Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, the murdered Orthodox Tsar’s tax money stopped supporting the North American parishes of all Orthodox ethnic groups and they all had to find non-tax-based ways of supporting their parishes and missions. Almost needless to say, the preceding centuries of giving in stewardship, which consisted of “paying your taxes,” had driven any Orthodox recollection of giving biblical and patristic tithes and offerings in stewardship completely out of the collective Orthodox mind. In the early immigrant North American Orthodox experience, Christian adult and youth education (and clergy training) were not at their zenith in any theological field, including that of Stewardship. Ignorance has its costs. Quite so!
So, in the 1920s, the Orthodox jurisdictions in North America looked around at charities (not-forprofit organizations) and took notes on how they survived financially. From the country clubs to the local hospitals to the Boy Scouts of America, they functioned financially by “dues and fundraisers” and the Orthodox bought into this non-biblical pattern. Now, almost a century later, most Orthodox are still in this habit. Abetting all this is the well-known Orthodox reluctance to consider “change.” “My parents observed dues and fundraisers. Why change?”
But, there is some good news! In the Antiochian Archdiocese, parishes now tithe of their general operating funds to support the Archdiocesan Departments (no longer is there a “head tax based on the numbers of members). Children in the Antiochian Sunday Schools experience one unit per month on tithing and are expected to tithe as part of their discipline. So parishes (e.g. St. Elias, Atlanta) have abolished “dues” for being a member in good standing and instead have adopted biblical tithes and offerings with pledging to give tithes and offerings. “Dues” claim to set “floors,” while actually setting “ceilings”!
Stewardship is a relationship with God and each other, which is no easy matter to sketch. This year at St. Elias, Atlanta, we had “Stewardship of Christians,” a 5-Sunday sequence within our adult Christian education program. We learned about Stewardship concepts and, in these “20 sentences,” began to define biblical Stewardship:
- God creates in love and owns everything, everywhere, all the time.
- God loves us, shows us what love is and wants the very best for us.
- God entrusts each one of us as His steward with possession of all.
- God will judge us on our use of all things in accord with His precepts.
- God will judge largely based on our treatment of the least advantaged.
- Giving and managing time, talent and treasure are key jobs of a steward.
- Taking care of those dependent upon us is also part of our stewardship.
- Jesus’ teachings on love are the primary guide for all of our actions.
- Good stewards’ motives for giving are humble love and willing obedience.
- Evil motives include pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth.
- God’s methods for current giving by good stewards are tithes and offerings.
- God’s way for us to promise to give tithes and offerings is by pledging.
- Historically unfortunate, “dues and fundraisers” have no biblical basis.
- Results of giving with godly motives and methods are rich blessings.
- Results of giving include expanded management challenges for us.
- Fears about giving are often connected to our doubt of God’s mercy.
- Deciding personal stewardship issues is best done by prayer and study.
- Deciding group issues additionally involves consensus on God’s will.
- Groups answer to God for stewardship choices, as do individuals.
- Stewardship is a lifelong relationship with God and with each other.
A Critique of "Fundraisers"
Fundraisers are well-meaning ways of raising money through various business-like ventures conducted “for the Church.” Fundraisers have very little or nothing to do with God’s ways of financing church needs, which are tithing, offering, and pledging to give tithes and offerings, as set forth fully in biblical and patristic sources.
“Tithing” appears 37 times in Scripture; “offering” 710 times; “pledging” (“promising”) to give tithes dates back to Nehemiah 10:28-39, with the people of God promising in writing to tithe in the future (among other services to God), and also in 2 Corinthians 9:1-5, a promise (“a pledge”) of the Corinthians to give future offerings. “Fundraisers” (and “dues”) appear exactly zero times in biblical computer searches. Parenthetically, “tithing, offering and pledging” all apply to clergy as well as to laity. (See Numbers 18:26 ff.) Fundraisers should apply to no one!
Fundraisers include every money-making activity the creative mind can imagine. Following is a critique of fundraisers, but NOT of the goodhearted people who have conducted them, usually without any serious thought given to the theological and practical implications — which are grim if you desire to be the good steward (1 Peter 4:10), a good sheep rather than a bad goat (Matt. 25:31- 46).
1) Fundriasers are not biblically authorized.
There is not one example of Jesus — or Paul or the Twelve — conducting a “yard sale for mission” in Scripture. Jesus cleansed the Temple of the money-changers (Matt. 21:12), whom you can bet gave tithes on their increase as “members in good standing” of the Temple, but who were not thereby given a “free pass” by Jesus on their activities, on the grounds that there was tithe money coming into the Temple as a result. But he praised the poor widow offering her two pennies in the same Temple (Luke 21:1-4).
2) Fundraisers are not economically efficient.
Why is this bad? Because “good stewards” must be far more productive (Matt. 25:14-30). The average “festival” or “dinner dance” or “bake sale” often costs as much or more than its revenues when you include all actual costs of labor, materials and capital goods. Who dares to say that the “time, talent and treasure contributed by the faithful” is not part of the true cost of a festival or dinner dance? If we collect $6,000 in a lottery “for the church,” pay out $3,000 in prizes to the winners, and give $3,000 to the church building fund, do we ever stop to consider that we could have just given $6,000 to the church? We are “robbing God” (Mal. 3:7-10) of the missing $3k!
3) Fundraisers can easily lead us to illegal activity (usually through simple ignorance of the law, which is no excuse), which is not what Christians are supposed to be doing. Selling beer and wine at the festival? Got a license?
Did a kid somehow get a beer or two just before hitting the streets? Lotteries and raffles should really be checked out by the parish lawyer because, without licenses to the non-profit organization in many states and provinces, these are legally defined as “illegal commercial gambling.” Imagine the newspaper and TV reports: “St. Swampy Orthodox was charged today …!” We are not supposed to be shaming the Name of Christ by illegal conduct — even if we are not “caught.” And when we get innocent children to draw the winning lottery numbers and learn the “benefits” of gambling … shame on us!
4) Fundraisers confuse worthy objectives with unworthy methods.
Fellowship (getting together to work together and enjoy each other’s company) is a worthy relationship and objective among Christians which does not need the additional incentive of “making money for the Church.” What on earth is the money being made for? If it has no known purpose, why are we collecting it and hoarding it? Fellowship activities (e.g., a supper) should normally just “break even” in the sense of costs equalling revenues. Membership (evangelism and mission and inviting the unchurched to see the church facilities, consider the claims of Christ and be asked to return to worship and eventually to join His family) is a worthy relationship among Christians and outsiders and a worthy objective of any activity such as a festival or open house. “Making money for the Church” from a festival is an unworthy method, which should never be stacked on top of a worthy objective. We simply cannot go on asking and expecting outsiders to pay high prices for our food, saying we are doing this to fund our community expenses! We Christians have godly methods for supporting the work of God; those methods are tithing, offering, and pledging to give future tithes and offerings. Remember, the tithe (alone) of a parish of 200 households of median North American income (currently $50k a year) equals $1 million! Offerings are, of course, on top of or in addition to tithes. Think about it!
5) Fundraisers soak up God-given resources - time, talent and treasure - that cannot then bu used for God-planned ministries ("works") (Eph. 2:8-10).
Think about the implications of having “the parish festival” as literally the biggest event prepared for and executed over a four-month (exhausting) period each year by the parish. God has already provided us (through our jobs, for example) with all the time, talent, and treasure we need to do those things which He gave us the money and the opportunity to do — take care of ourselves, our families, each other and the dire needs (“want,” Paul calls this) of others locally and worldwide (1 Cor. 8:9- 11). So, why are parishes doing these festivals and dozens of other such things? This is really about a diversion of God’s abundance into activities which are trivial and superfluous. We are robbing God (Mal. 3:7-10)!
Once we begin to look on our modern fundraisers as being well-intentioned but wholly inadequate substitutes for God’s ways (tithing, offering, pledging) of gathering resources together for addressing Christian communal work inside and outside the Church, we will be back on the road to being Good Stewards (Matt. 25). Next Sunday, our priest will pray for himself and for us as follows: “A Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful; and a good defense before the dread Judgment Seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord.” You may wish to consider anew Matthew 25, the whole chapter, not just the Judgment verses, 31-46. We are to watch; we are to manage; we are to give. Fundraisers keep us engaged in pointless “busy-ness” and away from “watching;” fundraisers are inefficient from a good management (cost/benefit) perspective; and fundraisers hardly care for the least advantaged in our world. What more do you need to start doing your part to help end fundraisers in your parish?