Giving vs. Taking

The other day, I was looking at some services offered online by a non-profit organization. Some of their services were offered with a “suggested donation” and others had a “required donation” attached to them.

So what’s the deal with a “required donation”? If it’s required, then it’s not a donation, is it?

There’s a huge difference between me giving something to you and you taking something from me, and changing the name does not change the reality. Calling my required payment a “donation” does not make it a voluntary payment any more than calling my one-ton dually truck an “economy car” will improve its gas mileage

Both are appropriate at times, by the way. For my 2-year old daughter, demanding my attention may be appropriate. There’s an argument that can be made that a government is within its rights demanding taxes. A church “demanding” an offering is not the same thing. Or if a street beggar demands a donation from me, that’s called robbery, and we have a real problem.

Since I’m always writing about church life, what’s the application here? It’s this: There’s a huge difference between me asking politely and then waiting for God to give something to me, versus my pulling on it and “taking it violently and by force.” It seems that both can be supported biblically.

Since this blog is about the Church, here are two examples of the challenge of “giving vs. taking” that I’ve encountered in Church life recently.

First, there are times that the church embraces “taking” when we should invite “giving.” Some examples:

· I’m part of a leadership team at my church. Not long ago, the leader started something that was a fine idea, but she required the team members to volunteer for it. I’m sorry, but if you require it, then it’s not possible for me to volunteer. You have taken something I would have willingly given, and in taking it, you have stolen from me the opportunity for me to exercise generosity.

· How many churches do you know that get a little carried away when recruiting volunteers, particularly for the office of Sunday School Teacher? Sometimes the recruiting process gets pretty heavy-handed, or is exchanged – like political favors – for rights and responsibilities in the church. (If you have not been part of this in your church, give thanks for godly leadership!)

· Offerings. While many (most?) churches treat this biblically, there are some instances – most visibly, perhaps, on Christian TV – where the “opportunity to give” becomes a compulsion. This, of course, is specifically proscribed in Scripture, but it remains a common practice, particularly when budgets are tight at Church.

Second, there are times that we’re more caught up in asking politely when we should be forcibly taking something. Some examples:

· The most famous example is in Matthew: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” I’m not going to attempt exegesis on the passage, except to note that in some circumstances involving the kingdom of heaven, violence and force are appropriate.

· Jacob is an example of someone who forcibly demanded something of God:

Genesis 32:24-29

24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaks."

But he said,"I will not let You go unless You bless me!"

27 So He said to him, "What is your name?"

He said, "Jacob."

28 And He said,"Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed."

29 Then Jacob asked, saying, "Tell me Your name, I pray."

And He said,"Why is it that you ask about My name?" And He blessed him there.

· I love the example of Elisha: “He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over.”

· I’d have to add times where we’re praying about subjects where God has already revealed His will. If God has promised. If God has – hypothetically speaking, of course – promised Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”, then mamby-pamby or pleading prayers are not appropriate. God has promised clearly to provide for you. If that’s not happening, then you and I have a right to get in His face about it.

We as sons and daughters of the Most High need to learn to be clear in our communication. If we are asking for something, then “No” is an acceptable answer, and this is the kind of communication we need to be using with each other. But if “No” is not an acceptable answer, then asking politely is probably not appropriate: there are times to exhibit violence and force, though these are probably not appropriate with human beings; rather let us become violent in laying hold of the (unimaginably great) blessings that God has promised.


Correcting Error with Truth

There are several ways in which the church has walked in an out-of-balance position for a long time. 

For the sake of discussion, let’s take a very old position from the dark ages: there once was a day that it was considered doctrine that the only person who could read the Bible or understand the truths it contained was the pastor (called the “priest” in those days). It was one of the things that were addressed in the Reformation. 

It is true enough to acknowledge that some people are more gifted in understanding and teaching doctrinal truth (they’re called “pastors” and “teachers” often enough); it’s just heresy to say that they’re the only ones qualified.

I’m not going to talk this subject; I’m using the subject as an illustration about the process of correcting error.

Think of a pendulum: we’ve been way off-center in some areas, and we’ve been off for a very long time, and it’s time to come back to truth. In our pre-reformation example, there was a truth (that pastors [“priests”] who have studied the Bible for years might understand it better than those reading it for the first time) that was taken to an unhealthy extreme position (that it was actually a sin for a non-priest to read the Bible or teach doctrine).

They were way off-center in their approach to the Word, and that heresy needed to be corrected. That which was in a very improper position must be brought back to its proper position, which is often a position of balance. In this example, the priesthood of all believers must be balanced with the gifting and training of pastors and teachers in the church.

The process of this correction is our topic today. There are at least two means of correcting such an error:

1) We can present the correct truth in the proper balance, and hope that those who are seriously out of balance will recognize the truth and repent (change their mind) to embrace the truth. Or

2) We can present the correct truth in the opposite over-emphasis, contrasting to the previous – and erroneous – over-emphasis. Hopefully, an over-emphasis in one direction (in this example, the priesthood of all believers) will counter-balance the previous over-emphasis (the gifting and training of pastors and teachers in the church).

So the net result of the two options are:

1) If we present the balanced truth, it's heard and received in the context of the error of centuries (“the teacher is gifted to present doctrinal truth more than those not similarly gifted and trained”) and serves only to bump the listener's understanding a tiny bit closer to center: they've had years (or centuries) of error, and ONE statement that's properly balanced won't fix their understanding. Or

2) We over-emphasize the opposite truth (“Every believer must read the Word and learn from God directly”), in hopes that when it's heard in the context of years of error, it will bring people to a balanced perspective after the dust settles. The drawbacks are that:

a) It requires people to think for themselves, which is a sketchy proposition at best, and

b) it relies on teaching one error in order to correct an opposite error.

It seems to me that pastors and teachers will typically only see the first option ("present it in balance"), while prophets and apostles typically tend to see the second option more easily ("emphasize the opposite truth"). 

In reality, I suspect that God is more interested in the truth being presented, rather than the details of how it's presented. He's going to take our words – whatever words we use – and shape them with the Holy Spirit anyway. Ultimately, it is Jesus who has said, “I will build My Church” and it is not primarily my responsibility. Perhaps the greatest error is taking responsibility ourselves – taking it from Him – to build His Church in a way that pleases us.