Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: Pro Tithing Quotes

As many of you know, I’m not a tithing advocate. I’ve written about the topic many times over the past year, explaining ad nauseum the Scriptural problems with the teaching. However, I do like to pay attention to the various pro-tithing voices out there (and they are losing ground, by the way).

I ran across the following quotes that typify the pro-tithing mindset. I grew up in a tithe-teaching church, and have spent all of my adult life ministering in pro-tithing churches, and I’ve heard this type of talk many, many times. Even taught it myself a time or two:

"Tithing is an important test of our personal righteousness."

"By this principle it shall be known who is for the Kingdom of God and who is against it... By it shall be known whether we are faithful or unfaithful"

Who said these things? Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church.

Was Jesus Wealthy? - Part 2

In a previous post, I dealt with some of the ideas put forth by prosperity preachers that Jesus was, in fact, a wealthy man. The impetus for these posts comes from an article at that you can find here.

Biblical and historical ignorance are on full display every time one of these Ministers of Materialism opens his or her mouth. There was so much I wanted to cover, I decided to split it up into 2 posts.

The argument for Jesus’ affluence continues:

[The Rev. C. Thomas] Anderson says Jesus never would have had disciples or a large following if he was poor. He would not have been able to command their respect.
"The poor will follow the rich, the rich will follow the rich, but the rich will never follow the poor," Anderson says.

But, what about Martin Luther King? And Mahatma Gandhi (who wore a diaper)? The article points out that they amassed quite a following without being paragons of opulence.

The Scriptural record is clear that the people followed Jesus because of the healing and the teaching. He taught things the religious establishment of that day did not. He offered hope in the form of reconciliation with God – something they cherished back then, and that seems to be lost on society today.

But this assertion points to a more troubling problem I have with the prosperity movement: the idea that we must ascend to greatness (i.e. material wealth) in order to be effectively used by God. This betrays a worldly and covetous heart, and it flies in the face of Biblical truth:

1Co 1:26-29 NIV Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (27) But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, (29) so that no one may boast before him.

I pray that the peddlers of prosperity would spend less time feeding their flesh, and more time meditating on the Word of God.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Was Jesus Rich?

The prosperity preachers are really reaching in order to justify their religion of opulence. For years they’ve been spouting the nonsense that, contrary to centuries of understanding, Jesus was a materially wealthy man.

You see, they have to assert this falsehood in order to legitimize their own right to wealth (after all, they are the King’s Kids). This affluence is also available to their followers, who are willing to plant a fully deductible faith-seed into their ministry.

This article from does a good job presenting both sides of the argument that Jesus was wealthy. Here are some quotes:

[Rev. C. Thomas] Anderson says Jesus couldn't have been poor because he received lucrative gifts -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- at birth. Jesus had to be wealthy because the Roman soldiers who crucified him gambled for his expensive undergarments. Even Jesus' parents, Mary and Joseph, lived and traveled in style, he says. "Mary and Joseph took a Cadillac to get to Bethlehem because the finest transportation of their day was a donkey," says Anderson.

This is an example of blatant biblical ignorance coming from a supposed Man of God. Even a cursory glance at scripture will show that there is no mention of Mary and Joseph taking a donkey on their journey. That’s just the stuff of legend used to fill out a nativity scene at Christmas time.

Also, regarding the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, it’s widely agreed that these “lucrative gifts” were used to finance their trip to Egypt (remember that – fleeing from the murderous King Herod?). Presumably, Joseph had no carpenter clients in that area, so they would have used the gifts to live on during that time.

As for the soldiers gambling for His clothing? Records from that era show that this was a typical practice. Roman soldiers routinely gambled for any intact garment of a crucifixion victim. What wasn’t typical, though, was the crucifixion of the wealthy. This torturous death was reserved for the despised slaves and rebels.

More on this in the next post.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The New American Religion

According to a nationwide survey, lots of people like to blend Christianity with Eastern and New Age beliefs.

You can read the LA Times article here, but here are some quotes:
About a quarter of those surveyed expressed beliefs in New Age or Eastern religious principles such as reincarnation and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects.

About 65% of those surveyed also expressed belief in or report having an experience with a variety of supernatural phenomena, such as believing in astrology, being in touch with the dead or consulting a psychic.

S. Scott Bartchy, a professor of the history of religion at UCLA, said the results were not surprising given the increasing cultural diversity of the United States.

Regardless, Lichterman said, Americans have the idea that religion and spirituality are a matter of choice.

"That kind of religious individualism," he said, "is the American religion."

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the direction the American church has been taking for the past – oh, I don’t know – 10 years or more? I know I’ve been speaking out about it for over half that time.

I’m afraid that evangelists, pastors, and teachers across the continent have failed in their mission. When America’s pulpiteers abandon biblical preaching in favor of ear-tickling entertainment, the masses are left to fend for themselves.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

100th Post Special Extravaganza Lollapalooza

Well, this is my 100th post. Quite a milestone considering I had no idea what I was going to do with a blog when I started. I’ve decided to interview myself and ask some questions I’ve been dying to know the answer to!

Why did you start this blog?
At the time I was the Associate Pastor/Youth Pastor at a local church here in Roanoke, and I was looking for another way to connect with the people in the congregation there.

And you’re not in the ministry anymore?

Gonna be again?
Not any time soon.

Why do you still call the blog Pastor Kip, seeing as how you’re no longer a pastor?
Well, I hope some of my reflections will serve as a pastoral help to those who read my blog. Plus, I know it really irks some people.

That’s not very Christian of you.
So I’ve heard . . .

Why do you write?
I write about things that interest me – that I find amusing. I’ve always enjoyed sharing things I like with others. I also find writing to be a catharsis to help me sort out how I feel about certain things, and to sound off on personal pet peeves. I’m not always right, and I may not always say things the right way, but I try to be absolutely honest in what I write – even if it ticks some people off.

But you’re such a sweet guy, have you ever ticked anyone off?
Oh, yes. I’ve had to remove two of my posts because of the furor they incited – one got me accused of blasphemy (I’ve reposted that one here) and one even became the subject of an entire church board and council meeting.

I didn’t know you had that much power . . .
Me neither!

What’s the future of Pastor Kip, the blog?
Pretty much the same. I’ll continue to write about religion, pop culture, sports, etc. Now that I’m no longer a part of the church machine, I’m freed up to express my raw feelings about things, so it should get pretty interesting.

Any final words for your readers?
Yes. Thanks for taking time to care about what I have to say. Don’t take me too seriously (Lord knows I don’t), and feel free to disagree. I can handle it. I even change my mind from time to time.

Thanks for the interview.
My pleasure.

Don’t forget to call your mom.
Oh, thanks!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Video: Top Dollar Tithing Tunes

Here's the video I posted a few months back that had some accusing me of mocking and ridiculing Christianity. I took it down because of the criticism. However, on further reflection, I've decided to repost it. The mockery is not of Christianity, but the avarice that defines so much of what passes for "Christian stewardship" today.

Plus, it's just plain funny.

Truth is, this video was made by the folks at GodWhy for a sermon series on things people don't like about church. Maybe we could set aside our self-righteousness, stop taking ourselves so seriously, and learn something.

Article: Vatican Newspaper Praises "The Simpsons"

Wow - didn't see this one coming! Here's the scoop:

According to Catholic News Service, the Vatican paper went on to describe "The Simpsons" as "tender and irreverent, scandalous and ironic, boisterous and profound, philosophical -- and sometimes even theological -- nutty synthesis of pop culture and of the lukewarm and nihilistic American middle class."

"Simultaneously reflecting modern people's indifference toward and great need for the sacred, Homer ... finds his ultimate refuge in God."

You can read the entire article here.

And to think I was once chastised by my pastor for referring to The Simpsons during a youth message . . .

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Priest Says Shoplifting is Okay - Seriously

The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that on Sunday, the reverend Tim Jones told his congregation at the Church of Saint Lawrence in York that it was okay for poor people struggling to survive to steal food and other essentials from stores.

Here's more from the article:

"My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift," he said, as originally reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post. "I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither."

Jones set down strict guidelines for would-be Christian criminals. "I would ask that [people] do not steal from small, family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices," he said. "[And] I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need."

Needless to say, the reverend Jones has come under some serious fire from authorities and storeowners alike.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Modern Youth Ministry Labeled "Indisputably Unbiblical"

In a recent conference, Scott Brown, director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches, claimed that modern youth ministry is "indisputably unbiblical."

Here are a few tidbits from the article:

Age-segregated youth ministry, trained youth ministers and programs to draw and entertain youth are a new invention in the history of the church, Brown said.

"Modern youth ministry is also inherently destructive in its impact. It divides the church by creating generational division and multiple cultures instead of a unified 'body,'" he maintained.

. . . age segregation leads to the isolation of an individual's perspective to one that only looks outward from within the confines of their age group and excludes the lessons that can and should be learned from previous generations," he adds.

The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches holds that the biblical order and unity of the family are crucial to the stability and health of the Church of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, churches have contributed to the breakdown of the family, the center claims.

"We now have almost three generations of children who had no father who walked beside them but a youth group instead. It is obvious that half a decade of youth group does not produce young people who are passionate about the church."

Research and estimates by youth workers have suggested that a majority of youth group seniors drop out of church after graduating.

Brown is quick to point out that while he rejects youth groups, he supports ministry to youths. He advocates generous investments in teaching Scripture to teens.

Having been a part of the church machine for the past 25 years or so, and most of that spent in youth ministry, I have to say that – for the most part – I agree.

I don’t have a problem with teens having their own group, but I’ve seen it go way too far – to the point where teens don’t know what to do with themselves after they graduate and are no longer a part of the “youth group”.

I also don’t have a problem with burping contests, and snot shot contests, and all those crazy things, but I’ve seen those become the soul purpose of the youth ministry. In all my years, I always strove to teach solid Biblical doctrine to teens while allowing them to have fun on their own terms. And, all in all, it worked pretty well. The main emphasis, however, must be the Biblical presentation of the gospel and discipleship.

And Brown hits a home run with his indictment of the failure of families (and fathers in particular) to teach Biblical truths in the home. That, in fact, is the Biblical pattern.

MacArthur on the Prosperity Gospel

Randy, over at the CrossTalk blog, has posted an excerpt from a John MacArthur message regarding the prosperity teaching so rampant in the church today. With a fervor for the truth of Scripture, MacArthur speaks out strongly against the shameful practices and teachings of the TBN network in general, and Oral Roberts and Paul and Jan Crouch in particular.

Here’s the excerpt in full:

And for anyone who simply bothers to compare Jesus’ teaching with the health-and-wealth message, it is clear that the message that currently dominates religious television is “a different gospel; which is really not another” (Galatians 1:6-7), but a damnable lie.

TBN is by far the leading perpetrator of that lie worldwide. Virtually all the network’s main celebrities tell listeners that God will give them healing, wealth, and other material blessings in return for their money. On program after program people are urged to “plant a seed” by sending “the largest bill you have or the biggest check you can write” with the promise that God will miraculously make them rich in return. That same message dominates all of TBN’s major fundraising drives. It’s known as the “seed faith” plan, so-called by Oral Roberts, who set the pattern for most of the charismatic televangelists who have followed the trail he blazed. Paul Crouch, founder, chairman, and commander-in-chief of TBN, is one of the doctrine’s staunchest defenders.

The only people who actually get rich by this scheme, of course, are the televangelists. Their people who send money get little in return but phony promises—and as a result, many of them turn away from the truth completely.

If the scheme seems reminiscent of Tetzel, that’s because it is precisely the same doctrine. (Tetzel was a medieval monk whose high-pressure selling of indulgences—phony promises of forgiveness—outraged Martin Luther and touched off the Protestant Reformation.)

Like Tetzel, TBN preys on the poor and plies them with false promises. Yet what is happening daily on TBN is many times worse than the abuses that Luther decried because it is more widespread and more flagrant. The medium is more high-tech and the amounts bilked out of viewers’ pockets are astronomically higher. (By most estimates, TBN is worth more than a billion dollars and rakes in $200 million annually. Those are direct contributions to the network, not counting millions more in donations sent directly to TBN broadcasters.) Like Tetzel on steroids, the Crouches and virtually all the key broadcasters on TBN live in garish opulence, while constantly begging their needy viewers for more money. Elderly, poor, and working-class viewers constitute TBN’s primary demographic. And TBN’s fundraisers all know that. The most desperate people—”unemployed,” “even though I’m in between jobs,” “trying to make it; trying to survive,” “broke”—are baited with false promises to give what they do not even have. Jan Crouch addresses viewers as “you little people,” and suggests that they send their grocery money to TBN “to assure God’s blessing.”

Article: The War on Christmas

Every year we hear the battle cry, "Don't take Christ out of Christmas!" and we know the Christmas wars have begun once again. But here's an article that explores the battle fronts taking place in areas other than the hallowed manger in Bethlehem.

Here are a few quotes on a few different topics:


In his book, "Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays," [Joel] Waldfogel says gifts generate less satisfaction than things we buy ourselves. We don't really know what other people want, he says, but we do know what we want. Because of this, in his view, Christmas shopping is "an orgy of wealth destruction" as we spend on things people don't value as much as the money we pay for them.

"I'm not against spending, just sloppy spending," Waldfogel said on NPR's Tell Me More.


Last week, Australian public health expert Dr. Nathan Grills of Monash University was called a "killjoy" and a "scrooge" in the media for an article he wrote suggesting Santa Claus was promoting bad health habits. The article, called "Santa Claus: A public health pariah?" was published at, a British medical journal, and suggested that Santa was sending the wrong message with his obesity, drunk sleigh-driving, speeding and generally bad lifestyle choices.

Grills also said Santa could easily become a vehicle for spreading disease because he allows so many children to sit on his lap. Factor in all the sugary products he helps sell, he added, and the man in red is clearly not pushing a healthy agenda.

Editor's note: Grills later said the article was a spoof he wrote in his spare time.


As Christmas trees went up and light displays started flashing around the world, some people cringed at the thought of the electricity required to light the season.

Many of these light detractors suggest swapping out traditional Christmas lights with LED (light-emitting diodes) strings, which can be 90 percent more efficient.

While using LED lights may be a step in the right direction, some point out that many of those lights still end up on carbon-eating trees that have been mercilessly chopped down.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Selling Jesus

Here’s an interesting article about one of my pet peeves: Christian Marketing. Ever since I saw Testamints (breath mints with Bible verses on them) at my local Christian retailer, I’ve been cynical about the selling of what church marketing consultant Brad Abare calls “Jesus Junk”.

In this article, Abare nails it:

"We think it's just dumb. It's not a true reflection of creativity," said Abare, of the nonprofit Center for Church Communication in Los Angeles.

He’s speaking specifically about the current t-shirt trend where widely recognized logos such as Subway, iPod, American Idol, and Coca Cola are altered to contain, upon closer inspection, Christian themes.

“Reese’s” becomes “Jesus”.
“American Idol” becomes “Amazing Grace”.
“Sprite” becomes “Spirit”.

Some are going beyond the creativity criticism and questioning the copyright infringement. Aren’t these clever religious marketers violating the eighth commandment – thou shalt not steal?

My main concern is that these cheesy, banal rip offs will cheapen the message of Scripture. How are we to take seriously the idea of a loving God giving his only Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins against His holiness, when we see Him referred to as “My Homeboy”?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Lesson Learned From Tiger

The Tiger Woods saga is a cautionary tale. As more and more women come out of the woodwork, and Elin moves out, and Tiger steps away from golf for a while, it’s good to remember that while a wise man learns from his mistakes, a wiser man learns from other people’s mistakes.

Let’s face it, we’re not billionaire athletes and our personal sins will not be plastered across tomorrow’s headlines. The world at large does not care about our transgressions.

But our own little spheres of influence will care. That illicit relationship, that shady financial deal, that shameful habit, these will not remain hidden. And the secret things that invariably come to light will affect our own little world of family, friends, and peers.

The Bible puts it this way in Numbers 32:23:

. . . you may be sure that your sin will find you out.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: Paul, the Law, and Biblical Ignorance

Several months ago, a local church leader asked to meet with me about my tithing articles. He was complimentary and even said it caused him to consider changing the way he teaches the subject at his church. Then he made the statement that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while.

He said that after thoroughly reading Paul’s writings in the New Testament, he observed that Paul only rebuked Christians for following the Law of Moses when they made it necessary for salvation. He concluded that Paul was okay with New Testament Christians observing the Law (including tithing) as long as they didn’t take it too far. I nodded along as he spoke, but I wasn’t sure at the time if I agreed with the statement.

Now, I’m sure I don’t. In fact, I fear that argument may reveal a grievous error of attempting to force the Scriptures to fit a predetermined agenda.

Over and over again Paul exhorted Christians to not observe the Law. In Galatians 5, regarding those were tempted to return to the Law, Paul tells them, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Burdened? Yoke? Slavery? Do those sound like the wishy-washy words of a guy who wasn’t all that serious about the issue?

Paul goes on to say, “. . . if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.” He even says that if a Christian chooses to obey the Law regarding circumcision, he is obligated to obey the entire Law. It’s not something to deal with lightly – there’s no pick-and-choose option with the Law.

Furthermore, to teach a congregation that it’s proper to obligate oneself to any part of the Law is to separate them from the grace of God – see Galatians 5:1-4.

Some would say, “Well, I just want to follow the Law so I can please God.”

Sorry. The Scriptures make it clear that following the Law – even if you could do it perfectly – would not please God. That kind of attitude, when boiled down to the basics, is self-righteousness. The only way to please God is to come to Him by faith through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiger Woods is in the Rough

In case you haven’t heard, Tiger Woods was involved in a little incident this past weekend.

Click here for the story from Fox News.

I want to comment on this because I’m interested in both sports (although not golf, particularly) and pop culture – and Tiger Woods has a commanding presence in both. I find that I’m torn in my opinion of the coverage this story is getting. Let me work this out in the ever-popular blog format of bullet points:

  • The accident. This was a small accident. Just a little fender bender involving a pricey Cadillac Escalade, a fire hydrant, and an innocent tree. And an emotional woman with a golf club hovering over a bloody international sports icon who's floating in and out of consciousnesss. Not newsworthy if it happened to anyone else.

  • The celebrity. Seeing how his fame transcends the sports world, Tiger Woods is easily one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world.

  • The time. It happened at 2:25 am on Friday, November 27th. This alone raises the public eyebrow – where was he going at this time of day? Is it even anyone’s business?

  • The rumor. It happened two days after the National Enquirer published a story alleging a little romantic tryst with pop-tart Rachel Uchitel (which both Woods and Uchitel have denied). We can scoff at the reputation of the Enquirer, but remember, it was this publication that broke the news of Rush Limbaugh’s drug addiction in 2003, and John Edwards’ affair and subsequent love-child in 2007.

    Here’s a quote from the FoxNews story:

    Celebrity Web site TMZ claimed Woods was confronted by Elin (his wife) with the report that he had been seeing New York night club hostess Rachel Uchitel.

    The argument grew heated, and according to TMZ’s source, she scratched his face up.

    He then beat a hasty retreat to his SUV, with her following behind with a golf club. She reportedly used the club on the golfer's vehicle. Woods, then, reportedly became distracted, causing the car crash.

  • Here is where I’m conflicted:

    Is it anyone’s business? On a personal level – no. I hear people talking about the public’s right-to-know, but I don’t think we have any such right when it comes to a celebrity’s personal life. They are entitled to their privacy as much as any other person. However . . .

    Tiger Woods is the first ever billion-dollar athlete, and he makes 10 to 100 times more off the golf course than with a club in his hand. When a celebrity uses his or her image and reputation to endorse products, and sell the public on those products, said celebrity is held to a higher level of scrutiny than the average Joe Citizen.

    What are your thoughts?

    Sunday, November 29, 2009

    The Audacity of Forgiveness

    Lately, God’s been dealing with me about forgiveness – both seeking it and offering it. I had no idea how challenging it would be. Forgiveness is never easy. In fact, it can be, as one commentator said, “the most difficult thing in the universe.”

    Making it doubly difficult is our culture, which mocks at the idea of forgiveness. We are constantly encouraged to exploit our “right” to be offended at everything and exact vengeance on those who cross us.

    Forgiveness, however, is a fundamental pillar of Christian character, and perhaps the one that is the most easily neglected. But to neglect it causes great harm. It can turn the Christian into the very things he hates: harsh, rigid, and bitter. This, in turn, leads to holding grudges and elevating pride.

    As uncomfortable as it is, it is absolutely essential in Christian relationships. Though we hate to admit it, the church has its share of sins, imperfections, errors, misjudgments, and wrong attitudes, and these occur among the church leadership as well as the congregation.

    John MacArthur:

    The church needs to be filled with forgiving people because in this life people are always going to do things that irritate others or cause problems. If you’re willing to forgive an offender, you’ll be free from the bondage of bitterness. You’ll also be free to be forgiven by God and experience blessing from Him.

    In the next few posts, I’ll share what I’ve been learning about forgiveness from the Scriptures.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    The Hypocrisy of Forgiveness

    It's easy to preach forgiveness when you're the offender; not so much when you're the offended . . .

    Now, don't misunderstand me, forgiveness is an integral quality for a healthy life. It is indespensible in relationships with our fellow man as well as with God.

    But, in my considerable ministerial experience, I've seen forgiveness applied with both hypocrisy and cruelty. How?

    It goes something like this:

    You realize you've offended someone. You apologize and then (humbly) demand that they forgive you. Sometimes you don't even have to apologize - you just stress the fact that they need to forgive even if there is no apology forthcoming (it's helpful if you're able to do this from a position of power, like a pulpit).

    If there's still no discernible forgiveness on the part of the offended party, it's time to pull out the big guns. Scare them into submission by belaboring the point that God is on your side, and if they don't forgive you, He won't forgive them. If you're crafty, you can make this threat ambiguous enough so that they aren't sure if you're saying they will lose their salvation, or just be afflicted with some sort of malady that will make them a little less comfortable - like gout, or or a hellacious case of gas.

    You can then rest easily, knowing that the person you have wronged has been properly warned against holding any kind of grudge against you. Furthermore, any retaliative action on their part will be further confirmation of their lack of forgiveness, and will get them in even deeper trouble with God, who - as has been previously stated - is on your side.

    Now, put the shoe on a horse of a different gander (or something like that). You're the one who has been horribly offended. I mean, some low-life slob has debased himself and sunk to an all-time low in an attempt to hurt you.

    And it did hurt, too.

    And let's say, for kicks and giggles, that the offender has offered a public, heartfelt apology.

    What do you do? Do you forgive and forget? Or do you launch a campaign of your own to further sully the scum's name and ostracise him or her?

    I've been on both sides of this debate, and I can tell you - it ain't easy. At times I've responded well, and at times I've failed miserably.

    How aboout you?

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Article: Did Christianity Cause the Crash?

    For years I have decried the bad theology and inherent cruelty of the prosperity gospel. I even earned myself some pretty serious reprimands from the leadership I was under at the time for publicly calling out some of the more egregious Ministers of Mammon.

    So, I was fascinated when I ran across this article over at The Atlantic that examined the role this teaching may have played in the recent financial crash. I'd heard thoughts on this before, but journalist Hanna Rosin really goes into great detail explaining the prosperity movement, its appeal, and its likely impact on our country's current financial malaise.

    It's a pretty long article (3 whole pages - a virtual War and Peace to this 140-character twitter generation!), so here's a quick quote that sort of encapsulates the whole:

    . . . critics have begun to argue that the prosperity gospel, echoed in churches across the country, might have played a part in the economic collapse. In 2008, in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Jonathan Walton, a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside, warned:

    "Narratives of how 'God blessed me with my first house despite my credit' were common … Sermons declaring 'It’s your season of overflow' supplanted messages of economic sobriety and disinterested sacrifice. Yet as folks were testifying about 'what God can do,' little attention was paid to a predatory subprime-mortgage industry, relaxed credit standards, or the dangers of using one’s home equity as an ATM.

    In 2004, Walton was researching a book about black televangelists. 'I would hear consistent testimonies about how ‘once I was renting and now God let me own my own home,’ or ‘I was afraid of the loan officer, but God directed him to ignore my bad credit and blessed me with my first home,’' he says. 'This trope was so common in these churches that I just became immune to it. Only later did I connect it to this disaster.'

    You can read the entire article by clicking here.

    Just two quick thoughts:

    I think it's sad how people in this time were taught that their loan approval was a blessing from God, when it was only at the behest of a bad government program.

    And finally, this is what happens when the church gets away from its true mission and begins dabbling in the flesh.

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Are You Being Emotionally Blackmailed?

    I ran across this interesting theme in a book I was reading today: the idea of being emotionally blackmailed.

    The book is Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes: The Ultimate Guide to the Opposite Sex by Barbara and Allan Pease. It's a fascinating and often hilarious look at relationships and the inherent differences between men and women.

    The book goes into the topic of emotional blackmail in dealing with husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, but it also points out that the abuse can (and often does) extend to friendships and even work-related relationships.

    I did a little reasearch on the topic and found this article that is actually a review of the book Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward. In her book, Susan Forward uses the acronym FOG to stand for fear, obligation, and guilt - the tools of the blackmailer's trade. Here are a few more snippets from the review of this book:

    The author says, "Emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten, either directly or indirectly, to punish us if we don't do what they want…

    Blackmailers pump an engulfing FOG into their relationships, ensuring that we will feel afraid to cross them, obligated to give them their way and feel terribly guilty if we don't."

    You can read the entire review by clicking here.

    It occured to me that this kind of behavior can even be seen in *gasp!* the church. From Sunday School classes to board meetings, anytime you have people gathered together to push their own agenda, emotional blackmail is not far away.

    That's why it's so important to make sure that in all we do we are seeking first the kingdom of God, and not our own kingdoms . . .

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    The Bible: Taking on A Classic Argument for Divine Inspiration

    I believe the Bible is the Word of God. I also believe that the current sixty-six books we have fully constitute the inspired Scriptures - nothing should be added, none should be left out. But lately I've been thinking critically about an argument we Christians have been trained to use to help prove the inspiration of Scripture.

    For years I have believed, and taught, that one of the greatest testimonies to the divine inspiration of the Bible is the incredible unity it contains. We tell students that the Scriptures were written over a 1500 year period, on three different continents, and in three different languages. We say that it was written by over 40 different authors in all different walks of life: farmers, kings, judges, poets, tax collectors, priests, doctors, etc.

    And we like to point out how, in spite of these vast influences of time, culture, and geography, the Holy Writ is amazingly consistent in dealing with such controversial topics as the nature of God, the nature of man, death, eternity, personal ethics, worship, etc.

    Finally, we conclude this proves that One Divine Hand guided the writers as they wrote. But, I have to wonder . . . does it really? I mean, all of that is true, but is it a valid argument for divine inspiration?

    Plain and simple, the sixty-six books of the Bible are so remarkably consistent because way back in 393 AD, a standard was recognized to weed out books and letters that just didn't fit in.

    This standard is called the “canon” – an architectural term referring to a standard measuring rod. In 393 the Council of Hippo (no giggling!) recognized the canon for the Bible.

    From (emphasis mine):
    To be recognized as canonical, a book had to be Apostolic, fit in with the other scriptures, and have been of fruitful use throughout the church up to that time.

    So, claiming that the unity of Scripture is indicative of divine inspiration is simplistic and misleading – mundane steps were taken to insure they were unified.

    Yes, the Bible is the word of God, but there are much better reasons to believe.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    The Culture of Cults: 10 Cult Warning Signs in Any Group

    In an earlier post, we dealt with the 5 Characteristics of a Cult Leader. In this post, I want to look more specifically at the warning signs within a group.

    The gang over at SOS has provided a helpful and interesting list to think about when evaluating a religious group (or even a church) that you - or a loved one - consider joining.

    The following characteristics of cults and sects are based upon the cult classification systems of the world’s leading cult experts like, Singer, Langone, Lifton, and Hassan.

    1. Obsession about group or the leader, putting it above most other considerations.

    2. Member’s individual identity becomes increasingly fused with the group, the leader and/or God followed by the group. Cloning of the group members or leader’s personal behaviors.

    3. Emotional overreaction when the group or leader is criticized. Seen as evil persecution.

    4. Belief that the group is "THE WAY" and they have a mission

    5. Increasing dependency upon the group or leader for problem solving, explanations, definitions and analysis, and corresponding decline in real, independent thought.

    6. Excessive hyperactivity and work for the group or leader, at the expense of private or family interests. Drifting away from family and old friends

    7. Preparedness to blindly follow the group or leader and defend actions or statements without seeking independent verification.

    8. Demonization of former members or members of alternative groups.

    9. Desire to be praised for doing the right thing and fear of public rebuke

    10. Unhealthy wish to be seen with or aligned publicly with the leader(s) of the group

    The site points out that:

    An organization doesn’t have to have all of these characteristics to be a cult, and variations on the characteristics are many, it just has to have a good number of them to be a cult or moving in the direction of becoming one.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    The Culture of Cults: Why People Join

    In any discussion of cults, the question inevitably arises: Why do people join them?

    Could it be that cult members are simple-minded, weak-willed people? Let Us posts an interesting statistic on this (emphasis mine):

    According to one research, 48% of cult members had been between the ages of 19 to 25 years old when they joined. 35% had been between the ages of 26 to 35. They are looking at those fresh out of high school or in college that are targeted. 26% were Protestant Liberals and 28% were Catholic. Many three years of college. This dispels the myth that cult members are uneducated and don’t know any better. Many are educated, but naïve to the religious world and its deceptions.

    Rod Benson with John Mark Ministries posted a sermon he preached on the subject in which he lists the following 6 reasons he believes people join cults:

    1. Unfulfilled expectations of traditional churches. Benson calls cults "the unpaid bills of the church". Where the traditional church has failed to maintain and teach biblical doctrine, or where it's become ineffective, cults rush in to fill the vacuum.

    2. A sense of love and affection. We all need to experience a sense of love and care from friends and loved ones. Cults excel in this crucial area, because they know that meeting felt needs pays great dividends.

    3. A sense of belonging. People - especially young adults - increasingly join cults in order to find a family that gives them a sense of belonging they lack in their biological family due to the prevalence of divorce, single parenthood, generational conflict and child abuse.

    4. A sense of acceptance and self-worth. People who feel for one reason or another that they don't 'belong' in society (or in the church) are especially attracted to cult organisations - because they feel alienated, or isolated, or they lack a positive and healthy sense of personal identity. Cult members may believe the lie that they're now on God's side, or that they have "found the truth," and they develop contempt and resistance toward orthodox churches. Cults also encourage a high degree of lay-involvement, elevating the importance of the individual member, which many adherents find attractive.

    5. Idealism. Some people are attracted by the enthusiasm and personal sacrifice of cult members, or by their wholesome lifestyle in contrast to the relatively worldly lifestyle of the major culture and the traditional churches; the strict regimen and discipline of some cults is also attractive.

    6. Spiritual fulfillment. All people hunger for spirituality - for something beyond the material and the tangible. As our society becomes more technologically advanced and more secularised, that spiritual hunger becomes more apparent and focussed, and cults tap into that lack, filling the void.

    I like this list and agree with his conclusions. It was interesting to me how all but #1 are also true of why people join legitimate, traditional churches. In fact, there seems to be a fine line between the true church and cults - much like there is a fine line between legitimate currency and a really good counterfeit. That's why it's important to know the truth and be ready to discern the false.

    Heb 5:14 NIV
    (14) But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

    I also think it's a legitimate argument that some cults are simply good groups gone bad. It's very possible that a cultish group started out as a legitimate, Bible-believing church that lost its moorings somewhere along the way. It may be that people entrenched in such a church are blind to its condition because the deterioration has happened so slowly, much like the analogy of the frog in a slowly-heated pot of water. Or maybe they've invested so much time and personal resources in an organization, they are loathe to admit the truth.

    In addition to learning the truth of Scripture, lists are helpful in discerning. You can find the 5 Characterisitcs of Cult Leaders by clicking here. And in the next post, I'll share 10 things to look out for in a particular group.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    The Culture of Cults

    Recently a friend called to ask me about cults. Her daughter had moved several states away and was looking at different churches. My friend was concerned that she might get involved in something that would alienate her from her family and “zap her personality”, as she put it.

    I've been interested in the psychology of cults for quite a long time. Umpteen years ago I wrote a college research paper on the subject because I wanted to understand how in the world reasonably intelligent people could become caught up in mind-warping, will-breaking cults.

    I shared with her some things I'd discovered on the topic, and I thought I'd post some of my findings over the next several days. I hope you find it interesting as well as helpful and informative.

    In this first post on the subject, I want to quickly point out a very important distinction. posits that the term 'cult' can be defined either theologically or sociologically.

    • Theologically deals with doctrine and ". . . the reasons why a particular group's beliefs and/or practices are considered unorthodox - that is, in conflict with the . . . teachings of the movement the group compares itself to." In other words, the Mormon church may call itself Christian, but even a cursory comparison of its teachings with orthodox Christianity will reveal serious conflicts (to put it mildly!), thus landing it squarely in the 'cult' category (sorry, Mr. Romney . . .).

    • Sociologically deals with behavior, and ". . . considers such factors as authoritarian leadership patterns, loyalty and commitment mechanisms, lifestyle characteristics, [and] conformity patterns (including the use of various sanctions in connection with those members who deviate)." This is to say that a group or a church can be orthodox in its doctrine, but still exhibit cultish tendencies in the way it handles criticism, demands loyalty, or manipulates decision-making processes.

    For more information, check out the site by clicking here. In the next post we'll look at 5 characteristics of cult leaders . . .

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    The Culture of Cults: 5 Characteristics of Cult Leaders

    I wonder sometimes if people would just rather have their lives governed by someone else. Every year at tax time, I think it would be a lot easier if I just dropped out of society, grew a ponytail, and sold flowers in the airport. Come on, when the stress levels peak, who hasn't considered the value of moving to South America and living in a commune where you grow hemp in neat little farms? Anyone else? Nah, me neither . . .

    But I've long been fascinated by the psychology of cults. In a previous post we looked at a helpful definition of cults and a distinction between theological and sociological cults.

    The alarming thing is how easily devout, intelligent people can get caught up in a cult without even knowing it.

    So, how do you discern the good groups from the bad? How do you know if the church you're attending, or the Bible study a member of your family is attending, is safe?

    The folks over at have posted a helpful checklist suggesting 5 things to look out for in any group leader(s). This is not an exhaustive list and it's far from perfect, but it serves as a springboard for discernment:

    • [The leader(s) demonstrate an] authoritarian approach and intolerance of questioning or criticism. Lies about and insults opponents.

    • Leader(s) shows anxiety about the world, speaking of threats or conspiracies against the group or its leaders.

    • Leader(s) regularly accuse(s) dissatisfied members who leave of having something wrong with them, having personality disorders or being transgressor and deserters.

    • Ex-members have similar stories of abuse and ill-treatment by the leader(s).

    • The group/leader(s) is always right and followers never feel they can be "good enough".

    Next we'll examine the appeal of cults - why do people join them?

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Tyranny of the Tithe: God's Plan for Giving, Part 2 - John MacArthur

    Here's some tidbits from part 2 of John MacArthur's excellent series on God's Plan for Giving:

    The right thing to do in the area of giving is to teach the truths of the Word of God and then leave it to the Spirit of God to generate the response.

    There are two kinds of giving stressed in the New Testament. One, pay your taxes. Two, give God whatever you want. There is no amount.

    There is no exacting of the tithe on the church anywhere in the New Testament. It is never required of the church. It is always in reference to Israel's economy in the gospels and in the book of Hebrews it is only mentioned in reference to Melchiezedek and Abraham way back in the book of Genesis. It has no bearing on the church at all.

    At no time does the New Testament ever suggest or even hint - and there are plenty of places where it might have - that the tithe is exacted upon the Christian.

    Let's go to freewill giving. And here we enter the category of the giving that is truly giving to God. There is no reference about tithing in any passage at all in the New Testament that talks about Christian giving. Absolutely none.

    MacArthur then goes on to list 10 principles the New Testament gives for Christian giving:

    1. Giving is investing with God

    2. Giving is to be sacrificial

    3. Giving is not a matter of what you have

    4. Giving affects spiritual riches

    5. Giving amounts are personally determined

    6. Giving is to be in response to need

    7. Giving is to demonstrate love and not law

    8. Giving is to be planned

    9. Giving is to be generous

    10. Giving generously results in blessing

    He develops each of these further and, in typical MacArthur style, packs in loads of relevant Scripture.

    You can listen to the entire sermon and follow along with the transcript by clicking here.

    Tyranny of the Tithe: God's Plan for Giving, Part 1 - John MacArthur

    Over at John MacArthur's site you can listen to sermons and read the transcripts for free. Here's a great message he preached on God's Plan for Giving. This is part 1 where he focuses on the Old Testament giving - part 2 deals with the New Testament plan for giving.

    Here's a brief sampling from God's Plan for Giving, Part 1:

    [Concerning money] The major issue of Scripture is concerned with how you give your money. This dominates Scripture. It's too important a subject for us to bypass. How we give our money is extremely important.

    Now, many people come along and they say that the solution to everything is to just accept the biblical pattern, which is 10%.

    In all the passages where the church gives, there is no mention . . . any place of tithing. But what they're really saying is, "We know tithing is not New Testament giving, but if we don't push the tithe, we're afraid we won't get enough money to operate." It really boils down to that kind of motivation. The 10% sort of keeps the money flowing.

    You know what's wrong with the 10%? Number one, it isn't biblical and it's giving for the wrong reason. It's giving to fulfill an obligation rather than a response to a loving, willing heart. Second thing that's wrong with it is, it hinders what you could do by making you think you're done. Giving is never to be by coercion. It is never to be by fundraising. It is never to be by compulsion.

    God's pattern for giving is not tithing in the New Testament. It isn't even tithing in the Old Testament. It never has been tithing, it never will be tithing.

    [T]he Bible does not institute tithing in Genesis. There is no statement from God ever regarding tithing at this point. No one told Abraham to give a tenth. No one told Jacob to give a tenth . . .

    Tithing was always taxation. So that the programs of the government could run.

    Freewill giving was independent of taxation.

    Freewill giving was always whatever came out of the willing heart. But I'm telling you . . . when people believe in what you're doing, that willing heart opens up.

    Don't get stuck at the tenth. Don't limit yourself to legalistic giving. Be free in the spirit of God to give super abundantly and sow bountifully that you may reap bountifully.

    To listen to the sermon and follow along with the transcript, click here. More coming on God's Plan for Giving, Part 2.

    Sunday, September 27, 2009

    Tyranny of the Tithe: Article - The Ancient Rise and Recent Fall of Tithing

    Here's an interesting article on that gives a brief synopsis on how the doctrine of tithing rose to prominence. Here's a snippet (with occasional italicised emphases added by yours truly).

    The early church's expectation that every Christian would tithe found formal expression at the Synod of Mâçon in 585, which embedded the practice in canon law. A millennium later, the Council of Trent sharpened this law's teeth: it provided for excommunication if any Catholic declined to contribute his tithe. This, despite the stain in the Church's monetary record that Luther had so recently uncovered in his critique of papal indulgences.

    Post-Reformation Europe, however, didn't do much better: in the centuries after Luther, secular governments often acted on behalf of the churches by collecting mandatory tithes. These more closely resembled American property taxes than Jewish monetary offerings.

    Without a state-imposed tithe, giving in the United States developed quite differently than in Europe. American church leaders have often emphasized the New Testament's command to give freely and cheerfully, which some leaders have cited to advocate giving less or even more than ten percent. As a result, tithing has been practiced only sporadically in the modern church, though some revival has been seen in recent decades among Baptists and elements of the Wesleyan holiness movement and Pentecostalism.

    You can read the entire article by clicking here.

    Tyranny of the Tithe: Various Quotes

    The Encyclopedia Americana:
    "It (tithing) was not practised in the early Christian church but gradually became common (in the Roman Catholic church in western Europe) by the 6th Century. The Council of Tours in 567 and the 2nd Council of Macon in 585 advocated tithing. [It was] made obligatory by civil law in the Carolingian empire in 765 and in England in the 10th Century...

    Hasting’s Dictionary of the Apostolic Church:
    “It is admitted universally that the payment of tithes or the tenths of possessions, for sacred purposes did not find a place within the Christian Church during the age covered by the apostles and their immediate successors.”

    The Encyclopedia Britannica:
    “The Christian Church depended at first on voluntary gifts from its members.”

    The New Catholic Encyclopedia:
    “The early Church had no tithing system ... it was not that no need of supporting the Church existed or was recognized, but rather that other means appeared to suffice.”

    Easton's Bible Dictionary:
    “It cannot be affirmed that the Old Testament law of tithes is binding on the Christian Church...”

    C. I. Scofield - Scofield Reference Bible:
    2 Corinthians 8 and 9, "In contrast with the law, which imposed giving as a divine requirement, Christian giving is voluntary, and a test of sincerity and love.”

    Wycliffe Bible Dictionary of Theology:
    “The silence of the NT writers, particularly Paul, regarding the present validity of the tithe can be explained only on the ground that the dispensation of grace has no more place for a law of tithing than it has for a law on circumcision.”

    The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:
    “…the question as to whether to tithe from one's net or gross income is not answered in Scripture, nor is the question of whether to give it all to the local church or to include other ministries. We feel that such decisions should be based on personal conviction… It (tithing) is not mentioned in the New Testament except where it is describing Old Testament practices or in the Gospels where Jesus is addressing people who were under the Old Testament law.

    ...we should give individually, regularly, methodically, and proportionately. The matter of your giving is between you and God, and He always takes into account our circumstances.

    The important thing is that we see giving as a privilege and not a burden. It should not be out of a sense of duty, but rather out of love for the Lord and a desire to see His kingdom advanced.”

    Martin Luther (Sermon; August 27, 1525):
    "But the other commandments of Moses, which are not [implanted in all men] by nature, the Gentiles do not hold. Nor do these pertain to the Gentiles, such as the tithe..."

    Jerome Smith – The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (p. 1152.):
    “Tithing is not taught in the New Testament as an obligation for the Christian under grace... Because we are not under law, but under grace, Christian giving must not be made a matter of legalistic obligation, lest we fall into the error of Galatianism…

    The LORD commanded the Israelites to ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house....’ (Malachi 3:10) Christians are often urged to tithe based upon a mistaken appeal to this Old Testament text, which is wrested out of its rightful context, when applied to such a purpose... The storehouse is clearly the temple, not the church... Taken in context this passage lends no support to the mistaken doctrine of `storehouse tithing,' whereby Christians have been directed to restrict all their financial giving to their own denomination or local church, or as a variation, church members have been directed to pay the tithe to the local church, and restrict giving to outside organizations to amounts over and above the church tithe.”

    Fred J. Scroggins - Tithes Are Unbiblical For The New Covenant Church (excerpt from article):
    “The New Testament Church never paid tithes. Tithing was for the state of Israel, a taxation to support the priesthood of the Old Law of Moses. Christians never tithed till the Catholic Church came up with a plan. The Church needed a plan to take control of the money of the congregation. So through covetousness they brought people back under the Old Law to control them and their money...”

    Greg Albrecht - Q & A About Tithing (re: what percentage to give):
    “Christians are not required to give a specific percentage of their income. Christians are, however, commanded to give, as God has blessed them, as responsible stewards of their time, talents and treasures...”

    “Tithing needs to be approached from the perspective that no specific or dogmatic guidelines are given to Christians...The amount we give is a choice we make, not a percentage mandated by the old covenant, or attempted to be imposed by any human or group of humans.”

    “ church, pastor, or ministry can ‘demand’ or ‘require’ that a tithe, or all of the free will offerings that a Christian decides to give to God’s work, be given only to them.”

    Merrill F. Unger, ed.- New Unger’s Bible Dictionary:
    “To understand the Gospels one must not confuse the kingdom offered to Israel and the church of Christ. Christ fulfilled the law, died under the law, and set us free from the law. Therefore, to understand the Gospels one must expect to be on legal ground up to the cross (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:22-28; Mark 1:44)….

    In understanding the New Covenant it also must be borne in mind that the full-scale revelation concerning grace is to be found in the Epistles, not in the Gospels. The Gospels do not present the doctrine of the church.”

    Bruce Metzger – The Oxford Companion to the Bible:
    “The New Testament nowhere explicitly requires tithing to maintain a ministry or a place of assembly.”

    Nelson’s Bible Dictionary:
    “In the New Testament the words tithe and tithing appear only eight times - Matt. 23:23, Luke 11:42, 18:12, Heb. 7:5-6, 8-9. All of these passages refer to Old Testament usage and to current Jewish practice. Nowhere does the New Testament expressly command Christians to tithe.”

    John MacArthur, Jr. Commentary on the Book of Romans 9-16 (p.233):
    “…Christians are not under obligation to give a specified amount to the work of their heavenly Father. In none of their forms do the tithe or other Old Testament levies apply to Christians.”

    Charles R. Swindoll – The Grace Awakening (p.264):
    “How and why we give is of far greater significance to God than what we give. Attitude and motive are always more important than amount. Furthermore, once a person cultivates a taste for grace in giving, the amount becomes virtually immaterial. When those age-old grace killers, Guilt and Manipulation, are not used as leverage, the heart responds in generosity.”

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Drive-in Church?

    Now, is this creatively meeting people where they are, or just catering to the lazy?

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Alice Cooper

    Here's an article that really gets me thinking. Ever since I heard that Alice Cooper became a Christian, I've occasionally wondered how that's working out. And when I heard he's still doing the same stage show he always did, I wondered how he reconciled that with his faith.

    In this article on, Alice explains his position and I must admit, he makes some very good points. Here's an excerpt:

    As a Christian, I don't declare myself as a 'Christian rock star.' I'm a rock performer who's a Christian. Alice Cooper is the guy who wants to entertain the audience - it happens that he's a Christian. Alice (the character I play on stage) began life as a villain and he remains one. There's a villain and a hero in every Shakespeare play," he said.

    Alice is no more dangerous than a villain in a cartoon or a Disney film. We have fun with him. He snarls and wears make up. He's punished for his crime and he comes back on the stage in white top and tails. We put on a good show. I've always put limits on Alice because I believe there's a certain amount of Alice that's a gentleman. He'd slit your throat, but he'd never swear at you. And there's always a punchline; he may kill you, but he'll slip on a banana peel. I get right-wing Christians down on me and I always ask them the question: 'If I was doing Macbeth, would it be OK?' And they always say that's Shakespeare so of course. I say that's about four times more violent than anything I do on stage.

    I remember people giving Christian artist Phillip Bailey a hard time in 1984 for His duet with Phil Collins Easy Lover. People said he was a secular sell-out and not a real Christian. His response was that he was a Christian who worked in show business just as you might be a Christian who works in a car dealership, law office, or whatever.

    Works for me, what do you think? Where should Christians draw the line?

    *****BONUS VIDEO*****

    Sunday, August 16, 2009

    Tyranny of the Tithe: Insight for Living on Tithing

    One of the most outspoken critics of the pro-tithe position is Russell Kelly, PHD. You can find his site by clicking here. This site is very thorough and goes into great detail.

    One of the things I appreciate about the site is the quotes he includes from recognized church leaders such as J. Vernon McGee, Walter Elwell, and (to a lesser extent) James Kennedy.

    Here is an excerpt from an email by a representative for Insight for Living about the ministry and Swindoll's position on tithing:

    Insight for Living, October 15, 2007

    ... Chuck believes that the tithe was part of the Law, not New Testament teaching.

    ...We are not under the Law.

    The New Testament doesn’t teach tithing or how often we are to gather as a church.

    ...Under the Law of Moses tithing was an obligation, not an option. It meant paying a precise percentage of one’s goods, produce or income to the Lord. ... Merrill Unger helps up sort it all out in his Unger’s Bible Dictionary [Dallas/Moody] and I encourage you to read the entire article.

    ...The [Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord, Dallas] cautions us about using [Malachi 3:10] to support church giving. ... While not requiring a tithe of believers today, the New Testament does speak of God’s blessing on those who give generously to the needs of the church.

    The New Testament does not command church members to tithe like Jews in the Old Testament. The people in the early church did not tithe per se but they did give regularly to the work of the ministry following the principle of the tithe. We find several references to special offerings for specific projects (2 Cor 8 & 9) that were given in addition to the early Christian’s normal pattern of giving. So, although they weren’t required to give a specific percent of their income they were giving regularly.

    Under the New Covenant giving is a matter of the heart, not percentages. ...

    Still the answer remains, how much should we give? The answer is this, As much as the Spirit leads. The percentage and frequency of our giving ought to be a personal matter between each person and the Lord. Ten percent may be a good amount for you. Certainly the Lord considered ten percent a fair amount for the Hebrews. But the Lord may lead you to give less or more. ...

    Church leaders who pressure you to give a certain amount are robbing you of the joy of being a cheerful giver. They are putting you under compulsion and making you feel guilty, which is not the way God wants us to give. As a member of Stonebriar Community Church, where Chuck is the Senior Pastor, I have not heard Church try to manipulate people or use guilt as a motivation. In fact I have not heard him preach on the tithe as a rule for giving. He has taught that giving as the Spirit leads is the way to approach it.

    So while Chuck feels we are not obligated to tithe like the Israelites under the law, the principle of systematic giving is a good idea for all Christians. ...

    I think those who continually preach the tithe are being manipulative. It is the Holy Spirit who directs our living and that includes our giving. They are not the Holy Spirit. We are not under the Law. ... I am glad that Chuck preaches grace giving from the heart.

    Warmly in Christ
    Graham M Lyons, Pastor

    Saturday, August 8, 2009

    Tyranny of the Tithe: WWJD - What Would Jesus Donate?

    As if we don't have enough schisms and labels these days, there's a growing group of people who call themselves "Red-letter Christians", meaning they only concern themselves with the things Jesus said in the Bible. I think this is silly, but I admit that, while the writings of Paul and the other New Testament writers are equally inspired by the Holy Spirit, I can see why special weight would be given to the One upon whom everything is founded.

    So what did Jesus have to say about our pet topic of tithing? Surprisingly little, yet much has been made of it. And I'll need to warn you - I get just a wee bit upset. His words have been twisted and mangled like a secondary character in one of those Saw movies to support the pro-tithing position, violating the most rudimentary principles of Bible interpretation and simple logic.

    There are only two instances where Jesus mentioned tithing: Matthew 23:23 (and the parallel passage in Luke 11:42) and Luke 18:12. Let's take a look . . .

    Mat 23:23
    (23) "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

    I actually heard this verse read recently at a church service right before the offering was taken. The pulpiteer read the verse and then said, "See, tithing is still for today." The pro-tithe teaching on this verse takes the part where Jesus says, ". . . without neglecting the former." (referring to the tithe) and uses that to say that Jesus approves of tithing - or at least that He says to not neglect it.

    What ignorance! Do they really expect us to believe that Jesus was commending the Pharisees for their scrupulous tithing practices?!!? I'll guarantee you that the Pharisees did not leave that meeting feeling like Jesus had just given them a gold star. They recognized that they had just been spit-slapped by this uneducated friend-of-sinners, and they were none too happy about it.

    Listen, of course they were supposed to be tithing - they were still under the Mosaic law! Jesus confirmed this in the passage, ". . . you have neglected the more important matters of the law . . .". As we discussed in an earlier post, Christians are not obligated to the law, and are sternly warned against allowing themselves to be brought back under it. Paying tithes was the Pharisees' duty. To overlook this and misinterpret the passage to say that Christians are obligated to tithe reveals one of two things: an ignorance even greater than that of your typical National Inquirer subscription holder, or a bias for a particular doctrine that has seriously skewed the preacher's interpretation.

    As an aside, Jesus was referring to the Pharisees' practice of tithing their spices - not money. This was an extreme variation on the Old Testament tithe which, by the way, never required money. Look it up - it was all agricultural product. If your pastor insists on using this passage to defend his position on tithing, start putting some paprika or lemon zest from your spice rack into the tithe envelope . . .

    Now let's look at Luke 18:12 in its context:
    Luk 18:9-14
    (9) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
    (10) "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
    (11) The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.
    (12) I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
    (13) "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven,
    but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
    (14) "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
    First of all, notice that tithing is mentioned in this context (as well as in the passge discussed previously) as part of a rebuke of the Pharisees' self-righteousness. The only two times Jesus mentions the tithe is to use it to illustrate the hypocrisy of the religious elite - doesn't this bother the tithe advocates?

    Notice also that the only one of the two who went away justified was the non-tither (I'll admit to getting a kind of perverse pleasure out of that!). The only one who truly got anything out of church that day - who truly touched heaven - was the one who ignored the offering plate and did real business with God.

    Incidentally, the Pharisee also fasted twice a week. Where are the sermons about the importance of fasting in the life of a Christian? Few and far between. Must not fit the agenda . . .

    Luther. Martin (Sermon; August 27, 1525)
    “But the other commandments of Moses, which are not [implanted in all men] by nature, the Gentiles do not hold. Nor do these pertain to the Gentiles, such as the tithe..."

    Monday, August 3, 2009

    Tyranny of the Tithe: The Abrahamic Fallacy

    Here's the story: In Genesis 14, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are sacked and looted, and Abram's nephew, Lot (who was living in Sodom), was taken captive. Abram (soon to be renamed Abraham) caught wind of this and went out to rescue his nephew. Abraham was successful and brought back everything that was stolen, along with all the people who were captured. When he returns, he is greeted by the king of Sodom and Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. Melchizedek blesses Abraham, and Abraham gives him a tenth of all (the book of Hebrews says he gave a tenth of the spoils of the battle).

    Now (buckle your seatbelts - we're going on a twisty, windy road), since this story takes place some 400 years before the law of Moses is given, the tithe advocates are able to say that when the law was fulfilled and cancelled at the cross, it did not cancel tithing because tithing existed outside of the law.

    Furthermore, since Jesus is referred to as a priest in the order of Melchizedek and Christians are children of Abraham, we are to tithe to Jesus just as Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (this tithe is to be collected and administered by your local neighborhood church administrative board, finance committee, and council members). The conclusion reached by the tithe teacher is that Abraham's tithe to Melchizedek seems to teach us that tithing is meant to be a continuing part of the New Testament Christian's life.

    This kind of jigsaw hermeneutics can be very convincing and has developed quite a following. In fact, it is the strongest argument the tithe teachers have. But the problem is that Abraham's tithe looks nothing like the tithe the local church requires today. Let's take a closer look at Abraham's tithe:

    Bad Bible study principles
    Every first-year seminary student learns that Old Testament narratives cannot be used to establish doctrine, only to illuminate or illustrate a doctrine clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. As we discussed in an earlier post, Christians are never taught to tithe - NEVER. When expositing an Old Testament story, the student must determine the purpose for that story. In this case, we are given the purpose of this story in Hebrews 7. This story is used to illustrate the truth that Jesus (a priest in the order of Melchizedek) is greater than Abraham and the entire Levitical priesthood. The Jews needed to understand this because they were still holding to the Old Testament traditions and commands that were made obsolete at the cross.

    Tithing was a cultural offering that existed in many cultures
    The practice of giving a tenth to a reigning monarch was not new, neither was it unique to the Jewish people. This was a common practice at the time among cultures as disparate as the Greeks, Chinese, Arabians, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians: when one entered the realm of a king, one was expected to give a tithe of his possessions to that king - presumably one-tenth was the standard because it made the math easy to calculate on the fingers. It's very possible that this custom is the reason for Abraham's tithe - notice that the tithe is not mentioned as being connected to worshipping God (as in an offering) - the only one mentioned worshipping is Melchizedek.

    One time gift
    Abraham is never recorded as having ever tithed again. And he's not recorded as having ever tithed before. Based on this, we cannot say that tithing was a defining element in his relationship with God (and as discussed previously, Abraham's tithe may not have even been an act of worship). Abraham is recorded as offering up sacrifices and burnt offerings (as acts of worship), but never a tithe.

    The tithe-teacher likes to point to Jacob's tithe to show that the practice was common to Abraham's family - hey, Jacob had to learn it somewhere! But, again, the tithe to a monarch was a well-known, customary practice among many cultures in that day. Besides, Jacob is a very poor example of a willing, cheerful giver. Jacob promised to tithe (we're never told whether he actually did or not) if, and only if, God came through on certain demands. Today's tithe-pastor would cringe at teaching his congregation that practice. When have you ever heard a tithe-teacher tell you to lay out a set of conditions you want God to meet and then, if He does, give the church ten percent of whatever you have at that time?

    Not out of personal possessions
    Hebrews points out that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war. Abraham did not give a tenth of his personal wealth, even though he was a very wealthy man. This is a far cry from the church mandating you give ten percent of your regular paycheck every payday.

    Quickly, I want to point out two real problems the tithe-teacher has to answer:

    What about king of Sodom?
    There's another character who plays a significant role in this story, but the king of Sodom gets forgotten in this whole discussion. The passage indicates that Abraham gave everything else to him because he didn't want it to be said that Sodom made him rich. What are we to do with that? Sodom was well-known as a wicked, immoral city and represents man's rebellion against God - that's why Abraham wanted nothing to do with the place. If this story is indeed teaching us that tithing is to remain a part of the Christian's life, what is it teaching us about the other ninety percent?

    What about circumcision?
    Abraham carried out circumcision as well - long before the law of Moses was given. If we are to argue that we are to tithe because tithing preceded the Law, we might as well pick up circumcision as well. Circumcision preceded the Law. But how did Paul and the other apostles respond to some people's insistence that circumcision was necessary for believers?

    Gal 5:1-5
    (1) Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
    (2) Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.
    (3) And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.
    (4) You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
    (5) For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

    Based on the above, couldn't it be said that if you accept the law of tithing (just as circumcision), you are obligated to keep the entire law? Have you not then fallen from grace?

    So, I say to you as well: Stand fast in the liberty that Christ has purchased for you! If you submit to this tithing nonsense, you take up the yoke of slavery again: Christ does not require a tithe from you.

    Next, we'll take a look at what Jesus had to say about tithing . . .