“How reluctantly we part with what we have for the good of others. How eager we are to hold on to every last penny.
“How jealous we are to guard our congregational nest eggs, and slow to pour our resources into the common purse of a Church that needs us all to play our part.”
The Free Church, in these times of austerity, is having to cut its suit according to its cloth – like everyone else. However, the fact that a proportion of congregational contributions has been changed in recent years from an automatic levy to a voluntary donation means that more money is being held and perhaps spent at a local, rather than national, level.
The local church is, quite rightly, a focus for renewal of mission in the denomination. But what about the denomination itself? A national vision, a public vision, a strategic vision for mission, both national and international – these can all only be realised in the Church as a denomination (and, through the denomination, in the wider catholic Church). If local congregations choose to only send the bare minimum to Edinburgh, then I’m afraid that there is a collapse in vision of the kind that attends small expressions of church. Thomas Chalmers and the fathers wouldn’t recognise that.
In the early Church, the more wealthy gave to the less wealthy (both in material and human resources). The apostles co-ordinated responses to both theological and practical challenges. The generosity of the Churches was commended by Paul:
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,
they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. (2 Cor 8:1-4)
The Free Church is reforming. As it does so it must keep its anchor in our confession as a Reformed Church. In challenging times, Free Church people must hold their belief in the Church.