How Much Did You Cost?
Since the breakup of our former association there have been several publications (including The Journal) which carry some news about the various Churches of God. At least two of these publications have recently ran articles which complained about how much money it cost per convert. Is this something we should be complaining about? Is this how God looks at the situation?
One author pointed out that the Seventh Day Adventists have grown much larger than the Churches of God, thus he suggested that some of our evangelical efforts should be modeled after them. Another author pointed out that based on his calculations, it cost about $40,000 in total expenditures (defined as all income divided by baptized members) to get one member into the old WCG. Still another complained that even though the Church headed by Dr. Meredith was getting new members without a prior WCG background, that it was spending much to much to do this. Is this correct?
The book of Matthew records several scriptures, including parables, that may help our understanding in this area. The last two verses record Jesus saying, "Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mat 28:19-20). Jesus also tells us, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (24:14). Notice that neither of these verses state how much the Church is to spend to accomplish these goals. Interestingly, Jesus told a parable in Luke which he said, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it" (Luke 14:28). Since Jesus felt that humans would count the cost to do a physical project, does it not make sense that God counted the cost of His plan of salvation?
Now remember that although Mat 24:14 says, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations" it does not specifically discuss the success rate of conversions. Actually, Jesus made a variety of statements which demonstrates that true conversions would be quite low. In Mat 13:3-23, Jesus tells the parable of the sower. Notice there were very few who actually hear the word and "understands it" (vs.:23); most did not get it.
Jesus follows with another parable which is quite enlightening. In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Mat 13;24-30;13:36-43) we see that it was necessary to let the tares grow because otherwise the wheat would be uprooted also (vs. 29). Might not this parable mean that it was necessary to call many who were not truly converted (to them it was a "witness") so they would somehow help those who were? It appears so. Though it is necessary to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom as a witness (a point that the previously mentioned authors may have overlooked), it probably takes everything (including calling those who ignore or turn their back on the calling) to help us make it into the kingdom. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom 8:28-29).
Other scriptures support the concept that there would be relatively few conversions. Mat 20:16b states, "For many are called, but few chosen." Thus the gospel message goes to many, but few respond. There seem to be at least two reasons for this--the right way is hard to find and that it takes God's calling--Mat 7:13-14 says, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who will find it." John 6:44, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up the last day."
Since less than 25% of people called into our former association have appeared to retain "the faith which was once for all delivered" (Jude 3), it is likely that the average cost per actual member is much higher than the $40,000 figure. Is this too much to be spent per convert? In the parable of the workers in vineyard in Mat 20:1-16, some workers complained (vs.11) that the landowner gave more to others than they felt he should. His response was, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good" (Mat 20:15). Since this parable is about being called (vs.16), does it not seem that God believes he can spend as much as He wants on each who is called?
God knew how much it would cost Him for conversion. He new how much we would cost before the world was made since, "...He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world..." (Eph 1:4). God was willing to pay the ultimate price for us too, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Spending the wealth of the world means nothing to God. He counts all the nations as a drop in the bucket (Is 40:15). God can create an entire universe before you finish reading this sentence. Physical wealth means nothing to God. That is one of the reasons why He gave the costliest gift He could: He gave His Son.
How much did we cost? We cost God everything He could give. Yes, apparently the total physical cost per member of the true Church is high. The cost to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the world as a witness (Mat 24:14) is high. However as Christians, should we be complaining about how much God wants to spend (Mat 20:15-16)? Of course not. Remember, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom 8:28-29). Let's thank God that He does not think we cost too much!
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B. Thiel. How Much Did You Cost? www.cogwriter.com (c) 1998/2006