This section is from the "How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt" book, by Rev. Sylvanus Stall. Amazon: How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt.
Church debts are more than grievous burdens. They are great hindrances to the spread of the gospel and the salvation of men. They aid Satan to retain his usurped possession of the world; and, during the half century past, he has been using this subtle and deceptive scheme with great success. The church has fallen into the hands of the despoiler, and the present condition of the Christian, church demands a change 2 of financial policy - not a new, but a return to the old and God-given method. When Moses was about to erect the Tabernacle he appeared before the people with these words: "This is the thing which the Lord commanded, saying, Take ye from among you an offering unto the Lord: whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the Lord; gold, and silver and brass."
Church debts are nowhere sanctioned in the Bible, either by precept or example. Neither does the custom of loading churches with debt come from the heathen. The temples of the Hindoos, the Mosques and Musjeeds of the Mohammedans, the temples and "towers of silence" of the followers of Zoroaster, the sacred caves of the Buddhists - each and all structures set apart for religious purposes by heathen nations are dedicated and remain free of debt.
Not in the Bible, either among the ancient Jews or in the Primitive church, do we find anything of this destructive church-debt policy. But in Christian America expensive and debt-burdened churches are to be found everywhere. Their numbers overstep the boundaries of hundreds, and press into the thousands. The proportion is not diminished, but rather increased. The situation is one which demands the earnest thought and hearty co-operation of all Christian people.
A church debt has very justly been denounced as "a church curse." It paralyzes every energy of a congregation. The grand possibilities of hundreds of congregations are to-day lost, both to the church and the world, simply because financial perplexities crowd out nobler thoughts, and leave no room for spiritual and eternal things.
The theory that a new church and a popular minister will attract outsiders, increase the membership and pay the debt, is a dangerous delusion. The principle is untrue, both in the business of the world and the affairs of the church. People will pay with some cheerfulness toward the success of a new enterprise, but when solicited to contribute toward an undertaking already so unsuccessful as to be embarrassed with debt, they will give sparingly as well as grudgingly, for in church affairs as in every thing else, "nothing succeeds like success." If a church, therefore, would be prosperous and useful it must shun everything which looks like church debt, whether great or small.
Instead of aiding to increase the membership, a new church, struggling under a heavy debt, or perhaps mortgaged for more than it would bring under the hammer, invariably repels the very class it was designed to attract and capture. Men who are not personally responsible for a debt, which they had not the pleasure of aiding to contract, are very slow voluntarily to assume it. New comers, and old residents, when seeking a spiritual home, will search out those free from encumbrance, and avoid most studiously every church with a debt. In this way the debt saps the best interests of the church, causing it to waste away because of unreplenished life.
The greatest sufferers in this ruinous church-debt policy are not usually among the laity, but among the clergy. Too often congregations "bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne," and lay them on the minister's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. The crushing responsibilities, or undue anxieties, are left to exhaust his physical energies, to make unlimited demands upon his mental activities, and to unfit him for the duties both of the pastoral and ministerial office. To be efficient in his calling, these matters should be entrusted to persons property appointed to that department of church work. The apostles, that they might give themselves entirely to the ministry of the word, intrusted these auxiliary matters into the hands of those competent to superintend them. It was "not reason that they should leave the word of God to serve tables," neither is it reasonable nor right that ministers should now leave the word of God to be slaves to a church debt.
If a minister is left to struggle with desperate financial difficulties all the week, there can be in his Sabbath ministrations but few "thoughts that breathe and words that burn." But the fact that the church has a debt is given as a conclusive reason why his sermons, clear, logical and convincing, should be clothed in choicest language, beautifully adorned with illustrations winnowed from historv, science and the harvested literature of the ages. He must "draw" and pay the debt, or give place to one who will. Excellent pastoral qualities, spiritual graces, intellect and learning, all these pass for naught. Debt begets a feverish thirst for sparkling and sensational preaching. The servant of God who seeks the perfecting of the saints, the edifying of the body of Christ, and the imparting of "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God," is passed by for one who will cater to every taste, and regard the wishes of men rather than the commands of God. Next to the necessity which compels hundreds to eke out a respectable living on an insufficient salary, church debts are despoiling the gospel ministry of most of its efficiency and usefulness.
They also serve to defeat the design which Christ had in establishing the church. The edifice should be erected and dedicated to the worship of Jehovah, the preaching of the gospel and the salvation of souls. Instead of these, how many churches are sacred only to the purpose of attracting men of means who shall help to pay for the unholy trap in which they have been caught. "The foolishness of God is wiser than men." God "hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and the things which are despised, hath God chosen." But the church in debt feels that prudence (!) demands another policy, and so the worldly rich are gathered, both small and great, into the church. These men are counseled, placed in positions of trust, elected to office, and how often are men of wealth or influence in the world, and without religion, allowed to determine the question and say who is to feed the flock of Christ? Their opinions are preferred to that of the children of God, simply to secure their aid in supporting the man of their choosing. How many pulpits are to-day spiked by the devil in this very way? "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." The voice from Heaven says: "I will make a common man more precious than fine gold, and a great man than the golden wedge of Ophir." Why then seek the rich, rather than the poor? Why convert the house of God into a house of merchandise, or forfeit the freedom of God's people by selling the house of God in slavery to sin? The borrower is always the slave of the lender.