By Mike Strathdee
As printed in The Marketplace - January/February 2018
The Christian view that giving should be kept secret is based on misunderstanding of two Bible verses resulting in a “secrecy doctrine” that we need to get past, a Manitoba businessman and former pastor argues.
Most Christians don’t understand the Bible passage they cite in arguing that giving should be kept secret, Peter Dueck says. “I would like us to get past this secrecy doctrine.”
Dueck, co-president of Vidir Machine of Arborg, Man., worked as a pastor for two Evangelical Mennonite Church (EMC) congregations in northern Alberta between 1984 and 1995 prior to joining the manufacturer of merchandising carousels and display fixtures. Over the years, he has thought a lot about Christian attitudes towards donor recognition as he pondered how to teach and model generosity. “How do we teach people that giving is an integral part of worship and Christian living” has always been an important question for him.
The verses that so many Christians misunderstand, in his view, are Matthew 6 verses 3-4: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (New International Version translation).
“The dilemma that we have, and I don’t think it’s unique to Mennonites… we have this dilemma about when gifts should be announced and be public, and when they should be secret,” he says.
While Jesus tells people to not do their giving in order to be seen, he makes similar instructions about praying and fasting in the same Matthew 6 passage.
“We have no issue with the fact that .. you can pray in public, just don’t do it for show. But when it comes to giving, we seem to have more reservations about it.”
Dueck believes, as do a number of Biblical commentators, that the point of Jesus’ admonition was motivation. In other words, it is fine for giving to be made public, so long as it isn’t done for show.
Dueck points to several other scripture passages in support of this interpretation.
In Matthew 5, verse 16, Jesus tells his followers to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
In the book of Acts (chapter 4, verses 36 and 37), Joseph, later known as Barnabas, sells a parcel of land and gives the proceeds to the apostles. The early church leadership and the church “was very aware of this gift,” Dueck says.
“If we want to make a theology of left and right hand, that somehow means secrecy, then why would Jesus in Luke 21 (verses 1-4) announce what the widow gave?”
Dueck’s interest in how churchgoers think about recognition of giving is as practical as it is philosophical.
“Giving, like every other gift, be it leadership, teaching or singing, is taught best when it is modelled.”
“We need leaders showing us and teaching us about generosity.”
Generosity isn’t always in the size of the gift, he says. “Each person can teach and model and teach generosity.”
“Some people will teach and model generosity with a $500 gift, some people will teach and model generosity with a $5 million gift.”
“The reason I as a (MEDA) board member want us to have a bit more clarity on the subject is so we can inspire people to be the best they can be.” ◆