How should churches assist one another worldwide? This article discusses mission and financial support worldwide.

Source: De Reformatie. 7 pages. Translated by Albert H. Oosterhoff.

Nobility Obligates - Paul about Ecumenical Assistance

More and more mission work is developing into a form of economic assistance. That does not mean that there is no longer any room for traditional missionary activity. Rather, traditional missionary activity (church planting) was blessed and gave rise to ecclesiastical relationships worldwide. Churches are connected to each other. This connection demands that they help each other by using the abundance of the one to relieve the shortfalls of the other. This is an enormous challenge that is coupled with a gamut of problems. Modern churches cannot avoid the challenge and are obliged to address the problems carefully and in a well-founded way. Local churches should also be very aware of this ecumenical task; to the glory of God.

Ecumenicity is Missiological🔗

The first instance of ecumenical1 assistance, the recruitment of sponsors, was described by Paul, the missionary. This immediately makes clear the degree to which mission and ecumenicity are extensions of each other. Ecumenicity is missiological. We did not and do not plant churches in isolation among native people and leave them to fend for themselves within the tribal or national boundaries. No, churches are planted in the wide world of God, in his oikoumenè, connected not only to Christ, but to his entire worldwide body. Local churches do not hide themselves in a local culture. They also do not nourish themselves in the shrill sun of the self and its variants.2 They nourish themselves in the sun of God’s righteousness, which connects everyone to everyone and everything, worldwide: Corinth greets Jerusalem, Jerusalem greets Antioch, Antioch greets Thessalonica!

A Logical Pattern🔗

Nowhere does the Bible turn this connection into a problem. Rather, the connection is revealed as a logical pattern in the lives of the first churches after Pentecost. Each new church shares in the infrastructure that is necessary for the spread of the gospel, the growth of the churches in the world, and their maintenance. This connection also links the fate of the different churches. It was determined that the Jerusalem church was needy and so elsewhere collections were held to assuage this need. Paul instructs the churches in Achaia and Macedonia that had just been planted, about their ecumenical task and that begins the assistance. This is interesting, since it is typically today for older churches to help younger churches. But it was the reverse then.

In Imitation of Christ🔗

Paul does not have to give a long explanation in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 to describe the responsibility that attaches to the worldwide connection. He begins by pointing to the example of Jesus Christ, who “for your sakes…became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich”. He expects acts of service, willingness, readiness, generosity, cheerfulness, and a genuine faith. All words that demand a right attitude, disposition, and experience — in imitation of Christ

Kingdom Motives🔗

Paul also uses words that give the right motives for ecumenical assistance. These words have a serious tone, the ring of the kingdom: equality, righteousness, and obedience. Do these words still speak sufficiently to us to motivate us to engage in ecumenical action? To determine this, I shall review each of them and end with a much used (and also misused) concept in the framework of ecumenical relationships, referred to here by Paul: reciprocity (2 Cor. 8:14). After this I shall switch to our present time and our problems, so that we will get a clear and emphatic understanding of our ecumenical task.


2 Corinthians 8:14 says (I quote from the King James Version, which perhaps renders the original Greek best, in preference to some modern translations, which do not use the word “equality”, but see NIV, vv. 13 and 14): “But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality”.

That word equality challenges us. “…by an equality… that there may be equality”. The first equality presses forward to the second. The second equality overcomes an observed inequality, namely, of abundance here and a shortfall elsewhere.3 The first equality can point to being “one in Christ”, that is, the equality of people who have accepted Christ and the equality of church communities in relation to each other. Christ brings people and groups of people together, who are very unequal. Their encounter is not like one in a public square, where everyone walks past each other and people only glance at each other with interest. Christ brings those who are unequal together in his kingdom. He confers the same status on all and makes them citizens of one kingdom. This nobility compels action: noblesse oblige. The pre-existing inequality does not disappear within that kingdom equality. However, it does cause a movement from the one to the other. The equality in Christ initiates a movement that attempts to ensure that this equality also leads to equality in other contexts! The equality in Christ does not permit inequality to exist in the basic needs of human and ecclesiastical life. We see this process of “becoming equal”4  beginning after Pentecost, as described in Acts 2. When people become aware of the equality in Christ, they are motivated to become willing, obliging, and generous. It constitutes the correct basis and creates the right atmosphere for mutual ecumenical assistance. And then the financial help for Jerusalem is sure to materialize, even though Paul does have to get things started and has to draw attention to what needs to be done. And that is what he does.


Paul uses this word in chapter 9 and this is understandable in the context. When you search for a good balance, an honest division and use of God’s gifts, for a well-considered “‘sharing of resources”,5 you are not doing this solely as a matter of love and mercy. It is also a matter of justice and righteousness, a concept which we shall give closer attention to shortly. Paul calls ecumenical assistance between churches a matter of righteousness in chapter 9:9 and 10: “As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ Now may he who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness”.

Paul likes the word “righteousness”. The word has a keen edge to it, it is gospel-keen. It makes us focus on the implications of our faith. Let us also, in imitation of Paul, emphatically call ecumenical assistance a matter of righteousness. For as he also says in Romans 6: 7, 13, having “been freed from sin… offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness”. Assistance between churches is a matter of justice and entitlement. A local church may rightly be expectant because it is incorporated into the worldwide body of Christ. Jerusalem is entitled to rely on you there in Macedonia and Achaia!


Paul does not come down hard on his hearers (“I am not commanding you…” He does not want to make it hard on them and does not want to extort a gift from them). But his message in Romans 8 and 9 is clear. “Righteousness”, testing “the sincerity of your love”, “generosity”, “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly”. You would have to be terribly dense if you should respond to this appeal by saying, ‘Sorry Paul, just cannot do it now”. Especially since Paul also places ecumenical assistance under the heading of Christian obedience, another word from which we, who have been adopted by God’s grace as his children, cannot escape. For in 2 Corinthians 9:13 Paul characterizes this assistance as “the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ”. Moreover, and this is striking, how the recipients understood the gift of assistance, and they appreciated that the givers understood what the gospel of Christ involves.


This is how, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, ecclesiastical ecumenical relationships began in the early church. Although ecumenical assistance often appears superficially to be one-directional (and, indeed, in a material sense it often is), Paul also uses another characteristic word for true ecumenicity, namely, it is a matter of reciprocity6 (2 Cor 8:14). One-sided material assistance serves a many-sided spiritual interest: the testing of faith, living in obedience, practising righteousness, the sanctification of life, sharing generously. It all leads to prayers of thanksgiving for each other, of giving thanks to God, and a feeling of being surrounded by love because the gospel of Christ is being confessed, understood, and applied. Everyone who is involved in ecumenical assistance, both the givers and the recipients, learn to say and to sing “this God is our God” (Ps. 48:14).

Abuse and Fraud — the Importance of a Good Institutional Scheme🔗

Did Paul close his eyes to possible abuse of the proffered assistance; does he not see the traps that exist? For example, will this gift not affect the strength of faith of the church in Jerusalem? Does Paul not know how much can go wrong before the eyes of the Lord, but also before the eyes of people? Paul knows very well the many things that can go wrong when it comes to money. But the spiritual significance of the assistance is greater than the fear of fraud and corruption. We could easily fall into sin if we buried our gifts and talents because of such fear. Paul is very conscious of the danger of abuse and slurs. That is why he lays down the rules for the assistance very carefully. Not because he does not trust people, but because he knows the human heart very well. After all, it is he who stated, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). And so, since a lot of money is being transferred back and forth between people and churches, he demonstrates that he truly takes the reality of sin within Christian communities seriously. The passage in 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 shows us that Paul is a good coordinator and a knowledgeable manager. He lays down rules and administers carefully, and takes preventive measures. He uses three trusted brothers (Titus and two others) to receive and manage the moneys. Not only on behalf of Paul. Rather, he carefully creates an institutional framework for this project. For the two other brothers have an ecclesiastical status (see v. 23), as “representatives of the churches”. In addition, they are described as “an honour to Christ” and this underscores the official nature of their work and perhaps also reminds them of the extent of their responsibility. For if you are introduced as ‘an honor to Christ’, you will think twice before you misapply the funds that have been entrusted to you. In this way Paul carefully regulates this assistance. It is thoughtful, realistic, and ecclesiastical (that is, not connected to himself). He makes his reasons clear in 2 Corinthians 8:20-21: “‘We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.”

Our Time🔗

The time in which we live is more complex than Paul’s time. Jerusalem is not Lumbubashi and Calgary is not Corinth. Then it was an assistance within the one known world. At that time people did not talk about the global rift7 that we are familiar with. Today there are numerous complicating factors. Complexity and innumerable so-called traps can lead to a great desire to impose rules on the one hand, or to a feeling of despair and powerlessness on the other. The practical recalcitrance, the oft-recognized relative inferiority of ecclesiastical organizations, the temptations associated with large sums of money in what is typically a very poor society (in which fraud, abuse, and corruption are often part of the culture), all of which are generally coupled with complicating social (familial) structures, make many forms of financial assistance to sister churches in our time an extremely vulnerable undertaking, a risky ()venture. Disappointments caused by sin and breach of trust must not cause us to give up and water down the wine of the kingdom. For also in this kingdom the golden rule is that abuse will be punished. Because of all these factors, today’s ecumenical assistance demands extra care, wisdom, patience, sincerity, faith, and love.

Good and realistic ecclesiastical structures are also necessary.8 Paul proves that faith and trust must go hand in hand with effective control and clear arrangements. But please let us not use the difficulties associated with this to neglect fulfilling our ecumenical calling. For sincere and committed Christians cannot neglect their calling because of equality, righteousness, and obedience. In Christ, those matters always remain central. And they continue to fascinate and stimulate us in our time to regulate ecumenical assistance well. Paul challenges us also today (because of the inexpressible gift of God!), out of our economic abundance, to manage our ecumenical responsibility also in a financial sense candidly and carefully, as it is written, “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little”.


  1. ^ I am not using the word ecumenical in the sense of striving for unity, but rather as an indicator of the worldwide connection of churches in the apostolic doctrine, as described beautifully by Lenze Bouwers in Hymn 2 in the line: I believe a church that is connected throughout the world in doctrine and in life.
  2. ^ In the way that was profiled and proclaimed, for example, in the theory of the Three Selves.
  3. ^ In the way that was profiled and proclaimed, for example, in the theory of the Three Selves.
  4. ^ The ESV does not speak of equality, but of fairness.
  5. ^ This phrase was developed as part of the policy of the World Council of Churches. “Guidelines for Sharing” were proposed at the World Consultation on Ecumenical Sharing of Resources (El Escorial, Spain, 1987). The Guidelines begin as follows: “Out of abundant and outgoing love, God has created the world, and has given it to all humanity for faithful use and sharing. As recipients of God’s gift of life, we are called to see the world through God’s eyes, offering it in blessing through our own acts of love, sharing and appropriate use. . . . The new life given by the Holy Spirit in Christ creates us as a new people members of one body, bearing one another’s burdens and sharing together in God’s gift of life for all”.
  6. ^ We shall soon give special attention in these articles to the term reciprocity and the similar term used by those active in international ecclesiastical cooperation (mutuality).
  7. ^ Global Rift is a term used to denote the enormous social and economic differences, the deep chasm that separates countries (but also churches) financially and economically today. See B. van der Lugt, “Globalisering en Missiologie” in Radix (28-3, pp. 185-99, 2000). It is this global rift that in many cases ineluctably causes a more conspicuous and poignant asymmetry in ecclesiastical relationships. See also endnote 2.
  8. ^ To achieve that, more attention is being given to programs for institutional strengthening (a pillar of Capacity Development and Good Governance, terms that are used around the world in the framework of international cooperation), also in connection with good ecclesiastical relationships.

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