May A Church Gain Interest From A Checking Account?
There is a controversy that pops up every now and then among brethren over whether or not a congregation may collect interest from the church's checking account. This has been a source of contention among many well-intentioned brethren, yet has divided people nevertheless. What is God's will on the matter? (Hopefully, some of you can help me as I study the subject.)
I trust we will agree that this matter was not addressed specifically in God's word. He has said nothing on how His churches are to handle their finances in terms of maintenance--that is, we don't have any detailed manner set forth as to what kind of account to place the money in once gathered. Or, maybe I should say, I haven't found any specific pattern in the New Testament on such a matter. Even though there is direct reference to how the money must be spent (support of individuals in evangelism, local evangelism, relieving needy saints, edification through teaching), we have no specific method of storing up that which is collected, other than it being given to the apostles or elders (which still doesn't specify how they stored it).
We know the Lord has told us to give on the first day of the week as we prosper; and that the money belongs to the Lord once we give it (Ac. 5:4). But since He has not specified how to store up that which is collected, we must use whatever is expedient (and lawful) in accomplishing His will. Most churches use a checking account because it is safe, wise and easier to use than a church safe or hole in the ground. This, in my mind, is equivalent to Noah being allowed to use tools to help him shape and form the ark though God did not tell him specifically what devices to use. As long as Noah built according to the pattern, and did not go beyond what was authorized, he could use whatever was necessary to accomplish God's will.
The question over churches receiving interest is based on the pattern of churches funding their work through the individual contribution of saints (1 Cor. 16:1-4). Churches in the New Testament did not fund the Lord's work through raffles, cake sales or fundraising tactics, as is often the case in religions today. Therefore, according to the argument, churches today cannot receive funds from Interest-bearing accounts because "It is not according to the NT pattern."
The obvious response to this is what is the pattern of maintaining the funds once they are gathered? Is the pattern a non-interest checking account, or has God's word not specified? Obviously not. So to say collecting interest violates the pattern of Christians giving on the first day of the week is not parallel. Christians are still funding the Lord's work, even when the church receives interest, because their contribution is what meets the financial demands of the gospel.
The key point to remember is that the treasury is an expediency--an aid to help us accomplish God's will. It is not specified in the NT church, therefore it is not required or demanded. A church must use their good judgment in protecting that which is collected, using Christian ethic and good stewardship. That is, we must be prudent and wise in how we store the money.
Has a church violated NT principles by receiving interest from a checking account? I don't believe so, though I'll be the first to admit it is my personal judgment, and is subject to error. The church is not setting out to make money to fund its work by setting up an Interest-bearing checking account any more than it sets out to make money in building a place for worship and study. Yet as a result of these expediencies the Lord's property appreciates in value, whether it be the church building or the checking account. Has a church changed its purpose in building a building or in having a checking account? I don't believe so, though it is possible. However, for the most part churches do not build buildings for real estate purposes or set up checking accounts for investing. Yet as a result of having these properties the church will inadvertently have an increase when these properties appreciate. So how is it a violation of NT pattern to receive an increase from our expediencies? If anything, would it not be wasteful and poor stewardship to not take the appreciation?
If you say the only way a church can have financial increase is through the individual contribution of Christians, then you'll have to tell non-believing visitors, as well as our unbelieving children, that they cannot give to the Lord. Not only that, but as a church you could not receive any financial benefits from the government or secular businesses, whether it be a tax ID number or special discounts for churches, which are increases to the Lord's treasury whether we admit it or not. Therefore, in my opinion, to receive interest from a bank is no different than receiving any other benefit they give us for doing business with them, such as free checks. These are all incidental to having a checking account. They are not our primary purpose in having accounts, nor have we violated the pattern of Christians giving on the first day of the week to fund the Lord's work.
But at the same time let us not think that the contribution is gathered so the church can enter into secular investments. The church does not "make money," not even in its contribution from the saints, nor is it in the moneymaking business. Our job is to give to the Lord as we prosper and to use that money for His work alone. Therefore, the church is limited in the kind of work it can do with its money (1 Tim. 5:16).
This is a hard matter to consider, as are all matters of expediency and personal conscience. Therefore, we need to respect one another's scruples as we work through these kinds of issues. But as long as we can still be considered a nonprofit organization, while maintaining an Interest-bearing account, I don't believe we have gone beyond what the Lord expects of His church. This is my judgment, and I am willing to yield if necessary to keep peace, but I don't see it as a violation of NT teaching. Or as one brother said who believes it is wrong for the church to receive interest, and yet still contributes to a church that receives interest, "I may be right or wrong on my view, I don't know. But one thing is for certain, God hates division. That much I do know!" So he didn't try to divide that congregation over his opinion. May we all have that kind of spirit in striving for peace and unity in God's word.
By Mike Thomas
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