I am currently experiencing a radical shift in my understanding of what it means to be the church and how it looks when we are together.
Thanks to guys like Frank Viola, Neil Cole, Jon Zens, and several others, I’m losing my religion.
It helps me to process new thoughts when I write them out, and it helps me even more when I can discuss it with others. So, I’d love some feedback and even pushback. In this series I will be laying out an argument for what I believe Scripture teaches about the Church.
It might seem like a strange place to begin, but in order to explain my position on other issues the best place for me to begin is with the church and money.
From Mt Sinai God set up the priesthood and laid out the order of things. The priests were holy men, set apart for the service of God in the Tabernacle/Temple. They had no land and therefore earned no income. In Nm 18:21-32 we find that God made a way to provide for them. All Israelites were commanded to give a tithe to the Lord. That tithe was the priests’ livelihood. It was a reward for their service to the Lord and to Israel. (Let’s also not forget that the people of Israel tithed from all they had, not just money.)
When we get to the New Testament the tithe is only mentioned a few times. Not once is the NT church commanded, instructed, or encouraged to give a tithe. The most Jesus says about the tithe is found in Mt 23 where he tells the Pharisees that they should have given to the poor as well as their tithes (He was right: they still lived under the Law of Moses).
In 2 Cor 9:6-15 Paul simply says to be generous. “How much is generous?” you might ask. Paul answers:
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
No! We are not under Law. We have no tithe; we only have generosity, not out of obligation but simply because it is who we are in Christ. Remember, Paul spent much of his time battling against those who would try to make the church follow the Mosaic Law.
So, where does the money go? In v 12-13 Paul tells us that it is for the needs of the saints “and for all others.”
What does the Bible say about how often we should give? This may come as a surprise, but there is only one place that we find the NT church setting aside money on a weekly basis. In 1 Cor 16:1-4 Paul tells the church in Corinth (and Galatia) to set aside a collection at the beginning of each week so that when he comes he can take it to the church in Jerusalem. We find in Rom 15:26 that two other churches voluntarily made a “contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.” In fact, it is clear that much of Paul’s 3rd missionary journey was spent urging churches to help the impoverished living in Jerusalem. This cannot be taken as a command for all churches in all times. Paul specifically asked two churches to set aside money for a specific purpose. If you would suggest that it is a command for all churches, ask your church secretary when he/she last wrote a check to the saints in Jerusalem. If it’s a command, it is a command all the way through.
Perhaps you might argue that Paul set forward a principle that all churches should follow–that we should give weekly in order to help people. I certainly wouldn’t rebuke such an interpretation, but that is not what most modern churches say. In my experience, believers are told that giving an offering to the church is a commandment. Most of the money is then spent on the church facilities, faculty, and programs (more on this in the next post). To build an entire financial system under modern business models based on this verse (or the exhortations to help the saints in need) can only be described as gross eisegesis (reading our ideas back into the text). All we find in this text is saints in two towns helping out the saints in need in another town. I submit that the only principle we find here is the same one we found above in 2 Cor 9:12-13: give to the needs of the saints.
So then comes the big question. Is the modern idea of tithe/regular giving found in the Bible? I submit that it is not. Does that make it wrong? No! If you are a part of an assembly which has a system of regular offering, just make sure that they are using the money according to the principles Jesus and the Apostles laid out when they established the Church. Namely, they should be using it for the poor and the saints in need, and it should not be taught as law. If the assembly gives money to anything else, weigh it against Scripture. If it advances the Kingdom and you have decided in your heart to support it, then joyfully give!
Here is where things get hairy. If the church had no system of regular offering, what about paying for pastors, buildings, missionaries, programs, etc? At this point I must leave you hanging on the cliff’s edge. I will write about these issues soon.
Do you see anything in the New Testament suggesting that the church should give tithes or even regularly scheduled offerings? Would you say that the modern church gives money according to the principles specifically taught in scripture? Do you think the modern church uses its money for mostly beneficial things or non-beneficial things (‘non-beneficial’ includes things which neither build nor inhibit Kingdom growth)?