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.
In a previous post, I expressed an interest in learning more about covenant and dispensational theology. I have not had much time to do in-depth reading on these frameworks as of yet but have come away with some brief, broad, general, perhaps imprecise, perhaps incorrect, and quite nascent perceptions.
First, I am attempting to do something I have never done before – read through the entire Old Testament. I always bog down in Leviticus. I will persevere this time, however. Though I have read through the New Testament a few times, there are many books in the Old Testament I have never read. I wish to remedy that situation in the next few months to better grasp the full council of God. That all being said, in reading through Genesis, I am struck by the fact that God is a sovereign maker of Covenants. In my previous reading of Genesis, this fact has never stood out in such bold relief. Also, I want to read through at least the Pentateuch before I do very much ‘extra-biblical’ reading on covenant/dispensational theology.
Second, this area of theology is not unimportant. What we think about God and how He interacts with His creation has implications both historical, personal, and profound. Among other things, I believe it informs to a great degree how we ‘define’ His church, especially in relationship with Israel. It informs our thinking on eschatology, the study of the direction and culmination of history. It is the study of His working of redemptive history culminating with the revelation of the risen Messiah.
Third, though important, this area of inquiry, the ‘choice’ between these frameworks, is not a make or break doctrine. It is not a hill I would chose to die on. Most discussions I have read on this subject are quite irenic.
Fourth, there is a dizzying array of technical terms to understand, some that may be a bit peripheral to the discussion, some with which I am familiar, some with which I am becoming more familiar. I am learning more about hyper-preterism, partial-preterism, preterism, and amillinialism. I could give more terms, but the point is clear that this a subject that requires some effort to apprehend. I believe the effort will be well spent.
Fifth, and this is a thought that has been peculating in my weird little mind for quite a while, it seems a number of interesting things were ‘discovered’ or taught by elements of the 19th century American church that had somehow been missed in the previous eighteen hundred years of the church. Examples may include the ‘discovery’ and teaching of a ‘secret’ rapture of the church to occur at some point in the future. This doctrine is the driving impetus behind the mindset of the Left Behind series of books and movies that dominate much of the popular eschatological landscape. Another example would be the evangelical measures and methods popularized by Charles Finney that have such great traction in the American evangelical community today. While I personally have some issues with the excesses often evidenced by adherents of the two aforementioned examples, dispensational thought, born, too, in the 19th century, needs and deserves a more sober assessment and should not be easily dismissed.
Sixth, how do I deal with the year 1948 when Israel became a nation again? How does this significant historical event relate to the amillinialism that seems to be a large part of covenant (reformed) theology?
Seventh, dispensationalists have cool charts.
Eighth, I lean towards, no…stand resolutely on….a reformed view of soteriology, the TULIP. Perhaps a hill to die on. I also favor a post-trib, pre-millennial ‘rapture’ eschatology. I am not dogmatic on this, however. Not a hill I would die on.
Number ninth, should someone outside of the church ever stumble upon this post, what gibberish it all must sound like. But, they are not the intended audience. Who the intended audience is, of that, I am not sure. I think perhaps me, for the most part.
Tenth, what is the deal with Federal Vision? Seems to be a controversy in Presbyterian circles. Something to study when I am more firmly grounded in covenant thinking.
As an addendum, please forgive any misspelled words. Spell-check did not recognize many terms and I did not take the effort to check every questionable spelling through an internet query.
I have just started delving into, as the the subject line suggests, covenantal and dispensational theology. Thus far, I tend to lean in the direction indicated by following quote from Erik Raymond at Irish Calvinist:
- Some people think it is odd that we could be both Reformed and Dispensational. I like to remind folks that it is the same approach to the Bible that produces both for me. I am not Reformed because Calvin was Reformed and I am not Dispensational because Ryrie is. I think the Bible teaches Reformed soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and Dispensational eschatology (doctrine of things to come).
I now exercise my prerogative to engage in a bit of somewhat off-topic rambling (or perhaps it is not so off-topic)……….
We are called biblically to think correctly and clearly about doctrine, to be discerning. I also understand that I am probably wrong on a few things I hold to be true. Seriously
I know this to be correct because I have changed my thinking about a number of things I once held to be correct. There are, however, some things I hold to tenaciously and will die for. Those things would be the essentials for authentic faith in Christ as proclaimed in, for example, the Apostles Creed. Other doctrines may be important, but perhaps not so important that they should cause a division. Depending on the sensitivity of circumstances, the individuals involved, and the subject matter, I may sometimes rather remain silent on peripheral doctrinal issues.
There are times, though, when it is admittedly difficult for me to assign a level of importance to an issue. I am specifically thinking about a recent post of mine on tithing, on the wisdom of the post. I will not, however, remove the post from this blog for it truly reflects my current thinking on the subject. In retrospect, I feel as if I am probably diverging quite a bit from the mainstream on the subject of tithing. I am a bit uncomfortable with the post.
That all being said, I strive, and sometimes admittedly fail, to be irenic in discussions of things not critical. I know brothers in Christ who I feel to be quite incorrect in their understanding of, for example, some aspects, and not necessarily unimportant ones, of reformed theology (specifically the doctrine of election), but have a love of Christ, a heart of humility and service, and a heart for missions that leaves me humbled.
In the end, this is our call and goal, be our camp reformed, evangelical, charismatic, etc….to be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus by sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.