Giving in Light of Christ

Last week my Twitter friend Calvinist Batman wrote an article about tithing as a command on Christians. If you didn’t read it, I recommend you take a minute to go do that. This is a response to that post, so the full title of this post should be “Giving in Light of Christ: A Response to Calvinist Batman.”

I will start with the things I believe he got right. He is right that American Christians have a hard time yielding ourselves to the commands of Scripture. We often throw out the word “legalism” rather than wrestle with the text itself. He is also right in pointing out that tithing is often a contentious topic, and it is my aim to be as kind here as he was there.

With that, let’s dive into his arguments and take a look at them one at a time.

Did Abel Tithe?

“…Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” Gen. 4:4cain_and_abel2

Abel brought some of his animals as a offering to God. He either brought whole animals who were either the
first or the best of his flock (firstborn can mean either in the Bible), or he brought parts of those animals. The Bible clearly calls this an offering (Gen. 4:3), not a tithe, and there is no evidence that he brought 10% of his flock, simply that he brought some of the animals.

Did Abram Tithe?

“And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Gen. 14:20b

While Abram did pay a tithe, I don’t believe this applies as a lesson for us. Abram was tithing on the spoils of war, not his annual income. We have no reason to believe that God commanded him to do this (it has been suggested by scholars that this was a tradition of the time), and there is no evidence that Abram ever tithed again. Much of the story of Abram and Melchizedek is a foreshadow of Christ, whose priesthood is superior to that of Abram’s descendant Levi (Heb. 7). That is the lesson to take from the story of Abram and Melchizedek, not tithing.

Did Jesus Support Tithing?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matt. 23:23

Jesus’ main point here was that the teachers of the law were being overly scrupulous in certain points of the law while neglecting others. Tithing is a part of the Mosaic law,
to be sure, but so are the others. For the Pharisees to be so concerned with tithing from their spice cabinet (while the law only talks about tithing from the fields and flocks specifically, Deut. 14:22-23) and yet be unconcerned with justice, mercy, and faithfulness showed their hypocrisy. Also, we must remember that Jesus was speaking to people under the law who were trying to be justified through their keeping of the law, while Christians are not justified through keeping the law but through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:16).

Purpose of the Tithe

“For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.” Num. 18:24

The Levites were set apart by God to serve in the temple. They were not given a portion of land when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. Therefore, God gave them the tithe so the Levites could care for their families and support themselves. Today’s pastors and missionaries need to be supported financially, but they are not prohibited by God to own land or have another job, which is illustrated by Paul’s career as a tentmaker while he was preaching the gospel.

How Then Shall We Give?

To say that tithing is commanded by God is to say that those who aren’t giving 10% of their income are in sin. I do not believe that to be a conclusion the Bible allows us to draw. Christians should give financially to the church (1 Tim. 5:18). That is not a question. The question is simply this – how do we know how much to give?

The clearest New Testament passage on financial giving is 2 Corinthians 9:7.

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

images (2)The NT pattern for giving is to give freely and cheerfully, not out of necessity. Christians must understand that giving is a way we show the love we feel for our Christian brothers and sisters (Rom. 12:9-13). We should honestly assess our income and give what we decide to give with a smile, remembering that God has given generously and lavishly to us.

Is it acceptable for the Christian to give 10% of their income to the church? Absolutely. I would argue that it is a good idea, either as a starting point or a goal to work up to (depending on your income). However, it is just as acceptable to give 5%, or 50%, as long as you give generously and from the right heart.

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Equip the Called

God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.

Like most pithy bumper-sticker theological sayings, this one has a bit of truth to it. God does have a record of using some unlikely people to accomplish His will. However, this doesn’t mean we should put anyone who is willing in any volunteer position we have within the church.

Imagine this with me for a moment:

Your favorite football team is taking the field. The starters are all new players, fresh off the street without much (if any) training. The coaches have not spent much time teaching them the game or analyzing their ability. Further, they have no pads or helmets, just t-shirts and basketball shorts.

How are they going to do? They’ll get crushed, right? In fact, many of them will probably end up with major injuries that may take weeks to years to fully heal.

Now imagine these two scenarios with me:

Your church has a brand new Christian. This person came forward at an altar call a few weeks ago and expressed a new faith in Christ. They have been regularly attending the Sunday morning service as well as a small group every other week, but have had little to no time spent talking with church leadership about their walk with Jesus.

Your church has a person who is a Christian and has been for a few years, but is struggling heavily—and seemingly losing the struggle—with addiction. This struggle is causing them to strongly doubt God’s love and forgiveness. No one in the church really knows about this other than a member or two of church leadership.

Let us say that both these people want to volunteer at the church and are willing to help almost anywhere needed, from stacking chairs at a potluck to serving on the church board. Where do you ask them to volunteer?

Most American churches are small ones in need of any volunteers they can get, and often both of the above people would end up quickly being asked to assume a position of leadership within the church, be it an explicit leadership position (elder, board member, etc) or implicit one (teacher—especially of an adult class or small group, worship team, etc). This is unfortunate because neither of these people has what they need to be in leadership. They are lacking their training, their helmets, and their pads.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t believe you need to be nearly sinless and/or seminary-trained to serve in the church, even in many leadership positions. That said, many Christians need to be brought up in the faith before they are asked to lead others. Those that are new to Christianity and those that are fragile and barely surviving the struggle to kill sin and keep the faith need the church to train and serve them for a time before they can train and serve others.

To do otherwise is to end up with people bruised and battered and broken by our too-high expectations. They may leave the church; they may stay as the walking wounded.

Neither is good.

So ask the new Christian to attend a new believers class where they can hear the basics of the faith. Ask the barely-surviving Christian to get a coffee with you and talk about your own walk with God.  Come alongside them to help them learn about Jesus. Pray with them and for them. Allow them to volunteer in pressure-free situations – moving tables for a meeting, setting up the church for Christmas or Easter, working in the nursery, attending a church workday, until they are spiritually and emotionally ready to handle the demands of leadership. This is the way a church develops strong people that can lead others in service to God.

Originally posted at The Anon Church blog. Reposted here in its entirety.

Books and Reading – A Call for Discernment

Last week over at Ref21, Todd Pruitt posted an article about members of the ministry not recommending certain books to congregational members. One quote jumped out at me:

Urging people away from certain books and insisting that ministry staff not recommend them is an important task of the pastor these days. . . It is the pastor’s duty to protect the purity and unity of the flock he serves as shepherd.

I would fully agree with this. One of the problems currently facing the church is a lack of deeper understanding of theology by the man-on-the-street church member, and reading light, fluffy, skirting the edge of orthodoxy (or falling right over it) books certainly doesn’t help matters. Further, if a pastor is aware that the members of his congregation are reading troublesome, wrong, or downright heretical books he should say something to protect his people.

But it doesn’t always work this way.

Unfortunately, when a book is popular many church leaders seem hesitant to speak against it. Worse yet, they may think that a book’s popularity among Christians means that it is a helpful, and therefore good, book for Christians to read. How else can you explain church-sponsored small groups using books like Velvet Elvis (reviewed here) and The Shack (reviewed here and here), and women’s groups within churches passing around books like Heaven is for Real (off a church denomination’s official women’s group reading list, reviewed here and here). I believe the church is full of more examples like this – these are simply examples of which I have first-hand knowledge.

Should pastors tell their ministry staff when a book isn’t fit to be recommended to the people of the church? Yes. Should pastors tell their congregation when a book (especially a popular one) is full of bad theology and potentially dangerous? Absolutely. Sadly, many will not.

Pastor, don’t be so afraid to offend someone that you let your congregation run to the bookstore to grab the latest piece of Christian pop-culture without a warning if one is called for. If a book is suddenly very popular in your church, learn about it. You may be the only person in someone’s life who knows enough to warn.

Christian, the popularity of a book does not affect the truth of the book. A book is not acceptable simply because many people have read it any more than it is not acceptable simply because of low readership. Read your Bible first – then if you need a book recommendation turn to trusted church leaders or theologically knowledgeable friends. Do a bit of research before accepting a book. Remember that the church is 2,000 years old. Brand new theological insights are often heresy (and usually old ones at that).