(addendum12/8/11 – the thoughts below are directed more towards those who preach that the Christian or his or her finances are cursed if they do not give their church a tithe (Robert Morris, Perry Noble, sundry IFBers, etc). While I personally do not believe that tithing is required in the new covenant, I certainly do not disparage those who disagree and tithe out of love of God)
Let me offer as a prologue to this essay a bit of text from the Epistle to the Galatians.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Last Sunday, I made my third visit to a local church, one where I had previously enjoyed grace-centric preaching. However, what I heard on November 13 was not far removed from what I have heard so many times at the local mega-church. What I heard was proof-texting of Biblical text. What I am struck by is the massive lack of distinction between the Law and the Gospel offered freely to those not under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic Law. When I hear tithing positively preached, I hear an attempt, ultimately doomed to failure, to mix oil and water; I see Moses dressed in a Jesus suit.
Among the oft-repeated rebuttals to grace givers, one heard in the aforementioned sermon, is that you should look to ten percent of the gross income as a starting point in ones giving. Now, when I hear silly distinctions being made between giving off the net or gross, of using the Law as a starting point of obedience, my mind immediately connects such to the well-intentioned but damning attitude of the first century religious elite of 2nd temple Judaism putting up extra-Biblical barriers around the Law so as to protect people from breaking the Law. Jesus was harsh in His rhetoric to those people.
As said in previous articles, the topic of tithing is not so much about financial stewardship or generosity, but absolutely about Romans 8:1, ‘There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” If you are in Christ, neither you nor your finances are cursed by lack of adherence to the Law of Moses. To assert such is to preach, as Paul affirms in the book of Galatians, another gospel.
If not by the tithe, then how should the redeemed give? By grace, as the Spirit leads the regenerate. To whom should we give? First, to those in the church who are in need. Second, to the true teachers and preachers for they are worthy of double honor. Third, charitably to those in the world. How much should we give? We should give sacrificially. We should also be content with what we have, not coveting the newest, latest, biggest, and best, being on guard because our hearts are idol factories. Too, sacrificial giving for one may be two percent, while another may be able to give 90 percent without sacrifice. Jesus cares more about the attitude of your heart rather than the percent of income given.
You know what? Each and every one of us in the church will fail to live up to the aforementioned standards to some degree. Left to my own devices, I will covet the next digital hand-held device though I do not need it. You will covet a newer, better automobile even though what you own is serviceable. There is grace through Christ for us as we struggle, sometimes failing, against the competing gods in our hearts, for there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It is by grace that those idols will be torn down.
I will conclude with a short and far from exhaustive rebuttal to some common arguments regarding the tithe:
1. The tithe predates the Law. So does circumcision and animal sacrifice. Do you suggest a return to these types and shadows, also? Those who assert that the tithe is relevant for the church also mention Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20. Understand this is a tithe off the spoils of war, other peoples property. It was a unique event.
2. Jesus seems to affirm tithing in Matthew 23:23. Jesus is speaking prior to His crucifixion and resurrection to those still under the Law. Too, is this text more about the lack of mercy and justice on the part of the Pharisees?
3. The first ten percent is holy to the Lord. All that you think, do, give, earn, all that you are, should be holy and Christ-honoring. You were purchased at great price; you do not belong to yourself, but you are a bond-servant to Christ. You don’t get a pass for the remaining 90 percent. Also, there were three tithes in the Old Testament, not just one, totaling 23.3 percent. (One tithe was performed every third year). Too, in a culture that had and used money, tithing was rarely money. Some might find Deuteronomy 14:22-26 interesting as to how the tithe was sometimes used, especially those who think all should abstain from alcohol.
English Standard Version (ESV)
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.
Recall, too, the Jerusalem council in the Book of Acts, chapter 15 in which it was determined what parts of the Old Testament law converted Gentiles would be required to obey. Tithing is not mentioned.
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. ” – Gal 2:21
If you give ten percent out of love for God, God bless you. If you give 10 percent because you think the Law requires it of you, think carefully about the Gospel and your understanding of it. You may be placing yourself under a curse by adding to the Gospel.
(addendum 6/3/2012 – Also, remember that the poor did not tithe, that those who practiced certain occupations did not tithe, carpenters and fishermen, for example. Too, when someone desired to use money rather than bring the tithe to Jerusalem, God required a 20% penalty added. God discouraged the tithing of money (Lev. 27:30-34)
Evangelical culture warriors long for days gone by when America was a nation uniquely blessed by God. Many, especially in the Bible belt of the south, patriotically voice their pride in being a Christian American.
Beyond the oxymoronic concept of a ‘proud Christian’ and the counter-Christian synthesis of parochial nationalism and the Christian ethos of the redeemed as being citizens of another Kingdom, one not of this world, we may find, at times, a confusion of civic religion with authentic Christian faith in the rhetoric of the public square. We find at times, too, a core and deadly confusion of Law and Grace.
I believe that, to a substantial degree, the primary religion of America has always been one of moralism and patriotic hubris more than a humility-inducing love for the Gospel. Many pulpiteers and parishioners have waxed nostalgic for the days when prayers were recited in classrooms and the Ten Commandments were posted in public buildings. While I think the display of the Decalogue is a very good thing, my question would be this: What actually was the prevailing faith of those days?
I cannot help but think of the old song, The Last Kiss by Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. Follows is an excerpt:
The Lord took her away from me
She’s gone to heaven
So I got to be good
So I can see my baby
When I leave this ol’ world”
This song, written in 1964, a vestige of waning ‘50’s sentimentality and idealized white-bread wholesomeness and innocence, encapsulates, I think, the overarching civic religion of evangelical America’s assumed golden years. Wrapping itself with Biblical language and allusions, we find a religion where ultimately we have to be good to get to heaven, obeying the Ten Commandments, so we can enjoy unending delights in the afterlife. Religion was, and most often is, defined as adherence to moralistic principles.
I believe much of the church of American history felt their call, and not entirely incorrectly, was to uphold ethical mandates and suppress the darker impulses of humanity. We were to shoulder the providential task of elevating the stature of America’s greatness on the world stage, of building a New Jerusalem, of realizing our God-ordained Manifest Destiny. I find it interesting that we could oft find, in America’s most recent evangelical Golden Age, the Ten Commands posted in court houses, but did one ever find the Gospel proclamation hung on a wall? I think that if you asked the typical man on the street in any American city, someone who probably was raised in a church, about the core of Christianity, you would receive a reply that implied Christianity was about performing good deeds and exhibiting moral behavior, essentially moral imperatives. The Gospel declarative would probably be absent. Sometimes I think the ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’ religious ethos of America’s golden years has more in common with Andrew Jackson that Christ.
I find so many ironies in the religious history of America. Many colonists and clergy thought it God’s will, even in light of Roman’s 13, that they secede from England over the issues of taxation without representation, but a following generation of clergy and parishioners thought it wrong that the South secede from the Union. The South, champions of state’s rights, with much of the southern clergy proclaiming to be Biblical literalists and using such to validate the supposed civil right to keep slaves, claimed a Biblical mandate to secede, and the North laid hold of a moral mandate, based both on Biblical and Enlightenment ideals, to abolish slavery and to maintain the integrity of the Union. Using Biblical proof-texts, two bitterly and diametrically opposed factions voiced ownership of God’s favor.
When we look at the documents that give foundation to the American experience, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence for example, we find ‘God’ words, but we do not find Christian words. We find flattened allusions to a God that could be honestly approved of by a Deist, by a Unitarian, or by an orthodox Christian. In fact, one of the observations by some clergy of the Confederate States was that the American Constitution was far too secular for a nation that declared itself to be ‘Christian.’
I think, too, of the first settlers from the new world, the Pilgrims, who, by virtue of being both early settlers from the Old World and being Christian, are used as rhetorical fodder by culture war pundits to bolster the claim, correct or not, that America was founded as a Christian nation. Persecuted Puritans from England, their practice of Christianity, their ethos, would probably not be recognized by the average church goer of today. While I do not infer that all their practices and attitudes were correct and all contemporary practices and attitudes are inferior, their focus, I think, on eternal things were a bit sharper than ours. One need only peruse the literature produced by the Puritans and compare it to what we find on the shelf of the typical American bookstore to discern their focus was far more Christ-centric than the human-centric ‘best-life-now’ fodder typically found on contemporary bookshelves. I think the Pilgrims, in their austere practices, understood more clearly than we that the human heart was an idol factory. For example, they did not celebrate Christmas or Easter, holidays not appointed in Scripture. Pilgrim pastor John Robinson taught that “It seems too much for any mortal man to appoint, or make an anniversary memorial” for Christ. Perhaps with some irony, only certain cults think in such terms, now.
Ultimately, it does not matter to me if America is or is not a self-identified ‘Christian’ nation. My only skin in this game is that history is being revised by both the secular and the religious to bolster sectarian arguments.
Sometimes I think the idealized America of many moralistic religious pundits is probably more dangerous for authentic Christianity than some alternatives. An America where the streets are safe from crime, where there is no poverty and prosperity is achieved by all, where America is the sole super-power, where the American churches are full every Sunday with people basking in the light of moral imperatives achieved, and there is, of course, a Christ of sorts there to help us, an America satisfied with herself would be a place Satan would approve just as easily he would a pagan nation. Perhaps persecuted Christians in hostile lands understand the need for a Savior more dearly and are more satisfied with Christ alone, with faith alone, with Grace alone. They have no need for nationalistic hubris.
The primary inspiration for this post is this: On the way home from work a few days ago, I was listening to the radio, listening to a Christian culture warrior, a talk show host. After bemoaning all the social ills du jour, as he always seems to do, and rallying the listeners to take America back by judicial means, he shilled for something called The Patriots Study Bible (available in a camo addition!)
Sometimes the church loves to engage errant syncretism and idolatry when she wraps the Cross with a flag. As an aside, in the few times I have listened to the aforementioned Christian talk show, I have never heard the Gospel proclaimed.
Follows in an excerpt from a exposition on Psalm 88 titled “Lament” by Kevin Kim.
God put this intemperate, angry, over-the-top, blasphemous rant in the Holy Scripture…in His Scripture.He put it in there to let us know that He knows how we speak when we are hurting and He understands.
He understands when our feelings so overwhelm us that we say desperate things, incorrect things, even heretical things. He understands so much that He put an example in Scripture saying, “It’s safe to pray like this with Me. It’s safe to pour out your feelings like this with Me because I am still the God of this man, despite the way he talks. I am still his Father.”
God is saying, “I am not your God because you can put on a happy face every Sunday morning.” God is saying to you, “I am not your God because you say all the right things to Me. I am not your God because you do all the right things. I am not your God because you can hold it together. I am just your God. I am just your God, and I am big enough and I am strong enough to hold you when you’re falling apart and to love you at your very best and at your very worst.” He understands your weeping, He understands you anguish, He understands you tears, and He is big enough and strong enough to take it. It is safe to pour out your heart to Him. Psalm 88 is a sign of His grace and understanding.
I remember thumbing through the Psalter of a church I once attended for a brief while. I found it interesting that Psalm 88 was excluded. Having struggled with varying degrees of depression most of my life, I quite frankly am glad Psalm 88 is included in the Bible. Those with such struggles need to know they are not alone. Maybe, too, we find a hint, a shadow, of Christ’s lament on the cross within this Psalm, as One Who felt, at His darkest hour, forsaken, even by the Father as He faced a wrath deserved by us. Maybe we are sometimes allowed to share, even in our wretched unworthiness, a taste of His suffering. We find, too, He comes into our darkness, quietly, and whispers to us that we are, by His grace, accepted and loved, and that one day, all the darkness will pass.
A Cry of Desperation
A song. A psalm of the sons of Korah. For the choir director: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite. (A)
1 LORD, God of my salvation,
I cry out before You day and night. (B)
2 May my prayer reach Your presence;
listen to my cry. (C)
3 For I have had enough troubles,
and my life is near Sheol. (D)
4 I am counted among those going down to the Pit. (E)
I am like a man without strength, (F)
5 abandoned [a] among the dead.
I am like the slain lying in the grave, (G)
whom You no longer remember,
and who are cut off from Your care. (H) [b]
6 You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit,
in the darkest places, in the depths. (I)
7 Your wrath weighs heavily on me; (J)
You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves. (K)
8 You have distanced my friends from me;
You have made me repulsive to them. (L)
I am shut in and cannot go out.
9 My eyes are worn out from crying. (M)
LORD, I cry out to You all day long; (N)
I spread out my hands to You. (O)
10 Do You work wonders for the dead?
Do departed spirits rise up to praise You? (P)
11 Will Your faithful love be declared in the grave,
Your faithfulness in Abaddon? (Q)
12 Will Your wonders be known in the darkness,
or Your righteousness in the land of oblivion? (R)
13 But I call to You for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer meets You. (S)
14 LORD, why do You reject me? (T)
Why do You hide Your face from me? (U)
15 From my youth,
I have been afflicted and near death.
I suffer Your horrors; I am desperate. (V)
16 Your wrath sweeps over me;
Your terrors destroy me. (W)
17 They surround me like water all day long;
they close in on me from every side. (X)
18 You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me;
darkness is my [only] friend. (Y) [c]
On Free Will, by the same speaker, thinking my thoughts, but with more lucidity:
(a bit long for a YouTube, but worth the time spent in viewing it)
What should happen when one embraces the truth of Sovereign Grace is eventually an attitude of overarching humility and a destruction of prideful moralism. Without regard to the correctness of our Christian soteriology, we all still struggle with the bent of our old nature, though. I have collected all the swag, those metaphorical tee-shirts and bumper stickers, to know that such is true. I still have those struggles.
As an aside and in context to discussions that revolve around issues of free will, I really, intensely, dislike that “God does not want robots to love Him” thing. I have heard it too many times and from good people, but I know that conceit is sometimes driven by a prideful emotionalism that leads to errant, unbiblical conclusions. It ultimately leads to place where we find a needy God Who tries to make Himself attractive to us so as to woo us. We often find, too, a faux therapeutic gospel.
There is nothing attractive about the cross, that Roman torture and death machine. The foot of the cross is for rebels who hate the true God and have no place for Him, ultimately for you and me. It is only His sovereign grace and His ability to replace a heart of stone with a heart of flesh that draws us to the beauty of the Messiah. Too, that door you hear about in altar calls upon which sad, patient Jesus is always plaintively knocking, hoping that somebody might open it for Him….it is not the door to the heart of the unregenerate, an evangelical call, but was the door to the church in first century Laodicea, a damaged, complacent, body of believers.
I think about the following, and quite popular, video, one I have watched and commented on before. I know that it has ministered to many people on some level, and I do not question the authenticity of their faith.
However, and without regard to how strongly this video tugs on ones emotional strings, I think it unbibically portrays fallen humanity more as victim than rebel, than sinner. I also find egregious error in its depiction of a god who waits helplessly on the sidelines for the victim to decide, or find within themselves the ability to reach out for help to Himself.
Also, that worried, hand-wringing portrayal of god is not the sovereign, settled, in-control of everything in the created order Triune God revealed in the Biblical texts. He does not struggle to draw His people too Himself. This portrayal of God in the following skit, comforting and approachable as he may seem, stands in sharp contrast to the completely sovereign God, the one who captured my own darkened heart and sin-bound will.
I do not need a God who simply throws me a rope and then struggles to clear a path for me so as to, when I finally make my way to him, simply dust me off and dance with me. None of that is the Gospel. I need a God who breaths life into me. Again, I am not merely a victim, but a perpetrator, and I need a sovereign Savior. I love Him, albeit so weakly, so falteringly in my humanity in contrast to which He is worthy, because He sovereignty drew me to himself when I was in death-bound rebellion against Him. If you think that makes me a robot, than so be it.
One more thought: How bold must someone be to portray God in a skit? I think of Peter who deemed himself unworthy to even be crucified in the same manner as our Messiah, asking instead to be crucified upside down.
In conclusion, here is some text from the same Gospel that gave us John 3:16:
John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6:65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
John 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
I sat on this post for awhile due to the issues described here, internally debating whether or not I should post it. After all, how could I authentically speak to issues of ecclesiology if I struggled with doubts of even belonging to the church militant? Without regards to such issues, I decided to unveil my thoughts, anyway.
If I ever were to pastor a church, which would only happen if God has a great sense of irony and loves to use the weak, the foolish, those prone to sin and despises it, and those with no leadership or interpersonal skills, these are some things I would insist upon:
- Sundays would not be a polished affair with state-of-the-art audio and visual accouterments. Musical instruments would probably be in the back of the church. Focus is to be on the Word unfolded so as to feed the sheep, not on a musical performance. I would refuse to play any music that was programmed to draw in people who would not otherwise go to church.
- I would never, never, never, ever lay the burden of the tithe, an unbiblical practice as taught by the contemporary church, upon the sheep. I will not pastor over the church of Galatia. There would be relatively few sermons or speeches on financial stewardship. Though important, you don’t need Jesus to teach you to balance your checkbook and save for a rainy day. Plus…I am not so good with money, myself. It just does not mean that much to me as it does others.
- I would probably be bi-vocational.
- There would be no sermons with seven steps to this or five keys to that. Legalism lite leads to Jesus lite. Legalism is a path that leads to Hell
- I would do my best to talk a lot about Christ using few if any personal anecdotes. I want you to learn about the Messiah, not about me. If I cannot teach redemptive Biblical history, the historical and true story of Christ alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, by the authority of the Bible alone, to the glory of God alone without telling stories about me and my life experience (boring thought it would be), I do not need to claim to be a pastor. If I ever become a pastor, which is highly unlikely, I will not be there to entertain you. When I die, I would just as soon be forgotten then be remembered as having been a charismatic leader.
- I would not ask for your personal testimonies, though you are certainly free to share – but, foremost, tell me Christ’s story in church, not yours. Your changed life, though I am happy for you, is not necessarily the Gospel. Paxil changes lives, AA changes lives, art changes lives, Mormonism has changed lives for the better. The Gospel story is what breaths life into rotten corpses. The apostle Peter probably had many interesting stories, but he told Christ’s story every time, all the time.
- There would never, never, ever be any altar call nor any other crass emotional manipulation of the flock. If Jesus and the apostles did not need them, then neither do I need that extra-biblical and rather recent and often detrimental appendage to the Gospel call. No. Sappy. Music. In. Church. Ever. Too, why do I need to close my eyes and bow my head during altar calls? Seriously….
- I would seek to heal you with the Gospel rather the Law. Too many preachers wield the Law like an anvil against the sheep when a salve of grace is called for.
- Preaching would be mostly expostional. Exceptions to expostional preaching might entail, for example, teaching about the lives and doctrines of the early church fathers and martyrs. I would also like to learn and teach on church history. Doing a class on systematic theology in the evenings would be cool, too. Theology is a fundamental part of the church. If I ever pastored a church, it would be lovingly doctrinal. Doctrine is the spine and immune system of the church.
- I would strongly discourage the turning of hobbies into ministries. You like to golf, hunt, and ride motorcycles. Such is fine with me; just don’t baptize them. Let me know when you want to go for a ride though. It would be fun to join with you.
- The crippled, the poor, the mentally ill and emotionally scarred, those not so articulate would welcomed and embraced. Along the same lines, introverts are welcome and loved. I understand because I am an introvert, too. If you are uncomfortable in certain social circumstances, we can fellowship, you and me, over a cup of coffee or can of beer where ever you are most comfortable. I personally like sweet tea. Occasionally, a shot or two of Evan Williams is fine. Church is not easy, sometimes, for introverts.
- I would insist that the elders and teachers hold the the Doctrines of Grace.
- No. Skits. Ever. No drama teams, either. You want drama, entertainment, go to a theater. The Word, being potent in and of itself, does not need our help. Drama merely adds extraneous layers. As an aside, it amazes me that people can feel comfortable playing the role of Christ in musical dramas and plays. I recall Peter requesting his body to be crucified upside down because he deemed himself to be unworthy to be crucified in the fashion of the Messiah.
- I would not make too big a deal about secondary issues such as eschatology, though they would not be ignored.
- Communion would be a real meal, I think, not a piece of bread or a plastic shot glass of grape juice. Wine would be available if desired. I also am not wed to the amount of water used in baptisms. Sprinkle or dunk, I can accommodate either. No major problems with either paedo and credo-baptism. I see valid Biblical arguments for either, though I lean towards credo-baptism.
- I would never say, as many do from the stage and pulpit, that I would not sacrifice my family for of the church, though I would hope I would never face such circumstances. Such statements, though common, seem strange and present a hopefully false dichotomy. I would die a thousand times for the church of the Christ. If my wife or children are not with me on this, then they turn their backs on the bride and body of Christ. I would not.
- I will not be a Christian culture warrior, ever. I will not try to dress unregenerate corpses up with the Law when they need the Gospel. You want a moral nation above all, have Utah succeed and move there. They are nice, family-friendly, moral people even without the Gospel delivered by the apostles. I would never preach pure moralism. It is the anti-thesis of grace.
- Children will not have to go to kids church when big people church starts if the family wants their children to be with them. Distractions are OK, to a degree, and a part of life, and a part of the body, a part of families. You hear me on this one Furtick and Noble? I will not force families to split up when the preaching starts. Shame on you, Furtick, for removing Christ from your service for being a distraction to your show…..as you do the the least of these……
- I would probably not let my church grow much beyond 200 people if I had such control. Should it do so, and this would be a great thing, we split into two sister churches, each with trained and approved elders and pastors. If a pastor cannot at least recognize his sheep, he needs to have others step up to help feed, lead and shelter the flock. Move half of them to another pasture. Keep growing the flock, and then splitting off to new pastures.
- Naive on my part, perhaps, but I would hope the hypothetical church I fed would not be success oriented with tangible metrics. Leave that for businesses. I would not count salivations. That is no ones job but the Holy Spirits; no one else is qualified to separate wheat from chaff. I would hope we would have an orientation of humility. If the seats are filled, fine. If not, fine. It will be Christ who grows His church, not me.
- I would literally die to protect my sheep from wolves, from bad theology. You will not see Wild At Heart or The Shack as recommended reading the churches library. I would never endorse heretics like TD Jakes as have many nominally orthodox pastors.
- I would never, ever have a fund raiser. If someone is in deep financial need, I would sell my possessions, give up vacations, and work overtime to help you. I hope the flock would do the same. Saddest thing I have seen in a long time is a large, evidently wealthy church holding a bake sale fund raiser for a child needing surgery.
- If you want to volunteer to help in the church, that is great. If not, that is fine with me, too. I know your probably work hard to support your family and need no extra burdens. Quite frankly, when you get rid of all the extraneous parking teams, media teams, creative teams, hospitality teams, volunteer coordination team volunteers, you find you do not need volunteers so much.
- Small groups, meh. I have seen them too often be pools of ignorance to which, not so long ago, I helped make even more deeply ignorant. If we do small groups, it will be elder led and Word focused. They are what you make of them.
- If you want a God of second chances, go to where the Gospel is light and cheap. I will give you a Gospel for dead men and women who float hopeless in the dark waters. They don’t need second chances. I, and they, would mess up the second chance, and the third, and the forth. I will point you to a Savior, to paraphrase Paul Capon, if memory serves, who dives into deep water to breath life into sin infused, rotten corpses, dies in the process, and later appears on the shore alive and waits for you having defeated death and sin.
Enough of my orthopraxic utopianism…
Being a bit curmudgeonly at times, I allow some things to really get under my skin, one of which is trite expressions of faith and errant ‘Gospels’. Here is one example of an errant Gospel of which I have previously written:
Listened to a podcast a few weeks ago wherein a megachurch pastor named Robert Morris, guest speaker at the local multi-site gigachurch, make an absolute mess of the topic of tithing. The ‘sermon’ delivered was, quite frankly, a train wreak of epic proportions. He ends his confusion of Law and Gospel with a somewhat inverted invitation to salvation. Given that he just put Christians under the bondage and curse of the Law (the apostle Paul would have told Morris to emasculate himself) with his take on tithing, he then asks the non-Christians in the audience to give to God an even more epic and extravagant gift than the tithe to God, their hearts.
Now, we have some profound problems here. First, who does the giving in the true transaction of the Gospel, the Christ or the unregenerate? Second, biblically, how is the unregenerate heart described? Well, I can tell you extravagant is not one of the adjectives. Deceitful is perhaps a better description. Below is an excerpt from the aforementioned NewSpring podcast.
I found the following quote from Harold Senkbeil embedded in a blog post titled We Are Seasoned Do-It-Yourselfers by Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) and thought it noteworthy.
Our Heavenly Father attaches no strings to His love. His love for us doesn’t depend on our love for others. Our relationship with the Father was established long ago, in the body and blood of His Son. Jesus Christ erased all our sins and shouldered all our sorrows. Already now we have a solid relationship with our heavenly Father; there’s no need to fret about it. That relationship doesn’t depend on our love for Him, but on His love for us. It hinges on the Gospel of God, not the Law of God…Again, the Old Adam betrays us. Our sinful nature would much rather hear Law than Gospel. The sinful nature is a seasoned do-it-yourselfer. We’d rather know what we should do, yet God insists on telling us who we are. The best way to tell you what to do as a Christian is to tell you who you are in Christ. The sinful nature likes to think it can earn (and keep) God’s favor. Our Old Adam prefers to base security with God the Father on His Law rather than His Gospel.
What a fragrant balm to the soul, what sweet rest one finds in the Gospel. I compare the aforementioned quote to what I listened to yesterday, a podcast from Fighting for the Faith that featured a guest pastor from a megachurch in Texas named Robert Morris who spoke at NewSpring Church on May 15 in Anderson, SC, my hometown. If you listen to this ‘sermon‘, you find soon after 1:07, Morris stating that by your tithing, the curse on your finances is removed. What a confusion of Law and Gospel. My heart grieves for those swayed by such manipulative messages.
For Easter, I am reposting the following essay from December 21, 2007. Unlike others, I am not sure when I became a Christian quite honestly, but I think is was not long before I wrote the following. He is risen! I am a great sinner and He is a greater Savior!
Let me talk to you about my Messiah, Jesus Christ. Let me open quite controversially. If Christ is just a great moral teacher, He failed, and failed miserably. For all His altruism, His selflessness in serving others, for all His concern for the disenfranchised, for His formidable moral standards, His end is not one that I would consider a glowing endorsement for emulating His life. He was crucified; He died a death quite gruesome and, in death, was associated with criminals. If such is the potential end for emulating Christ the Teacher, then I want nothing of it. If we consider Christ only a moral example, then I cannot endorse Him above the Buddha. I cannot endorse Him above Gandhi. I cannot endorse Him above an Old Testament patriarch. They differ not in kind, but only in degree. His death carries no greater meaning and import than that of Martin Luther King’s. However, if Christ is more than a teacher, if He is who He and His followers claim Him to be, the Son of God whose death on the cross precedes something greater, His physical resurrection, I then must consider Him in an altogether different light.
I read, in the New Testament canon and in early church history, stories of martyrdom. I read, too, of multitudes abandoning the very foundations of their life to turn and follow, often at great personal, and sometimes ultimate, cost, the One whom they believed to be something greater than a teacher. These 1st century Palestinian Jews (and the gentiles, also), the first followers of Christ, had no great need of a Messiah as a life coach, a minister to their finances and marriages. Their lives were, I believe, even if in a time of political tension, quite predictable for the most part. They were tied to the rhythms of the land, of harvest. They were, for the most part, farmers and craftsmen. They were embedded in the life of the synagogue. Too, the individualism, the obsessive focus on self, of contemporary western culture would be, I believe, quite alien to them.
The Messiah that many were expecting and the Messiah that they received were quite different from one another. Again, there was political tension in that time and place. Judea was under Roman rule and before the first century closed, the 2nd Temple would be, as predicted by the Messiah, in ruins. The expected Messiah would be a King, a strong Man who would break the shackles of Roman oppression and return to the Jews self-rule, and Jerusalem, the city of God, would take her place as the beacon of light to all the nations. This did not happen, though. They instead received a Child who would grow up to divide rather than conquer, to turn child against parent, neighbor against neighbor. He would upset the status quo. He would be, for a time, a pauper King, having, as He said to would-be disciples, no place to lay his head. The Messiah was homeless. His family, for the most part, before witnessing the resurrected Christ, did not, I believe, consider Jesus to be anything but perhaps a bit mad. Even his inner circle of disciples could not wrap their minds around Christ’s proclamations about Himself. Rather, they still anticipated a political King who would establish a theocracy. The pre-Easter Jesus, on the cross, left his followers discouraged and defeated. The post-Easter Jesus revolutionized his adopted ones. Easter changed everything.
How can I talk coherently about Easter and find words worthy to address our risen King, words not compromised by cliché? I am humbled by the task. First, Easter is absolutely not just a metaphysical event having no concrete reality. The resurrection was not just merely a spiritual event; it is more than metaphor. The resurrection actually occurred in time and space. The Creator, the One through whom all things hold together, was willingly brutalized and murdered by His creation. He willingly became our Scapegoat, our blood sacrifice once for all. He is the new Covenant. Everything changed on Easter.
I can give coherent reasons and evidence to help illuminate the reality of the Easter event. It does not, contrary to what most would imagine, require a giant leap of blind faith. I can affirm with as much clarity the physical resurrection of Christ as I can most any event in ancient (and not so ancient) history. Where does this leave me, though? What do I do with this formidable knowledge? What does it mean and to where does it lead? Before we can even begin to address these questions, we must inquire as to the why of the Easter event.
Why did the Word that created cosmos, created humanity, deem it necessary to take on, from the Christmas event to eternity forward, a sinless human nature, and after taking on flesh, have it brutalized and nailed to that tree? Only in the context of that question can we begin to understand the Easter event. Here we find truths both simple and daunting, both compelling and repulsive.
We, as disciples of Christ, are beholden to our Messiah to apprehend these difficult truths to the best of our ability. Because of complacency that often permeates American Christianity, I believe that, as a church, we often worship more a pre-Easter Jesus rather than the post-Easter Jesus. The pre-Easter crowds gathered to the Messiah to receive from Him. The post-Easter Messiah drew to Him those who were willing to die for Him. The followers of the pre-Easter Jesus fell away from Him at the cross. The post-Easter disciples of Christ followed Him to the ends of the earth; they looked to give themselves away, to serve the Messiah, to die to self. I ask myself, which Christ am I following?
I know I am probably beating this subject to death and will be a bit repetitive with this post, but I am absolutely infuriated by the often errant implications and the scripture twisting that are fellow travelers with this doctrine. It is not an issue of money for me. It is not an issue of obedience for me. It is not an issue of stewardship. It is, ultimately, an issue of Law and Gospel, or more specifically, a confusion of the two. I am, again, talking about tithing.
Here is, verbatim, part of a sermon on money, on tithing, I recently watched. The sermon by Perry Noble is found here and the quoted section starts at approximately one hour and two minutes into the sermon.
In exodus 13, God says the firstborn is mine, and then the passover took place, and the people that did not put the blood over the door frame and said I’m not going to consecrate my son to you, what happened to the son in that house? He got killed. Your either gonna give your 10 percent to God or He’s gonna take it. The Bible says God will not be mocked. For some of you, there’s a reason your car keeps breaking down. There’s a reason you cant keep your kid out of the doctors office. There’s a reason you cant keep a job. You’re trying to mock god.
Such is, unfortunately, not a unique approach to the subject. I have heard similar sentiments from other pastors, and I spoke on it just recently here. My first and overarching thought on the above quote is thus: The pastor portrays a grievous and confused understanding of Law and Gospel.
Let me say it one more time just so that I am not misunderstood: He Does Not Really Understand Grace. And it’s not just him. Again, I have heard the same sentiment from other stages and pulpits, and I would say the same thing about others who infer that God acts like a mobster running a protecting racket on His own children. What we find in this sermon is essentially a quid pro quo Gospel. Christ did this, so you gotta do that.
What I see from the aforementioned sermon are verses ripped out of context and used as proof-text to prop up an errant pretext. But, as this pastor graciously and humbly mentions at one hour into the video, you must be stupid and Biblically illiterate if you disagree with him on this subject. Be that as it may…
Going off a bit tangentially, I think the overarching issues is one of methodology. Some preachers are topical teachers, speaking often to the felt needs of the audience. Others are expositional teachers. Topical preachers tend to hover over the Scripture and pick verses, often out of context, to communicate some point, often a favorite subject of the pastor. They, by their methodology, become lord over the text. Expositional preaching, where the pastor goes through a book of the Bible verse by verse, is bound to the Word and it forces the preacher to open the word, in context, to the congregation. The text is lord over the pastor.
I want to be clear that I am not so much anti-tithe, but more anti-how the tithe is often taught. I know of Christians who give their ten percent as a holy act of worship. Personally, I do not think the percentage is as important as the condition of one’s hearts.
Speaking of how the tithe is taught, here is a video that might be of interest:
Christian, you do not have to tithe to ‘earn’ God’s favor. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You are not blessed because of your obedience to the Law, you are justified by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone.
This is not healthy truth:
Radical Grace is Life!
Just uploaded the section of the sermon to which I refer to YouTube. So much error and mishandling of scripture. I honestly fear for Perry. Here is the video:
I Timothy 1:7 – “They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:10-14 ESV)
Addendum of 6-25-2012: More thoughts on tithing - Don’t Place Yourself Under A Curse