Financing the church

How were the churches maintained financially? From the very outset the churches cared for the poor and the widows. This was true not only in the immediate circle of each congregation, but churches also came to the rescue of other churches which were suffering from special or chronic stress. Moreover, some of the apostles drew their support from their fellow-Christians. For a brief time in the first church in Jerusalem all the Christians shared in a community of goods. In that church the widows were given especial help. The Jerusalem church charged the Gentile churches to remember the poor, and in this the great missionary to the Gentiles, Paul, heartily concurred. Paul took pride in labouring with his own hands for his support, but seems to say that other apostles, including Peter, and the brothers of Jesus were maintained by the churches. Paul raised a substantial sum from the Gentile churches to aid the Christians in Judea, and directed that this was to be done by Christians setting aside something on the first day of the week, obviously, a form of systematic giving.

In the fourth century, following the precedent of the Old Testament and harking back in part to earlier Christian practice, we find the command to bring the first-fruits of the winepress, the threshing-floor, the oxen, the sheep, and other things to the priests, and to devote a tenth of one's increase to the widows, the poor, and strangers. We also read that every true prophet or teacher who came to a Christian community was to be maintained. These instructions were at least current in the East.

When, beginning with Constantine, the Church began to be shown special favour by the state, clergy were exempted from the public obligations which had become a burden on many, and donations to the Catholic Church through legacies were permitted. Constantine erected numerous church buildings in various parts of the Empire and endowed them. Later Emperors also erected churches. Before long, some of the clergy were being accused of using unworthy means to obtain legacies from the well-to-do. Before the close of the fifth century, whether through legacies or other channels, some of the churches, notably that of Rome, became the owners of large possessions, the management of which became a major problem of administration, and the income from which went in large part to the support of widows, orphans, and the poor.

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