Monthly Archives: July 2008
One thing may lead to another. In a previous post , I have voiced my opposition to what I perceive to be unbiblical presentations of the tithe. In other posts , I have expressed an interest in learning more (which wouldn’t be hard given that I know next to nothing) about covenant and dispensational theology. It is interesting that recently, in the course of a couple of conversations, the two issues have collided, and I am still sorting through the fallout.
Here is the back-story: I participate in a small group at the church I have rather recently began attending. In this group, we read through various books on the faith (currently The Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church), and in reading these books, we discuss and analyze them, looking for application, all through the lens of the reformed faith. One conversation went a bit off-topic to the subject of the tithe. Giving and tithing was the focus of the previous Sunday’s sermon, one that I missed because I was out of town. In the course of following the conversation, I perhaps was unconsciously telegraphing my discomfort with the direction of the dialog by my body language. Someone said it looked as if I were about to burst, so I voiced my opinion, I think/hope winsomely. I essentially mirrored the thoughts of my aforementioned post on tithing. In the course of the conversation, one that I must affirm was very gracious on the part of all parties involved, I found myself the sole voice for giving by grace rather than by law. In my questions about my understanding of the topic, the leader of the group, a man who I hold in utmost respect, suggested I talk with one of the associate pastors. I called and made an appointment.
I must say, I quite enjoyed the conversation with the associate pastor that followed and was edified by it, and we ended up meeting again to continue the conversation. At the closure of the conversation, we agreed to agreeably disagree on the subject of an obligatory tithe, but what I came away with from our conversations is that my questions and concerns and about the nature and extent of the interjection of the Law into the Church may be illuminated by a better understanding of Covenant Theology (CT) on my part. I will not go into the details of the conversation because, one, it would honestly take too long to put to the written word and I honestly probably spend a bit too much time with this blog thing, and two, I am still sifting slowly through my thoughts. I will, however, speak in some generalities and give voice to some questions and issues and thoughts to which I am seeking clarity.
Before I proceed, please forgive any misrepresentations on my part of CT. I am still in a very formative, embryonic stage of understanding and am quite open to correction. Too, I am beginning to better understand the value of a systemic, holistic approach to understanding the Bible, to understanding the relationship between Israel and the Church, to understanding the relationship between Law and Grace. I am thinking about how the former informs the latter, both the systematic approach informing the particulars and in the Law pointing to Grace. Also and without regard to my stance on the tithe, I believe in giving sacrificially, consistently, and regularly to one’s local church as well as to other groups and to individuals in need. I believe in doing so, when possible, anonymously, not informing the left hand as to what the right hand is doing. Within the life of a disciple of Christ, the nature of our treasure and the nature of our heart are reflective of one another. I also, at times (more often than I care to admit), fail miserably at being a faithful steward. In light of that, I humbly and in repentance thank God that I am not justified by my performance (I am not able to do so), but only by the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, and that He is, over time, sanctifying and conforming me to the image of my Redeemer, Christ Jesus.
One or two parenthetical thoughts before I continue: I do not in any way, shape, or form condemn, rebuke, shun, look down upon, castigate, or judge those who differ from me on the issue of the tithe or in regards to one’s stance on CT or DT with the caveat that I will steadfastly oppose the more egregiously legalistic presentations of the tithe wherein one is led, purposefully or not, to believe that God’s grace rests on our performance. I am also certainly not advocating a discontinuation of consistently giving a certain percentage of one’s income is one is presently doing so.
In light of all the aforementioned, here are some of those thoughts (perhaps sometimes a bit incoherent, errant, repetitive, shallow, and conflicted), questions (some rhetorical, others not), and concerns in a somewhat abbreviated fashion – perhaps fodder for later posts:
- and wondering if there are there more obscure frameworks, discounting hybrids of the two in predominance, other than CT and DT(dispensational theology)? I know, I know……….. why don’t I just Google the question. Also, am I too simplistic in thinking only in terms of Law and Grace, of new wine and old wine skins, of Old and New Covenants?
- about Seventh Day Adventist verses antinomianism. Where, if any (and we all know there is), is the middle ground?
- about avoiding at all cost any vestige of the 2nd century heresy of Marcion in reference to his rejecting the OT out of hand. I affirm the Law is good. I affirm both OT and NT as authoritative, inspired, and infallible.
- on the somewhat dissonant (for me) interjection of tithing in specific, law in general, into my understanding of justification by faith. As a hypothetical, would a poor, elderly widow, just barely making ends meet and living on social security, with no relatives, be obligated to tithe? If the answer is yes from an outcome and prediction of CT (and that is what I am led to believe), then CT, in my understanding of this framework, died just a bit to me. This widow is one whom I should give to. I think of the poor in Asia Minor taking up collections so that the apostle Paul may give it to the poor in Jerusalem. Note that I do not infer that the aforementioned and hypothetical widow should not be generous even in her poverty.
- about Deuteronomy 14:24-26. Also, many preach Malachi regarding “God robbers” and being cursed. Follow up, please, Malachi 3:9 with Romans 8:1 and pay attention to context, especially with Malachi.
- about distinctions that are made between the ceremonial, civil, and moral law of the OT…..and the assertion that only moral law is for the church. Do I find this assertion in the NT? Does the OT assign or infer such a hierarchy or separation between ‘types’ of law?
- about the book of Galatians and Colossians and also thinking about Acts 15 where the few clear ‘legalistic’ prohibitions are clearly stated.
- in further detail about the tithe and how it is not presented in the Old Testament as simply a specific percentage off the top of one’s income; it was agricultural in nature in a culture that had currency. There were three (a few say four) tithes in the OT and cumulatively, they could add up to over twenty percent. I think of how craftsmen and tradesmen did not tithe though they did offer gifts. I could go on, but I just want to assert my understanding that the tithe as taught by many churches is not how I understand the tithe is presented in the OT. Also thinking about how silly the debate is over determining if that percentage of the tithe is taken off the net or the gross. Brother, please………
- about, as aforementioned, how we are to give sacrificially, about how we spend our money is reflective of what and Who we value most dearly.
- disturbingly about how we can apply what seems to be sound hermeneutics and sometimes reach so very different conclusions.
- about how, at this particular place and time in my growth as a Christian, I am not currently in too much intellectual conflict about the relationship between Israel and the Church, a contentment perhaps born out of my blissful ignorance. I do worry a bit, having been drawn into it for a season, about the ‘end times’ mania that seems to have captured the attention of parts of the church that are strongly dispensational. This phenomenon of a hyper-focus on eschatology, however, seems to be waning a bit. Or maybe I am just not paying attention to it anymore……
- about and asserting that, from my understanding, CT (and DT) is not primarily concerned with addressing the relationship of Law and grace, but more about how God works out His will in history and with His covenant people. I assert that my foray into issues of Law and Grace in relation to CT, while not necessarily parenthetical, does not present a fully orbed picture of CT. I affirm that God is a sovereign Maker of covenants. He does not change.
- about my concern that I may be creating heat rather than light with my dialog and questions. I do not think that I am, but I pray for greater discernment and grace and wisdom in all I say and write, that I honor my Savior in words or deeds.
- About how easy it is for me to get long-winded and hyper-focused on an issue
‘Nuff said for now…could polish and refine the post a bit more, but I think I will now release it into the wild.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Colossians 3:17 (ESV)
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Philippians 2:14-16 (ESV)
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:3-8 (ESV)
It seems I have taken a somewhat contrarian path over the last few posts, and I am going to be quite repetitive on a few points with this one. That all being said, I cannot ignore my compulsion to speak and warn against what I feel is a dangerous strain of shallow ecclesiology; I am jealous over the church of Christ. I am jealous over the Gospel.
I recently ran across a post by a pastor and church planter from Canton, Georgia. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have listened to him speak as a guest pastor at a church I once attended. Also, I have listened to a sermon or two by this pastor. Too, I gather that his church was mentored to a degree by my former church.
His post revolves around the theft of a church trailer that contained things critical to the functioning of the pastor’s church. There is no denying that this theft is a horrible thing. Let me state some things clearly and perhaps digress and ramble a bit before I continue with my thoughts on the aforementioned post.
It is not my intent to hurt, but to warn. Also, I do not intend to infer the attitude exhibited by the referenced post is universal amongst the seeker sensitive church movement; it is just that his church is one of the more extreme manifestations, and this church is not without influence. That being said…..
The Gospel is simple, but it is not shallow. The call of much of the church growth movement, though, is to decry the deeper things of the faith. Over and over and over, I hear these pastors state that it is not their job to feed the flock, but to create self-feeders. To a small extent, there is an element of truth to that exhortation in that we are all to feast on the infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God, the canon of scripture. However, I have heard enough of these calls to ‘self-feed’ to know that there is more lurking behind this call than to encourage the flock to read the Bible for themselves. There is, first and foremost, a shallow, feel-good legalism. ‘Rather than go deeper, get out there and do things’ is the false dichotomy offered by more than a few of these seeker-sensitive church leaders. There is also an element of arrogant disdain these pastors hold for those who cry to their pastors for more food. I think, too, there is perhaps a laziness or inability on the part of many of these pastors to do the hard work and study required to preach the deeper things of Christ. Rather, there is a desire to be edgy, to be hip, to be relevant, to make the church more appealing to the world. The competition to the church is perceived to be Hollywood and Las Vegas. The thought is that the church needs to do the things Hollywood and Las Vegas does in terms of promoting the message of the Gospel. Much more could be said, but ultimately what this attitude represents is a contempt for the power of the Word faithfully exposited.
Alright, back to the pastors post. Again, the church trailer was stolen. Not good. Here are some quotes from the pastors blog regarding the theft:
- First let me say, God loves you. Second let me say we forgive you. We really don’t want to forgive you, but God says we should so we do. Third of all I want you to know that I think you are scum bags. I think you are lowlife degenerates who need a good butt kicking. Matter of fact I feel so strongly about the fact that you need a good butt kicking that I am volunteering to do it. I hope you believe in God because you should get on your knees and cry out to Him like never before because if we find you, I can promise we will kick the crap out of you. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be over quickly, and it will be very painful. I know that doesn’t sound very nice but I feel pretty strongly that is what you need.
- We are probably the only church you have ever heard of that will honestly break your legs once you are found.
- Get that trailer out of the county QUICK. As soon as I hit publish on this blog post a church of about 1000 crazy people will know that our black, children’s trailer has been stolen and I can promise they will be on the lookout for it. You would much rather me find you then one of them.
A lovely image the pastor paints…..better that the pastor beats the mess out of the sinner before his crazy church of 1000 gets hold of the thief. Try to harmonize the pastor’s desire for vengeance with the Sermon on the Mount if you dare. The pastor’s attitude seems to be more aligned with radical Islam. I find irony, too, in this pastors often stated disdain for ‘Pharisees’ and ‘religious’ people found in his rhetoric.
Unlike much of the errant neo-liberalism and overly generous ‘orthodoxy’ of the Emergent Church, the seeker sensitives proclaim an orthodoxy in their mission and belief statements. Where they sometimes err is in their ecclesiology. They are orthodox in their beliefs, but they engage in heteropraxy, in errant practice. The bitter fruits are sometimes shallowness and arrogance. In the post by Gary Lamb, we find such fruit. What we find is a theft that transcends the stealing of property from a church. What we find stolen from the church of Christ, if such a thing were possible, is the blessedness of a humble, broken, and contrite heart. What we find stolen by this church, if such a thing were possible, is the sense that but for the grace, forgiveness, and mercy of Christ, you and I are condemned sinners, no less so than the trailer thief, fully deserving the wrath of God. Rather, we find a ‘lets go break the legs of sinners’ attitude. One has to ask this pastor and his church of 1000, which of you will cast the first stone that breaks the legs of the thief when you finally run him down?
In closure and to further cement my concern, here is a response from another blog to Gary’s post:
- “I follow these guys a lot and think they are doing an incredible work for Jesus! It’s nice to see they have a little bite to their bark! Click below to read what happened…”
The heart grieves and mourns for a large swath of the American church. Alright, rant mode off………