Only Intangible Benefits
by Rob Weingartner
Earlier this week my wife Terry and I received a statement from our church listing our financial contributions for 2017 for use in preparation of our income tax return. I smiled as I read the IRS-conforming language at the bottom of the statement: “Only intangible religious benefits are provided in exchange for contributions.”
Intangible. That describes something that is unable to be touched or grasped, something not having a physical presence. I understand the reasons for the caveat on the giving statement; we put something similar on the statements that Outreach sends to our donors. But the language required by the IRS runs so counter to the incarnational character of our faith and discipleship. “The Message” translates John 1:14 this way: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” The God who created the world loved so much that he sent the Son to break the power of sin and death. He healed and fed and delivered and exhorted and warned and prayed and blessed. He was killed. He was raised. He promised to come again. All very tangible.
And Jesus in the name of his Father and in the power of the Spirit still gathers his followers into communities of faith and sends them out into that same broken world to live in ways that mirror God’s love and justice. Sounds tangible.
Granted, we really didn’t pay for them, but we received and were invited into some pretty valuable things at First Presbyterian Church over the past year. Convicting sermons. Exhilarating choral anthems. Engaging Bible studies. Ministries of care and compassion. Fellowship dinners. Packing meals for hungry schoolchildren. Housing homeless men. Serving refugees. Sending teams to Cuba and Kenya. Planting a new congregation. Pretty tangible.
As followers of Jesus, we have the privilege of sharing his life and love with others. We have his mandate to bear witness to him from our backyards to the ends of the earth through the words we say, the things we do, the lives we live in front of others. Definitely tangible.
Many years ago my dad’s employer, IBM, gave me a college scholarship. Each year I would stop by the regional manager’s office to pay a courtesy visit and express my gratitude for the assistance. During one of those visits, the IBM executive remarked, “You know, I never thought of the Church as a growth industry.”
Perhaps he misunderstood and imagined that the Church’s stock and trade is intangible religious benefits.