A History of Giving to God
November 10th, 1963 @ 10:50 AM
1 Corinthians 16:1-2
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 16:1-2
11-10-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and in television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. We welcome you to this hour. As I have prepared for it, I have stumbled into one of the most unusually interesting of all of the studies I have ever made in my life.
I just thought how interesting it would be if we looked at how the work of God has been supported through the years, and through the centuries, and through the millenniums. And in looking at that, I never was more astonished or more surprised in my life. For example, the biggest – she does not have a second – the biggest gambling syndicate in the earth is the so-called church. What the underworld does, what the racetrack does, what all of these creeps that hide in the recesses of these great cities, what these characters do that belong to the syndicate, is penny-ante stuff compared to what the church does in promoting gambling. There are great cities in America where no law concerning gambling can be passed because of the church.
I did not have time, not the beginning of time, to place in this one address all these astonishing things that I have found. So, tonight, I thought I would speak on part of it, I’ve entitled it, and it is just a little piece of the message tonight, I have entitled it, Why Gambling Is Sin. Whether it is in the church done by the prelate, or whether it is by an underworld character creeping under some ship somewhere; why gambling is sin.
Now let’s begin, because time is precious. How has the work of God been supported in the earth? In those dimly lighted centuries of the past, I read, "And Melchizedek, king of Salem . . . met Abraham . . . and blessed him: and Abraham gave him tithes of all" [Hebrews 7:1-2]; and [it] was about two thousand years before Christ. Turning the page of the Old Testament, I read again, "And Jacob called the name of the place Bethel," Bethel, house of God [Genesis 28:19]. "And Jacob vowed a vow saying, If God will bless me . . . of all that God shall give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee" [Genesis 28:20-22]. That would be about nineteen hundred years before Christ. And what I have found here in the Old Testament, I have found in all of the ancient nations: Egyptian, Chaldean, Assyrian, Babylonian, all of them – that was a common way by which they supported their worship.
In the law of the Jew, I read in the closing verses of Leviticus, "And all the tithe is holy unto the Lord" [Leviticus 27:30]. When I turn to the prophets, I find them making that same earnest appeal, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, prove Me, saith the Lord, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" [Malachi 3:10]. So in the ancient day, and in the Old Covenant, the work of our Lord was supported by the people giving a tenth of all they possessed to Jehovah.
Now in the New Testament, this is the way and commandment of God for the support of His work: "Now concerning the collection,Upon the first day of the week let each one of you, every one of you, lay by him in store, as God has prospered him," that there be no ding dongings and squeezing blood out of a turnip, and all of those endless appeals that some preachers make: "that there be no collections when I stand up to preach, when I come. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you bring to God’s house a proportion of what God hath given to us" [from 1 Corinthians 16:1-2]. So we have briefly looked how God supported His work over a period of 2,100 years.
Now let us begin in those dim antiquities, in the days of the primitive church in the Roman Empire and follow it through to this present hour. How has the work of the church been supported, by what means and methods? How has it been done through the years? Well, it is an astonishing story, and one of the most interesting I have ever looked at.
Now the primitive church: of course, practically all the records of that primeval church have been lost, but here and there, there is a little fragment, a little piece, a little leaf out of a script, a little reference, a little quotation, and we can find how they supported their church in the beginning when the churches first began to flourish in the Roman Empire in the first Christian century.
For example, from the Apologia of Aristides: he wrote a letter to the Emperor Hadrian, in about 135 AD. I quote, Aristides says to the Roman Emperor, talking about these Christians, "And if there is any among them a man that is poor or needy, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food." What an amazing thing for a man to write to a Roman Emperor! They were so poor, the Christians were so cast out and so impoverished, that to help one another in their necessities, the others had to go without food two or three days in order to bring to God’s church a support for those who needed help.
Now Justin Martyr wrote about 140 AD concerning the custom of giving as it was practiced in his church in Samaria. I quote from Justin Martyr: "Those who are willing, give. What is collected takes care of all who are in need."
Now Tertullian, who was the preacher at Carthage, he was a lawyer, and a brilliant one, and God marvelously converted this brilliant barrister. And Tertullian wrote in about 199 AD, and he was inviting the rulers of the Roman Empire to examine the practice of Christians. Being a lawyer, he was forensic in his presentation and had exhibits, "Here they are; look at them!" says Tertullian. And here is what he says, quote:
We have a treasure chest. We have a treasure chest. Each puts in if he likes. There is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, pieties deposit fund –
Oh, how that man could use language!
pieties deposit fund. They are taken thence to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and of parents. Such, too, as have suffered shipwreck, or been banished to islands, or shut up in the prisons for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s church, they become the nurslings of their confession.
[The Apologeticum, Tertullian]
There you meet that same thing again. The church was despised and persecuted and imprisoned, and they supported one another in their want and in their necessity.
Now, Irenaeus, an incomparable preacher, not a lawyer like Tertullian – Irenaeus, writing about 170 AD, Irenaeus believed that the bread of the Lord’s Table and the fruit of the vine of the Lord’s Supper, were firstfruits offered unto God. So he says, "We are bound, therefore, to offer to God the firstfruits of His creation." Then contrasting the Jewish law which demanded a tithe, and the motive of the Christian, Irenaeus wrote, and I quote again:
Those who have received liberty and have the hope of better things will not give less than the tithe, but will set aside all their possessions for the Lord’s purposes.
[Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 18, Irenaeus]
Everything we have – says Irenaeus – belongs to the blessed Jesus. And Ambrose, the incomparable pastor of the church at Milan, in about 350 AD wrote:
God has reserved the tenth part to Himself. And therefore it is not lawful for a man to retain what God has reserved for Himself. To thee, He has given nine parts. To thee He has given nine parts. For Himself He hath reserved the tenth part.
["Sermon 34"; Ambrose, 340-397]
And Augustine, a fellow pastor and preacher with Ambrose, Augustine was in Hippo, Africa – down there while Ambrose was in Milan, Italy, the two giants in the faith. Augustine wrote about 350 AD:
Cut off some part of thy income, a tenth if thou choosest, though that be but little, the Pharisees gave a tenth. And what sayeth the Lord. "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." He whose righteousness thou oughtest to exceed gives a tenth. How wilt thou surpass him?
["Sermon to the People of Carthage",Vol 8, p 668; Augustine]
Now we have seen a good picture of the primitive church, in those first Christian centuries, how they supported the work of the Lord. They gave themselves. Sometimes they gave all of their living. Sometimes they went without food in order to save enough to support those who were in need. And they sought to exceed what was commanded in the Old Testament law of a tenth [Leviticus 27:30], and give to God out of the fullness and abundance of the love of their souls.
Now, of course, all of you who have read history, all of you know that beginning in 590 AD there was a tremendous change, a tremendous change in the churches of Jesus Christ. In 590 AD, Gregory the Great became the bishop of Rome, and for the first time the papacy assumed full authority over all the churches of Christ in the earth. And thereafter, you have never seen nor have you ever read nor have you ever imagined such an array of things by which they raise money to support the church. By that time they had the authority of the state, and the church levied tribute, and it gathered taxes, and it took spoils in war, and it was paid for its services. And in courts, and absolutions, and baptisms, and dispensations, and fines, and fees, and simony, and in a thousand other ways did they lay tribute and collect money.
Now out of the endless and devious ways of that ancient church in collecting money, I have chosen two; these are very typical. First, the selling of relics: there was never a device so ingeniously wrought in this earth, nor one so lucratively rewarding as when the church began to sell relics. Dealers in old bones sometimes took the bones of animals and sold them as the bones of some saint. And the way the church made money selling relics was, if you had a relic, and you would pay the papacy enough money, the papacy would issue a bull, and declare by infallible authority that this is an authentic relic. And relics attracted attention, and worshipers came, and the devout and faithful came, and they left gifts at the shrine of the relic. So it was a prosperous and a most fruitful business.
And the way they did those relics was an astonishing thing, even to read about. For example, St. Dennis existed in duplicate. There was one of his skeletons in one place; there was another of his skeletons in another place. He had a third head in Prague; he had a fourth head in Hamburg, and Munich could boast of one of his hands.
I have copied here a list of relics that received the infallible approval of various popes who issued papal bulls declaring these were true and authentic. Splinters and nails from the cross; I myself have seen some of them. The sponge lifted to Christ’s mouth, the purple robe, the crown of thorns, thorns from the crown, the cup from the Last Supper, specimens of the hairs of the Virgin Mary: some of them blonde, some of them red, some of them brown, some of them black; she must have been a speckled specimen. Bread from the Last Supper, the crap shooting dice used by the soldiers, shirts of the virgin Mary, her wedding ring and slippers, the swaddling clothes in which the Babe was dressed, the carpenter tools of Joseph, the thirty piece of silver, the empty purse of Judas, the perch on which the cock crew three times when Simon Peter denied the Lord, Pilate’s wash basin, the bones of the ass on which Jesus entered Jerusalem, Moses’ staff used to part the Red Sea, manna from the wilderness wandering, Noah’s beard, a piece of rock from which Moses drew water. All of those and many others – this is just a small part – all of those have been pronounced authentic by the infallible approval of a papal bull.
But that is not the beginning. There never was in the history of mankind, there was such a traffic in this earth as the church engaged in when they began to sell indulgences. So in the 1500s John Tetzel, John Tetzel, a Dominican monk, was appointed to sell indulgences in Saxony in order to raise money for the church. Now I quote from John Tetzel selling these indulgences:
Indulgences are the most precious and the most noble of God’s gifts.
Come, come, and I will give you letters all properly sealed, by which even
the sins that you intend to commit may be pardoned. I would not change
my privileges for those of St. Peter in heaven, for I have saved more
souls by my indulgences than the apostle by his sermons.
End quote. Now Tetzel assured his listeners that indulgences, permissions to sin and finding forgiveness for them – indulgences would avail not only for the living, but for the dead, for those that are supposed to be down there in purgatory. And he placed the destiny of those in purgatory in the hands of his hearers. Now I quote again from John Tetzel:
Priest, noble, magistrate, merchant, wife, youth, maiden: do not you hear
your parents and your friends who are dead, and who cry from the bottom
of purgatory? Listen to their cry: "We are suffering horrible torments, a
trifling would deliver us, and you cannot give it, and you will not give it.
End quote. What an appeal!
Well, Martin Luther, who himself was a monk, Martin Luther attempted to stop that indescribable blasphemy, selling indulgences. And he wrote to several bishops pleading for a change in that thing, and they would not listen. So on the thirty-first day of October in 1517, Martin Luther went to the church door at Wittenberg and nailed to it his ninety-five theses on the selling of indulgences, and the Reformation was on. Isn’t that a strange thing? I never knew that before. The Reformation was precipitated, what thrust it into the life of the churches of Christ was raising money for the church selling indulgences.
Now we must hasten. We come to the founding of the Christian churches in America. I have here the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the Baptists; Patrick Henry, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin.
John Robinson, as you know, was the pastor of that little Separatist church in England that escaped to Holland and finally to America. They are called Pilgrims because they referred to themselves as being "pilgrims seeking a better country and a better land," quoting from the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews [Hebrews 11:13-16]. John Robinson wrote a book – the pastor of that little tiny church that we know as "Pilgrims" who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 – John Robinson wrote in 1610 a book entitled A Justification of Separation from the Church of England, the established church, and this is what he wrote addressing the established Church of England:
We do willingly leave unto you both your priestly order and maintenance,
contenting ourselves with the people’s voluntary contribution, whether it
be less or more, as the blessing of God upon our labor, the fruit of our
ministry, and a declaration of our love and duty.
That’s the Pilgrims. Now the Puritans: Governor Winthrop, who was governor for a long time of the Massachusetts Bay Colony – Governor Winthrop, quoting his pastor, John Cotton, said in the 1630s – I quote from Governor Winthrop:
After much deliberation and serious advice, the Lord directed our pastor,
Mr. Cotton, to make it clear by the Scripture that the minister’s
maintenance, as well as all other charges of the church, should be
defrayed out of the treasury which was to be raised out of the weekly
contribution, which accordingly was agreed upon. Mr. Cotton taught that
where magistrates are forced to provide for the maintenance of ministers,
then the churches are in a declining condition.
[Journal, vol. I, John Winthrop]
Now the Baptists – Roger Williams, as you know, fled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of religious liberty, and he founded a colony on Narragansett Bay, and he called its capital Providence; we know it today as Providence, Rhode Island. And in 1636, I quote from Roger Williams:
As to the laborer worthy of his reward, I answer: we find no other pattern
in the New Testament of Jesus Christ but that both the converting, or
apostolical ministry, and the seeding, or pastoral ministry, did freely serve
or minister, and yet was freely supported by the saints and churches with
larger or lesser supplies as the hand of the Lord was more or less
extended in His weekly blessings upon them.
Now, Patrick Henry. In 1784, to my surprise – Patrick Henry, you know, was a great defender of those Baptist preachers that they jailed for preaching the gospel of the Son of God – but to my surprise, I have found out that in 1784 Patrick Henry introduced a bill in the House of Burgesses in the colony of Virginia, in the state of Virginia. He introduced a bill in 1784 to tax the people for the support of the Christian religion. It was voted, the bill was passed, and it was sent to a committee for proper wording so it could be made into the law that governed the land.
But while that committee was preparing that bill, James Madison – and may I parenthesize to say that I have never read a syllable about James Madison that did not make that man tower, and tower, and tower in my estimation. James Madison was greatly influenced by those Baptist preachers in Virginia, and James Madison fought that thing in the House of Burgesses in Virginia. And I quote from James Madison:
Who does not see that the same authority which can force a citizen to
contribute only three tenths of his property for the support of any one
religion can force him to conform to any other religion?
["Memorial and Remonstrance Against
Religious Assessments," James Madison 1785]
James Madison said anytime this thing called the power of religion lies in the hands of the state, then the state can force religion of any kind upon anybody. And James Madison said under no conditions should such a law be passed in the sovereign state of Virginia. And, to my amazement, they defeated that bill due to the eloquence and the reasoning and the tremendous patriotic acumen of James Madison.
Then I found this from Benjamin Franklin. He always says a thing just like that, just sum it up. Here is from Ben Franklin:
When a religion is good, I can see it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its
professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I
apprehend, that it is a bad religion.
[Works, Vol. VIII, p. 506, Benjamin Franklin]
I like that. And doesn’t that sound like Ben Franklin? If a religion’s worth anything, it will support itself and God will bless it. And if the people do not support it and they have to call on the power of the state to support it, "I say," says Ben Franklin, "that it is a bad religion." All those things are interesting to me.
Tonight – man, we are going to sell pews tonight. We are going to hawk them like you never heard tonight. We are going to shoot craps, and play bingo, and I don’t know what all we are going to do tonight, all in the name of the Lord, all in the name of the church; going on right now, going on this very minute. I have never been so astonished in my life, never, as when I got to reading how the people support their churches. "Well, why don’t you do that? Why don’t you do that?" Oh, if we had hours, we would just stay here and say why. I just sum up what could be spoken on and expatiated on in hours and hours.
First and above all, what I bring to God is as much a part of my love and worship to the Savior, to the Lord Jehovah God, as when I bow on my knees in prayer, as when I read from the sacred Book, as when I plead with a man to give his heart and his soul to Jesus. There is no exception to that in the Word of God, coming before the Lord with an offering as Abel did in the beginning [Genesis 4:4]. And to lay at the feet of our Savior a gift is as much an act of worship as to call upon His blessed name in prayer. And to shoot craps for it, or to sell indulgences for it, or to hawk pews for it, or to play bingo for it, or to raffle off things for it, to me is blasphemous. This is a part of my worship to God; that is one reason.
Second reason: all of us who are in this congregation and who are of our faith, all of us believe that this is the Word of God; this is God’s Word. This is the Lord speaking to my soul, and God told me how I ought to do. And God said to His churches how His people ought to do concerning the support of the church: "As I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so do you. On the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him, that there be no these other things when the preacher stands up to preach" [1 Corinthians 16:1-2].
Now there is a genius in that. And I want you to listen to me with all of your mind, listen just a minute then I am through. There is a wisdom in this that, if you are not careful, you will overlook, you won’t see it. Everything God does is so unfathomable in some instances that you cannot get to the bottom of it, but at the same time it will be so plain, and so simple, and so lucid, and so patent if you are not careful you will stumble over it. That is the way here. Now you look at this: "Upon the first day of the week let each one of you, hekastos humon, let each of you, translated here "let every one of you," hekastos humon, "let every one of you" [1 Corinthians 16:2]; ah, the wisdom of God in that!
Now to shorten this message for I must close, let me illustrate: we have just had our State Fair of Texas last month, and in the middle of the state fair is a midway, and it is a good one. It does honor to the men who plan that great state fair. On a Saturday afternoon, here is a father and a mother, a little boy and a little girl, the whole family. They are going out to the fair, and when they get on the fairgrounds, the sparkle of the lights and all that they see, they make a beeline for the midway, and what a time they have on a Saturday afternoon! Little boy, bugged-eyed, sees all those things a going on: the wheel’s are a-turnin’ and the things are a-happenin’. And he says, "Daddy, give me a quarter!" I’ll ride the merry-go-round, Daddy reaches in his pocket, gives the boy a quarter and then he reaches down in his pocket and gives the little girl a quarter – on the merry-go-round, and around they race. Then there is that great big Ferris wheel and, "Daddy, give me a quarter!" Daddy gets in his pocket to give them a quarter to get them around, they’re riding on the merry-go – on the Ferris wheel. Then there is popcorn, and there are peanuts, and there is candy, and there is,there is,there is, cotton candy! Boy, they never had such a good time in their life! It is a dime here, and a dime there, and a quarter there, and a quarter yonder, and when the evening’s over, those children have spent four dollars fifty cents apiece on the midway and had the best time of their life. It is a great, great time on Saturday. The next day, the Lord’s Day, Sunday, they all get up, and they wash behind their ears, and they comb their hair, and they put on their Sunday clothes, and they go to church. And Daddy reaches down in his pocket, and he says to the little boy, he says, "Here is a nickel for Sunday school." And reaches down in his pocket and, "Here, little girl, is a nickel for Sunday school."
You don’t need to say anything. They have learned it well! merry-go-round’s big business, that’s a quarter; Ferris wheel is big business, that’s another quarter; peanuts, big business, that’s a dime; cotton candy is big business, that’s another dime. Chewing gum, big business, that’s a dime. But God’s business is little business, that’s a nickel. You don’t need to say anything to the little fellow, he has learned it well. He has learned it well. What does the Book say? "On the first day of the week let hekastos humon, each every one of you, as God hath prospered him" [1 Corinthians 16:2].
The father sits down with his family, or the husband with his wife, and they say, "God hath given us so much. God hath given us so much. Now, sonny boy, get your pledge card. Get your pledge card. Now, sonny boy, you belong to this family just as much as I do. You are a part of this home and every hope and dream that Daddy has is in you, sonny lad." Now you take that pledge card and you have that boy write out a worthy pledge, a worthy one. "And little sweetheart, little golden-haired, blue-eyed girl, you are the joy and delight, and the song of Daddy’s heart. Now, honey, get your pledge card, and you fill it out; worthy, worthy."
And then to the dear wife, she has a part also and divide it up, half for her, and half for you, just like it says in the Book, "On the first day of the week, let each one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him" [1 Corinthians 16:2].
You don’t need to say anything to the children, they’ve learned it well. God’s business is big business. Bigger than peanuts, bigger than cotton candy, bigger than chewing gum, God’s business is even bigger than the Ferris wheel or the merry-go-round, or the whole midway! God’s business is big business! And your children have learned it well. And it means God’s church lives in dignity, and in community acceptance, in the day of our generation. And it also means the church shall live in power and in dignity, paying its debts, walking upright in the generation that is yet to come, when our children take over these ministries and carry them forward in the name of the blessed Jesus.
God grant it to our people. This is God’s way. Each one of us, every one of us, as God shall enable us, some of us more than others, according to our ability, according to our faith; like the poor widow that gave all she had [Mark 12:41-44], according to our faith, and God bless us, and prosper us, and give us His favor from heaven, because we have sought to do it as unto the Lord.
Now, while we sing our song of appeal, somebody to give his heart in faith to Jesus this morning; somebody to put his life with us in the fellowship of this great church; a family to come, or one somebody you to come; as the Spirit of Jesus shall lead in the way, come and stand by me. I will be here to the left of our Lord’s Supper table. Give the pastor your hand, "Preacher, I give my heart to God, and here I am. Here I come." However God shall open the door, make it now; while we stand and while we sing.