BEYOND TITHING

Not a Formula but a Relationship

Phillip Walters www.backyardbelievers.com

For some time now I have wanted to tackle a practice which is such a sacred cow that to oppose it makes me feel a little like Martin Luther (just a tiny little) standing in front of the church door with a hammer in his hand.

It’s the modern practice of tithing, a practice that, while it has little or no foundation in the New Testament, stands in some churches almost alongside belief in the Trinity or the Virgin Birth. However it is my belief that it is a sacred cow that is made of much the same material as the calf that Aaron built and needs to go.

It is untouchable because much of modern church practice relies on it; and it has to go because, just as Aaron’s calf was a way of worship without relationship, tithing has become for many a similar substitute for being led by the Holy Spirit.

MY JOURNEY

Before getting into dismantling your confidence in the tithe as a thoroughly New Testament practice, let me first give you some of my own background.

Tithing for me started not long after learning to sing ‘Hear the pennies dropping …’ a ditty that I sang fervently every week in Sunday School as I struggled to untie the penny that mum had tied up in the corner of my handkerchief. My parents, though not Christians, sent me and my brothers off to the local Salvation Army and thus my Christian walk began. Thank God for the Salvos!

And, being the good evangelical mob that they were, my youth was spent imbibing everything that was necessary to being a good Christian soldier, including tithing which probably started with my first pay packet (to the dismay of my father). I believed in it and finished up practising and preaching it through most of my adult Christian life, good times and hard times, up until four years ago.

And I preached it well – and not just because my income depended upon it. I preached it from a grace aspect and with no compulsion – well, unless you call the Malachi threat of a curse ‘compulsion’ … but I’ll cover that later.

When the recent teaching about the need to tithe to the one who represents Christ to you came along I was excited and embraced that as well. We separated tithes and offerings, with tithes going for the Ministry, the equivalent of the priesthood (?), and the offering going to pay for the new Worship Centre, the equivalent of the temple (?).

Did those equivalents unsettle anyone? No? Well let’s move on.

So what happened four years ago? I think what happened was I began to be uncomfortable with the way some were interpreting the importance of the tithe and what seemed like a dread of the consequences of not having the tithe into the ‘storehouse’ on time. A week late, it seemed, could seriously dry up the flow of God’s provision and a cheque that the office girl had forgotten to post become a dam to God’s supply, even to those who walked in a lifestyle of extraordinary generosity.

So the questions started. Was God as legalistic as this? Did this at all reflect his character? Where in the New Testament do we find such fastidiousness in giving – except among the Pharisees? What about the ‘grace’ of giving? It was these questions and more that led me to take another look at the tithe, and especially as it related to New Testament practice.

And my conclusion? Continue reading “BEYOND TITHING”

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The Parable of the Two Motors

This a helpful parable from Robert Fitts about the role of leaders in the local church.

ENGINE 1In every car there are two motors – one runs on gasoline and the other on electricity. The gasoline motor is huge in comparison to the electric motor; but it is the tiny little electric motor that is designed to start the gasoline motor, and the gasoline motor is designed to provide the power to move the car. As soon as the big motor engages, the little motor disengages. If it did not, it would burn out in a matter of minutes.

The apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are servants to the Body of Christ to act as initiators (starters) to get the body functioning. Just as the starter motor disengages as soon as the big motor starts, so it is with the wise leader. If he stays engaged he will burn out, just as a starter motor would do if it did not disengage after starting the big motor.

As long as the little starter motor is trying to move the car by the power of a single battery, the car will never function as it was designed to function. It is only the 350 horsepower motor that was designed to move the car, and it is only the Body of Christ that has been designed to build up the Body unto the measure of the fulness of Christ. Only as the Body of Christ is released to minister to itself will it ever attain unto the fullness of the maturity in Christ.

Robert Fitts – The Church in the House (a Return to Simplicity) www.robertfitts.com

The Sunday Morning Obsession

Worship bandThis is an excerpt from Lance Ford. Sadly Sunday Morning ‘church’ seems to be the highlight of many a Christian’s spiritual experience. I can’t imagine that Jesus intended this to be so. That the best expression of our faith should happen inside a religious building?  I’m not sure that the average Australian is remotely interested in Sunday Morning Church no matter how we jazz it up. But many Christians love a slick, well oiled Sunday event – and would be offended by me describing it as such.

A couple of nights ago I was channel flipping and caught a talk being given at a church planter’s conference. First of all, I was surprised to see a church planting conference being shown on TV. I was soon cringing though as the (well known) speaker said, “The first priority you have is to present a great Sunday morning service.” The camera quickly scanned the audience, as a sea of goateed future planters scribbled down this “critical” learning point.

I literally yelled at the television, “No!” This is one of the biggest problems we have with attractional churches today. Pastors and church staffs are obsessed with Sunday mornings. The vast majority of time, resources, and energy go into creating and sustaining Sunday mornings. Jesus’ commission to make disciples gets the leftovers.

Lance Ford   shapevine@christianitytoday.com

Making Room for Atheism

Thoughts on the Supremacy of God in a Pluralistic World


By John PiperAugust 10, 2005

I love John Piper’s writings and I found a lot of wisdom in this article in the light of pondering the future and the battles that lie ahead.

Our church exists “to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” That is our mission. “All things” means business, industry, education, media, sports, arts, leisure, government, and all the details of our lives. Ideally this means God should be recognized and trusted as supreme by every person he has made. But the Bible teaches plainly that there will never be a time before Jesus comes back when all people will honor him as supreme (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

So how do we express a passion for God’s supremacy in a pluralistic world where most people do not recognize God as an important part of their lives, let alone an important part of government or education or business or industry or art or recreation or entertainment?

Answer: We express a passion for the supremacy of God…

1) by maintaining a conviction at all times that God is ever-present and gives all things their most important meaning. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of all things. We must keep in our minds the truth that all things exist to reveal something of God’s infinite perfections. The full meaning of everything, from shoestrings to space shuttles, is the way they relate to God.

2) by trusting God in every circumstance to use his creative, sustaining, governing wisdom and power to work all things together for the good of all who love him. This is faith in the future grace of all that God promises to be for us in Jesus.

3) by making life choices that reveal the supreme worth of God above what the world values supremely. “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). So we will choose to die rather than lose sweet fellowship with God. This will show his supremacy over all that life offers.

4) by speaking to people of God’s supreme worth in creative and persuasive ways, and by telling people how they can be reconciled to God through Christ, so that they can enjoy God’s supremacy as protection and help, rather than fear it as judgment.

5) by making clear that God himself is the foundation for our commitment to a pluralistic democratic order—not because pluralism is his ultimate ideal, but because in a fallen world, legal coercion will not produce the kingdom of God. Christians agree to make room for non-Christian faiths (including naturalistic, materialistic faiths), not because commitment to God’s supremacy is unimportant, but because it must be voluntary, or it is worthless. We have a God-centered ground for making room for atheism. “If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight” (John 18:36). The fact that God establishes his kingdom through the supernatural miracle of faith, not firearms, means that Christians in this age will not endorse coercive governments—Christian or secular.

This is why we resist the coercive secularization implied in some laws that repress Christian activity in public places. It is not that we want to establish Christianity as the law of the land. That is intrinsically impossible, because of the spiritual nature of the kingdom. It is rather because repression of free exercise of religion and persuasion is as wrong against Christians as it is against secularists. We believe this tolerance is rooted in the very nature of the gospel of Christ. In one sense, tolerance is pragmatic: freedom and democracy seem to be the best political order humans have conceived. But for Christians it is not purelypragmatic: the spiritual, relational nature of God’s kingdom is the ground of our endorsement of pluralism, until Christ comes with rights and authority that we do not have.


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… HELLO PASTOR ONE-ANOTHER

Goodbye Pastor Phil, hello Pastor One-Another (some more thoughts on the function of the pastor)

Considering the prominent place of the Pastor in the makeup of the modern local church scene (though dating back to Constantine), it is surprising how little the New Testament has to say about such an individual. Practically nothing. The word ‘pastor’ is used once and it is in fact almost impossible to find a clear reference in the New Testament to a local church led by one man.

Mind you, it is also hard to find a local church that looks anything like what we’ve come to know as a local church today – a distinctively named assembly (such as Keppel Coast Christian Fellowship) with its own vision, building and man in charge.

Rather what we find are churches that embrace the whole city, with no separately owned ‘church’ buildings and a plural eldership belonging to all.

And a style of pastoring that did not seem to centre around any special individual but was spead out between ‘one-another’.

Not that the early church lacked leaders but there is very little exhortation in any of the epistles for believers go seek out a leader for advise, counselling, healing or encouragement. Rather the exhortation is to practise this stuff on ‘one-another’. Over 60 times this (or a similar) expression is used in the apostolic letters.

Here is an example of the ‘one-anothers’.

  • live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 1 Peter 3:8)
  • care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
  • serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
  • bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
  • speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)
  • submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
  • forgive one another (Col. 3:13)
  • teach one another (Col. 3:16)
  • wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14)
  • love one another. (John 13:34)
  • be devoted to one another … Honor one another (Romans 12:10)
  • stop passing judgment on one another. (Romans 14:13)
  • instruct one another (Romans 15:14)
  • agree with one another (1 Corinthians 1:10)
  • be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other (Ephesians 4:32)
  • teach and admonish one another  Colossians 3:16)
  • encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • encourage one another daily, (Hebrews 3:13)
  • consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)
  • confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16)
  • offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
  • clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5)
  • have fellowship with one another  (1 John 1:7)

Note that the apostles felt that the saints were quite competent to teach and instruct each other, correct each other, hear each other’s confessions, pray for their healing,  encourage each other, build each other up etc etc. They were well equipped to pastor one another.

John, in facts, encouraged them to believe that each of them had ‘an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.’ (1 John 2:20) If this is so and such a hidden and under-used anointing exists in the body of Christ then the task of the ‘fivefold ministries’ is surely to encourage its release.

Considering the huge burn-out rate that exists is in traditional pastoral ministry perhaps those in ministry would do a great service, both to themselves and to the local body they serve, by

  1. encouraging people to believe that they don’t need ‘the Pastor’  as much as they think they do
  2. foster the kind of intimate ekklessia where people can actively practise the ‘one-anothers’.
  3. actively step back from ‘doing the stuff’ themselves and let the Holy Spirit bring out the aforesaid anointing among the saints.

I suspect that the result of this would be to release  leaders to spend more time seeking each other out , seeking the Lord together and exploring ways to advance the Kingdom within the city (Acts13).

In order for that to happen perhaps the great need of the local church is not another Pastor Some-One but the release of Pastor One-Another.

GOODBYE PASTOR PHIL

Rev Phil badgeWhen I first began as a Prison Fellowship chaplain out at Capricornia Correctional Centre I was issued with a name badge, reading Rev Phil Walters. Being a bit embarrassed by the ‘Rev’ tag – I was neither officially nor in character ‘Reverend’ – I covered it up and ordered a new badge, more appropriately reading ‘Pastor’ Phil Walters. However, having mislaid that badge, I now need to order a new one. Which brings me to a slight dilemma. Because I have come to a stage, with all my recent questionings of modern church practice, where I’m not comfortable with any titles, be they Pope or Pastor.

I must say that I have never really been comfortable being called ‘Pastor’. Perhaps it is because I’ve always struggled with the clergy/laity thing, which is an awful division that developed in the church very early on, creating a false old-covenant style division between the professional ordained elite and all the rest. A hierarchical model of leadership which is foreign to the New Testament.

Jesus made it clear that we are not to get hung up on titles. Surely this was his intention when he said

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. Matthew 23:810

I suspect that he knew very well our propensity to exchange the lower-case ‘function’ for an upper-case ‘office’ complete with title. So that someone who pastors become Pastor Someone. Then Senior Pastor Someone. Or Associate Pastor or Youth Pastor or Worship Pastor etc etc. The church is full of it. Apostle This, Bishop That, Most Reverend The  Other.

Where is such use of titles in the New Testament? Did Apostle Paul write to the Corinthians and tell them he was sending Pastor Timothy and Youth Pastor Titus to catch up with Senior Pastor Aquilla and Associate Pastor Priscilla? It’s a nonsense. And it perpetuates an unhealthy divide. Nowhere in the New Testament are people addressed by their functions in that kind of a way.

Of course the excuse we make is that it is a way of ‘honouring’ our leaders. But if we need a title in order to be honoured surely something is wrong. Should I not be honoured for what I am regardless of title? My son-in-law is a much respected and sort after plumber but we don’t need to call him Plumber Dennis. Why should he not be ‘honoured’ in similar vein to how we ‘honour’ pastors? Is his profession less honourable?

Pastor Only Parking2On the contrary I can hide behind a title, use it as a smoke screen to hide my insecurities or the flaws in my character, even pull the old ” Do not speak against the Man of God” thing.

No, no. The people I serve, in whatever function I have been called, are my friends and my fellow companions in the work of the Kingdom. This was Paul’s attitude to those around him and it should be mine. They knew him simply as Paul (or at the most ‘brother Paul’, a term he uses for Peter as well) and so I should be known simple as Phil.

So goodbye ‘Pastor’ Phil. And hello Phil, a pastor … and a father, husband, lover,  prison chaplain, events person, radio presenter, blogger, brother in Christ and friend of all, etc etc.

(Thank you Jon Zens for the photo, from his latest book A Church Building Every Half Mile)

The Collapse of Evangelicalism – Part 2

Continuing Maurice Smith’s great article – this is the encouraging part.

Maurice Smith

 

The Collapse of Evangelicalism

Part 2: Evangelicalism in Transition

Now I want to offer several observations regarding what I see as the outcome of that collapse.

Evangelicalism will look more like the church of the first century, and less like the church of the last (i.e., 20th)  century. I’m tempted to simply allow that statement to stand without comment – forcing you to simply digest it without elaboration . . . . but what fun would that be?!  When David Lehman in “The Answering Stranger” declared, “The Twentieth Century is the name of a train that no longer runs”, he could easily have been referring to the Evangelical Church. The Church of the 20th Century witnessed the rise and fall of the temperance movement in the first half of the century(culminating in the 18th amendment), and the rise of the pro-abortion movement (culminating in Roe v. Wade) in the last half of the century. The Evangelical Church has witnessed Billy Graham filling Times Square (September 2, 1957), and “gay pride” marches filling those same streets. The Evangelical Church has witnessed the rise of the mega-church and the precipitous decline in the impact of the church on American culture. We began the 20th Century with a world wide awakening of historic proportions, and we ended the century with . . . . nothing of note. I believe God is done with the Church of the 20th Century, and He is taking us back to the Church of the 1st Century.

Evangelicalism will be vastly smaller, but vastly more effective.  Let’s face it. In traditional Western Christianity of the 20th Century, “success” is measured by size: the size of your congregation, the size of your budget, the size of your facility, the size of your staff, etc.  Size matters . . . except in the Kingdom of God.  But the day of “size matters” is quickly Continue reading “The Collapse of Evangelicalism – Part 2”