On Christian Stewardship: The Gifts of the Christians
By Francis Pieper
Translated by W. G. Polack
Published in At Home in the House of My Fathers by Matthew C. Harrison
This piece is a timeless treasure. I have rescued it from obscurity precisely at a moment when the Synod faces great financial challenges. The cost of health care has increased so much that many congregations are finding it difficult to sustain their ministries, particularly schools. This is somewhat ironic, in that we are wealthier than ever. Money was a challenge in the Church from the very beginning (2 Corinthians 8–9). The fathers of the Early Church spilled a great deal of ink on the matter, but so confused and confounded Law and Gospel that much of what they wrote is completely useless and violates the article of justification. 1
Pieper’s treatise, by contrast, is a masterpiece of biblical fidelity, rightly dividing Law and Gospel. When I was a student, someone asked Professor Kurt Marquart if pastors should preach about money. He responded, “The Bible has a great deal to say about money, so the pastor should too.” Pieper agrees.
This translation was first published as The Gifts of the Christians (Fort Wayne, Ind.: Franklin Press, 1935). The first line of the title above is my addition. —M. H.
“The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we His servants will arise and build.” Nehemiah 2:20 For the people had a mind to work. Nehemiah 4:6
IT IS REPORTED that two religious denominations of the United States never have financial difficulties. These are the Mormons and the Seventh-Day Adventists. The reason for this is said to be that these denominations have introduced the tithe. Other denominations, too, have members who have recommended the introduction of the tithe.
How do we stand on this question? We do not, to be sure, make the tithe a matter of duty and conscience for the Christians of the New Testament. To do so would be unscriptural. The tithe was God’s ordinance in the Old Testament, but it is not the divine ordinance of the New Testament. The New Testament frequently speaks of giving for Christ’s kingdom, but nowhere does it command the Christians to give the tithe. And what Christ has not commanded, the Church and the individual dare not command to others. We intend to maintain this position firmly over and against popery and the sects. We shall not permit ourselves to be deprived of the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.
On the other hand, it is also of the highest importance to be reminded not to use the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free for a cloak of sin. For although the tithe is not prescribed for us, it is and remains divine ordinance that the Christians of the New Testament give themselves to Christ with all their earthly goods, and at all times, willingly place at the disposal of His Church whatever he requires.
This is the teaching of Scripture. By faith in the Gospel, the Christians depart from the kingdom of darkness and enter into the kingdom of Christ, the Christian Church. With their entry they bring along everything that possess: body and soul with all their faculties, also their earthly goods. In the 60th chapter of his prophecy, Isaiah describes, as in a large picture, the entry of the nations into the Christian Church: “Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall fear and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you. … A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah” ([Isaiah 60:]4–6).
Surely a magnificent picture! But the Holy Spirit has painted into this magnificent, heart-stirring picture also the “financial activity.” The people who go into the Church with song and praise bring along all their earthly goods, their silver and gold. For the prophet adds: “All those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold frankincense, and they shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD” [Isaiah 60:6]; also: “For the coastlands shall hope for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from far, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the LORD your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because He has made you beautiful” [Isaiah 60:9].
At synods, I have mentioned in passing, and also written in our periodicals, that as a Church, we are also not poor in earthly possessions, because the Church possesses just as much earthly goods as the combined wealth of all its members. Many have, therefore, called me an optimist, that is, one who sees everything from the bright side. But this optimistic view that the Church possesses as much as all its members taken together is entirely scriptural and is plainly shown in the above-mentioned quotations from Isaiah’s prophecy.
The situation is this: The Christians, as such, are willing to place themselves and all their wealth into the service of the Church, and at all times to give to the Savior whatever He wants. We can say with Luther: In our days, too, many are more than willing to serve their Savior with their earthly possessions. We know of instances in which not only a tenth of the income is given, but twenty-five percent. We have among us such as tithe of their own free will, also such as give eleven percent—in order to distinguish themselves from the Jews—as well as such as have said: “Everything that I make in my business shall be placed into the service of my Savior.”
Many weaknesses cling to the Christians, but as far as they are Christians or new creatures, they give themselves without reserve, with all they possess—also their earthly goods—to their Savior. A St. Louis businessman who died a few years ago said, “I conduct my business for my Savior.” And he not only said this, but he acted accordingly.
Of course, the Christians are not wholly spiritual, but still have their evil flesh. And according to the flesh, they are miserly and always seek to withhold from Christ what He needs for His kingdom. When the Lord lets them know that in connection with His entry into the world, He has need of their colt, they perhaps permit their flesh to have the first word and inform Him that they have need of their colt themselves. And in many instances, the flesh keeps the last word in the matter. The Lord, who shed His blood for His own, cannot obtain from such the requested colt. The flesh of the Christians, too, is just that evil and mean. For this reason, the Spirit must needs be strengthened continually through the Gospel in order to destroy the works of the flesh. And the old man must needs be bridled outwardly by means of threats and punishment, so that the works of the Spirit may not be hindered overmuch.