Girardeau's "voluntary associations"

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Puritan Board Sophomore
This morning I was reading J.L. Girardeau’s 1881 article in The Southern Presbyterian Review, The Importance of the Office of Deacon. It’s a fantastic article and very helpful, though there are references that appear to be contemporary issues in his day that I am unfamiliar with. For example, Girardeau writes of the duty of the deacons to collect money for church purposes. He then mentions voluntary associations of church members involved in the efforts to collect money “for the purpose of assisting in the pecuniary support of ecclesiastical enterprises and institutions”. He then states this:

…whenever voluntary organized associations, or temporary combinations of effort, contemplating the collection of money for church purposes, are substituted for, or come into conflict with, the legitimate functions of deacons as the divinely appointed collectors of money for ecclesiastical ends, they are to be considered unwarranted by the word of God as interpreted in our standards. That there is more than a fancied danger among us of the violation of this indispensable principle, will be denied by no candid Presbyterian who reflects upon the current events of the Church. It becomes all, therefore, who love the order of Christ’s house and ardently desire to see the practice of our beloved Zion conformed to his appointments, to guard against this evil by the use of all the means which God has placed in their power.
This prompts me to ask four questions.

1. What were the “current events” Girardeau refers to?
2. Is his principle sound?
3. Are there modern examples of associations that violate Girardeau’s principle? Which ones?
4. What is the church’s duty toward these associations?

Edit: Here's the link to the full article.
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Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
1. He might be lamenting the church's low estate, and that in a socially degraded society, an impoverished society, many fresh needs arisen. Recall how the South--even Charleston in particular--was devastated by the war (1861-65) barely a decade-and-a-half earlier, and then again by Reconstruction (which was just post-war inflictions, not magnanimity from the North).

Thus, it stands to reason that go-getters, people with aims (and resources); and thinking the churchmen don't see, or are too busy with other problems; or else the organizers don't want to cede control of some fix they have in mind, and the resources involved, to a different group of men (I.e. deacons)--those are some instances and events that could give rise to the "voluntary societies" and expedient means contemplated.

Some of these could be a good and reasonable response to the great needs seen around them. But--and this speaks to 2.--Girardeau is surely correct to note that there are potential problems with some, or possibly even a great many of these enterprises, when they are further and further disconnected from the church-institution. That is, when they actually usurp church function, draw away its resources, and even posture as "the church" doing missions, but are not actually connected to its governance, oversight, and discipline.

3. There are some para-church agencies in our own time that posit themselves variously as indispensable to the church, as superior to the church (for some self-styled mission), as vital to Christians' well-being or happiness, to social good, and such. Those tend to have cross-denominational appeal, advertising in many "ecclesiastical markets" for a share of resources.

But one might also find, in a large-enough congregation or denomination, a focused appeal by an internal group. We have to be careful to evaluate all such associations case-by-case, looking at their stated aims, their doctrinal basis, etc. The organization in the old PCUS, Concerned Presbyterians, drew together like-minded people interested in the liberal drift of that church. Publications, meetings, organization always costs something; so should people send money to them? How much? Does their local congregation need that money? Does the denomination deserve that/some/any support?

Girardeau's big concerns look as though they have to do with moving mercy-ministry out from under the church's umbrella. "Progressive" mindset tends to favor the putative efficiencies and management skill of central control. Several soup-kitchens in a small city is "frittering away" possibilities; so let all the churches (of whatever doctrines) just give their soup-kitchen $$$ to this doctrinally minimalist crew, and they will run one big operation, and each church can send their volunteers along.

That kind of sales-pitch sounds really good to plenty of religious types. They tell themselves that efficiency is the highest (practical) good, because now the $$$ saved can be used to make other services broader or more efficient. Maybe the town didn't need the six soup-kitchens they had. But, maybe each of those churches needed to have its own anyway. The second possibility isn't much considered.

4. Just one man's opinion: but the church doesn't owe the para-church anything. They are voluntary, and the church may need to guide its members in finding out what is the real deal with some of them. If there is a national or international organization with a slick marketing campaign, alarmist letter-writing, CEOs and board members living lavishly, all on the tithes of lots of grandmas' meager SS checks, the church should be warning people about that.

Then, maybe one of several organizations out there trying to put Bibles in the hands of millions of people (presently without) are doing a praiseworthy, and $$$-worthy service. The church can take up special offerings for the organizations and missions that they believe in. I don't think they should tell people not to give as their conscience directs; but they do have an obligation to help their member's consciences, to give advice, and to warn.

People should know the difference between ministry, which is the church's exclusive business; and good works. For my part (this is my opinion), there is no such thing as a "parachurch ministry." That's an oxymoron. It isn't the church, ergo it's not ministry. If it claims to be ministry, then presumably it's claiming to be "a" church, or "the" church. If it is, then where is it offering Word-and-sacrament? And it shouldn't point me to "employees' churches," unless that church's leadership exercises direct control of the organization; in which case it's no longer "parachurch." And giving to that group is literal support of that church, and ITS ministry.

The church can and should be in support of "good works" of all kinds, only let them be either ministry, and call the members to first support the church in its principal functions; or let them be the private interests of the people, in doing good to all by all lawful means, the church in its corporate-voluntary capacity deciding if and when it also might give such support. But as for a "duty" to external services, there is none.


Puritan Board Sophomore
I hadn't considered that the context might be the war-devastated South. Girardeau seems to have a specific incident or incidents in mind. He also distinguishes earlier in the article between giving and making money, and the collection of it. It is apparently the collection of money that concerns him, which seems oddly specific. This is what leads me to think there was a particular circumstance or occurrence(s) that is behind his statement.


Tempus faciendi, Domine.
Will have to look closer at this, but Girardeau's statements may be the background to an action by the Southern Presbyterian Church just a few years later, an action which then almost a 100 years later finds its way into an action by a PCA General Assembly:

Fund Raising Policy
[Minutes of the Fourth General Assembly (1976), 4-74, Item 5, page 80.]

Whereas, some of our churches have begun to conduct bazaars, rummage sales, suppers, and other benefits for the purpose of raising money for the Lord's work, and,

Whereas, in the light of these events it is best to set these benefit programs in their proper perspective based on principles of Scripture, and

Whereas, Jesus cast the money changers out of the Temple, saying, "Make not my Father's house an house of merchandise" (John 2:16),

Now, therefore, be it resolved: That the Fourth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America advise its members and churches as follows:

a. The Lord has ordained that giving should be an act of worship and thus a means of grace.

b. God has revealed in His Word that His kingdom on earth is to be supported by the cheerful, willing and loving tithes and sacrificial offerings of His children.

c. Commercial activities such as suppers, bazaars, rummage sales, etc., held primarily to raise money are improper activities for the Church.

d. Commercial activities designed primarily to provide a ministry such as a bookstore, are proper Church activities.

e. Neither the Church, nor any organization of the Church should sponsor such benefit promotions which have as a primary purpose raising money for the support of the Lord's work.

[Editor's note: The above fund raising policy was first presented in a Report before the Third General Assembly (1975) by the Committee on Administration, as Item 15, which was then recommitted to the Permanent Committee on Administration for further perfecting of the recommendation. [M3GA, 3-65, Item 15, p. 78].
Note too that in the above policy, the PCA has followed earlier resolutions found in the PCUS, namely:

1888, p. 402.
Whereas it appears to have become quite common for our people to secure money for church purposes by concerts, suppers, etc, be it—
Resolved, That the General Assembly advise against all such means for securing money to be used in the Master's work. This advice is given because we believe that the Lord has ordained that giving should be an act of worship, and thus a means of grace.

1891, p. 260; 1916, p. 19
[similar actions.]

1953, p. 60
. [Previous actions cited.] Pastors and Sessions are urged to follow consistently the policy which has been approved by the General Assembly and which is set forth in our Book of Church Order [see §208-1 especially] concerning the motive, means and methods by which money is secured for the Lord's work, and teach the same to their congregations.

[Source: A Digest of the Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1861-1965. Atlanta, GA: Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, 1966. p. 274.]

For additional arguments in support of the 1888 and 1891 resolutions, see also
Lawson, George W., "Merchandise Methods in the Church, or Church Festivals and Scripture," in The Presbyterian Quarterly, 16.1 (July 1902): 103-126.


Puritanboard Commissioner
1. What were the “current events” Girardeau refers to?
Perhaps groups such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union? It was founded in 1873, but grew quickly; by 1883 it was an international organization.

It certainly would have been large enough, and influential enough by 1881 to be causing an impact on the local church.

The use of 'institutions' suggests that he may have had concern about direct support of mission groups or educational institutions at the expense of the local church, or at least outside the local church. The PCUS work in Korea didn't start until 1892, so that couldn't have been what was in sight, although they did have mission work in China by that date.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Will have to look closer at this, but Girardeau's statements may be the background to an action by the Southern Presbyterian Church just a few years later, an action which then almost a 100 years later finds its way into an action by a PCA General Assembly:
Thanks, Wayne. It will be interesting to follow the historical trail.
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