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.
On The New Tetzels
First and foremost, in no way do I intend to encourage faithful givers to discontinue tithing to their church. Secondly, I in no way disparage those who, out of graceful conviction, feel the tithe is worshipful and holy giving to God. I have reached my conclusions on tithing based on careful study. Others have, also after careful study, reached different conclusions. That is quite fine in this mostly tertiary issue, one to be disagreed upon graciously.
Some pastors, however, cynically use their exhortations to tithe as a graceless, wicked, sledgehammer to either callously manipulate people to giving out of guilt or, even worse, to manipulate people into a quid pro quo mode of giving, a type of pseudo-karmic ‘prosperity lite’ theology where God only meets your financial desires and meets your felt needs based on the percentage of your financial input.
I honestly do not want to sound my own horn; I do not care for anyone to know how much I give to a church or to charitable causes. I do not want the left hand to know what the right hand is doing. That being said, not so long ago, I had been attending a church for a while, though not a member, when I was introduced to the church secretary. She recognized my name from the checks I wrote to the church and complemented me on my giving with an aside that she wished others did the same. Her comment, though innocuous and complementary in intent, bothered me a bit. I later learned this church that had rather recently went through a painful split and was now, due to a decrease in attendance, overstaffed and experiencing a budget deficit. This is by no means a church that constantly harped on money as so many contemporary churches, mega or otherwise, often do. I only heard one sermon on giving/tithing while I was there. It is a wonderful reformed church that values expository preaching and seeks to give glory to Christ.
During that one sermon on tithing, it was mentioned, as a sermon illustration, that there was a church that put up visuals, charts essentially, that exalted those who were the big givers in the church in order to encourage other to give more. That illustration concerned me.
Later, I listened to a sermon by Ed Young, Jr, one of the bigger stars in the constellation of megachurch pastors. In the course of the sermon, he mentioned that if one did not tithe to his church, you could not be a member of his church.
In my previous post, I noted that Perry Noble, another megachurch CEO/pastor from the same mold as Ed Young, Jr, stated that his staff was going to go through ‘the records’ to see who had or had not been tithing, an act problematic in and of itself, and remove those who had not been tithing and volunteering from the church roles. He said God told him to do so.
What has happened with this distorted focus on and understanding of tithing is that something seems to have been added to the Gospel of grace and faith in Christ. Beyond being regenerated and baptized, now you have to submit to what I believe to be an erroneous understanding of the Old Testament tithe to be a member of the New Testament church. Essentially, an errant and distorted requirement of the tithe augments baptism and belief as a standard of membership in the church. It becomes the equivalent of the Mosaic circumcision required to be part of covenant community. Sadly, grace and faith in Christ are not enough to be in the family of those redeemed by the atoning work of the Messiah.
As an addendum, I sat on this post for weeks before posting it. After viewing the following video, I felt compelled to publish.
One might recall the recent controversy surrounding Ed Young, Jr’s church in its leasing of a private jet used to shuttle Mr. Young to the various conferences that he attends, an expenditure that was not revealed to his church until the story reached the media. One might also remind Ed that the Levitical priests who received the tithe, in part the Old Testament tax for Israel, were not allowed to own property.
24When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?”
26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt
2 Corinthians 9:7
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
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.
The topic of tithing has been percolating in my mind for quite some time. Before I continue, I must make one or two things absolutely clear. First, what I am absolutely not advocating is an excuse to discontinue giving ten percent of one’s income as an act of worship if one is presently doing so. Second, I also submit that I could be wrong about my conclusions so I am not dogmatic on this subject. It is something Christians can agreeably disagree about. Third, I acknowledge that the majority of pastors who teach tithing do so in such a way that that grace is not invalidated. I also understand the vast majority of people who faithfully tithe (and sadly, there are not many) do so out of a pure and righteous motivation. The only reason I spend the time to put a few my less than stellar thoughts on this subject to the written word is because I have been deeply grieved by first-hand knowledge of egregious examples of a misunderstanding of the tithe, the result of which is a legalism that is absolutely counter to the grace of the new covenant. Following are some of the aforementioned examples of the damage caused by an errant teaching of the tithe.
I have heard more than once, from well-meaning Christians, the proposal that because one tithes, God prevents bad things from happening in one’s life. Perhaps because one tithes, one’s car does not break down or perhaps some illness does not befall them. The unintended implication is that if one does not tithe, God’s providential protection is removed and fate may have it’s way with you; God is unintentionally reduced to something akin to a cosmic protection racket.
I have spoken to people who seem to use the tithe as a means to gain divine favor in their business and personal financial life. The thought is that because one meets this obligation to give ten percent, God will bestow His favor upon one’s business and personal finances. God is essentially being used as a means to a selfish end. God does indeed bless His children, those who give from a generous heart, but He will not be used.
I have heard advice given to one about to enter bankruptcy that, before all other financial obligations, one must give ten percent to God. Perhaps rather than extracting the tithe from this individual, maybe this is the person to whom the church, under the covenant of grace, should give and minister.
I have heard church leaders state from their stage/pulpit that they will, if hiring from within the church, look at a prospective employees tithing record before they can be considered for employment. What about Christ’s call in the Sermon on the Mount on not letting the left hand know what the right hand does in relation to giving?
I know of at least one person who has quit attending church out of guilt, a church that is often quite manipulative in how it teaches the tithe, because they simply could not afford to consistently give ten percent of their income due to financial setbacks.
The bottom line and perhaps unintended implication of the errant presentation of tithing by some in the clergy is that our status with God is a result of our performance with all the attendant pride and attendant guilt that comes from attempting gain God’s favor by works. At the root of the misapplication of the tithe is, I believe, a failure to understand the demarcation between the old and new covenant, the divide between Law and Grace. It is, at the root, a misunderstanding of context. Often Malachi 3:8-10 is given as a proof text for tithing. “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”
Much could be said about how some pastors manipulate their flock with the misapplication of the Malachi 3:8-10. That being said, I read in Romans 8:1 the following: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
We must understand who God is speaking to in our exegesis of Old Testament text. God is speaking of the Levitical priesthood in Malachi. He is not speaking to the church of the new covenant. If we insist that the tithe is to be pulled into the covenant of grace, then we should, for example, also refrain from eating bacon, from wearing clothing made of two different materials.
If we insist that the tithe is applicable to the covenant of grace, then we must bring the rest of the Law with it. We do not have the liberty to pick and chose which parts of the Law we wish to adhere to and which parts of the Law we can reject. It is all or nothing. The same arguments given to the continuation of the tithe under the new covenant can be equally applied to circumcision for believers in Christ. I have also heard pastors, in defending the obligatory tithe for the church, state that the tithe predates the law. So does circumcision. I believe the subject of the circumcision was well attended to by the Apostle Paul.
If not the obligatory tithe as the model for giving, then by what measure do we give? I believe it is this:
If you are redeemed by the law, give by the law. If you are redeemed by grace, give by grace!
- Matthew 17:24-26
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” and when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.
- 2 Corinthians 9:7-8
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
Quite a while back, I posted the following article on giving to this blog. In fact, it was my second post to this WordPress blog, though I originally posted it on another blog. In closure:
December 15, 2007
I passed by a church recently. They were having a public fund raiser for an infant in need of medical care. This was not, judging from the size and architecture of the sanctuary and the selection of cars in the parking lot, a financially poor church.
These are my thoughts that revolve around this scene. First, with the best of intentions, why does the church offer trinkets, services (car washes, for example), tickets for chances at winning things, or baked goods in order prompt others to give, to raise money for someone in need? Is this not the antithesis of giving as taught in the New Testament canon? Are we, as the body of Christ, so petty that we must be given to, even on a symbolic level, before we give?
How are we to live and give in relationship to our risen Savior? Perhaps if one or two or a few people in that church quietly and anonymously cashed in some of their stock portfolio, the medical needs of the child’s family would be met. Perhaps instead of buying a $30,000 dollar bass boat, the money could be spent to help a family that finds themselves unemployed. Perhaps the money for that vacation fund for the family getaway to Cancun could be sent to a team of missionaries to aid Sierra Leone in building medical facilities, churches and schools. My own words are not merely a hollow, self-righteous polemic against others; they absolutely condemn me in my own self-absorption.
- Acts 2:44-47 All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.