Saturday, 13 July 2013

Sacrificial Giving

Have you noticed how this phrase is almost exclusively used in terms of YOUR giving to a cause that the speaker believes is a good one? Or, sometimes, as a boast to guilt-trip you into giving or doing more? Sacrifice is something we seem to be told or shamed into doing.

The problem is twofold. Firstly, the terminology is so often used when it is not appropriate. In fact, this is more general, applying to the sacrifice terminology in general. Most of the time when someone talks about "sacrifices" they make, they are actually talking about "lifestyle choices", and everyone makes them. the essence of a choice is that you choose one thing instead of another, meaning that you don't get or do the thing you reject.

So people who have "sacrificed" a holiday for Gods work in some way have actually just made a lifestyle choice to do Gods work, or pay for it, rather than take a holiday. In non-church-land, people "sacrifice" a family or relationships to make it to the top of business - again, this is a choice, that they have chosen to be a successful businessperson rather than focus on personal or social life. You cannot have both, so you have to choose one.

I, of course, made the other choice to have a family and social life rather than being a top business person. Maybe - it could be my lack of business acumen payed some part too. But I would never speak of it as having "sacrificed" a world-leading career. My life at the moment is simply the result of the choices I have made, good or bad, and I have to live with it.

The reason it bugs me when used in church circles is that these "sacrifices" are so often done to earn divine brownie points. There is something inherent in the "sacrifice" terminology that assumes God owes you something for the sacrifices you have made. By implication, if I also make the sacrifices, God will give me something back too.

Now really, I don't mind if you want to play your game of Church Sticker Books, getting the "sacrificing" sticker in place. But I no longer play that game, because I believe that Christianity is far more than that, and far more important than that. It is not a sacrifice, it is a choice. I choose to give my money to the church. I choose to spend my Sundays there, not to mention at least one other night in the week. I choose my lifestyle, and so I choose to not do some things, because that is the nature of choices.

Secondly - this is not the OT understanding of sacrifice. The sacrifices were made simply because they were the social and religious system that was in place. If, for example, you committed a sin, you had to pay for this with a sin offering. You had broken the rules, and so had to make restitution (to the offended against person and to God, whose rules you had broken). And it is worth noting that the sacrifice is made by the animal, not the person - the terminology is largely that a person makes an offering of an animal which is then sacrificed. Sacrifice means dying, and it is the animal who is sacrificed. The person is simply making an offering - a choice, if you want.

Of the New Testament takes the concept of sacrifice to a different level with the sacrifice of Jesus for everyone else. The point of this is that it is the last sacrifice - no more are needed. Offerings are still important, choices to join the community, to contribute to it, to live in a certain way. But sacrifices?

So can we have an end to this talk of sacrificial giving in the church please? Using a pseudo-spiritual word to make it seem like something special is always bad, and in this case especially so. Lets talk about making choices, about the fact that if we make the right choices, we will probably be happier. But I don't know what the right choices for you are, and you don't know what the right choices for me are. I will follow what I understand to be Gods leading, however I understand that.

And I will leave sacrifice to Jesus. He has done quite enough.


  1. Very thought-provoking. Also made me think about people who are said to "martyr" them selves by choosing the least fun option when they can.

    1. Yes - it is the same sort of language. Spiritualising a choice. This article reflects some of these ideas, but I think there might be a whole new post on that