Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: Mishandling Malachi

In the movie The Untouchables, Robert DeNiro wields a baseball bat with brutal efficacy. In pulpits across America, the tithe-teacher's bludgeon of choice is Malachi 3:8-9.

Have you ever heard that if you don't pay your tithes, God's gonna getcha? You are robbing Him and He's angry, and now you're going to be cursed with a curse? It's all based on this passage in Malachi:

Mal 3:8-9
(8) "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings.
(9) You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation.

This is the tithe-teacher's muscle passage. Basically, if you're not paying your church dues, God's going to collect in a form of ecclesiastical extortion. But once you get past the scary premise of the threat, there is one really big problem with this application:

Malachi is addressed to Israel, not Christians

See the article on Christians and the Law. The Law was given to the Jews and it's commandments were binding on them and them alone. In fact, the New Testament points out that non-Jewish Christians were "strangers from the covenants" of Israel (Ephesians 2:12)

To fully understand this point, notice Malachi's remedy for Israel:

Mal 4:4
(4) "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

God, through Malachi, tells the people to go back to the law of Moses which was given for all Israel. This is obviously meant for Old Covenant Israel and not New Covenant Christians. Christians were never told to return to the law of Moses. In fact, Christians are warned against that very thing. Look at Galatians 3:10:

Gal 3:10
(10) All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."

The tithe-teacher wants to tell you that you are robbing God and are under a curse, but the New Testament tells us that those who wish to continue in the law are under a curse. Galatians 3 goes on to say this:

Gal 3:13
(13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."

Wow, think about it: Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the law, yet the tithe-teacher keeps trying to bring us back under it by telling us that we are displeasing to God if we aren't tithing. We are to believe that, although Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the law, we are cursed anew if we aren't tithing.

Christians are to be ministers of a New Covenant

2Co 3:6-8
(6) He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
(7) Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was,
(8) will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?

When a tithe-teacher stands in the pulpit and fleeces the flock by intimidating them into tithing, he is taking them out of grace and bringing them back under the law. He is no longer a minister of that which gives life, but that which kills.

Let's move the church into that glorious ministry of life, freeing people from the bondage of sin and legalism through the blood of Christ. Christian, if you have been bound by guilt or fear because of errant teaching on this passage, take courage. The New Testament model of supporting the church and various ministries is through voluntary, joyful giving out of a grateful heart to God.

Coming up . . .
The tithe advocates hate the fact that Christians are not obligated to tithing under the law. They had to find a way to skirt that pesky law issue, and they did. It turns out Abraham tithed to Melchizadek before the law was given, therefore tithing existed outside of the law and did not go away with the rest of the law (can you hear the tithe-teacher's heart palpitating?). This is the tithe advocate's coup de grace, but is it as ironclad as it seems? We'll discuss it next . . .

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: What??? The Bible never teaches Christians to tithe?!!?

That's right. Nowhere in the Scriptures are Christians ever taught to tithe.

Having established the Christian's relationship to the Old Testament Law, we'll use a previous post as a road map for a discussion on tithing, beginning with the assertion that Christians are never instructed to tithe. In fact, the practice is only mentioned one time in the New Testament after the Gospels where it is used as an historical Old Testament reference (which we'll get into in detail at a later time).

And it's not like New Testament writers never had the opportunity to broach the subject. In 2 Corinthians 8 & 9, Paul lays out the New Testament plan for giving to support ministry (yes, a plan does exist), but nowhere does he mention the tithe. It would've been so simple for him to say "You know the tithes you've been paying to support the Temple ministry and all the priests? Well, now they're going to be used to support pastors and churches and toothy televangelists."

Why no mention of the tithe? Because it wasn't required of New Testament Christians. In fact, regarding offerings, Paul said, "I am not commanding you . . ." and, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion . . ."

And let's take a closer look at the Corinthians. Isn't it curious that the Corinthians, who were guilty of all kinds of unseemly acts (to put it mildly!), were never admonished for not tithing? Are we to believe that in spite of being drunken, gluttonous, hero-worshiping perverts they were remarkably consistent tithers?

Come to think of it, one would be welcome to serve on many church administrative boards with that kind of resume . . .

I remember talking with a church official several years ago about the tithing issue. He told me that the tithe doctrine was "precious" to him and that it was a primary foundational teaching in the Christian life. After looking into this I have to ask: if this is such a precious, primary teaching in Christianity, why is there scarcely any mention of it in any of the New Testament letters to the churches?

Simple. It's not required.

Next, we'll look at the tithe-teacher's bludgeon of choice - Malachi 3:8-9

John MacArthur, Commentary on Book of Romans 9-16
. . . 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.

John MacArthur – Thoughts On Tithing
(excerpt from sermon preached at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, CA)
. . . Tithing, basically, is never, ever advocated in the New Testament; it is never taught in the New Testament – never!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: An intentionally short and woefully inadequate primer on the Law of Moses

When someone starts reading the Bible at Genesis and intends to read it straight through, he or she often does well at the beginning. The stories in Genesis and Exodus provide great drama and interesting discussion. However, many people get bogged down in the next several books - Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These are the books of the Law (Genesis and Exodus are too, but they are more narrative). The Law of Moses contains commands and instructions for Jewish life in the Old Testament. It covers all things political, sociological, and religious.

Before we go any further in our discussion about tithing, we need to lay out a few important details about the Law of Moses in the Old Testament.

The Law is Holy
This is essential to understand. The Law came from a Holy God and is a reflection of His holiness and perfection. The Old Testament saints praised it (a cursory glance through Psalm 119 shows this clearly) and Jesus honored it, saying that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Because we know that New Testament Christians are not bound by the Law, we sometimes treat it like it's irrelevant or not important. Not true. The Law is every bit the word of God as any other portion of Scripture.

The Law reveals man's innate sinfulness
The Law was essentially a written code that condemned man and proved he could never earn God's favor on his own. We all stand hopeless before the Law.

Although Holy, the Law is powerless
The Law could reveal man's sin, but could not do anything about it. Now, the Law provided for sacrifices to be made for sins, but these were messy (downright gross, in fact - involving words like entrails), costly, and temporary (the sacrifice had to be made every year).

The Law was intended to drive men to Christ
As man realized his imperfection, he recognized his need for a savior. The intent is for man to be driven to the point where he cries out with the Apostle Paul, "Wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?" It is then that man is ready for the good news of the gospel.

Jesus met all the requirements of the Law on our behalf
In so doing, Jesus fulfilled the Law and took the punishment for our sin (that's what the cross is all about). Jesus' death on the cross was indeed messy and costly, but it was also permanent. The book of Hebrews has so much to say about this, but I recommend you check out these verses in particular: 9:11-14, 9:24-26, 9:28, and 10:19-22.

Through faith in Jesus' substitutionary sacrifice, we are freed from sin and any obligation to the Law
Jesus paid it all. There is nothing to be gained by following the Law of Moses. In fact, in the book of Galatians, Paul is astonished that the people would consider going back under the Law after having been set free by Christ. He goes so far as to say that the person who wishes to continue in the Law is cursed. Why would he make such a strong statement? Because he knows that the Law cannot save - it can only condemn. And the only way to be free from that condemnation is through faith in Christ.

In short:
Christ is the end of the Law (Romans 10:4)
The Law was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14)
Christians are not under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14)
The Christian who seeks justification under the law has fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4)
Now the righteousness of God is revealed without the aid of the law (Romans 3:21-22)

This primer on the Law is intentionally short and woefully inadequate, but hopefully provides answers to rudimentary questions.