The main item discussed at this meeting was whether the collection the group participated in for many months should continue. The process began about two years ago upon hearing about the famine in Judea. We knew from visits with Paulus while he was in Ephesus that believers in Asia were expected to send relief to the brethren in Jerusalem. There was great support among the Christians in Laodicea for the action and the donations were cheerfully given to Paulus before his departure from the area.
Not too long after that, however, there began to be talk among the brethren here about whether or not we should continue the collections for different purposes. We thought we could wait and ask Paulus for his guidance when he was next back in the area but we have heard that he has been imprisoned. One of our number, Epaphras, plans on visiting Paulus in the next year and we hope we will eventually receive a letter from him with instructions about what we are to do. Until then we will attempt to address the issue ourselves.
The agenda for this evening's meeting is totally devoted to the examination of the following three questions:
1. Should we continue to collect funds?
2. Should the distribution of the funds be done individually or should funds be pooled and distributed as the group sees fit?
3. If the funds are pooled, what uses are appropriate?
Regarding question 1, the overwhelming majority of those attending the meeting were in favor of continuing the collection and distribution of money. Although Paulus did not specifically instruct us to continue the collection, most agreed that some form of giving was appropriate for followers of Jesus to engage in. Several recalled Paulus teaching that "it is better to give than receive" and "God loves a cheerful giver." Since many of our number are blessed in their trades of black wool and eye-salve, they expressed a willingness to continue the habit of giving to those in need.
There was a diversity of opinions beyond that initial agreement, however. As far as question 2, some felt that individuals should bring their money each first day of the week to the formal assembly of the group. One among the group could be designated as the treasurer and could keep the funds secure. Proponents of a regular collection and pooling of funds indicated that this process would continue indefinitely and as needs were encountered the group could decide how to distribute the funds.
The contrasting position was that it was up to each individual to decide in prayer who to give to, when to give, and how much to give. While they admitted that some needs might necessitate the pooling of funds, they rejected the notion that a weekly, centralized collection was necessary or proper. They argued that neither Paulus nor any other apostle had suggested that such a thing be done. They also speculated that such a public and formal emphasis on the giving of money could lead to a regimen over time which might overly pressure people to give for the wrong reasons.
As a basis for addressing question 3, several of the wealthy merchants in the group pointed out that the cause of Christ would be better served if activities were more formally structured, centralized, and governed much as their businesses were. They proposed that the first steps which should be considered in developing this organization would be to purchase a meeting house and to hire a full-time minister.
It was also pointed out that brother Archippus was able and willing to serve the congregation on a full-time basis. He could guide study and worship, visit the sick and lonely, and do other things that many in the group had little ability, time, or interest in doing. Since he would have to quit his job as tutor to do this full time, he asks that we support him and his family with funds from a regular contribution.
The proposal for buying a house specifically for the assembly was defended on the basis that the group is growing so large that meeting in Nympha's house may not be possible for much longer. While meeting outside is possible at times, the weather is a problem on many occasions. It was also stated that while the group could meet in more than one home, dividing the assembly should be avoided if at all possible due to the strength that comes in numbers.
A minority expressed shock at these proposals and pointed out that there was no instruction or authorization for such expenditures. They felt it was unthinkable that mature believers would consider paying someone to do the very things they were supposed to be doing themselves. They argued that it was as if some wanted to buy their good fruit rather than allow the Holy Spirit to produce it in themselves. As for purchasing a meeting house, they said that there was no great need for the whole group to have to come together at the same time and place. Further, the outside locations and the available homes were adequate for what few meetings were necessary. Towards the end of the meeting a young teacher visiting from Ephesus, Diotrephes, was asked for his opinion. He began by commending the merchants for their creative thinking. He also reminded the group that, as Jesus said, the poor are always with us. Because of that, he suggested that any distribution of funds should not focus solely on benevolence. To change the world, he argued, we should concentrate our efforts on the rich and powerful rather than the poor. To do that, however, we would have to stop being an immature coalition of believers with little coordination to our efforts and become, instead, a formal organization with professional leadership. He admitted that the latter would cost money but that the Laodicean believers were among the richest he had seen in his travels. "Money is power," he said, and a weekly collection of money with the proper investment could accumulate in a few years to allow the group to influence government and commerce in a way that unorganized individuals could never do. Such an organization, would cause nonmembers to realize that the Laodicean brethren were powerful and had, indeed, found the answers to life's mysteries.
Although these comments by Diotrephes disturbed some in the group it appeared that most of those present were inspired by the vision of greatness that was presented. However, given the lateness of the hour the meeting was adjourned with each member urged to think on the issues before the next meeting when a vote will be taken.