Question:

Dear Sir,

A phone company just approached the local congregation where we attend with an offer to install a cell tower on the church's property. They would pay the church a significant amount each month for the ability to use a portion of the property in order to build and maintain the cell tower. Supposedly, they need a decision tomorrow as there are other locations they can use.

The biblical authority for engaging in such an agreement became the topic of study during our mid-week service and again this morning. The study was led by the preacher. While our preacher said he has always been opposed to such an income-generating agreement, he has been giving it some study and thought. He appealed to Ephesians 4:11-12 with respect to how the members' responsibility is to the members for "the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ," yet there is nothing that speaks to how the upkeep of the physical building is to be funded and whether or not there is some latitude in this area.

An appeal was made to the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-20) in which the "one talent servant" was condemned for his failure to have even deposited into the bank to obtain the interest: wherein they equate property to the responsibility with the "talent" and the "interest" to revenue stream from the phone company.

I cautioned them that pressing the literal into a parable, which is figurative, can be and has been fraught with problems. The reason this became a topic is because the building, preacher's house and property are in dire need of repairs and there is little money to accomplish them. I don't think this arrangement would be discussed if we were "well-funded" and I believe that reveals quite a bit as this topic is considered.

At this point, I do not support the idea of entering the agreement and accepting the revenue for the very reasons we don't have bake sales and car washes. What I am questioning is whether God authorizes a local congregation as an entity to engage in a "for profit enterprise," especially since we have no example of it and the Scriptures are silent on the issue. I may be incorrect in questioning it in this manner, but, what other congregations have done or what other individuals suggest, is no point of divine authorization unless, of course, their course of action is grounded in scriptural authority and they can articulate the justification. While these decisions undoubtedly are wise by the world's standards, I am just trying to be conscientious in discerning this issue to make sure they are wise by God's standards. That being said, I want to make sure I have considered all of the biblical pattern.

I cautioned them Wednesday night and again this morning that the decision cannot be made based upon seemingly positive outcomes (as there was a lot of that being bantered about) or what other congregations have done; the decision must be made upon the biblical paradigm.

Do you have anything written on this topic or is there any direction you can provide?

Thank you kindly for your attention to this.


Answer:

The one way that we know God authorized the raising of funds is "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come" (I Corinthians 16:1-2). It is basically the same means used in the Old Testament -- the giving of a portion of one's income to God.

What appears to be happening is that people are looking to bend the rules to make what they want happen occur. "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-15). I quote the passage more fully to show that the preacher ought be be ashamed of himself. Paul is talking solely about the teaching of God's word; yet, this man in his greed is trying to twist this into a physical care of members and the church. We do know how preachers were cared for. Churches send funds from their treasury. "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:14). It wasn't from cornering the market. It was from people and churches paying preachers for their teaching.

The parable of the talents was to teach about our using what God gives us as individuals to profit God. God isn't interested in the amount of money we raise. He is interested in the teaching of people. "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you -- the sure mercies of David" (Isaiah 55:1-3). Again, this passage is being twisted to say what people want to hear and not what it is teaching.

If the church is not able to meet the responsibilities it signed up for, then it needs to retrench so it can focus on what needs to be done. If the house is a drain on the budget that isn't benefiting the preacher, then sell it off and raise the preacher's income so he can afford a decent place to live. The church's duty is to spread the gospel and a part of that is accomplished in helping support a preacher to teach in the area.

Justifying something based on perceived good is condemned by Paul. "And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? -- as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:8). Something is right or wrong based on what it is, not on what a person thinks might result from it.

Thus, stripped down the question is: Can a church raise funds by collecting rent? The answer to that is there is no example of it and it does not fit in anyway the mission of the church. Therefore, to do so would be acting without authority from the Lord.

Dear Brother Hamilton,

Thank you for your insight. I agree that the scriptures you cite are applicable and restrict this type of financial arrangement.

Unfortunately, I was really the only one (aside from another female member) who spoke words of serious caution on Sunday morning, countering the alleged justification for the venture. The discussion was centered more on the "positive" consequences that the venture would yield which was an "ends justify the means" type of discernment. Further (and shamefully), the "positive" consequences dealt more with material issues than with spiritual. The whole situation has saddened me more as I become more and more aware how few actually engage in the biblical, scholarly discernment of issues. Senses are not being exercised by reason of use in the scriptures therefore the ability to discern good and evil is in serious jeopardy (Hebrews 5:14).

Since the only New Testament example that was raised Sunday morning to buttress the position of the venture with the phone company was the Parable of the Talents, I made the following points with respect to literalizing the parables and how, if we literalize the Parable of the Talents, then we should press the literal into other parables as well. My points did not seem to gain any traction. Maybe it's because I am wrong on these and I hope you tell me if I am off base.

  • If we literalize the Parable of the Minas/Pounds (Luke 19:11-27), then we can condone the church to trade (v. 15) with its money.
  • Like you commented, I believe this parable, like the Parable of the Talents, has to do with individual responsibility, not the collective responsibility of the church. While there are responsibilities enjoined on the church, I don't see this parable being one of those passages the outline that.
  • If we literalize the Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44), then we can obtain justification for obtaining property under false pretenses.
  • If we literalize the Parable of the Unjust Steward, then we can condone the unrighteous conduct of defrauding your boss as long as it profits you. (Luke 16:1-13).

Thank you again for the time you invested in responding to my email.