Years ago when we were visiting a large and well-endowed fundamentalist church here in Greenville, South Carolina, the Sunday school teacher went on a bit of a tirade about how wrong it was to come to church to “get.”
“You’re only supposed to come to church to GIVE,” he rebuked us. He went on to express his disgust with people who come to church wanting something, even to the point of mocking them. “These people who say ‘What’s in it for me?’ or ‘I didn’t get anything out of the sermon.’ You’re only supposed to give. You give worship to God. You give of yourself to the church.”
I took careful notes. Not because I agreed, but because I disagreed so profoundly I wanted to remember it and write about it someday. (So here we are about 15 years later and I’m finally getting to it—yes, it’s been on my list for that long.)
My road out of fundamentalism was long and slow (probably too long and too slow), but this was something I understood. After all, if there was one thing I did, I read the Bible. Many Scriptures were popping into my head as he ranted.
I imagine he would have agreed with Romans 6:23 and others like it:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
But that might have been where his agreement with me ended.
But what about James 1:17?
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights. . . .
Or even Matthew 7:11?
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
And many others?
It was appalling to think that a person was supposed to receive nothing coming to church. I went on a bit of a tirade of my own in the car on the way home.
“So why are we supposed to sit like good boys and girls listening to the sermon? We’re really not supposed to get anything out of it?”
“Didn’t Jesus say ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you’?”
and as always, a comment on the maddening lack of logic.
“If I’m supposed to give, doesn’t that mean somebody else will get? Isn’t that the way it works?”
As far as I know, except for the times when we’re all giving glory to God together, when one person is giving, another person is getting.
When this is played out across the board, for everyone, it actually works quite beautifully. We all get. We all give.
In our little Mennonite church that I’ve written about a few times, I saw this truth played out most profoundly, in a small and quiet way. As a young family, we had our financial difficulties. One day when we came into church, we found an envelope on “our” pew with $400 in it—anonymously. That was a lot of money, and I didn’t want to take it. But one of the women of the church obviously saw my struggle. “Listen,” she said to me, “you take that money. Someday you’ll be able to help someone else.”
And so I was introduced to the concept of “pay it forward,” and I’ve never forgotten it. In fact, recently when I was helping someone, I told her, “I don’t want you to pay me back. I want you to help someone else. I want you to pay it forward.” And I told her the story of the $400 on the pew.
I’ve always been a big believer in giving (of my time, mostly, since we never had much money), but have had a harder time receiving (“getting”). I needed to learn how to “get.” In fact, this woman actually even told me I needed to learn that. And if I hadn’t received, I would have missed a blessing that later went on to out-work in “giving.”
So what will a church look like in which the people are taught that they are only supposed to give and never get?
Frankly, the bottom line is that it will look like a cult. Because, as I’ve pointed out in many blog posts, interviews, and in a book about the “giving up your rights” teaching, when one person is giving up anything, including rights, another person is taking them.
The leaders of the church will insist that the people give, and if the people are obedient, they’ll continue to give, give, give, of their money, their time, and their talents. They’ll work to “serve the church” and “grow the church” as I’ve written about here and here, and in the meantime, because they’re not allowed to ask for anything for themselves, even of a spiritual nature, they’ll find that they’re giving out of dry wells.
Yes, most surely we offer our worship and praise to our Lord for who He is and for all He’s done for us. For all He’s done for us. He delights to give good gifts to His children.
God’s love for us, and our (Christians’) love for God, and our love for each other—these are described almost 200 times in the New Testament alone. This love will be shown by giving.
It will also sometimes be shown by receiving.
In the course of life, with the way relationships work, there will be times when some of us need to receive more. There will be times when some of us are in a place to give more.
But this is with the understanding that overall, like in our little Mennonite church of the 1990s, in the big picture we’re all giving and getting all the time. And don’t let anybody tell you you’re being selfish for thinking this way. This is part of God’s beautiful plan.