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.
Another and very sad result of church indebtedness is the great distrust which it begets in a community. Claims presented remain unpaid and the church falls into disrepute. Persons untaught in these matters, naturally expect - and have a right to expect from the principles taught in the Christian church - that claims against its organization would be most promptly met when payment is demanded. When, however, one after another becomes wearied of pressing claims that remain unpaid, the church is spoken against, and as a result these persons are largely lost to the power of the truth. The influence does not stop here, but the injudicious, if not dishonest, policy is denounced by all fair-thinking people, and may proceed so far as to close to the church every avenue of usefulness in a community. It is but fair to expect the church to maintain and practice those principles which it was established to teach.
Another result of this unsound policy is its inevitable tendency to extinguish every benevolent sentiment of a congregation. It allows selfishness to flourish in great luxuriance, while the church debt is made the apology for turning a deaf ear to every appeal for aid. The beneficence of the church decreases, until in Christian giving the congregation becomes virtually a cipher. These congregations often appear most patriotic upon the parade ground, but in the great contest for the right they are cowardly poltroons, living under a government which they will neither support nor defend. If the cause of home and foreign missions, the various benevolent operations of the church at large and the poor at home were merely left to care for themselves while an honest effort was really made to liquidate the church debt, there would be some apparent weight to the worthless excuse. But the apology is a mere pretext; they neither aid others, nor pay the debt. Congregations struggling honestly with burdensome indebtednesses are truly worthy of our sympathy and aid. It is rare, however, that congregations willing to pay their bills are found in debt. The debt-burdened congregations are usually of those which desire to do all the building and have the "outsiders" do all the paying. Now the "outsiders" are supporting the many institutions dependent upon them, at an expense fifty-fold greater than it costs to sustain the church, and it is sheer injustice to leave them to do all the paying while the church stands idly by. The church is to give to save the world, and not the world to save the church. Let us not reverse the order, or lose sight of the specific purpose of the church. Her only work is to labor for the salvation of men, and no work in which she can engage, not even the building or paying for church edifices, can ever, in any degree, compensate for the neglect of this duty. The Savior's last command is: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," and we must obey it.
A change in regard to dedicating churches before they are paid for would tend largely to correct this disastrous condition of affairs. Let ecclesiastical bodies set themselves right in the eyes of the world, and correct this great evil among the churches, by refusing to formally dedicate any and all churches not fully paid for. It is commendable for congregations to build costly churches when they can pay for them without hindering their mission work, and the people who continually murmur because of the money lavished on temples built for the worship of God, would also have murmured, had they been with Jesus, because the alabaster box of ointment "very precious" was not sold for much and given to the poor; so let their murmurs be weighed against their worth. But let the united voice of the church go up against this great evil.
Congregations which are injudicious and visionary in their church plans, are wont to regard their cherished purposes all consummated when the church is dedicated Whether it is paid for or not seems foreign to their minds. The question is simply one of whether mason, carpenter, painter and frescoer have com-pleted their work. Whether the congregation have accomplished their duty does not enter into the consideration. Whether God will be pleased with the unpaid-for offering is not asked. If it is not an acceptable offering, selfishness, personal pride and sectarian vanity must be gratified, and so, "ministers of God, old and young, the elders and the people, all assemble. A sermon is preached, the liberality (!) of the people is commended, the beauty of the house is praised, great castles are built about prospective good, and perhaps that very house, it is predicted, will be a grand means of hastening on the millennial day; songs of praises are sung, God's name is invoked, and the house is most solemnly given to God," and one man at least, "rejoices with trembling" - he is the man who holds the mortgage! Is it not absolutely ridiculous for any person, or persons, to set apart, dedicate or consecrate to the worship of God that which they do not own? The principle which makes cheating or stealing dishonest is, that we seek to enrich ourselves at the expense of others, and God will not accept at the hands of any that which is made the means of defrauding and impoverishing another. If a number of persons with misguided.zeal were to gather about a private residence, not their own, and by imposing ceremonies offer it to God, setting it apart for sacred purposes, no one would for a moment suppose that God would accept the gift or bless the givers. The thought of an organization of enlightened, intelligent people, with public parade and imposing ceremonies, setting apart to the worship of God a building which they have not paid for, and do not own. strikes the ordinary mind as ridiculous, if not sacrilegious or profane. To those who will persist in this irreligious, or wicked course, we would recommend that to the other sins they no longer add that of attempting to deceive God. Be frank. Tell God and the community just how the matter stands, and upon what conditions it is given. Such congregations will need a new formula of dedication, and for their use we might suggest the following, recommended by Dr. J. G. Holland, and which may be slightly changed to suit the circumstances: "We dedicate this edifice to Thee, our Lord and Master; we give it to Thee and Thy cause and kingdom, subject to a mortgage of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000). We bequeath it to our children and our children's children, as the greatest boon we can confer on them (subject to the mortgage aforesaid), and we trust that they will have the grace and the money to pay the interest and lift the mortgage. Preserve it from fire and foreclosure, we pray Thee, and make it abundantly useful to Thyself - subject, of course, to the aforesaid mortgage."