This past week I read a news article about a church in Virginia which has adopted a new financial policy--if you don't pay what you have promised to pay, the church removes you from membership. Those who lose their membership can still worship at the church but cannot vote at church meetings, and must now pay a price for weddings and funerals.
The pastor of that church justifies its position by saying that "In the New Testament, Jesus talked more about money than he talked about salvation... When you get to the point in your life where you can give to him, then you are willing to follow him."
It is true that Jesus often spoke about money and possessions. However, Jesus warned us against devoting all our attention to earthly possessions: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed" (Luke 12:15a). Jesus wanted his listeners to realize that "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15b).
The Bible makes it clear that money and possessions are only temporary. As they say, "You can't take it with you!" Those whose lives consist solely of gathering money and possessions and living the phrase, "Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry," (Luke 12:19) will find that when their lives end, they are not prepared to meet God. All the money in the world couldn't pay for one person's sins.
It is often said that "Money can't buy happiness." Money certainly can't buy eternal happiness. Nor can anything else we do. Every human being faces an eternity of punishment for his sins, and not one person can buy his way out of that punishment through money or possessions or his own efforts. When life ends and eternity begins, money and possessions become meaningless and worthless.
God himself takes away our own worthlessness, which we have earned through our sins and disobedience. Jesus' primary message wasn't about money, but rather was about salvation and forgiveness. Jesus saved us from our worthlessness by suffering for our own sins in our place, by dying for those sins and by rising again from the grave. Jesus wants us to know that even though we could never pay for our sins by our money or by our own efforts, he has already paid for them himself so we could be freed from the punishment we deserve. Jesus came to give us unending, eternal joy in heaven.
The church exists to proclaim this message of forgiveness. Telling others about Christ must always be the most important concern of Christians. When a church becomes more interested in money than in forgiveness, that church has lost its purpose. It can be easy to lose focus on what's important--when bills need to be paid and programs funded, the money has to come from somewhere. Yet rather than attempt to extort money from its members, Christian churches must recognize that threats do not reflect God's love. Rather, when Christians see the infinite love God showed in rescuing them from their sins through Jesus, they show love back to God by returning to him some of the material blessings he has already given them, and they gladly support their churches out of a desire to get the good news of forgiveness out to others who need to hear and believe that message.