Churches can forestall the “temptation to take” by adopting some wise financial policies.

Our office phone rang, and the voice sounded hurt, baffled, dismayed. It was a local Baptist pastor, and he had just discovered the church treasurer for some time had been helping himself to church funds, possibly as much as $20,000. The pastor wondered if the treasurer’s criminal conduct would affect the sale of church bonds.

Then a Pentecostal church called for help. Their treasurer of 30 years apparently had been falsifying records of designated gifts to missionaries and had been stealing from both the general and missionary funds. They also discovered that certificates of deposit had never been purchased, legacies from estates had been stolen, and church bank accounts and ledgers were missing.

The shock and sadness of discovering church theft is never easy to bear. It is small consolation that the problem of religious embezzlement is at least as old as Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the money bag for Jesus’ disciples, who helped himself to its contents (John 12:6). Even in today’s church, people are not immune to the temptation of taking what does not belong to them.

On the other hand, the need for trust and confidence within the church should never be underestimated. Trust is always an integral part of every healthy Christian community. The fact that theft and fraud within Christian churches is so minimal is strong testimony to the honesty and character of those who administer the funds within the body of Christ.

But the fact that people are tempted and embezzlement does occur suggests that the practice of “unmerited trust” should be questioned. By adopting a few wise financial policies, churches ...

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