In a recent conversation with a group of Korean-American pastors and elders, I asked why Korean-American churches were not applying for ECFA-accreditation and choosing to walk in the light with regard to financial accountability and transparency. They replied, “It’s our culture!” Carefully I continued. “What about your culture prohibits you?”
At first, they said, “Korean churches loves their pastors, but we do not want anyone to know how much we pay our pastors.” Then they added, “We also do not want people to know how much money we have.” Another reasoned, “If financial mismanagement issues arise, we lose face, so financial matters follow tradition and remain confidential.”
How can we overcome tradition and move toward transparency? We must understand it and discern God’s design for transformation. So, what is tradition? People demonstrate patterns of behavior all over the world. We can think of this predictable set of patterns as ‘tradition’. While the norms may differ from society to society, what comes into view is not a Korean issue but a reflection of the fallen human condition. Universally, humans gravitate to tradition.
Tradition has beautiful and ugly sides. It upholds religious values to preserve them and keeps sins secret so they can fester. Tradition shapes our virtues and solidifies our vices. Tradition informs how we worship, what we celebrate, how we dress, what we eat (or don’t eat in fasting times), and other behavioral rhythms, such as financial practices.
In many settings globally, tradition or ‘the way things work’ linked to money is a pathway riddled with financial corruption. Often people feel powerless to overcome dark patterns entrenched in tradition. Murray Baird of Australia says, “Bad things happen in the dark. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” His remedy reminds us of the words of Jesus.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:19-21
In declaring this verdict, Jesus is making a universal declaration. Light has come into the world, but people do not welcome it, because it exposes their deeds. At that point, every person has a choice. They can follow tradition or choose to live by the truth in the sight of God. With this step they come into the light of transparency. Now more than ever, Christians everywhere need to abandon tradition, live by the truth, and walk in transparency. Why?
In his Lausanne Global Analysis article entitled, “Do We Care About Corruption?: How Integrity Can Tame the Beast of Bribes and Extortion” (May 2019), Manfred Kohl alerts us to the fact that the sins of financial corruption have wormed their way into the Church at a catastrophic level. He shines light on the problem by citing the research of Martin Allaby, who reports, “It has been estimated that USD 50 billion per annum may be stolen from money that Christians give to churches, para-church organizations, and secular organizations around the world.”
Doing nothing is not an option. So, I am sounding the alarm to abandon tradition, live by the truth, and choose transparency. How do we do this practically? The Church worldwide is in captivity to the sins of tradition which can only be overcome with confession, prayer, and fasting. Confession links to repentance or changing directions. Prayer reflects our humble posture to obey the truth. Fasting reminds us to set aside our desires for God’s agenda for us.
When churches and ministries practice the disciplines of confession, prayer, and fasting, they find freedom from the trappings of tradition and courage to live by the truth with accountability. But not everyone chooses transparency. Most actually won’t. They remain gripped with fear of what might happen if they speak out. In my global travels, I have witnessed a defining characteristic between those who don’t choose transparency and those who do. The former group cares most about what people think about them and the latter focuses on what God desires for them.