Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Above Board: The Biblical Call For Financial Accountability In Christian Ministry (Part II)

                                                          What Financial Accountability Is

     Finding information on financial accountability is far from difficult. There is information from nearly every field—business, legal, ethical, social, and, of course, the biblical and ministerial fields. It is not a new concept. Cutt and Murray (2000: 1) say that it has
a rich history—from Athenian democracy through biblical injunctions to the evolution of modern democratic institutions but its essence has always been and remains the obligation to render an account for a responsibility that has been conferred.
While the business sector can and does provide some very wise principles, it is not the first place to start in discovering what financial accountability is. Likewise, the legal sector can and does provide information that can save a group from serious penalties and repercussions. Still, it is not the starting point. For Christian ministries, the starting point is Scripture. God is glorified in and through his church when they grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and submit to his Word as the supreme authority governing life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). In short, financial accountability is the concern for and the work towards ensuring that a ministry honors God through submission with honest, trustworthy, and transparent financial practices to the end that no shame or suspect impropriety will befall the church or the name of Jesus Christ.

Romans 13:1-6

     In the letter to the believers in Rome, Paul included a section on how they should relate to government authorities. The key word is submission (ὑποτασσέσθω from ὑποτάσσω). Paul demonstrates three things: (1) Who is expected to be subject to governing authorities, (2) Who one is actually submitting to when being subject to governing authorities, and (3) Why one should be subject to governing authorities. The first point will be developed in the section that follows. But, in defining what financial accountability is, the latter two points contribute a great deal.
     Paul clearly demonstrates that submission to governing authorities is, indeed, submission to God himself in so far as that submission does not contradict God’s own precepts for a New Covenant believer. In 13:1b, Paul modifies the word ἐξουσία with an explanatory note (γάρ) that repeats the prepositional phrase ὑπὸ θεοῦ twice. The sovereignty of God extends throughout the entire world in placing God as supreme over every single governing authority, even Rome. While the scene may look like war and force or democracy and growth brought into existence the governing authorities, nothing could be further from the truth. None of them exist apart from God ordaining it to be so. D. Moo (2002: 186) writes:
In all of Paul’s hierarchical structures…the uppermost authority, though not always mentioned, is God. He stands at the top of all our hierarchies. What that means is that we must always submit to those over us in light of our ultimate submission to God.
Paul uses a negative and a positive statement both to reiterate this point (Cranfield, 1985: 322). The negative statement seems to highlight the prepositional phrase a little more, namely that they are from God. The positive statement highlights the verbal phrase τεταγμέναι εἰσίν signifying that they did not install themselves (passive voice), they were installed for a purpose with ongoing effects (perfect tense), etc.
     Paul also gives four reasons why such subjection is commanded. The first three are common sense, two positive and two negative. The first reason is that those who subject themselves to government will receive “praise” from governing authorities. The reasons for separation of church and state are not threatened by doing what Paul calls “good” (13:3). And, the believer should not consider receiving praise from secular bodies as negative or something to be avoided. Paul gives two helpful charges to the saints in Rome in chapter twelve. He tells them to “respect what is right in the sight of all men” (12:17, emphasis added) and to “be at peace with all men (12:18, emphasis added). Submission to governing authorities is an extension of this pursuit. In 1 Tim. 2:1-2, Paul built upon this pursuit of peace with all men, even urging Timothy to pray for leaders in government. There he provides a purpose clause (ἵνα): “so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” The opposite of having praise is having contempt for, which is the last thing that the Christian community needed. Suffering would come from the offense of the gospel, plenty of suffering. Suffering from failure to submit to governing authorities was distracting from God’s redemptive plan. The second positive statement is that these governing authorities are ordained by God for good. This one may be more difficult to see in societies with severely corrupt governments marked by guerrilla assaults and genocide. But, the general sense is that government provided benefits.
     Briefly, the two negative reasons are found in verse five. First, failure to submit to governing authorities can and often does result in penalties and punishments. And Paul says that this is not unjust. Everyone is subject to this without reservation or partiality. And, since God is the one that exists over all authorities and has brought each of them into existence, their exercise of judgment is from him as well. The final reason is that failure to submit can actually deteriorate the conscience (13:5).

1 Corinthians 16:1-9 and 2 Corinthians 8:18-24

     The Corinthian correspondence found in the New Testament is the premiere place for determining what financial accountability is. It deals specifically with money, integrity, logistics, character, etc. Because of the financial nature of these sections of Scripture, they become the keynote passages for understanding and developing a philosophy of biblical financial accountability. The topic of these passages (1 Cor. 16:1-9 and 2 Cor. 8:18-24) is the offering that Paul was organizing for the poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25). Paul was hoping that the delivery of the benevolent offerings could be made during Passover following his third missionary journey.
     The key verse in 1 Corinthians, concerning financial accountability, is verse 3. What Paul is trying to communicate here is expanded in greater detail in 2 Corinthians 8. Paul made known that he was in no way going to be receiving the funds, which most likely was going to be a sizeable offering given his encouragement and the wealth known to be in Corinth. Instead, the assembly of believers in Corinth was to select some to accompany the gift to Jerusalem. The first question is, why? As Welch (2011: 157) points out, the New Testament teaches that “Christians should always conduct themselves in prudent and resourceful ways.” And, “more church problems have come about through poor money management techniques than any other administrative difficulty” (Welch, 2011: 157; see also Bacher and Inskeep, 2005: 158). Corinth was no exception to scandal, sin, and controversy. The last thing that this church needed, the last thing that the apostle Paul needed, was for this offering to derail the church from its mission to glorify Christ and to concentrate on the more pressing matters he had addressed previously in the letter. K. Intrater (1989: 239) writes, “Because money is a source of stumbling for others, ministers should go out of their way to handle their finances according to an external system of accountability.” Paul saw this and acted preemptively.
     Paul acted with pastoral wisdom throughout the entire process. Everything about the offering was participatory and democratic. Even though an apostle, he did not exercise any authority over this benevolent offering. One thing he did not do, which he could have done, was select the representatives himself. He had been in Corinth and he had met the people. Instead of choosing them himself, he allowed the church at Corinth to select them. A. C. Thiselton (2000: 1324) says, “If Corinth raises a substantial sum, its transmission to the Jerusalem recipients must be by those whom the Corinthians themselves fully trust, whose integrity is above suspicion at Corinth. It is not enough for Paul to trust them” (see also Oster, 1995: 401). This may stand out as a shock especially considering all of the things the apostle Paul had addressed throughout his letter. Could this spiritually immature congregation still select those who would deliver the offering to the saints in Jerusalem? Paul’s answer is, without hesitation, “Yes.” The fact is that there still remained men of integrity within the congregation, men whom the congregation would fully trust. The only prerequisite that Paul puts on their appointment is that the representatives should have been “tested” (δοκιμάσητε). Paul uses the same language in 2 Corinthians 8 when referring additional brother that is accompanying the gift.
     This wise move by the apostle Paul is a demonstration of his own personal commitment to reject “everything that has a look of evil about it” (1 Thess. 5:22). M. Hearn (2009: 123) calls it “protected giving.” He says Paul wanted everything “to be handled above board” and that he wanted to protect the offering. Even more than guaranteeing its safe arrival, he “wanted this offering to be seen through eyes of integrity and honest” (Hearn, 2009: 123). Above board means that no one would legitimately be able to question anyone’s integrity and honesty with regard to the offering. Paul was not selfishly looking out for his own interest. He definitely did not want anyone to bring a charge against him. Thiselton suggests that this is part of the reason Paul intended to stay for a longer period of time in Corinth. He wanted to prove that he was “no ‘flying evangelist’ who stirs people up and leaves others to pick up the pieces” (2000: 1316). In other words, he was no Jonas Nightingale (played by Steve Martin in “Leap of Faith”). Moreover, in the discussion found in 2 Corinthians, Paul repeatedly uses the plural “we” and “us.” He was looking out for everyone involved. The accountability being demonstrated here is “public” accountability. There is no back-room, no apostolic accountant, and no surcharges. Everything is done in the open, completely transparent.
     2 Corinthians 8:18-24 offers much more to the discussion. In this section, Paul discloses even more insight behind his motives in ensuring financial accountability. In addition to this, he mentions three brothers and provides characteristics about each of them that are pertinent to financial accountability in Christian ministry. In 8:20, Paul sets forth the clearest reasoning for church-appointed representatives saying that they were “taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift,” or as the NLT translates it, “to guard against any criticism.” Some suggest that this is a reference to Prov. 3:4 (Garland, 1999: 394). The only other place that στέλλω is used in the NT is in 2 Thess. 3:6, there dealing with keeping away from anyone who leads an undisciplined life. M. J. Harris (2005: 606) suggests that this verb expresses “caution and forethought,” or, in other words, it was preemptive and calculated wisdom. More than just being careful, Paul and his associates were completely avoiding anything suspect. The only other place that μωμάομαι is used in the New Testament is in 2 Cor. 6:3 where Paul writes, “We do not give an occasion for taking offense at anything, so that no fault may be found with our ministry” (see Harris, 2005: 606).
     As Stott (2007: 120) wrote, Paul “was determined not only to do right, but to be seen to do right.” He was aware that people were watching—people both in the church as well as unbelieving bystanders. R. E. Picirilli (1987: 240) mentions that this is one of the reasons that Luke included the long list of names in Acts 20:4; eight total are listed coming from Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe, and Asia. F. J. Matera (2003) draws the distinction between Gal. 1:10 and 2 Cor. 8:21. In the former, Paul says he is not seeking the approval of men yet in the latter he is. Matera (2003: 198) writes, “[U]nlike the Lord, human beings do not always comprehend Paul’s honorable intentions. It is all the more important, therefore, that he seek to act honorably before them so that they understand his intentions, especially in this matter.” The approval Paul mentions in Galatians is directly related to the gospel. He is not going to adjust his theology or the lifestyle that it manifests in his life at the expense of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The matter dealing with the benevolent offering, however, is not a gospel matter in the direct sense. It is driven by the gospel, but securing the approval of others does not alter the gospel. He was not exactly seeking approval, anyways. He was seeking to avoid something (scandal), not gain something (approval). Garland (1999: 394) describes his financial accountability as open, public, sincere, commendable, etc.
     Concerning the brothers that are mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:18-24, there are some helpful descriptions that expand the concept of financial accountability in Christian ministry. The first brother is mentioned in 8:18. He is unnamed but not unknown. Paul describes him first as “the brother whose praise (or, approval) has been made known throughout all of the churches.” The word translated praise (ἔπαινος) is not an unfamiliar word in the New Testament. Praise was not to be despised; remember the comments about Romans above. In fact, praise was something to be desired from God (1 Cor. 4:5). But, when considering praise from men, there is only one praise that is to be accepted, namely being found diligent and trustworthy in the work of the gospel. The aim is not to receive such praise. But, such praise is necessary in identifying men for ministry (see Acts 4:36, 6:3’s μαρτυρουμένους). This brother was of extremely high repute being known for his labors not just in one church but in all of them. That Paul leaves him unnamed demonstrates that such recognition is not on the individual but on the praiseworthiness of his character which, of course, God is responsible for. For the second time, it is seen that Paul did not select the men that he wanted or those that were closest to him, even though he would have probably made a good selection. But, Paul’s financial accountability was bigger than himself. So, he deferred for the sake of the gospel. 
     The description of the second brother in verse 22 only elaborates even more about the high character needed for those in Christian ministry, especially when dealing with finances. He had been tested by others (ἐδοκιμάσαμεν) on more than one occasion (πολλάκις) and in different matters (ἐν πολλοῖς) and he was diligent (σπουδαῖον ὄντα). Financial matters demand more than just sending someone who is likeable, who is a friend, or who has, as a new believer, come out of the gate running albeit impressively. Financial accountability, because of its serious nature, demands qualified servants who have undergone inspection in the smaller things and have been found faithful.

1 comment:

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