Of Quotas, Qualms, and Church Unity

At the last meeting of Classis Orange City a decision was taken which is of extreme significance to the life of the Christian Reformed Church. Unfortunately, many of the delegates, and perhaps many of you who read this, view the decision as the proper means of bringing a “naughty” congregation back into line. But other, far more serious, issues are at stake here.

The history of the situation is simple. A certain congregation decided unanimously to withhold certain (not all) of its quota offerings as a form of protest, claiming that in good conscience they could not give these offerings. We do not need to go into their reasons, nor even whether those reasons are valid. The congregation is responsible before the consistory and before the Lord of the Church; not before us. But what is of concern here is Classis’ decision with respect to their decision to withhold. Classis encouraged them to change their mind, and encouraged them to protest in other ways. Both of these are within the proper boundaries of Classis’ responsibility in such a situation. But Chassis Orange City did not stop there. It adopted the following recommendation: “That (name of church) must consider her action of Withholding certain quotas as one that tends to independentism, and persistence in their procedure could seriously jeopardize her fellowship or membership in the C.R.C.”

One of the grounds adduced for this recommendation is the 1975 decision of Synod “scolding” the Toronto n consistory for withholding certain quotas. Nothing in Classis Orange City‘s grounds seriously considered the unique history of Toronto II case nor even mentioned important Synodical decisions on the matter. But even more Significantly, the underlying premise of the adopted recommendation is clearly an unbiblical one. It is that the unity of the the Church as it comes to expression in fellowship or membership in this denomination is at the heart a financial one. In this article I wish to comment on both of those issues.

First the matter of Synod‘s stand on. quota giving comes into focus. It should be clear to many that the Toronto II case is far more improved than just the withholding of quotas. Any perusal of the Acts of Synod in the years preceding 1975 will show the complexities of that case. Surely, Synod’s response in this situation cannot be considered normative for denominational policy. Rather, one must look to more complete definitive decisions of Synod on the matter under discussion.

In 1939 a committee reported to Synod that there should be a clear distinction made between quotas and assessments, noting that the latter implied forced or coerced payment. Surely this committee under· stood the implications of its recommendations, and surely Synod did as well. Therefore Synod went so far, in its recommendations of the committee, setting forth our denominational policy toward giving as being by way of quota recommendations, and not assessments. Synod rightly and properly encouraged faithful giving, no doubt aware of what irresponsible and cavalier giving could do to the planned denominational agencies and causes. Yet Synod went so far, in its efforts to safeguard against the assessment idea, as to state that a congregation’s quota delinquencies of a given year cannot be held against her the following year.

Synod itself, therefore, clearly contradicted what is now becoming an increasingly widespread tendency in our churches, namely, to view denominational and class ical quotas as non-debatable assessments. Not only is this contrary to what Synod has said; even more clearly, it is contrary to Scripture, which enjoins us to give cheerfully as the Lord has blessed us, but not to give or to force giving under compulsion, thus binding the consciences of those giving. This is clearly taught in II Corinthians 9:7.

Furthermore, we must reassert the responsibility of giving responsibly, practicing good Christian stewardship in the usage of the money we give. If a given individual congregation or believer is convinced that, in good conscience, it cannot give cheerfully to a certain cause, or that a certain organization is not wisely exercising good Christian stewardship, then not only may that individual or congregation withhold funds, but in the light of the principle of corporate responsibility, it must withhold its funds. Otherwise it incurs responsibility (corporately) for the abuse of the Lord’s money.

Secondly, however, we must clearly examine the idea of the financial basis of the unity of the Church which underlies Classis Orange City’s position. Some have argued that the privilege of denominational fellowship involves the paying of one’s quota/dues. (Notice, I have deliberately avoided using the phrase “paying quotas,” as I do not think it can be legitimately used.) Others have said the same thing, using different words. Classis Orange City, however, is more blatant when it says that withholding quotas “tends to independentism, and persistence in this procedure could seriously jeopardize . . . fellowship/membership in the C.R.C.”

Several things are involved here. First is the matter of accused independentism. To be sure, as part of the Reformed family of churches we have adopted a Reformed church polity. We do not accept a strictly congregational view of the government of Christ‘s Church.

Yet, Reformed church government clearly placed the direct authority of the Lord in the local consistory, and not in the broader assemblies. It is incredible that this principle needs to be reasserted, but it seems to be widely forgotten or ignored today. In other words, while local churches band themselves together for the purpose of hearing appeals or for issues which are of mutual concern, their authority is only a delegated one, while the direct and original authority resides with the local consistory. The conscience and stewardship of a local congregation cannot be bound or restricted. Classis may disagree, and exhort, and encourage, but she may not threaten! She simply does not have the right or the authority to do so.

But more significantly we note the assumption underlying the Orange City decision that unity in the branch of Jesus Christ called the Christian Reformed Church can be determined by whether or not giving is precisely regulated according to quota recommendations. That assumption flies in the face of all the concepts of the Church proclaimed by the Word of God and therefore taught in the creeds of the denomination. The Bible knows of no other standard for the basis of the unity of the Church than the unity of confessing “one Lord,” and “one faith” (Eph. 4:1–6). The Heidelberg Catechism recognizes this when it calls the holy catholic Church a “unity of the true faith.” The Belgic Confession says, in Art. 27, that the universal Christian Church is joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same Spirit.”

Notice that there is no mention of a basis for church unity within this confessional church other than that of “the true faith.” In fact, in its confession regarding the order and discipline of the Church, the Belgic Confession sets forth some strong words in Art. 32 which are extremely appropriate to the subject of quota compulsion. It says: “And therefore we reject all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever” (italics mine, JRS). Also, in discussing the false Church in Art. 29, it mentions some words which alert us of some presentday occurrences: “As for the false Church, it ascribes more power and authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God. it persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God and (who) rebuke it for its errors, covetousness, and idolatry.”

No, the unity of the Church, and membership within it, may in no way be determined by some assessment view of quotas. Not only is that contrary to the decision of Synod, 1939, but it is in no way acceptable by the standards of Scripture and thus of  the Creeds.

Preserving this externally-enforced unity of assessments is not a preserving of the unity of the faith,  It is, rather, a conscience-binding ploy by which God‘s people are duped into believing that they should give blindly and let someone else worry about responsible stewardship. Before the face of the Lord we affirm that both the recipient and the giver are to be responsible stewards. It is about time we recognize that.

But what about the fears of many who read this and become uneasy because “it will pull the financial rug out from under our denominational agencies?” My answer is simple. If these agencies demonstrate their wise and proper use of the Lord‘s money, the Lord will see to it that their needs are met. If they cannot demonstrate that responsible stewardship, they will surely have to do with less, or be forced to act responsibly. If they will do neither, they must close their doors.

But certainly those alternatives are not tragic, as some would have us believe! That kind of demanded responsibility is wholly proper! Agencies and committees and organizations within Christ’s Church should be willing, and able, and required to demonstrate responsible stewardship. If they cannot, they will have their “one talent” taken from them and given to him who has ten!

Denominational agencies only need fear a cutback in funds, in other words, if they are abusing their quota-ed privileges now. If so, they deserve a cut-back!

From the above it is clear that the issues involved in the Orange City decision are not limited in their effect to just one congregation or one area of the denomination. Rather, the issues involve the very nature of giving, and most importantly, the very nature of the Church, according to the Word of God and Refromed church polity.

What can and must we do about it? We can and must study the recommended quotas for each of the denominational and classical causes. We can examine their budgets, and write them letters if more information is needed. We must stop believing that Synodically set quota recommendations arc non-debatable. We must debate them by all means, remembering that we are responsible for the use of the money which the Lord has entrusted to us. But, someone will quote Church Order Article 29, “that the decisions of the assemblies shall be considered settled and binding,” thus stating that the quotas are not debatable. The answer is obvious. Synod recommends quotas. That recommendation is settled and binding. But, they do not levy taxes or assess quotas. They merely recommend them.

If, therefore, it is impossible for you to give, in good conscience, to a certain cause, then do not give to it. Inform your consistory. Write letters to the causes involved, explaining your objections and asing for a response. But do not subsidize any agency or cause which you are convinced is operating in violation of the Word of the Lord, the creeds, or the Church Order.

On the other hand, let this not become an excuse for not giving or for giving less to the cause of the Lord than is proper. Remember His clear teachings about giving: “the measure you will give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38); “Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48); (cf. also Psalm 37:21; Proverbs 21:26, 28:22, 25, 27). Rather, let us give wisely, faithfully, generously, but also responsibly, in the way the Lord Himself requires: “Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (II Cor. 9:7).

John Sittema is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Sanborn, Iowa. His article is reprinted, by permissionfrom the July 3, 1978 issue of RENEWAL.