Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: Seven Things Your Pastor Doesn't Want You To Know About Tithing

These points will serve as a roadmap for where we're heading over the next several posts. I'll develop each of these in more detail later, but here's a sampler to whet your appetite:

Nowhere in Scripture are Christians commanded to tithe. Nowhere. In fact, Christians are never even gently encouraged to tithe. There are several opportunities in the New Testament where Paul or the writer to the Hebrews could have easily slipped in a verse to that point, but there is no such exhortation.

Malachi 3:8-9 does not apply to Christians. This is the tithe-teacher's bludgeon-passage about robbing God in tithes and offerings. It contains the scary "you are cursed with a curse" threat and is often used to intimidate congregations in a manner that amounts to ecclesiastical extortion. But, it was written to those under the Law of Moses (see Malachi's remedy for the readers of his letter in 4:4). Christians are not bound by the Law because it was fulfilled in Christ and the debt of guilt created by the Law was cancelled at the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

Abraham's tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20) is not binding on Christians. This is important. Abraham's tithe to Melchizadek is a favorite way tithe-teachers try to get around the pesky Law issue, but it is an illegitimate argument and violates basic Bible study and application principles.

The Biblical means of supporting the local church is through the freewill giving of its members. The New Testament is not vague on the issue of giving as some would have you believe. In fact, Paul devotes two full chapters to the issue of giving - 2 Corinthians 8 & 9. Very briefly, he says that Christian giving should be done liberally, cheerfully, and under no obligation. It's interesting that in this thorough treatment of the subject, Paul never once mentions the tithe (that's because it wasn't required of New Testament Christians).

Jesus only spoke about tithing twice. Both times it was to condemn the Pharisees who loved to boast about their tithing record (incidentally, they were supposed to be tithing - they were still under the law).

Newly converted Gentiles were not required to tithe. There was a huge debate in the early church about which Jewish practices were to be required of the new Gentile Christians (circumcision was the main area of controversy). In the end, the church leadership decided there were only a few things required of Gentile believers (Acts 15:28-29): three of them were dietary and there's an obligatory warning to abstain from sexual immorality - but no mention of tithing (or circumcision, for that matter!).

The Church didn't practice tithing for the first 700 years of its existence. As the Church of Rome started to grow, it needed the people's money to operate. It has been posited that the doctrine of the tithe rose as the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer eroded under Rome.

Just for clarification, I'm delving into this topic to hopefully set a lot of people free who are currently under a bondage of guilt and fear. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for binding heavy burdens and laying them on men's shoulders (Matthew 23:4), and I see the tithe doctrine as being just that.

In order to better understand much of what is going to be discussed, we need to have a quick primer on the Law of Moses - that'll be the next post.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tithing Revisited: Part One

Boy, this ought to get 'em fired up! One thing I've learned after 25 years in the ministry - money rules the roost (it's true - I once had a pastor tell me that ministry comes down to "bucks and real estate"). If you want to get the religious elite to shed their piety, just threaten their money.

A couple of years ago my wife spoke with a friend and told her we missed her and her family since we hadn't seen them in church for a while. Our friend said that they had stopped coming because times were tough and they weren't able to tithe - and they felt guilty. My wife assured her that they could come anyway - giving money was so far from what it was all about - but the story got me wondering how many people feel that way about church. Is this the way the church presents itself - even without meaning to?

I had to admit that the church we were part of at the time had a definite two-levels of membership based on whether or not you were actively giving. You could be a member for free (yay!), but to really be able to serve and participate, you had to be a "tithing member". This meant that in order to serve on church governing boards or vote on church issues or serve in various ministries, you had to be giving 10% of your annual income (incidentally, this didn't apply to nursery workers. Apparently, no one cared about your tithing record as long as you were willing to change poopy pants).

So . . . I got out my John MacArthur Study Bible and began studying the topic of tithing for myself - apart from the tried and true church propaganda. What I began to discover surprised and angered me, and I'll be sharing my findings in the next few posts.

For now, I leave you with this apt quote by venerable theologian John Stott (Christianity Today, January 8, 1996):

"The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions, but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh Biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Get Real, Christians!

Here's a great post by pastor/writer Paul Prather about how Christians need to be real. A few snippets:

"If I had to name the most debilitating problem with Christianity, I might say it’s the 'everything’s great, I’m so blessed' syndrome. Christians often feel compelled to show only their happiest and most saintly faces to their ministers and fellow churchgoers."

"What ends up happening, then, is that dedicated Christians frequently live in private hells. They think they’re the only ones with problems. They’re guilt-ridden. They’re spiritually hamstrung."

"The fact is, everybody’s messed up in one way or another . . . It’s just that hardly anyone wants to admit it."

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

I was thrilled to read this. I found it liberating and it rang true with my personal experience. I also know how much I've been encouraged as those I've admired over the years have opened up about their own struggles and how God has remained faithful to them.

A couple of years ago when my wife and I were being mentored in the ministry, she was discouraged from starting an outreach to struggling young women. We were told that, as ministers, it was not a good idea to open up about our frailties and failings. To do so would threaten our reputation and we needed to maintain an air of authority. The truth is that when we open up about our struggles and how God has comforted us in the midst of them, we then are able to become agents of that comfort to others who are struggling. I call it the Cycle of Ministry (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Does this resonate with anybody else?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Religious Freedom is in Deep Doo-doo

Okay, here's the story: In Nicktown, PA, an Amish community is in deep doo-doo over local sanitation ordinances. Seems that the Amish elders have decided that state laws are ". . . enforcing stuff that's against our religion . . ." by requiring them to upgrade their outhouse waste storage capabilities.

I won't go into details about what the Cambria County Sewage Enforcement Agency found at the Amish school house (you can read the story by clicking here), but they laid down the law and required the community to make substantial improvements.

The Amish elders complied with some of the regulations, but felt other requirements (such as installing a 5,000-gallon precast concrete tank and allowing someone certified by the state to use an electronic meter to test the waste’s chemical content) were way too modern. Meanwhile, people are compaining (and rightly so) that not handling sewage properly can have a seriously bad affect on the entire county's health.

The case is still pending - there've been meetings and jail sentences - and neither side is willing to budge, but it does bring up the thorny issue of how far religious freedom should be allowed to go.

What if an elected official wants to be sworn in on something other than the Bible? What if a Rastafarian is elected and he wants to smoke a little ganja at his inaugral ceremony? Sounds extreme, but we've seen parents let their children die because their religion wouldn't allow them to see a doctor . . .

Many would like to see prayer taught again in the schools, but what if the official at your child's school is a Muslim, a Buddhist, or (gasp!) a liberal?

That's when the poop would hit the fan . . .

Debaptism: the latest trend in Atheism

So, you realize that you made a rash decision years ago and you want to take it back . Or maybe you were baptized as an infant and you want to officially undo that bit of nastiness. What do you do? You can download a Debaptism Certificate from the National Secular Society! According to this article, they claim that over 100,000 people have already taken this step to purge themselves from the eternal waters of holy immersion . . .

A few thoughts:
  • Baptism is an outward indication of an inward consecration. That being the case, if your heart wasn't in it at the time, the only thing your baptism did was get you wet. A "debaptism", then, is nothing more than a public renouncement of church affiliation, which I guess is the point.
  • I've never been a big fan of infant baptism. I think it's okay as a ceremony where the parents commit themsevles to training the child up in the faith, but not as an indication of saving faith. I mean, come on . . . experience has proven that a baby's brain is nothing more than one big drool-and-poop gland - can we really assert that the child has weighed the course of his life and decided to accept Jesus as his Savior?
  • If a person "gets saved" at one point in his life and later wishes to recant, was he ever really saved to begin with? This is the classic "once saved always saved" issue that has divided Christians for centuries. For passages supporting both sides of the issue see John 10:27-29 and Hebrews 6:4-6.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Memorize the 10 Commandments and Win $20K?

Here's an interesting take on learning the 10 Commandments I read over at Todd Rhoades' blog Monday Morning Insights:

Darrel Rundus is distressed that Americans readily can tick off a list of 10 stores, 10 sports teams – even 10 beers, but there's a collective "Uhmmm" when those same people are asked to cite the Ten Commandments. To change that, he said, he and his wife decided to do "something a little crazy." They are taking $20,000 of their own money and posting it as a prize that either will be dispatched via casher's check or wire transfer to the first person who, on Monday, Oct. 26, answers his random telephone calls and can recite the Ten Commandments in order in 20 seconds or less.

Here's the promo video - then a couple of questions:

First off, I like the idea and I think the video is well done and makes a good point. But, if we live under grace, what is the value in learning the Law? (Hint: Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:24)

Secondly, do ploys like this serve the cause of Christ well? Or does it cheapen the gospel?

BTW, I've registered and I hope he calls me 'cause I'm READY!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Can Twitter Help Worship? Does Twitter Hinder Worship?

Unless you've been hermetically sealed in a chamber for the past few years, you're aware of the social networking tool Twitter. What you might not be aware of is how people are using the twitter phenomenon to inform the world about every aspect of their lives. Even the rich and famous are getting into the act.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $25k for his Twitter comments criticising NBA officials, and some members of congress were "tweeting" during Obama's prime time speech back in February.

The question has arisen about the etiquette of churches allowing and promoting tweeting during worship services, and there are several compelling arguments both for and against the idea. Reverend Taylor Burton-Edwards - director of worship resources with the United Methodist Board of Discipleship - has written a thorough article exploring both sides. You can read the article here, but I'll give you a quick synopsis:

Pro: Twitter can allow for a genuine sense of interactivity between the congregation and the ministry staff at appropriate times during the worship service - i.e. prayer requests, Q & A sessions.

Also a person could tweet the service making the experience available vicariously to the world at large (think especially how this could benefit shut-ins and other home-bound people).

Con: Using Twitter might privilege the "haves" over the "have nots," and the "techies" over the "non-techies."

Switching focus from one thing to another . . . creates a gap in our primary attention . . . This means that for parts of worship where continuous primary attention is appropriate, the physical act of Twittering actually reduces attention to whatever is going on at the moment and causes a total loss of primary attention between the time you start Twittering and the time you return your focus to whatever is going on in worship.

There's lots more at the actual article, but I'd love to get your thoughts on the subject . . .