Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Giving by a New and Living Way - the Beginning

I recently wrote an article about how Christians have responded to the current recession. Like some of you, in addition, I have heard about the $15 million settlement between Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, and four young men who accused him of sexual misconduct. These two events, along with my becoming more open about my thoughts regarding Christian giving, have caused me to give thought to answering the questions that I have been fielding, so as to make my position clear. Above all, I want the Word of God to be understood, and rightly applied.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, is clear that we are to treat our fellow-Christians as if they were our own family (Gal 6:10). We are to love one another, showing that love, not only by what we say, but by how we treat one another (James 2). Scriptures abound that call us to care for one another, share with one another, and help one another. I believe that even the passages which talk about supporting those who are in ministry are rooted in this concern, rather than in any sort of entitlement that those in ministry may have because of their position or status. After all, if a person is committed to preaching the Gospel to the point that he or she forgoes the normal economic activities that could allow them to prosper economically, offering themselves as an instrument in God's hands to spread the message of the Kingdom, should not the rest of us, who are able to pursue the regular economic opportunities, sustain them in order that they might continue without care?

Recently, the practice of tithing has come under the light of scrutiny as some have questioned whether the Old Testament practice is binding upon Christians, and, if so, how? At one end are those who take the words of Malachi 3:6-12 as directly applicable to Christians, including the offer of blessing and cursing that are included. As a result, pastors and teachers encourage their congregants to set aside 10% of their gross income for the church, in order to reap financial and other blessings and avoid the specter of God cursing them with poverty. At the other end are those who argue that the teaching is flawed and inapplicable to Christians, who are encouraged instead to give generously as an act of ministry to help others, support their local church, and other ministries, as they have been blessed, but only after having met their family needs, and while living a lifestyle that is modest rather than extravagant.

I am not going to write anything today that will give cover for covetousness or an apologetic for avarice. If you are so in love with the money in your possession that the only way you will give it away is when "they pry it away from your cold, dead fingers," I cannot support you, and I implore you to repent immediately. I am suggesting that we have looked at the issue of money in a way that swallows a camel and strains out a gnat, when God has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness through the presence of the Holy Spirit within us (Col 2:8-10). Instead of allowing the Spirit to lead us in the grace of giving (2 Cor 8:5), we pull out our calculators, demand to see w-2 statements, and make promises and utter threats in God's name that we will one day have to answer to Him for.

We are told in the New Testament that we are to be motivated by faith working through love (Gal 5:6), or not at all(1 Cor 13:1-3). This applies to our teaching, preaching, worship, prayer, and giving. The debate over tithing, however, seldom delves into this area, but instead is mostly focused on our obligation, the ministry's entitlement, and God's enforcement. In it, God becomes a loan shark, who loaned money to us, demanding that protection money be paid to His appointed agents in order to avoid horrific economic consequences.

I remember a conversation that I had with a pastor who told me that my questioning on this subject was putting my son in danger. Knowing how close I am to my son, he thought that the possibility of my son suffering behind my exploration would stop me dead in my tracks. It did stop our conversation, and I never brought it up with him again. It didn't stop my research, however. I have seen friends separate over this, people get rejected from service because they dared question it, and people engage in illegal activities in support of it (writing checks by "faith" is still writing bad checks when you know that the money is not there to cover it, saints). I believe that there is a more excellent way.

I will explore this issue over the next series of articles, and I want to hear from you. Pressent your view with your best arguments, avoiding personal attacks, questions of personal integrity, etc, and I shall do the same. In so doing, I hope to look at the impact that the Church has in the Community, and how people view the involvement, or lack thereof, by their local churches and its connection to the financial resources that members make available. I also want to look at the idea that the church gets to play surrogate for us in terms of reaching out to others who are in any trouble. It is this idea that undergirds many appeals to our generosity by both local and television ministries, but is it legitimate? Let's search it out together. The end result should be that we are better representatives of Christ's presence, walking in love, and supporting our ministries out of love rather than by compulsion.

It is my aim to present the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, regardless of the impact of that truth upon traditions, habits, practices and other relics to which we have grown accustomed and comfortable. Walking "by faith and not by sight" applies to everyone, both in the pulpit and in the pew. Above all, I want to help us to "grow in grace," and in the "knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue." This is part of the practical aspect of fellowship, pressing towards the mark of God's upward call. So "don't be skerred," as I promise that I will still esteem you when we are done here, regardless of where we end up on this issue.

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