“When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)
The philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, Jorge Santayana (Dec. 16, 1863 – Sept. 26, 1952) is popularly known for his aphorisms, such as “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
In the area of fundraising, the Church is not remembering its past, and so is repeating it. The Protestant community in particular, has forgotten that it once condemned the marketing of grace in order to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The sordid story is well worth remembering, because when Martin Luther railed against the selling of papal indulgences by the monk John Tetzel, the world was set on fire. It was a purifying fire that has burned ever since.
Unfortunately, the purifying fire of the Reformation has been diminished. The Protestant church sits in the middle of dying embers that once fueled its flames. What many devout Christians once protested, they now practice. In particular, the deadly sin of avarice, or greed, has gripped the heart of godly people. The realization has come that there is money to be made from Christians. Experts in fundraising have invaded Christendom. Hands are held out while hearts no longer bow in prayer to God pleading for the Lord of Glory to meet the needs of the saints.
Once a person gives to a religious organization, or church, there is a bombardment of requests for more funds. Legitimate needs are set forth, to be sure. Good causes are contended for, without doubt. However, it is possible to want to do something good in the wrong way.
The building of St. Peter’s Basilica was a good cause. Today, it stands as a magnificent structure which inspires the soul. However, the way the Cathedral was initially funded was sinful in many ways. Luther’s 95 Thesis makes that abundantly clear. John Tetzel was wrong to promise that if people bought a papal indulgence by dropping a coin in a coffer, a soul from Purgatory would spring.
Recently, I received a disturbing fund raising letter from a ministry I have supported for several years.
The letter was disturbing, because the one who sent it knows my position on marketing the needs of the church. Rather than going to God in prayer, and then to the denomination, to let all needs be made known, the world is appealed to. On behalf of some unknown Committee that wants to rebuild a local church in an earthquake stricken country, the appeal went out beyond the denominational borders. Why? Because people know that Christians, at large, are tenderhearted, and want to help. Kindness is the strength of God’s people, and also their weakness, for it is possible to exploit goodness.
The apostle Peter rebuked this willingness by some to exploit God’s people. “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you.” (Peter 2:3)
Notice the language of “feigned words.” John Tetzel used “feigned words” when he promised that all sins would be forgiven, and confession did not have to be made when people bought an indulgence.
Today, “feigned words” are used when there is the promise of pictures, and reports of all the children helped, or a building built. The experts in fundraising know how to tug at the heart.
Second, the letter was disturbing because fundraising appeals to move the heart from depending on God, to depending on man. The principles of prayerfully petitioning heaven are set aside.
“Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Phil. 4:6)
“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19)
“…your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matt. 6:8)
“…is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14)
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7)
Oh Christian, learn to pray to God for your needs. Stand still, and see what God will do!
Third, the letter was disturbing because of the movement in language from a humble appeal, to an arrogant demand. The letter incorporated appropriate “God language.”
Quote, “…we have lack of funds and we are requesting & pleading some small support with our prayer partners whatever they can $5.00 dollar to $50.00 or more we will heartily accept and thankful for the help.”
By using “God language” there was an aura of humility, prayer, and thankfulness. But then the “God language” gave way to the flesh, for two paragraphs later the language changed.
Quote, “…we would kindly & wholeheartedly request you and expect you a small support please!”
Therein is my concern. A “request” was really an expectation, if the truth were told. The flesh raised its ugly head to reveal the heart. The people who sent this general letter, with targeted language, were expecting something from those who have been kind enough to support them in the past.
It was very disappointing to read those words, but not surprising, because the flesh expects satisfaction. The flesh demands what it wants. The flesh uses feigned words, and then it uses plain words as it grows bolder, and bolder.
The practical problem with sharing my concern on this matter privately, is that once a person is rebuked, fellowship is broken, and the relationship comes to an end. As a pastor for thirty two years in local assemblies, I found this pattern time and again. No matter how diplomatically something might be said, no matter how kindly something is meant, no matter how well intended a godly exhortation may be, the person who understands a Biblical rebuke is enraged, and the battle is on to hurt the messenger. This is one reason why there is such a turnover in pastoral ministry.
Nevertheless, let the Word of God stand fast. God wants His people to depend upon Him. God wants His people to cry out to Him. God’s wants to show Himself strong on behalf of those who believe in Him.
So, these questions arise. “Who needs God, when there is money to be made by making merchandise out of the kindness of Christians?” “Who needs God, when a fundraising letter can accomplish so much with the right wording, and the right emotional appeal?” “Who needs faith?”
Is it any wonder that Jesus asked, ““When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”