A Bound Giver
Article 18 of the Augsburg Confession asserts the Lutheran belief concerning the will of man saying,
“Concerning free will it is taught that a human being has some measure of free will, so as to live an externally honorable life and to choose among the things reason comprehends. However, without the grace, help, and operation of the Holy Spirit a human being cannot become pleasing to God, fear or believe in God with the whole heart, or expel innate evil lusts from the heart” (Augsburg Confession XVIII.1-2 Kolb-Wengert).
Stewardship is a constant issue in every church. Just as a family must sit down and write out a budget for the days, months, and year, so the Church gathers to decide what she needs to continue supporting the work of the Holy Ministry. So, the question is. Is stewardship or tithing a matter of free will, something reason decides? Or, is stewardship a fruit of the faith; therefore, a work of the Holy Spirit? I would assert that it is a matter of the Holy Spirit and therefore must be treated as such. As St. Paul declared to the Church in Corinth, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2nd Corinthians 9:7 King James Version).
Man must not be compelled to give, nor reluctantly give to God. But this is what most stewardship programs look like. The Church didn’t meet budget, please give more. The Church has a building project, we need to buckle down and make some sacrifices. If stewardship is a gift of the Holy Spirit, a fruit of faith, will any of this law encourage the individual to give more? Will convincing arguments assist them in sacrificing the treasures of this world for the sake of heavenly treasures? Can the preacher, president, elders, or individual members bark threats like, “If we don’t shape up we will have to close the doors,” and expect people to rise to the occasion and save Holy Mother Church? No, the law is no use in matters of Tithing except to say how much things cost. Reason is used to tell you the cost of health insurance, electric bills, and the price communion wafers. However, lady reason must be left at the door when it comes to any discussion concerning how the money will be given. Only the Gospel declares begrudging penny pinchers to be hysterical and unreasonable givers. Only the Holy Spirit returns back to the Father what belongs to Him. The law cannot accomplish this. The law says, “Give, and it is never done.” The Gospel says, “It is given for you. Be at peace, you will never lack anything.”
Luther wrote in his preface to the book of Romans saying,
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire” (Luther’s Works 35:370-371).
This is a well known quote from Luther, quoted in the Formula of Concord. It speaks is a helpful guide in how we should approach any stewardship issues in our Church. The problem is not an issue of the left hand kingdom, the secular realm. The problem isn’t the economy. The issue is trust in our Heavenly Father to provide all that we need to support this body and life. The problem is that we love this world more than we love God. The problem is that Christ died for us, giving us the priceless treasure of forgiveness, life, and salvation and what do we do? We don’t trust that even if we were to put 50% of our paycheck in the offering plate, our Heavenly Father would still take care of us. We say we don’t do this because our Father takes care of us by means of that paycheck. No, we have made that paycheck god in place of our Heavenly Father. We must repent. We can’t argue our way out of this. No piety will save us. We love money and earthly treasures more than Jesus Christ.
This is the law preached. We can’t tame it. Let the law do it’s work of putting that Old Adam and his weak justifications to death. St. Paul declared, “ For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20 ESV). Trust then in Christ. Trust that just as your Father in heaven gives good things to those who hate Him, will He not much more clothe you, o you of little faith. Trust is what makes a cheerful giver. Trust comes only in the proclamation of the Gospel. Christ relieves you of your frugal spirit and exchanges it for His unconditional and sacrificial love.
The law and the Gospel proclaimed should be he focus of stewardship. The law is always accusing, but the Gospel is usually forgotten in stewardship discussions. The forgiveness of sins must begin, sustain, and complete any discussion and action concerning stewardship and tithing. Only if this is done is there true giving in the life of the Church.