Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.
Question #3 embodies two typical atheist objections to Christianity, which I’ve answered in my reply to God is Imaginary here and here. DGS asks:
If you believe your God has phenomenal cosmic power, and is able to sustain the universe, why do you have savings accounts, pension plans, insurance, college funds, stock portfolios and locks? Just in case?
DGS links to his previous article on that topic, which I will now specifically address. The post talks about how a church had armed guards in place, and one managed to halt a tragedy in progress (see this news item).
DGS says that when churches put things like this place, they are not acting as if God exists. Kind of like the sarcastic picture on the right. More to the point:
Stores and business put locks on doors. We would say that is wise of them to do so. But is a Christian demonstrating a lack of faith by doing the same thing the world does?
I don’t think that the Christian is. I think that the Christian is displaying good stewardship. More on that in a minute; first, let’s take a look at the so-called biblical support that DGS feels refutes some possible counterarguments.
Christians might say we aren’t called to be stupid. To that, DGS says:
Every church I have ever attended had locks on the door. Every church I attended in the past two decades also has an alarm system.
If God was in control—why would there need to be locks? Oh, we can claim God doesn’t want us to be stupid, and we should use common sense and wisdom, yet this flies in the face of 1 Cor. 1:20-21 which says the wisdom of the world is foolishness.
First Corinthians 1:20-21 is part of a larger argument (1:18-2:16) and isn’t a call to reject all wisdom of the world. It is an argument for accepting Jesus as Messiah despite the fact that he died the most shameful and disgraceful death that a person could die. In the ANE, a crucifixion all but guaranteed a type of public humiliation that we have no equivalent for in the modern world: everything the crucifixion victim did and everyone he was related to suffered disgrace, humiliation, and was ostracized from society. Paul was arguing that God often uses foolishness to shame the wise and worldly. Therefore, I don’t find that this verse particularly supports DGS’s argument that churches shouldn’t need door locks if the faithful who worshiped there truly trusted God.
Just what is God’s wisdom on protecting earthly things, then? Jesus very often told parables where a rich landowner trusts possessions to a steward (usually a servant of some sort). The rich landowner represents God, and the servants (stewards) represented humans. Using this imagery, Jesus is teaching us to be good stewards. Ultimately, everything belongs to God, and he will ask for it back some day. Better to return in better condition than we found it, for God won’t accept it in the same condition (and that probably means he will be outraged if it is worse condition!).
The Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30) is a good illustration. Here, a landowner goes on a journey and entrusts talents to three different servants (v. 15). The first two invest the money wisely and return the original talents with dividends to the landowner (vv. 20-23). The third, however, buried his and thus was only able to return the original talent (vv. 24-25). This enraged the landowner. He told the servant he should have at least put the talent in the bank, that way at least it would have accumulated interest (v. 27).
The point is that God expects us to be good stewards of what he has given us–and it all comes from him, the spiritual (Eph 1:3-4) and the material (Jms 1:17) blessings. In order to fulfill that calling, we must take measures to protect what God has given us; not burying it like the slothful servant in the Parable of the Talents, but locking the door and alarming the building.
Accidents do happen, and therefore the church should take an insurance policy out for fire, theft, or other contingencies. Could the God of the universe stop a fire from hitting a church? Of course he could! But trials come (Jms 1:2-4), and it is through those trials that our faith is made stronger (Jms 1:12). We are just fools if we don’t think it could happen to us.
This isn’t showing a lack of faith in God’s ability to protect us, but is showing our obedience to him in safeguarding what he gave rightfully to us to use. We are the servants who are investing our talents and paying God back the original plus dividends.
Ever attend a church which has a building project? Perhaps needs a new roof? The same thing—a chart is put up in the lobby in the form of a thermometer, with each “goal” of contribution being a mark, and as the money comes in from the members, it is slowly filled in with red. Does the church say, “We need a new roof—don’t worry—God will provide”? Nope. The church says, “We need a new roof. Let us pray, and pass the plate.”
While the thermometer picture is overused, that’s not really the point here. The tithe is frequently brought up as a lack of faith in God. In reality, the tithe is a test. It is often said that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). This is true, and we (as Christians) aren’t giving 10% compulsively, under duress or penalty of hell. Rather, we are giving as an act of worship some of which God has given us so that the wealth can be spread. And we don’t have to give 10%; we may give what our hearts (and budgets) allow, proportionate to the wealth God has given us. We could give less, or (better) we could give more.
I’m not Pat Robertson or Paula White. I am not suggesting that giving more than 10% will give you yet more wealth in return. That isn’t promised anywhere in the Bible. Instead, I want to unequivocally say that I believe that the tithe isn’t limited to 10%, nor is it a 10% minimum. Giving what we can afford is the mark of responsible stewardship. This isn’t to reap a material reward, but to reap a spiritual one.
Churches do more than just build buildings: they fund missionaries and assist needy families in the area. All of that is made possible by the tithing of the faithful.
Yes, churches also pay bills and staff members’ salaries out of that tithe, but those are necessary and worthy expenses. The bills enable the building to have heat, running water, and other amenities that a person would expect from a quasi-public building. Which could work to bring in people, and in some cases (as is egregiously demonstrated in a TV spot for a church local to me) keep people coming. (My wife and I were both struck by this TV ad, which asks members of that church why they come to services. Only one of the half-dozen or so interviewees mentioned Jesus. One touted the fact that the church has a rock-climbing wall!)
As for staff salaries, the staff members are domestic missionaries, charged by God with spreading the gospel. Even Paul agrees that paying a church minister is a worthy use of the tithe (1 Cor 9:1-14; yet he himself does not by choice vv. 15-18).
While DGS sees health insurance and requests for tithe money as faltering on the part of the faithful, I believe that both are examples of the faithful’s obedience to God. We give tithes not out of compulsion or fear of hellfire and damnation, but out of love for God–to see the work of the gospel, spread by faithful ministers, continue to touch lives in our local community and abroad. Insurance of all sorts protect what we have, showing that we are good stewards in preparing for the inevitable destruction of earthly goods.
Much more could be said about stewardship. It is a lifestyle, not a formula for managing money. Time, talents (like singing, not the money in the above parable)–everything that is a gift from God should be used for his glory, proportionate with what the Christian can give. This is true obedience, not cowering in fear and lack of faith.