Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Your local church: Sponsored by the National Lottery?

When the National Lottery was launched in 1994 it was met with opposition by many Christians. They viewed it as being detrimental to the lives of many people, knowing the sorrow caused to families because of the curse of gambling. The few who would become rich pales in comparison with those who find themselves caught up in the web of addiction. The catch line of 'It could be you' was meant as an enticement, giving people that hope of a win of millions and their life changed forever. It could however be more appropriately be applied to the prospect of losing all to a gambling addiction, for that could most certainly be you. The opposition of Christian churches to such a venture was justified because of the sorrow that is brought about by gambling. Surely then no church would consider using National Lottery funding as a means of supporting the Lord's work. Sadly that is not the case, for last year a number of churches in Northern Ireland chose to turn their backs on the Word of God and seek funding from the National Lottery, largely to carry out renovations and improvements to their buildings.

The Church of Ireland 
The biggest culprit in this departure from the Word of God has been the Church of Ireland which received grants totalling £538,322 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund in 2012. No doubt they may seek to mount the defence that many of their buildings are large and old and so require considerable maintenance, and that dwindling congregations cannot afford the upkeep of such properties. Since they have chosen to go down this line of using Lottery money it is likely that their congregations will continue to dwindle, for the blessing of God will not be upon them. Certainly if their congregations are not dwindling, their spiritual influence in the land certainly is. During 2012 a total of 23 Church of Ireland congregations received money from the Lottery Funds, with St Patrick Parish Church in Armoy receiving a grant on two occasions. To such a suggestion that the church should take funding from this source our response ought to be that of the Apostle Peter; 'thy money perish with thee'.

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church 
The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church also receiving funding from the Big Lottery Fund in 2012 with their congregation in Ballee receiving £4,100 for the purpose of repainting the church and organising a horticulture project. Given the prevalence of error and apostasy within that denomination, and that it was indeed born out of the rejection of God's Word, perhaps the only surprise is that only one of their congregations has gone down this road in 2012 (although some others have done so in previous years).

The Presbyterian Church 
The official position of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is that it is opposed to the National Lottery and discourages 'personal participation in this lottery and direct all agencies, congregations and projects not to accept any funding coming directly from the National Lottery'. However in 2012 the Friends of Portaferry Presbyterian Church received two Lottery Grants through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland totalling almost £30,000. Any claim that the money is not coming 'directly' to the church from the Lottery is a poor excuse as money clearly produced by gambling is being used by a Christian congregation.

Other organisation in Northern Ireland who would be considered to have a Christian ethos also received Lottery money last year including several Orange Lodges and the Link Centre in Newtownards. Several Roman Catholic churches also received Lottery funding during 2012 although we do not recognise the Church of Rome as a true Christian church. These are not new trends but for many denominations have been common practice for several years.

Of course the important question in all of this is 'what saith the scripture?' What has the Word of God to say about how money is to be acquired for the Lord's work and what are acceptable sources for that money to be obtained from. Deuteronomy 23:18 says 'Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination, unto the LORD thy God' so evidently there are conditions on the origin of any money to be used in God's service. Not only must we consider what we give to supporting the work of the Lord, but we must also take thought to how we have obtained it, for we cannot honour God with our substance unless it has been honourably and honesty acquired. To use Lottery funding, obtained through the sinfulness of gambling (though it may not be our own gambling) is clearly to step outside the bounds of scripture. Such an approach to gaining finance for the church will not bring with it the blessing of God but His curse. God's work should be financed by God's people, and not obtained from sinful sources such as the Lottery. Gambling causes sin and misery to countless households across the country, is it not then a great hypocrisy for the Church to benefit from that sin and misery?

Malachi 3:10 instructs us to 'Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it'. As God's people are moved by his Spirit to support the work, so God will bless, and supply all our needs, both spiritually and materially. Whilst the acceptance of Lottery funding is an easy way for the church to solve financial difficulties, yet it is not the scriptural way, but it is for God's people to give as the Lord has prospered them.

When Abraham met the King of Sodom after he had delivered Lot from the four kings, the King of Sodom offered him the goods that he had brought back for himself. However Abraham refused, saying 'I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich'. Abraham did not want his prosperity to be credited to the ungodly, but rather that all men would say that what he had obtained, the Lord had given him. So ought it to be with us, that we would reject the offers of financial assistance that the National Lottery and its like may offer, and that we would depend wholly upon the Lord.

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