Planned Giving as a Christian Duty

Alan D. Strange

Ordained Servant: May 2024

Planned Giving

Also in this issue

Seeing Red

The Voice of the Good Shepherd: Develop Your Whole Person, Chapter 14[1]

Chrysostom on the Ministry: A Review Article

Spiritual Warfare for the Care of Souls, by Harold Ristau

Passio Jesu
On Buxtehude, Membra Jesu Nostri

I have been asked to write on Christian planned giving. This assignment, then, has in view how we as believers use our money, especially when it comes to financial and estate planning that may be part of an established trust or some other arrangement in our wills that makes sure our monies continue to work for kingdom causes, particularly the church and her agencies. I claim no expertise on the mechanics of such. What I write here should not be taken as any specific financial advice but rather as a biblical, theological, and historical look at how and why Christians should give of their resources, especially their financial ones, to the church.

While “planned giving,” at least the giving ordinarily indicated by the use of that couplet, is quite appropriate for Christians as they think about how to get the most out of their estate for the sake of the kingdom, it is appropriate for all giving to enjoy a measure of planning. In other words, Christians should determine regular giving patterns, increasing that amount as they have an opportunity, and not allow giving to be a thoughtless, “I’ll throw a couple of bucks into the collection plate.” I do not believe that the tithe is binding in the New Testament.[1] Still, I think that one’s giving in this era ought to be as generous as is reasonable given one’s income and worth, and it should include both regular giving and spontaneous giving, at times, all in keeping with being a “cheerful giver.”

The Committee on Coordination has asked Keith LeMahieu to help the Orthodox Presbyterian Church with planned giving. Those with specific questions about this and seeking to follow appropriate giving procedures should contact him. He will also help those interested in working with the Christian planned giving organization, the Barnabas Foundation.[2] What I will endeavor to do in this essay is not Keith’s work—I lack the competence for that—but to examine the biblical call to stewardship, the challenge that comes to all of us who have received, as we have, all things in Christ, “in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Christ, we all joyfully confess, gave his all, holding back nothing, and we must give our souls, our lives, our all, as stewards of all the good gifts that God has so freely given to us (Rom. 8:32)

When we think about being stewards, we think about properly husbanding and using our resources. And we know from Romans 12:1–2 that our giving is to be unstinting, holding back nothing. As we often say, we are to give ourselves, our very persons, all that we are and have. We often put this in terms like this: we are to give to God, who has given all to us, freely of our time, treasures, and talents. Before unpacking more of this imperative that is ours—to give ourselves entirely to God and our neighbor, as the very expression of love to which we are called—we should first think of the indicative that serves as our motive to do so. In other words, the basis for all our giving is what God has given to us, particularly what God has given to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Citing Romans 12, as I did above, calls to mind what commentators point out about that great imperative that is ours in that passage, to present even our “bodies as a living sacrifice.” If we are to present ourselves to God in this fashion, it means that we are to give ourselves in the totality of our beings to God as our worship of him. On what basis does Paul make this remarkable appeal to give ourselves to our God? He dares to call us to such remarkable sacrifice based on the “mercies of God,” all Christ has done for us, as Paul has discussed thus far in the first eleven chapters of Romans.

We might say, in summing up Paul’s message in those chapters, that he discourses on how, though we are miserable sinners deserving judgment and death, God was pleased by the active and passive obedience of Christ to renew us, to grant us faith and repentance by the work of the Spirit, and to apply all the merits and mediation of Christ to us so that we are justified, adopted, sanctified, experience perseverance in all trials, and finally, are glorified. The Spirit applies all the merits and mediation of Christ to God’s elect, among Israel and the nations, all to the glory of our Triune God.

As noted above, we must give him all our time, treasure, and talent. With respect to our time, we are to labor six days and to remember and sanctify the seventh (now observed on the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day), emblematic that all our time is his, in labor, recreation, worship, etc. The older writers used to say that a sabbath well spent is a week well begun, presaging the spending of all our time in joyful service to him. Similarly, all the talents and gifts that he has endowed us with are to be used in his service and for his glory, both in the general office of believer and the special offices of deacon, elder, and minister within the church, as well as in all the particular pursuits and occupations held by believers as they live their lives (in the professions, the guilds, as homemakers, etc.). So whether we are exercising the gifts that God has given us on the six days in our various vocations or more directly in his service on the Lord’s Day, we are to do all for the good of all, especially the household of faith, and the glory of Christ.

And then there is our treasure, the monies and other valuables (lands, businesses, etc.), which the Lord has empowered us to obtain or blessed us to have. Ordinary ways we properly obtain money or other valuables are by inheritance, gift, or earning it by the sweat of our brow, whether through manual labor, professional work, etc. We are not to steal, Paul says in Ephesians 4:28, which would include all the illegitimate ways to receive money. In other words, we are not to be self-centered takers any longer, as we characteristically are in the flesh, but productive givers who not only refrain from taking what is not ours but also earn enough to care for our families, and even enough to give to others who may be in need. This was so the case in the Jerusalem community that the early church had a communal pot, as it were, in which monies would be put (Acts 2:44–45), supplied by things like selling land, so that all the saints in Jerusalem might share in the good things of the Lord and have no want, with sufficient food, clothing, shelter, etc., for all.

Whether or not we have that sort of common pot—for many reasons, and in most places, God’s people have not chosen to live precisely in that fashion—we are to ensure that all in the household of faith have enough (Gal. 6:10). This does not mean that the church should support those in it who are fully capable of providing for themselves and their families (2 Thess. 3:10–12), but that those with genuine needs, whether widows, orphans, disabled, impecunious through persecution, etc., should be cared for (1 Tim. 5). No small part of this caring for all, and we may say a central part, is properly providing for those called to minister among God’s people (1 Cor. 9:7–12).

Paul makes it clear that those who minister should live out of what is provided to them as ministers and have a right to do so. That those who minister should be properly provided for both in their years of active service and thereafter in their retirement (as was the case with the Levites) has come more into view in recent years in the OPC. We have a pension fund to help secure such a system, and the newly minted Committee on Ministerial Care spends the bulk of its time seeking to ensure that ministers receive proper financial and other care both during and after their ministries. Resources like the Obadiah Fund, which is currently being further capitalized, help with ministers whose retirement resources are inadequate. The CMC can be contacted for further information in this respect, as well as other committees like Coordination, as noted above.

It should be noted here, as just intimated, that the imperative to give, particularly for the support of the church’s ministers, whether as pastors, teachers, missionaries, etc., is not new, i.e., something peculiar to the New Testament. Of old, God’s people were called both to care for each other, especially the most vulnerable and needy, with gleaning laws, a poor tithe, sabbath and jubilee laws, etc.; they were also called to care for the clerical class, the Aaronic priesthood particularly and the Levites more broadly (seen throughout Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.). The Levites had no land inheritance, in fact, and did not tithe but lived off the tithe. Ministers are to continue to live off the giving of God’s people—the Westminster Form of Presbyterial Government notes that evangelical ministers are, in that sense, and other respects, the New Testament version of the Old Testament priesthood. This is why Nehemiah was so exercised upon the return from captivity when, once again, the care of the Levites fell into desuetude, and they suffered neglect and abuse (Neh. 13).

While a committee like Christian Education may use giving to produce hymnals and other Christian materials, no small part of giving to the church, more broadly, including planned giving, should be set aside for personnel, i.e., ministers serving in various ministry settings. Giving to the Committees on Home Missions and Foreign Missions, for example, is about church planting or getting missionaries to the field and supporting them there, all of which involve the support of personnel. We in the OPC do not think that buildings and real property are evil because they are material; rather, they are good gifts of God to be used for the edification of the saints and the glory of the Savior. Yet, nothing is more important than the support of personnel, because nothing is more important here below than people, those made in God’s image.

Of all the things the church cares about, she cares the most for her people, those who are ministers, and those who are members. We are thankful for buildings, books, programs, and everything that enables us to serve our Savior. But nothing will ever be more important to us than the church's people. As Paul notes, God’s call not to muzzle the ox is not ultimately about oxen (1 Cor. 9:9). Yes, God cares for all the creation, but no part of it more so than for those for whom Jesus lived and died. This is why we must be giving to support ministers, whether in our local churches, in their retirement, in church planting, or on the foreign mission fields. This is one of the most important reasons for our giving.

Truthfully, if Christians gave as they ought to give, we would be able to fully support local ministries (no need for bi-vocational ministry) and have a vigorous program of church planting and supplying our foreign mission fields. With respect to that last point, it is the case that something more is needed, especially these days for the foreign mission fields: we need gifted men willing to answer the call to preach abroad as well as at home. There are doubtless many reasons, fear perhaps serving as no small factor in the 9/11 and post-COVID world, for the reluctance of men to serve as foreign missionaries, including even the misapprehension of the younger generation that such is no longer needed given the digital world. But “virtual” missionaries and AI will not do it; we need men to go to the field. Douglas Clawson can flesh this out for those interested, and I urge readers strongly to consider the call to serve on the foreign mission field. So we need more than money for the church to do its work. But we never need less than money (or less money).

We often hear the church commended, particularly in the aftermath of what is deemed a good Thank Offering, for its generosity. The giving of some, indeed, is exemplary and should be commended. So, too, with the stewardship of time and gifts for some. But most in the church could, frankly, do better. We need more of Christ’s church to give of their time, treasure, and talent, and while some are giving a great deal, many are giving little comparatively (remember, giving is to be in accordance with what we have; hence the extravagance of the “widow’s mite,” Luke 21:1–4).

I am reminded of a debate in a sister church about establishing a committee to support missions; some had raised the question of whether the church could afford it. A good brother gave a wonderful speech supporting it, noting the sort of cars in the parking lot at church and the sort of homes that parishioners lived in. He affirmed that, indeed, given the wealth that he saw in some of our churches, giving to the church should be far more than it is. He was right then and now. We can do much better in giving and planned giving to the church. We need to encourage one another in our giving.

I would argue, as did Charles Hodge in the nineteenth century, that we need to give to a churchwide fund to ensure that the gospel is preached everywhere: in the urban settings, as well as the suburban and rural ones. Hodge noted that in the Free Church of Scotland, which came into being when a number of churches left the established church because of its corruption (in 1843), one of its noble commitments was the Sustentation Fund for ministers in that church. The problem that the Fund sought to address was a perennial one: ministers in large churches had more than enough, and those in smaller churches often went lacking monetarily. The purpose of the Sustentation Fund was to encourage all the churches to give so that those in smaller churches would have enough.

In other words, the purpose of the fund was, if not to eliminate salary inequity, to at least minimize such, with the ultimate goal of achieving or coming close to salary parity. This concern about ministerial salary inequity was not absent from the American scene. Charles Hodge had such a concern, perhaps fueled partly by his Free Church contacts. It was so important, in fact, to Hodge, that when he preached the opening sermon of the 1847 General Assembly, as was the custom for the moderator of the previous Assembly—he had been the moderator of the 1846 General Assembly—he chose as his text 1 Corinthians 9:14, “Even so hath God ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel”[3] (KJV), arguing from the text that, among other things, the whole church ought to support its pastors as it did its missionaries.

Writing twenty years later about this, when his synod (of New Jersey) was addressing the matter, Hodge noted,

One reason assigned for the fact that so many ministers, well qualified for the sacred office, were destitute of regular employment, was the insufficiency of support. Many of them had been forced to leave their fields of labor because they could not sustain themselves and families upon the salaries which they received.[4]

Hodge argued that leaving the support of churches solely up to particular churches “cripples the energy of the church, and prevents its progress. Churches begun and cherished for a while are abandoned; promising fields are neglected, and to a large extent the poor have not the gospel preached to them.”[5]

Have things changed much among us? Hodge continues, “It is the crying sin and reproach of the Presbyterian Church that it does not preach the gospel to the poor. It cannot do so to any great extent or with real efficiency” if the burden for such must fall solely on the local situation in all cases. “What provision,” he plaintively asks, “have we for preaching to the destitute? . . . Something must be done to rescue our church from this reproach and to enable her to do her part in preaching the gospel to all people.”[6] In Hodge’s day, especially those in remote rural areas suffered; in ours, it tends to be the urban poor who lack solid gospel preaching.

At the present time, of course, in our home missions program in the OPC, church planters receive support from both the presbytery and the denomination over the first four years or so of new mission work. There is a decrease each year in the amount of support received. However, there are some works in impoverished areas that cannot support themselves after four years. We could continue to support them (and the OPC has done this in some cases) beyond the four years. In some cases, organized churches remain, or may become, so impoverished that they can never pay a minister a living wage. Should we not be willing as a whole church to help those churches, even stateside, that cannot help their pastors?

Not only does the early Jerusalem church furnish us with a good example of saints making sure that all needs are met, but so does Paul’s fervent commitment to the Jerusalem Collection (2 Cor. 9). Paul’s zeal for the whole church to give its support to a part, perhaps far removed from those giving support, but in need, moved him to dedicate much energy to the gathering and delivering of a collection to Jerusalem, further evidence that we should be caring for the church universal, not only with our prayers but with our pocketbooks.

What is to be done to bring the gospel to those who cannot afford to support a Reformed minister among them? What about churches, whether OPC or other NAPARC members, established in remote areas with no other Reformed churches around for hours that cannot afford to pay their minister a living wage because they have only thirty or forty members? Such churches cannot combine with another church. Should they simply close? Perhaps we need something like a Sustentation Fund now more than ever. Our resistance to such might reflect a church culturally (and economically) captive to misguided capitalism, in which we figure that churches that cannot support themselves have no right to exist.

I realize that this might be thought in missions (home and foreign) to contravene the three-self principle (Venn’s and Nevius’s insistence that churches ought to become self-governing, self-sustaining, and self-propagating). But are there no places in the world, including in this country, where the Reformed church needs to go and establish a witness to Christ that may never be able to sustain a minister because of its great poverty? Should we not help? We give diaconal support to needy Christians. However, this is not ultimately a diaconal matter because ministers’ salaries are not a matter of benevolence but are owed to them, as the ox that treads the corn is not to be muzzled. We can easily dismiss such concerns if we view the church as a market economy and take a laissez-faire approach. However, we should not view Christ’s church under this rubric. Thomas Chalmers in nineteenth-century Scotland did not think so (he was the founder and a champion of the Sustentation Fund) and neither did Hodge in nineteenth-century America. Maybe our model needs further adjustment in twenty-first century America, and we need to be more concerned with supporting the entire church.

The point is that there is a lot to support in our churches, far more than we presently do. And so we should get busy giving more now and engaging in planned giving so that, after we’re gone, the church in all her ministries, and particularly her personnel, might continue to receive due support. The concern of Christians in general, and members of the OPC in particular, should be “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, until the end of the world” (WCF 25.3). What does the church need to do this? She needs all the time, treasure, and talents of her members dedicated to the Great Commission. As our culture continues to darken, the church does not need its focus dissipated with the fleshly pursuits of mere Christendom or Christian Nationalism: she needs her members to give regularly, including planned giving, and in all the ways needed for the gospel to go to the whole world with the message of life and hope in Christ alone.


[1] Iain Duguid, Should Christians Tithe?: Excelling in the Grace of Giving (St. Colme’s Press, 2018). Duguid helps guide us in the grace of giving in the New Testament era in which the tithe, as such, no longer binds. However, our giving should be no less in the time of gospel fulfillment than it was during the time of gospel foreshadowing.

[2] For information from Keith LeMahieu or about the Barnabas Foundation, see New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (April 2024), 20, 24. See also https://opc.org/planned_giving.html.

[3] Reported on by Hodge himself in his article, “The General Assembly,” The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 19.3 (July 1847), 396. In this same issue of the BRPR, Hodge wrote Article 3, “The Support of the Clergy,” on Thomas Chalmer’s description of and appeal for the Sustentation Fund, 360–78.

[4] Charles Hodge, “Sustentation Fund,” Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, 38.1 (January 1866), 1.

[5] Hodge, “Sustentation Fund,” 4.

[6] Hodge, “Sustentation Fund,” 4–5.

Alan D. Strange is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as professor of church history and theological librarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana, and is associate pastor of First OPC in South Holland, Illinois. Ordained Servant Online, May, 2024.

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Ordained Servant: May 2024

Planned Giving

Also in this issue

Seeing Red

The Voice of the Good Shepherd: Develop Your Whole Person, Chapter 14[1]

Chrysostom on the Ministry: A Review Article

Spiritual Warfare for the Care of Souls, by Harold Ristau

Passio Jesu
On Buxtehude, Membra Jesu Nostri

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