BEYOND TITHING (2)

THE WHERE AND HOW

In my last posting on tithing I set out to show that, far from tithing being put forward in the New Testament as an example of how to give, the early Christians actually stepped up to a new way  of giving, the way of the Spirit.

No longer did they live by set routines, procedures and formulas but theylived in daily conversation with the indwelling Holy Spirit who took them past the letter of the law to the heart of the law, the heart of God.

This does not mean that we have been left with no written guidelines or instructions. The writers of the New Testament have given us some pretty clear directives concerning this ‘grace of giving’ but every one of them leads us to the Spirit to be fully ‘fleshed out’. For example we are commanded to support those who minister the word to us but are not given any instructions on ‘how’ to do that. For that we need to pray, discuss among ourselves and come up with a support method that ‘seems good to ourselves and to the Holy Spirit’.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In this article I want to look at ‘where’ our giving should be directed. Let me first of all deal with a couple of passages that have relevance to the direction of our giving but which have been, I feel, fairly misused.

ABRAHAM AND MELCHIZEDEC

Over the past fifteen years or so a teaching has taken ground that suggests Continue reading “BEYOND TITHING (2)”

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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”

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

… 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)

Breaking Bread with Not-Yet-Believers

I was thinking, after breaking bread last Sunday, that I should share my thoughts about inviting not-yet-believers to participate in communion, especially in the light of Paul’s teachings in Corinthians regarding believers sharing at the table in a wrong way. My thinking goes like this:

1. The breaking of bread in the NT was always part of a meal, probably an extension of the common blessing at the start of the evening meal. It certainly was a part of most house to house gatherings and probably even every Christian family’s evening meal – since, after all, the family was ‘two or three gathered in my name’.

2. For the believer this was no longer, however, simply ‘saying grace’, but a recognition that the risen Christ was among them. The common cup now spoke of their redemption and the common loaf now spoke of their unity. Now, every time that they ate or drank together, they were to remind themselves of what Christ’s death had done for them and check that they were living that out in their relationships.

3. Failure to do this was a trampling and belittling of what Christ had done, a violation of the revelation they had received, and could result in sickness or even death.

4. For the non-believer at the table, however, there was no such revelation. For them it was just their hosts ‘saying grace’ and the wine was wine and the bread was bread – nothing more. And, since the bread and wine do not undergo some mystical change, that is all it was. Without revelation they would be simply enjoying a meal with some Christian friends, with no violation of their conscience.

5. The idea that they would be asked to not participate in the meal would have been unthinkable to Jesus and the hope would have been that as they did participate they would come into a revelation of the Christ who was there in the feast. Should that happen they would then come under the need to ‘examine themselves’ to make sure they were living according to their new revelation.

6. In any case Paul (and the Holy Spirit) is far more concerned with the way Christians break bread than non-Christians. We have no excuse. We have revelation and will be judged accordingly.

This is open for discussion and I would love some feed back on it, either for or against. I’ll look for ‘comments’.