One of the biggest criticisms of our church is its teaching about sacrifice – particularly at the time of the Israel Challenge which occurs twice a year. These are the most common phrases I hear:
- Giving offerings or tithes is fine, but teaching that God expects us to sacrifice our possessions today is abusing church members and using the Bible for financial gain.
- It’s irresponsible to pressure Christians into giving large amounts of money, especially those who can barely pay their own bills.
- The constant teaching of sacrifice during the weeks before the Israel Challenge is nothing more than brainwashing.
- If a church is so desperate for money, it should fundraise for whatever project it needs to pay for, and not exploit the Bible to make people feel guilty if they don’t give.
- Churches should be known for giving to the poor, not taking from them.
- Teaching about financial sacrifices in exchange for answered prayer is teaching greed, and treats God like an ATM.
Let’s talk about each one:
- Teaching that God expects us to sacrifice our possessions today is abusing church members and using the Bible for financial gain. – In Acts 4 the early church members sold what they had – land, possessions – and laid it at the apostles feet for the sake of spreading the Gospel. No one lacked anything because as they gave, God provided for them all. It sounds radical, but there is nothing unbiblical about sacrificial giving. It’s everywhere from the widow of Zarephath in the Old Testament to the widow with the two copper coins in the New Testament, to Jesus’ command for the rich young ruler to sell all he had to follow Him, to Jesus’ own sacrifice on the cross that had been foreshadowed by Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac thousands of years earlier. Sacrifice permeates the Bible.
- It’s irresponsible to pressure Christians into giving large amounts of money. – Challenging people to live by faith is the core of the Gospel. If someone gives out of their flesh, out of guilt, just for show or obligation, then faith isn’t operating and they have basically thrown away their opportunity to be blessed. But we have documentation of tens of thousands who once were poor, sick and hopeless, and can now testify to God’s power to lift them out of poverty, sickness and hopelessness to a life of abundance and stability because they had the courage to sacrifice not just money, but their lives in dedication to Him. These people didn’t lose a thing, they gained exponentially!
- The teaching of sacrifice during the weeks before the Israel Challenge is brainwashing. – Sacrifice is simple to understand, but difficult for hearers to accept. There’s a demonic resistance that no one escapes, no matter how spiritual they are. As many times as God has challenged me to sacrifice something I highly valued, the devil was always there, doing his best to attack me emotionally and give me excuses not to go through with it. The reason is that sacrifice, when done in faith, is a form of intense spiritual warfare. Repetitive teaching can be boring, I’ll admit, if a pastor is not well trained or is not allowing the Spirit to speak through him. But the concept of sacrifice is so powerful that it needs to be developed and explained so that the hearers can make a rational and informed choice on their own.
- If a church is desperate for money, it should fundraise for whatever project it needs to pay for. – The Israel Challenge is not the church’s desperate grasp for money. It’s a time when deep spiritual truths are set forth with the full knowledge that they could easily be misunderstood, and the church could be accused of all these statements above. Just like Peter said before the High Court of Israel, “We must obey God rather than man.”
- Churches should be known for giving to the poor, not taking from them. – You’ve heard the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Teaching people to trust in God through sacrifice, is basically thrusting them into a mode of faith that only the persecuted church of the past understood. People discover that they don’t need charity or other people’s help to overcome their problems, they can experience the supernatural power of God themselves through sacrifice. Our church has many social outreach programs that help the homeless, prisoners, the abused and illiterate – but nothing turns around lives like the power of sacrifice.
- Teaching about financial sacrifices in exchange for answered prayer is teaching greed, and treats God like an ATM. – Jesus taught, “Give and it shall be given unto you,” and “as you give, you shall receive.” Sacrifices and offerings brought into the old Temple were meant to be done with specific reasons behind them, and at times God asked for specific sacrifices before He granted specific victories. Yes, we should give just for the joy of giving, and anything that is not given freely in love is not a true sacrifice. Yet God treats us as children who need incentives to do what is right, much like we teach our own children good lessons through rewards. Jesus even promises rewards in heaven according to how we’ve lived on earth. Sacrificing and making requests for our lives to be transformed is a perfectly Biblical concept and teaches us to humbly look to God as our Father.
Moreover, brothers, we want you to experience the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, how in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty overflowed toward the riches of their generous giving. For I bear record that according to their means, and beyond their means, they freely gave, begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of ministering to the saints. 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 MEV