1My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? (HCSB)
In church, one should not show favoritism. One should not give special status to those with money… those who can fill the church coffers. I was a member of one church long ago in which the top layperson was also the richest (by far) member. But, in truth, he was a godly man. I was a member of another church (also long ago) where the top layperson was also the richest member. When he did a big moral error… he was allowed to remain in his high position in the church without repercussion. But, in truth, he was a diligent worker in ministry. I was a member of yet another church long ago, where the top layperson in the church was the richest member. But later leadership changes led to his having lesser influence… and he moved to another church to have more influence.
I feel that I have seen enough of this pattern to identify it. There are people of wealth who will seek out a church and use their financial power to encourage the membership to give them special power and influence in the church. I believe doing such is a clear violation of the above passage in James… noting that doing so is based on evil motives. However, the passage arguably draws from Leviticus 19 and verse 15 makes it clear that one should not show favoritism to the poor over the rich either. Both are corrupt behaviors. We treat all classes of people as being equal before God and before the church.
This is difficult when it comes to missions. Years ago, when I was working in Virginia Beach, I had a “grunt job” in one of the largest Christian organizations in the world. One time I was helping out as a server for a gathering of the top 100 donors for this organization. These people were treated like royalty. Is this right or wrong?
When we did medical missions here in the Philippines, we would seek financial donors. Those who were donors were given special honor on the banners and reports, even though they did far less ministerially (usually) than the hosts and the team members. Is this right or wrong?
We set up our organization here, Bukal Life Care. When were were getting ready to put together the Board of Trustees, we were told that we should select rich people and people with power in the community. Actually, we did not follow that advice. We sought people of common heart but of diverse backgrounds. I think that was the right decision. But our group has always been on a “shoestring budget” (American slang for VERY little money). Actually, we would need to borrow shoestrings to be on a shoestring budget.
So what is right? Should mission agencies seek DEEP POCKETS? Should they give the rich prominent roles in their organizations? Should material prosperity be honored over a servants’ faithful attitude of service? (I don’t buy the argument that prosperous people are more godly than nonprosperous people. Both the Bible and observable reality contradict this.)
I do think that many organizations do things wrong… seeking money over godliness. Still, it seems like there is an important and godly place for fundraising. Additionally, receiving money should also mean accepting a certain amount of accountability from those who give. I don’t have the answers. I suppose, truthfully, I hope we stay small enough never to really have to face this issue. Being small, however, won’t necessarily solve this problem. As James noted, the problem comes from selfish, evil motives. All organizations can fall into that trap. Every organization, I believe, must examine its own corporate heart and motives first before addressing money (and vision) issues.