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Bearing one another’s burdens May 21, 2012

Posted by Henry in Matters of the Faith.
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6 comments

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)

 

Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy (Matt 5:7)

 

A number of years ago I was faced with a situation where a sister from another church, someone I worked with at the time, needed financial assistance. I asked the sister if she would not approach her church for assistance. She said that whilst there was a welfare office in the church she did not feel comfortable approaching it for assistance because of how she would appear to her fellow church members and she felt she would be stigmatised.  The question I would like to raise is why should church members that are in difficulty and in need feel uncomfortable to approach their church for help? Could it be because the church today, unlike the early church, does not foster a culture of sharing and caring for one another within their congregation?

 

The church today is not short of teachings and admonitions to “give generously” or “give sacrificially” but what exactly is the church being asked to give to? What I do not witness is admonitions to the church members to give to those around them who are in need. When was the last time you heard a sermon on giving to the poor and the needy? In fact when asked, some preachers tell their members that they cannot give their tithes to other causes aside from the church but that “the whole tithe” must be brought into the “storehouse” – the church building. Has the church stopped teaching the law and commandments of Jesus Christ? It is a mistake to think that we are fulfilling the law of Christ in giving to the church (the administrative structure), which will in turn give some of the takings to a charity. Jesus said in Luke 6:30 “give to everyone who ask you” and He is speaking to individuals here. But what the church mainly teach today is to give to “the work of the church” whether it be the local church or ones in distant lands appealing for funds on TV. They encourage you to “prayerfully consider partnering” with them but never do they teach the church to fulfil the law of Christ in bearing each other’s burdens. How can we declare then that we are the called of Christ yet we do not fulfil His law by helping one another? Does this not undermine our credibility? The problem with giving to the church in tithes and offerings is that one may easily get into a mindset where they feel that they have done their duty already (in “giving to God”) and therefore the portion of their income which remains is theirs and they can’t afford to give away anymore. Many may therefore be ignoring Christ’s commands to give to everyone who asks of them, because in line with what they have been taught it is up to the church to distribute to those in need. Sometimes I do wonder however if it is the case that people do not really believe we need to observe Christ’s teachings to the full. Did Christ not say that we should not only be hearers of the word but doers of the word? Have we become like the Pharisees who, instead of honouring their fathers and mothers instead say that whatever help they would otherwise give them is a gift devoted to God (Matt 15:4-5)? Perhaps it should be said that we cannot be doers of the word if it is not being preached to us and we are not hearing it.

 

Many people today pay their tithes not necessarily because they believe they are fulfilling God’s will but because they have been led to believe that this is the way to access the blessings of God. But Christ says, blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. We need to show mercy to our brothers and sisters in Christ but not only they for we are also called to love our neighbour as ourselves. Paul in Gal 6:10 also encourage us to do good unto ALL men. What surprises me therefore is how little emphasis is placed on such teachings today and even the world is showing us a better example today. To cite an example, the Evening Standard newspaper ran a campaign over the last few years to highlight the extent of poverty that many people are faced with here in Britain but more in London. They found that more than half of children in London lived below the poverty line. Despite the fact that Britainis a very rich developed country there are still a lot of people in abject poverty but it is usually not visible to most of us. I am sure that a lot of these poor people do go to church too. What are our churches doing to alleviate the plight of these poor? One church body in the UK reported total income from parishes to over £800 million in 2009. This church’s expenditure however amounted to almost the figure that was raised with only £50 million going to charitable causes. There are established churches in the UK that own and control vast wealth, namely in property and other assets yet people are still suffering in poverty. To cite another example from Greece, the Telegraph newspaper reported that the church have amassed wealth of over £700 billion Euros and this amounts to twice the national debt (1).

 

How can the church retain such vast wealth whilst people the world over are living in extreme poverty? Surely the church should be doing more in terms of giving away most of what they collect to those in need instead of hoarding it. The church members themselves are also guilty of helping to maintain this status quo by mindlessly giving their money to churches that hoard it, instead of heeding the scriptures in bearing each other’s burdens. What will the church do with such wealth on judgement day when Jesus Christ shall put in His appearance? This is the question that every church body that stores wealth should be considering very seriously.

 

(1) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8790126/Wealth-of-churches-vs-the-wealth-of-people.html

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Giving to God in the New Testament Age March 2, 2012

Posted by Henry in Tithing.
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3 comments

There are many preachers and teachers today who teach “giving to God” from an Old Testament perspective. The term “giving to God” is usually defined as giving to support the work of your local church. In this sense giving to God in this New Covenant age is equated with or synonymous to the practice in ancient Israel of bringing your offerings to the house of God, which was embodied in the Tabernacle and later, the Temple. Such teachings therefore will often draw one’s attention to scriptures pertaining to tithes and first-fruit offerings. One may often hear the refrain “honour the Lord with the first fruits of your increase” and “the tithe belongs to God” ringing out from the pulpits or blaring from Christian Broadcasting channels.  The question that needs to be considered however is why should the church seek principles of giving to God today from the Old Covenant? This question will be explored more fully in the rest of this article.

The purpose of the Old Covenant was to point us to Christ, being a shadow of the things to come (Ga 3:24, Heb 10:1, Col 2:17). Christ however has now fulfilled the Law and has changed the Law through His sacrifice on the cross. In so doing Christ has established a new priesthood as per the following verses from Heb 7:

11If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. 13He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. (NIV)

We see here that it was on the basis of the Levitical priesthood that the law was given to Israel but because it was not perfect it was replaced by the priesthood of Christ, whose priesthood is similar to that of Melchizedek. This point is most important to understanding our relationship with Christ in the New Covenant. Because there is therefore a change in the priesthood there is also a need for a change in the Law. A change in the Law brought about a change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. There are many in the church today who argue out of ignorance that Jesus said (in Matt 5:17) He did not come to abolish the Law (or the prophets) but to fulfill them. So what then? Do we have two covenants (two laws) running concurrently? God forbid, but rather the Old Covenant has been fulfilled and subsequently changed by Christ to the New Covenant through His death and resurrection (Jer 31:31, Heb 8:8, 2 Cor 3:6), being made a High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Furthermore Heb 8:13 tells us that the old covenant decays and now vanishes away. The important point to note is that if the Levitical law is still intact today then the priesthood of the Levites (the Aaronic priesthood) would still be intact also.

The question might be asked here that if Christ’s priesthood is similar to Melchizedek’s and the latter received tithes from Abraham then so too Christ should also receive tithes. It should be noted however that similarities of Christ’s priesthood to that of Melchizedek’s relates only to the fact that their priesthoods were not based on a regulation (or law) as to their ancestry as compared to the Aaronic priesthood (Heb 7:14-16).It should be pointed out here also that whilst the law gave a commandment to those of the Levite priesthood (Heb 7:5) to collect a tithe of the people (their brethren) such a command does not derive from the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Why then should be attribute the Levitical command to the priesthood fo Christ?

One of the surest signs that God intended to do away with the old temple system is evidenced by the renting of the veil when Christ was crucified (Matt 27:51). This pivotal moment signified that Christ entered the Holy Place once for all to obtain eternal redemption for us (Heb 9:12). The final end of the Levitical system was to culminate in the destruction of the Temple which Jesus foretold in Matt 24:1-2 (also Dan 9:26). History bears out that this event occurred in 70 A.D. when the Roman general, Titus Vespasian, sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the City and the Sanctuary. With the Levitical system now defunct we now have a High Priest in Christ Jesus who advocates for us and God’s temple now constitute the body of believers which is called the Church (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 6:16) in which everyone is a priest (1 Pet 2:5), not the church buildings themselves.

Attention will now be turned to the question I raised earlier concerning, “why should the church seek principles of giving to God today from the Old Covenant?” I would suggest here that perhaps the main reason for this is because the church building today is treated as somehow synonymous with the ancient temple and likewise those who minister in the affairs of the church are treated as somewhat synonymous with the Priests and Levites under the old temple structure. Indeed when one is admonished to tithe today they are led to believe that the local church now represents the storehouse of God as in Malachi’s day (Mal 3:10). This of course presents a dichotomy in that as I have demonstrated earlier, Christ priesthood is of a different order than that of the Levitical priesthood and consequently the changing of the priesthood necessitated a change in the law. To therefore attribute the law of the Levitical priesthood to Christ’s priesthood is fallacy of the highest order. Jesus Christ did not abolish the old temple structure to again replicate it within the church and this was not so in the early church. What then is the motivation for church leaders today to instruct giving from the Old Covenant instructions? One clear reason for that is, unlike with the old covenant, there is a clear absence of specific commands to the church to “give to God” under the New Covenant. Certainly there is no command in the new covenant to give tithes or first fruits offerings for that matter – the law has changed. It seems therefore it is more appealing to revert to the Old Covenant commands because they are clear and direct with the added emphasis that after all, these are the commandments of the Lord (though not commands to the church).

Within the New Testament one is constantly encouraged to give to the poor and the needy, not only to fellow believers who were in need but also to non-believers as well. What drives the motivation for giving in the new covenant is love out of a pure heart with no expectation of an earthly reward in return and this was aptly demonstrated by the early church in Acts 2, Acts 4 and 2 Cor 8 and 9. On the contrary some of the old covenant instructions which underpinned giving were attached with promises of earthly blessings, Mal 3:10 being a classic example with the promises of the “windows of heaven” blessings. Since the tithe and first fruits therefore went “to God” via the Levites and priests, one is led to believe today that they are likewise giving to God by donating to what is now seen as constituting the storehouse (the local church). Today, giving out of love to meet necessities has been replaced by the old covenant enticement to give because of the promises of blessings attached to it. In this case you are admonished to give not because you are meeting necessities but simply out of a perceived “obedience to God” – the type of obedience that incidentally is not borne out in the New Testament. It is interesting to note that even in our modern society one cannot benefit from the laws of the State that have been annulled yet we are somehow led to believe that we can still benefit from God’s law that Jesus Christ has nullified. 

It is not surprising that the current status quo in the church has come about. The evolution of the church has seen it emerge into a system with vast administrative structures, diverse programmes and large and costly buildings. These developments have created a need for considerable financial support from church members in order to maintain them and consequently there is therefore a need for structured giving to guarantee the finances to safeguard these institutions. Since there are no examples of structured giving in the New Covenant, what better way to institute structured giving in the church than to draw examples from the Old Covenant in the form of tithes and to a lesser extent first fruits offerings, without discounting freewill offerings as well?

What we are seeing today in the church concerning giving was not practiced in the early church but it would seem that the church has come full circle in attempting to replicate at least some of the Old Covenant within the New – what constitutes an illegitimate marriage. The weight of evidence from scripture however clearly shows that it is completely wrong to impose Old Testament standards upon the New Testament not only in the area of giving (to God) but in every aspect of Christian worship. The Priesthood of Christ postdates the Levitical priesthood and as such the old law has changed to a new one. Do we continue therefore to propagate the error in which we have now found ourselves? The challenge for the church today is to radically rethink how we “do church” in order that we may correctly align ourselves with the new law in Christ.

In tithes we trust February 13, 2012

Posted by Henry in Tithing.
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8 comments

The modern church has come to be reliant upon “tithes and offerings” which are regarded as essential to financing the Gospel. Proponents of the tithe in particular have claimed that God purposed for the tithe to be used to finance the Gospel, i.e., the church structure/organisation. In this regard it is argued that Jesus Christ never abolished the tithe, and to support the arguments scriptures are cited which suggest that tithing was before the Law. Whatever the arguments though, “tithes and offerings” are the mainstay of most churches in Christendom today and forms the main source of income to meet the various needs of the church.

 

The question should be asked however as to whether tithing (in particular) meets the standard of New Testament giving. The term “tithing” here is used rather loosely to refer to the practice of giving 10 percent of one’s income to the local church. It should be pointed out therefore that though this modern form of tithing is not identical to the biblical practice it is usually the case that scriptures which pertains solely to the Law (the Old Covenant) are used to support the practice in the church today. So where exactly are we? Are we still under the Law or has the Law been set aside or perhaps we are partially still under the Law?

 

Perhaps the most overused scripture in “enforcing” tithing in the church is Mal 3:8-12. This portion of scripture appears to have the most currency because it drives fear in a believer’s heart in that they are robbing God if they do not give a tenth of their income and consequently they will be cursed as God will not rebuke the devourer. Of course none of us would like to be considered as robbing God and we certainly would want to escape from any curses imposed by God. One of the main justifications for tithing therefore is that the tither either believes or is lead to believe that they are insuring against this dreaded curse and are also “investing” for future blessings when they tithe. The fact that the church has to rely on this biblical injunction to raise funds demonstrates two things. Firstly, it demonstrates that the church has failed to recognised that the injunction in Mal 3:8-12 was not given to the Church but was said at a time when Israel was still under the Law and that since Christ fulfilled the Law it is no longer in force. Secondly, it demonstrates that both the church leadership and the followership have misplaced their faith by trusting in the tithe instead of putting their trust in God who is the source of all blessings. The church leadership demonstrate a lack of faith when they have to resort to using the Law to “encourage” giving in the New Testament age. Likewise the followership also demonstrates a lack of faith by putting their trust in the tithe as their insurance policy rather than to trust solely in God.

 

Under the New Covenant in Christ’s blood we are called to walk by faith (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11) and as such giving is an act of faith (Jam 2:14-18). Tithing however, contrary to what some have believed, is not an act of faith but an instruction or commandment given under the Law. Furthermore, attempting to “prove God” by tithing as a result of the enticement of “the windows of heaven” blessings again is not an act of faith. If God will bless us because of our contributions to the church then all we need to do is take Him at His words. It is for this reason that Mal 3:8-12 should not be used to stir a believer’s conscience in donating money to the local church. It is important to note here that before faith came the Law was in force (Gal 3:23) and the Law therefore acted as a schoolmaster (Gal 3:24). Furthermore Paul tells us in Gal 3:12 that the Law is not based on faith. Injunctions such as Mal 3:8-12 therefore demonstrates the nature of the Law in its capacity as a schoolmaster – it emphasizes the benefits (merits) if you obey and the punishments (demerits) if you do not. Does this injunction typify our new position in Christ? Is this a demonstration of how faith works in the current church age? Are we as foolish as the Galatians in thinking that we are justified by obeying the tithing Law?

 

Whilst the income generated from “tithing” (of one’s income) may serve a useful purpose in contributing to the spread of the Gospel, the ends do not justify the means. According to James 2:10, if we seek to observe the Law but fail in on one point we are guilty of the whole Law. If we then are guilty of the Law then are we under a curse. But thankfully Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law having been made a curse for us (Gal 3:13). The very curse therefore referred to in Mal 3:8-12 is the same curse that Christ hath redeemed us from. Why then do ministers continue to use Mal 3:8-12 to convict their church members to tithe of their income? Are they so fearful that if they do not instruct tithing that they won’t have any money to finance the church and are the members so lacking in faith that they can’t give unless they are faced with threats?

 

It is interesting to note that there are many church goers who help to propagate the myth that “tithing works”. By this they mean that when they pay their tithes they are blessed as this is usually followed by promotions at work, salary increases, unexpected gifts of money and general stability in their finances. On the reverse some claim that when they do not tithe all sorts of problems befall them so from this standpoint alone many put their trust in tithing to ward against the evil devourer that seeks to upset their finances. The simple truth however is that whether you tithe or don’t tithe you will have problems in your life including your finances. The Psalmist understood this fact only too well when he declared: Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all (Ps 34:19). Jesus also tells us in John 16:33 that we shall have many trials and sorrows in this world and Paul declared that through much tribulation must we enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). If you purpose in your heart to give 10 percent of your income to your church that is fine. However, tithing is not an insurance policy against the evil day and the church should not teach tithing as if this is the case. You should instead put your faith and your trust in God alone who is able to help you to overcome all the challenges in this life.

Financing the Gospel December 21, 2011

Posted by Henry in Tithing.
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3 comments

Supporters of tithing often make the claim that God intended for the church (i.e., the Gospel) to be financed through the mechanism of the tithe. In establishing this doctrine they cite Old Testament scriptures to support their claim. However, did God really intended for the church to be financed through the tithe? This is the question I hope to answer in this short study.

 The apostle Paul has laid down some clear guidelines on “financing the gospel” that the church should follow. For instance, Paul made the following declaration in 1 Cor 9:

 13Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? 14Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

 

The central question here however is whether tithing was the means by which the Lord ordained those who preached the gospel to live of it? After all, aren’t pastors living of the gospel when they collect their stipend and other forms of remuneration and aren’t they doing so from the tithes and offerings? It should be noted here that some churches teach that the tithe is strictly for the pastor’s enjoyment. So what examples do we glean from scriptures of people who lived of the gospel?

 I believe as the church and the body of Christ, our starting point should always be to look at Christ’s example as after all He is the Chief Shepherd (or Chief Pastor) of His church (1 Pet 5:4). In the early stages of the Gospel going forth, Jesus called the twelve disciples and sent them out to deliver the good news to the lost sheep. Interestingly, Jesus told them not to take money or even a change of clothes or shoes with them yet he assured them that “the workman is worthy of his meat” (Matt 10:10). This was the first example shown to us in scripture of people who preached the gospel being fed by it and this was the same principle that Paul alluded to in 1 Cor 9:14 quoted earlier and also in 1 Tim 5:18. After the disciples returned from their travels however, Jesus asked them if they lacked anything whilst they journeyed to preach the message of the Kingdom and they replied they lacked nothing (Lk 22:35). All their needs were met by some of the people they came into contact with. What we do not see however is a commandment from Jesus to the disciples to go out and as they preached to collect tithes. What a contrast to today’s churches that declares that the work of the Lord cannot be done without “exacting” tithes?

 Christ went about establishing the church and wherever He went preaching, great multitudes gathered to Him yet we do not see a single example of Christ collecting tithes and offerings from the multitudes. What we see however is that there were some dedicated women who ministered to Him out of their own means (Lk 8:1-3). The early church also demonstrates in Acts 4:32-34 how that the church ministered to one another, including the apostles, so that everyone’s needs were being met. Verse 32 is particularly important in answering the question of whether or not the early church tithe. The verse says:

 32And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.

 Here we see in this verse that the believers in Christ did not take ownership of the things they possessed but shared it commonly with their brethren. Within such a construct it is clear that tithing could not have been practicable because this would imply that they gave a tenth part and kept the rest for themselves but this is not what was observed.

 The final example we may draw on comes from Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians concerning ministering to the saints in 2 Cor 9:1-7 (which actually is a continuation from 2 Cor 8). Here Paul was collecting gifts in order to distribute to the poor saints in Jerusalem but what we noticed is that he did not over-burdened the church but ask them to give according what each man had purposed in his own heart.

 The system we have in churches today is indicative of the Levitical system, whereby the pastors now assume the office of the Levite priests in the temple and are sustained by tithes. This construct is however foreign to the Gospel of Christ as the early church did not demonstrate these traits. The collection of monetary gifts and the like were strictly for meeting the needs of everyone in the church who had a need, not just the pastors’. One did not simply pay their tithes and offerings from their limited resources and go home despairing as to where the next meal was going to come from or how they were going to pay their rent. Certainly the poor in the church weren’t being told that if tithe faithfully, God would open up the windows of heaven.  Contrarily, everyone’s needs, including those of the apostles, were met from the proceeds of what was gathered. This was the means by which those who preached the Gospel were to live of it and not through a crudely reconstituted Levitical system.

 Will the church stop propagating the lie that God intended the gospel to be financed through the tithe?

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