class, etc, to pay a certain amount of money in order to be admitted so that the elders could pay for the venue and costs attributed to the event. Those in support of this state that the eldership is not making a profit from charging those who are participating at the event, and they are not charging people to attend services on Sundays, and the people are coming to the spiritual event of their own free will.
Let’s put this argument into perspective. What if the eldership of a congregation decide to have a yard sale in the parking lot of the church building. Each item would be sold, and the money collected would be earmarked to help a specific person in need, or a specific work. The elders would not gain any profit from the yard sale, and no one would be required to come and buy anything from the yard sale. Likewise, let’s say that the elders of a congregation decide to have a fellowship meal at the church building. The fellowship meal is for members of that particular congregation as well as members of other congregations of the churches of Christ. These same elders decide to charge each person $5 in order to be able to eat at the fellowship meal. The elders would gain no profit from the money acquired at the fellowship meal, and no one would be required to attend. Instead, all of the proceeds would go to a specific person in need or a specific work. The money acquired would also help in paying for the food at the fellowship meal.
Under these circumstances, would it be acceptable for the eldership of a congregation to have a yard sale or charge money at a fellowship meal in order to help others or cover the costs of the event? No! There is no example in the Bible of churches in the first centuries having church yard sales, and there is no example of them charging for fellowship meals or “love feasts” in the first century. The two scenarios I have just given are no different than when elders choose to charge willing participants a required amount of money in order to participate in a spiritual activity. The only difference may be as to whether or not the event takes place in or around a church building or at another location.
Does the Bible specifically speak against the practice of elders requiring people to pay a certain amount of money to be allowed admittance into a Bible Class, Lectureship, worship service, Gospel Meeting, etc? No, it does not, but that does not make it ok. Many people in denominations use the argument that the Bible does not specifically speak against using mechanical instruments of music in the worship service, but that does not make it ok to use musical instruments in this way. Once again, it all goes back to the need for Christians to only speak where the Bible speaks, and to be silent where the Bible is silent.
What about Christian universities, Bible Colleges, Bible Camps, and the like that do charge a certain amount to learn about the Bible? All church of Christ affiliated universities, and Bible Colleges of which I am aware of are overseen by a Board that is separate from the eldership of any particular congregation of the church of Christ, and thus, is not considered a work of the church, because it is not under the oversight of elders of a particular congregation. Many Bible Camps also operate under the oversight of Boards, such as many of those nearby to us. You see, in the founding of these, they determined that they could not function as a work of the church under the oversight of Elders and still charge tuition. They rather operated these separate from the work of a particular congregation. Any university, Bible College, Bible Camp or the like that might be overseen by an Eldership, who charges admission into their program do not have Biblical authority to do so.
What if a Bible Class, worship service, Gospel Meeting, Lectureship, etc is being held at a different venue than a church building, and there will be many people attending this event? There is still no example in the Bible that says that elders of a church can charge people an admission fee to attend a church work, no matter the venue, and no matter what the cost it is to have the event. The ONLY example stated in the Bible of the type of income that a congregation can accept in order to perform the works of the church is free will donations that are either given during the Sunday worship service, or at some other time.
So, if an eldership of a particular congregation wants to have a large-scale Lectureship, Bible Class, Gospel Meeting, worship service, or some other church work that will have the ability to teach a large group of people, how can they cover the huge expenses associated with such events in a way that is authorized by Scripture? One way they can do this is to make admission to the Lectureship, Bible Class, Gospel Meeting, worship service, etc free to everyone and ask those who attend to make a donation of money to help with the costs, if they would like to do so. They could also ask other congregations of the churches of Christ to donate money from their church treasuries to help with the cost. Various communities in our country have enjoyed area-wide Gospel Meetings or seminars held in large facilities, that were rented for such usage, yet congregations banded together to fund the renting of such a facility, sending funds to the host congregation’s elders. When Christians work together, the things that can be accomplished are great! Lastly, the eldership could look into either lower-cost venues, or having smaller scale events that are affordable without charging people a certain amount of money to be able to participate in the church work. Even though the event will be smaller in scale, many people could still be reached if the event is streamed online via social media and other internet outlets such as YouTube for free. Attempting to do a good work, but going about it in the wrong way hurts the purpose of doing the good work altogether.
We must always have Bible authority in determining what we should and should not do in this life. Bible authority is especially needed when it comes to works of the church, and members of the churches of Christ should always make sure that all aspects of an event that is considered a church work is authorized by God. We can do this by looking only at what the Scriptures say, not at how many people are attending or at how popular the event is. We should always be more focused on following God, and less focused on following the crowd, because the crowd may not always understand fully God’s Will in every situation.