An ill-conceived brochure on tithing

I invite readers to consider churchianity’s affirmation of the practice of tithing.  While tithing per se is no longer applicable to believers, some form of this practice is assumed by nearly all established churches.  Certainly, generous giving can be a good thing, yet God’s purposes can also be subverted by greedy institutionalisms and doctrinaire concoctions related to tithing.

Some might not understand the energy with which I pursue this topic.  In my mind, at least, it is not a “hobby” (see introductory last post here); rather, it is a real concern that should be considered by more serious believers.  Why not just be nice boys and girls and give money to your local church, not worrying about whether it’s considered a tithe?  Again, there is much to be said for simple generosity and for supporting bona fide benevolence, outreach, and teaching efforts with one’s money.  However, the problems related to tithing per se run deep, and they call for elucidation.  Here, I hope to facilitate consideration and growth in understanding.


Last fall I was in a large, contemporary church building for a couple of events, and I happened to amble over to a rack full of brochures.  One of them was called “Guidelines for Giving,” and I should never have picked up a copy.  Or maybe I should have.  The brochure was replete with a hermenuetical error, not to mention some other carelessness.  The fundamental error, seen in its best light, is a lack of discrimination that melds Old Covenant Torah law & the Levitical priesthood with the contemporary Christian church’s M.O.

Here is the inside of the brochure, with a few of my markings:

givingbrochure

Depending on your device/computer and its applications and settings, you may be able to click on the image and see as much as you’re interested in.  Essentially, my highlights and notes acknowledge that sincere love may be seen in giving.  They also point out that most of the proof texts employed are found in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament).  When God told (past tense) ancient Israelites to do something, that telling cannot logically be pressed into the Christian age without a hermeneutical jump or gyration of some kind.   Moreover, I would suggest that the author of this brochure manifests a rather flat, non-granular view of scripture.

Now, here are some separate bits from the other page of this tri-fold, with commentary below each insertion:

tithe2The make-believe dialogue hits me as . . . well, made up.  Who really asks, “What if I can’t afford to tithe?”  Not as many people as the institutional church wishes, I’m sure!  When a church fabricates this question, it makes for itself an opportunity to say, “Give to me!  This church!  Give to us!”

I don’t mind that this denomination used and defined the expression “spirit of poverty,” but I don’t find it to be a particularly scripture-based phrase, and I wish the brochure had acknowledged that fact.  Furthermore, connecting a monetary contribution to the notion of “stepping out in faith and obedience” risks an improper tie between a denomination or its pastor on the one hand and God on the other.  In other words, obeying a denomination’s or pastor’s whims is not tantamount to obeying God.  (The difference between the notion of papal infallibility and hierarchically induced accountability to a protestant pastor or creed is a matter of degree.)

The advice set off between the bold lines (ahem . . . besides having a word missing) perpetuates the ignorance by presuming 10% is (still) some sort of magical God-ration.  In terms of general financial stewardship, it’s obviously a good idea to have a budget and not to overspend it.  I’ll give them that, BUT … being “faithful to tithe” is an Old-Covenant idea, not to be equated with Christian obedience.

tithe3

They go on.  I can hardly believe someone had the uneducated gall to put that assertion in print.  I beg to differ that “the Bible is very clear” here.  The church that was distributing this brochure meets in Missouri, so I demand, as if a good Missourian, “Show me!”  I counter-assert that there is no such passage in Christian scripture that says any such thing.  Not only is there no clarity on this; there is no solid information at all, really, and precious little hint.  The very phrase “the local church” above has taken on an identity beyond mere locale, suggesting an institution and a building with doors—doors that, by the way, wear out and need replacing, remember, so we need your money to buy new ones.  The idea of contributing to your local church is rather obviously not inherently bad, but neither is it a topic of scripture.  Further, the notion that any kind of giving is an “act of worship” is an extension of worship ideas at best and an adulteration of them at worst.  It would have been better to say something like this:  “The heart that wants to worship God vertically will also likely want to give money horizontally in order to help people—perhaps first in one’s own locale, but also beyond.”

Below is my own paraphrase of 1Corinthians 16:2.  (For more detail and translations of the surrounding context, see this blogpost.)

2 On the first day of the week, each one, put some money aside—saving it up (according to your financial prosperity)—so a focused collection effort as such shouldn’t be necessary when I get there.

Here, individuals are to set money aside, planning ahead for a specific need.  While there is some room for alternate translation, interpretation, and follow through here, it should also be said that the above text is really the only one in the Christian scriptures that suggests anything remotely connected to an institutional offering.¹  The connection is ostensibly negative:  Paul doesn’t want to have the hassle of a collection later.  We might surmise further, then, that a regular collection would not have been normative in Corinth, or else he might have just used that method-in-place when he got there.  No, the collective funding he was after was no regular occurrence but a one-time thing.  There is no ongoing, institutional common treasury suggested here; the picture painted is rather one of specific purpose, of a timely response to a need in one particular time period.

#3 offers helpful procedural advice, but it is a trifle self-serving for a church organization to be saying such things.  It comes off to me like salesmanspeak:  answering potential objections, closing the sale.

One can find good reason to contribute.  There are psychological/altruistic reasons to give charitably, and theologically based ones, and community-based ones.  Sure, give $ to your church collection plate if you want to, but don’t do it because it’s a “tithe” (originally a tax to support the Levites).  The simple fact is that habitual, institution-supporting weekly giving to a church treasury is not explicitly supported—or dealt with at all—in canonical Christian scripture.

Thus ends what some may feel was a ride on a hobby horse.  In the future, should I feel like yanking the ol’ gray mare down from her hook to take a spin, maybe I’ll have the restraint simply to refer to this post.


¹ I suppose the “widow’s mite” story could be seen as positively connected to institutional offering, but that was an observation in Jewish context.  Moreover, the lesson to be learned here may be primarily, or even exclusively, a negative one about the pharisees rather than a positive one about the widow.  Consider the surrounding context in Mark 12 and Luke 21.

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Not an enjoyable hobby (intro)

A couple decades ago, I came to associate the churchian use of the expression “riding his hobby horse” with narrow-minded preachers and writers and editors of slanted periodicals.  These guys were said to have “hobbies”—preoccupations that amounted to masses of material, Image result for hobby horsefilling way too many sermons and pages of books.  For a given person, a ride on the “hobby” topic might not have been balanced with other, more important topics, or the stance (trot? gallop?) on a topic might have seemed dumb.  Sometimes, the ride taken on a hobby horse appeared to be childish, as though it were not a real thing being ridden.  In all cases, when so-and-so had a theological “hobby” he was pursuing, it was not a good thing that so-and-so did so.

I wonder every now and then whether I myself could be rightly accused of theological hobbies.  Probably.  I do have topical areas that I tend to return to a lot.  (Is having many hobbies a good thing?)  There are several different toy horses labeled “hobby horse,” and there’s quite a cultural history with these odd objects.  Whether my hobbies are strange preoccupations or just entertaining motifs I’m not sure.  I try not to let them lead to imbalance, but at times, it might seem that I am doing little but taking a childish ride on a hobby horse.

The sheer weight of some topics will keep me from worrying too much about the accusation of having a hobby.  In other words, some things are just so important that I don’t care how hobby-ish they might seem to others.  For instance, I have spoken and written volumes about the Kingdom of God, about authentic worship, and about responsible reading and interpretation of scripture.  The insistent, convicted (if not prophetic) voice within simply will not allow me to stop putting my foot in the stirrups on some of these steeds.

Other topics are not very significant, when seen in perspective, making them less deserving “hobbies”:

  • mistaken ideas about Sabbath
  • inaccurate construction of possessives, plurals, and possessive plurals
  • whether music is shown on a PowerPoint screen

Some topics and practices might fall somewhere in the middle:

  • Hierarchical clergy-laity systems
  • False or overblown denominational egos
  • Communion practices

I may vigorously affirm (or vociferously object to) this or that practice or doctrine, but I do try to put things in perspective, even when practices are ill-advised or just plain dumb.

Speaking transparently, I will in my next post invite readers to consider again one topical area that may be a hobby for me (not as significant an issue as many others I write about):  Churchianity’s affirmation of the practice of tithing.  Which category does it fit into—the central, the important, or the sideline concerns?

While the tithe per se is no longer applicable to believers, some form of it is assumed by nearly all established churches, and I actually believe that any over-emphasis on my part is okay, compared to the potential harm done to God’s purposes by assumptions of tithing.  This periodic “ride,” if you want to call it that, is for the sake of others, and it gives no pleasure to me.  Still, I may be a little imbalanced.  You be the judge.

To be continued . . .

Negative effects of positive #s

Pagan Christianity? (2002, 2008, 2012), a book with a title clearly designed to shock the eye, systematically examines a series of routines inculcated in most churchespagan xianity, pointing out the pagan origins of many practices—and tacitly challenging the thoughtful, courageous reader to do something about them.  A few days ago I posted some of this book’s thoughts about the preacher’s role and sermons.  

Below are some strong words from Viola regarding tithing and clergy salaries, from pp. 171ff in the book.

$$$

[Malachi 3:8-10] seems to be many Christian leaders’ favorite Bible text, especially when giving is at low tide.  If you have spent any time in the contemporary church, you have heard this passage read from the pulpit on numerous occasions.  Consider the rhetoric that goes with it:

“God has commanded you to faithfully give your tithes.  If you do not tithe, you are robbing God Almighty, and you put yourself under a curse.”

“Your tithes and offerings are necessary if God’s work will go on!”

(“God’s work,” of course, includes paying the pastoral staff and footing the monthly electric bill to keep the building afloat.)

. . .

Tithing does appear in the Bible.  So, yes, tithing is biblical.  But it is not Christian.  The tithe belongs to ancient Israel.  It was essentially their income tax.  Never do you find first century Christians tithing in the New Testament.

. . .

Herein is the heart of God in Malachi 3:8-10:  He opposes oppression of the poor.  In scores of sermons I have heard on tithing, I was never told what the passage was actually talking about.

. . .

We are all priests now . . . all Christians should tithe to one another.

Long ago, I read an essay by one Charles Holt, who was from a Restoration church and was a friend of a friend.  The essay was titled “Stop Paying the Bills,” and it rather forcefully, even belligerently, argued that serious Christians should simply stop financially supporting their congregations (and, by extension, their sects / denominations).  That way, the un-biblical systems would break down, he figured.  And it’s true:  if enough people did this, some kind of change would be forced.  However, it seems to me that few pew-packers will be influenced by extreme rhetoric, whether or not it’s on target.

Of course, most Yellow-Pages-identifiable churches assume, and/or explicitly request, that their adherents contribute money regularly.  Some make the assumption/request in a more palatable manner than others.  For Restoration Movement churches, no exceptions to this norm, the offering/collection becomes another item in the list of musts—the list of ways that those who purport to serve God should act, in relation to the principles and laws in scripture . . . the problem being that no such principle or law can be found.  Side note:  Also in RM churches, one frequently encounters a feigning of separation—the silly declaration that the collection is “separate and apart” from the Lord’s Supper—when the reality was that it wasn’t separate at all, given how the acts were just performed.

I may be a little unique (read:  odd) in some ways, but I am run-of-the-mill in this:  I always, always experience a surge of resistance when church staff members spend time publicly encouraging a higher contribution level.  This M.O. seems so obviously self-serving that it embarrasses me for them.  “Give more money, please, so I can continue to draw my salary or maybe even get a raise . . . and remember that the Lord said, ‘Bring forth the whole tithe.’”  Aarrgghh.

However one feels about one’s specific church finances, the fact is, both the historical tithe proportion (10%) and the legislated action are Hebrew, not Christian.

For a couple of decades, I have not regularly contributed to a congregational “pot”—I find it to be a) a questionable use of limited funds, b) not requested by the Lord, and c) non-intentional and non-specific, and so, d) less meaningful.  However, although I share Holt’s underlying frustration, I think his advice is stated a bit too vehemently, so I’m not making it convenient for readers of this blog to access his essay.  The more calmly thoughtful, methodical approach offered by Viola in his Pagan Christianity chapter appears more likely to produce positive results in people’s minds, if not in their “church lives.”  (Hint:  in the last sentence lies an implicit challenge to you and to me.)

The simple fact that tithing is not a Christian thing ought to make all sober Christians stop and think about using their resources more purposefully, if nothing else.

1.  Charitable, free giving is one thing, and one may certainly freely give to his/her congregation as well as to other good things.

2.  The presumed perpetuation of legislated tithing is quite another thing, and the targeted words of 1Cor 16:1-4 aren’t directly related to tithing.


Next in this series:  
“Affirming positives from Viola”

For more on the offering collection, here are two links:

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/collecting-my-thoughts/, at which is found a longish essay

https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/inhospitability-considered-further/, at which I decry the inhospitable pressure put on people by handing them collection plates

Collecting (my thoughts)

collection plateMaybe it was just me,¹ but I grew up thinking that contributing to a collection plate every Sunday was a practice legislated by the Bible.

I know full well that most evangelical churches teach or strongly suggest this very habit, but the nature of the devoted-biblicist orientation in the Church of Christ gave the idea a special focus.

As nearly as I can tell or remember, the chief text that suggests that such a contribution is 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.  Here, supposedly, one is told a) to contribute b) weekly, on Sunday.

Problem is, there are hermeneutical issues on several matters in this text.  

Matter one.  First off, I would ask how “lay by in store” equates to “take it out of your pocket/purse and put it in a plate.”  I suppose we could say that the church treasury is the “storehouse” into which we’re “laying by,” but few church treasuries I’ve known about could aptly be characterized as being in existence to address physical needs, which was presumably the situation in view in 1 Corinthians.

Matter two.  There is another phrase that, at least in my memory, the religious professionals conveniently left out.  You see, even the King James has it right:  “lay by him in store,” yet the way I remember it was “lay by in store.”  Catch the difference?  If we leave out the “by him,” it’s easier to justify an institutional collection.  Other NT uses of this word, e.g., in Luke 12:21, also appear to communicate storing up for, or by, oneself.

The NASB renders it “put aside and save,” with a note that sent me scurrying to Greek resources.  (You’d think I’d have done this long ago, feeling as I do, but I’m not that devoted.)  Sure enough:  there are three original wordings that translate roughly as 1) putting 2) by oneself, and 3) storing up.

The long & short:  contributing to a plate forchurchupkeep the sake of institutional support could only vaguely be suggested by 1 Corinthians 16.

Matter three.  We at least ought to question the first-day-of-the-week “rule.”  Might the expression “as he is prospered” imply some chronological correspondence with financial intake, in addition to relating giving to total prosperity?  In other words, a) if one has no income, or b) if that income is taken in on a schedule other than weekly on Fridays or Saturdays, it seems to me that every-Sunday contribution makes little sense.  The passive-voice, subjunctive-mood Greek tense of  the verb (which doesn’t always appear this way in English) “might be prospered” would further appear to suggest that it is not a given that everyone is always “prospered” and therefore will be storing up.  No, the “prospering” involves an implied “if.” ²

Incidentally, some churches (maybe yours?) offer means of giving “online” — which really isn’t completely online anymore, since so much is wireless, but that’s beside the point.  Maybe you want to use that convenience.  For me, online giving wouldn’t really be preferable unless I could set it up as a recurring, automatic “payment,” but that’s bad, because giving for God’s purposes would be in the category of bill-paying.  This is the case for us with giving to World Vision.  I have to admit that I don’t think about the small, monthly, automatic “gift” we make until we get some correspondence from this organization.  Anyway, some might at least enjoy the freedom of matching “when I get paid” with “when I contribute.”

A comparative hermeneutical glance might also be cast in the direction of 2 Corinthians 8:2.  The notion of giving as one is able, or according to what he has, is present there, as well.

Those who don’t feel lists of responsibilities in life might not be bothered by the notion that writings a check is just something you have to do every Sunday, but I am.  I would be more impelled by, say, spontaneity, purposeful giving, desire to be generous because of heart, cognizance of generosity I have experienced, etc.  Somehow, the checking off of the “write check” box on a Sunday “list” doesn’t get it for me.

I hasten to add that such preferences or likes/dislikes of mine wouldn’t matter if scripture clearly instructed otherwise.  Fact is, though, that while there are historical, institutional, and even individual conscience reasons for church contributions, freedom exists in this arena, scripturally speaking.

Matter four:  what should be made of the occasional nature of the letter to the Corinthian believers?  If we understand all scripture (really? all of it?) as prescriptive — as a sort of blueprint — we’re a) illogical and b) in trouble!  This “1 Corinthians” letter was, after all, written to people in Corinth in a certain time and place.  It seems as though there was a specific situation that Paul wanted them to be ready for.  A principle of saving (or an overall life-ideal of using “margin”) might be extracted, but a legal practice for all time isn’t in view here.  The virtuous principle of generosity is admirable, and to be practiced, but, moreover, when Jesus affirmed the woman with the two bits, I doubt she was giving to the establishment or to the new temple fund.

So, just recently I was reconsidering all this, having decided to contribute some to our church according to our monthly pay schedule.  Our church hasn’t made me feel uncomfortable about not contributing regularly . . . and it’s a good thing — we’re living in the red, so I might facetiously ask for alms if someone asked why I didn’t drop a check in the plate!  The vested interests of the leadership in most churches would make people pretty uncomfortable, though, if pew-people thought they should contribute according to their paychecks.  Making “giving” more connected to “prosperity” (and less of a habit) might reduce the overall church income.  And that would be bad in terms of fiscal affairs.

[Please, no one bring up the word “tithe.”  The tithe was for the support of Levitical priests, wasn’t it?  It is not directly related to the Christian age.]

I grew up feeling that contributing to a church treasury was a godly principle and practice, and I don’t think it was just me.¹  It’s not that it’s not godly to give; of course it is.  But the rationales and practices deserve some challenge and have led to unfounded guilt that I am trying, finally, to get rid of.  Its vestiges still give me a bit of discomfort.

I have the distinct feeling that if I had not had an unhelpful notion of giving solidifying in me for all these years, I would now find it less of an effort to be charitable and generous.  

But, if you should be shaking your head at my questions and challenges in tradition-submissive churchmanship, you might smile again if you knew that, during the final editing of this essay, I wrote a check to our (fairly traditional) church.  I am doing it because I want to, because I’m thinking of dear hearts there and their desires to do good, and because I have experienced God’s blessing in the last couple of days.  Incidentally, it happens to be payday two days later.  Maybe I should have waited till next Sunday.  Nah. . . .

==============

¹ Here’s another “maybe it was just me” post:  Communion

²  Hmm.  It strikes me to mention that certain televangelisty theology assumes financial prosperity for faithful Christians, while Paul does not assume that here.  Not surprising that there’s a philosophical gap between the two.

Tithing #3

In my continuing inquiry into the supposedly authorized practice of tithing in this era, I’m wondering about a few chunks of funds.  Should 10% of any of the following sums be skimmed off the top for the clergy’s coffers?

  • A quarter you find on the street?
  • Cash received for returning bottles and cans for which you paid a deposit?  IRS tax refunds?  (This would amount to double taxation, wouldn’t it?)
  • Proceeds from loans?  From grants
  • Gifts received?  Even casual, in-kind ones, such as the gift of a meal from a college meal plan? (The notion of offering steamed broccoli and hummus points up the disparity between Levitical/Jewish tithing and the reality of 20c life.)
  • If Christians are really supposed to be giving 10%, are Christian institutions supposed to be giving 10% to something else?  I mean, just because they’re on the receiving end of gifts, does that mean they’re not supposed to turn around and re-gift?  You know, like orphan homes and Christian colleges and (gulp) churches?

For prior posts on this topic, see Tithing by Choice, and Tithing by Choice #2, at the end of which there are more links.

Tithing by choice (2 – practicalities)

This post jumps right on in to perhaps even more troubled waters after the toe-dipping of yesterday’s post.  I’d like to offer practicalities, philosophies, and other thoughts related to tithing and contributing.

Nowhere in all the New Covenant documents is the tithe enjoined upon believers.  Charitable giving is a choice—a good one, but a choice nonetheless.  Yes, “God loves a cheerful giver,” but He does not say, “First, love me.  Next, love your neighbor.  Third, give 10% of your money.”  The decision to give, and the percentage are up to the individual.

I once felt good about approaching 10% and even surpassing it over a fiscal year or two, way back when.  As I recall, more than half of this was given to Christian organizations other than my church, and that was because I found the church budget philosophically and practically wanting.  I would have been found in direct contradiction to scripture if scripture had any command for Christians to tithe, but it doesn’t.  (There is no Levitical priesthood in the church, so there is no reason to tithe.  That part of it really is that simple.)

Since then, I have had to feel good about smaller amounts.  It’s not easy, because I would like to give more to Christian and humanitarian charities I believe in.  If I had more of a surplus for daily living, I would give more.  Remember the widow with the two pennies, I try to tell myself in my discouragement.  But I still have questions.  Here are some more.

Should we “tithe” according to our pay schedules—every two weeks, on Fridays?  bi-monthly on the 15th and 30th? or every month, in some cases?

In calculating, does the 10% come off the top, or after tax?  Should we wait to calculate until after the final reckoning of the tax return? How can we know how we’ve “prospered” until after April 15? What would the institutional church do if no one paid the bills until sometime after April 15 every year?

Would the answer be different if paying taxes to Caesar were a choice and not exacted by mandated withholding?

What about tithing by credit card? (Although that might be convenient and get me “rewards” which I could then tithe based upon (!), it sure does seem cold and institutionalized.)

When a Christian college student receives a paycheck for $72.51 for two weeks of every-other-day work, does he exempt himself from tithing because he is a poor college student, or does he give $7.26 (rounding up would seem to be safer than cheating God out of a half-penny) to the collection plate next Sunday?  Does he hold Christians around him to a different tithing standard because they’re not college students?

When college students or foreign missionaries receive care packages from Aunt Sue or Martha Supportive, do they offer 10% of the cookies to poorer students or to indigenous neighbors?

Does contributing to the Red Cross or to Hope International or to the World Bible Translation Center “count” as part of your tithe?

Does an individual have the right or responsibility to approve or support the spending of the money she tithes?

This last question makes me think of the question of ownership of a retail establishment and spending money in that store.  For instance, at one time, a large grocery store chain was owned by Mormons.  Did buying a gallon of milk there give me the right to say “No, you can’t send a penny of my $2 to the LDS Church”?  Well, no, but it did give me pause about patronizing that store when I had a choice.)  In this age of mobility, global communication, and lots and lots of free choice, I figure I have some responsibility to be prudent in where I spend and contribute money.

If large portions of a church budget are allocated to salaries for staff positions I don’t believe in, or for physical plant/facilities, it makes me look elsewhere for a greater “return” on my dollar.  While this may seem overly humanistic and even crass in its monetary outlook, the alternative, for me, is a careless, thoughtless, or even halfhearted dropping of a check into a plate–which ends up being a gesture of upholding the status quo and religion’s establishments than a faith-based offering to advance God’s Kingdom.

All this would be pretty troubling if tithing were an in-force law, wouldn’t it?  🙂

~ ~ ~

For further reading:

  1. This prior post, (which says some of the same things I’ve said above in different ways), and/or
  2. This one on the inhospitable nature of church offerings, and/or
  3. This brief article (not my own), with caution and with the caveat that I do not necessarily endorse its spirit or even the ramifications of the actions suggested therein.

Tithing by choice

Tithing is a matter of choice under the New Covenant, not having been explicitly continued from the Old.  Here are a couple of ideas that manifest choice:

  1. I know of one couple that puts money aside over time, considering it part of their “tithe,” and using it periodically for a scholarship at a Christian school.  They don’t know that I know this.
  2. I know of another couple that has for years been sending rather significant sums to a large church in another city for safekeeping in their investment fund.  This couple’s intention is to have large sums available to draw out for the funding of mission or benevolent efforts when those needs present themselves.  This couple’s practice began during a time of detachment from viable churches, and I think it was a terrific way to “lay by in store,” as the KJV has 1 Cor. 16:2.

I find both the above practices to be a) within the prerogative of individual Christians in our age, and b) smack-dab in the intentions of the wording of I Corinthians 16, which encourages setting aside money on the first day of the week.  To be clearer:  this brief passage, which contains a relatively rare NC-document mention of money, does not require, or even suggest, passing plates around, dropping money in a bag in the pews or in the back, a weekly corporate collection at all, or any sort of reincarnation of the tithe.   Paul spoke more of putting money aside or away–saving, if you will–than putting it forward.

If one wants to tithe in subservience to an imagined law, one may.  Far better:  if one wants to tithe in honor of God and in support of His kingdom, one may.  My points are that a) there is more than one way to go about it, and b) since tithing is nowhere indicated in the New Covenant, it is a matter of choice.

Next:  practical considerations of tithing/contributing

It ain’t necessarily so

Just because he says it doesn’t mean it’s so. Just because someone with a human title and a pedigree says something doesn’t mean it’s so.  I do so tire of religious drivel that am nearly driven to retitle my blog with a moniker from someone else’s:  “Losing My Religion.”

Among the recent moments which seemed physically to force my head to commence shaking in disgust was the reading of a letter from missionaries in which the opening sentence was “Hi … I’m Reverend Thomas Smith.”  The uninhibited pretentiousness of labeling oneself with a descriptor reserved in scripture for God is superseded only by the unmitigated stupidity of starting a letter this way when it’s supposed to influence others to send him money.  He followed quickly with the line “My wife, Reverend Jane Smith, and I …”  Why not a simple “Jane and I”?  I suppose there are some who would say to themselves, subconsciously, “Oh, since he’s a ‘reverend,’ he is worthy of my writing out a check, so here I go.”  I, on the other hand, was driven deep–not into my pocket, but into despair for the condition of religion.

Later came this exhortation:  “We believe that God is calling our church to support a faith-pledge of $3,000”  Well, what if I believe that God “called” me to ignore such a faith-pledge?  Or what if He “told” me the faith-pledge was to be $2,842?  I wondered just how ignorant this church was of charlatans like Herbert W. Armstrong, Joseph Smith, present-day ones like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and many other televangelists who claim to receive such specific (self-serving) messages from on high.  Pardon me, but what horsehockey….

“Tithes and offerings” are Old Covenant things.  They were instituted to support the special-class priesthood, which is not in existence under the New Covenant (except in under-informed or deluded minds).  I would never argue with someone who gives 10% or 11% or 23% of his income to Christian charities.  I do resist anyone who claims that financial percentages are currently enjoined by scripture.  They are not.

Ubiquitous “God is teaching me” and “what God is doing in my life” phrases may stem from desperation or from a sincere desire to seem spiritual.  It’s one thing to presume some inclination or guilt-feeling or desire is the call of God for an individual.  But when such “calling” theology extends to a corporate body through its leadership, a relatively innocuous baselessness can become fraudulence that plays on the gullibility of the masses.

I’m glad I looked up the lyrics to the Gershwin song “It Ain’t Necessarily so” from Porgy and Bess before finishing this post.  I had no idea how irreverent the words are.  (The song seems to suggest that things in the Bible aren’t necessarily so.)  1.  Just because it’s a pastor or preacher sayin’ sumpin’ don’t mean it’s so, no matter whether he’s tellin’ ya to drop a nickel in the plate or to listen to him ‘cuz he has heard from God on high.  2.  On the other hand, if it’s the message of the Bible, it is necessarily so.

The conceptual problem comes in the tension between the two, and the practical problem comes in the repeated alignment of religious people with #1 over #2.

On bill-paying (follow-up)

Rachel writes, in response to my post September 25 post “On being inhospitable,”

Does this mean the 10% tithing is for Old Testament only, and now we are only “required” to “be charitable and support the Lord’s work”?

My home church has a pretty good system for taking the collection, in my opinion. Not wishing to guilt trip people into an instantaneous and non-thought-out decision, they place boxes near the entrance/exit so that those who choose to may give, and those who don’t wish to give don’t feel awkward or forced into putting something in! Some churches might not want to do this because they feel they wouldn’t get as much money this way, but it seems to work just fine.

I think you have hit it on the nose about that system of church contributions — it’s much more hospitable, although it probably doesn’t bring in as much cash.  If the church is confident in the relative psychological “investment” and contentment of its members with what’s going on, boxes near the doors ought to work well. But if people aren’t on board with the church programs, the establishment is in trouble if it wants to keep funding the programs, regardless.

I once read a booklet written some 40-50 years ago by someone a lot more upset than I about contribution practices and the tyrannic momentum of church business. The booklet was called Stop Paying the Bills!  There’s an assumption inherent in the title that the system, the church programs, etc., are not inherently God’s, so if one stops funding them, there is no irreverence to God’s will.  On the surface, I agree and feel the demurrence is well placed, but I don’t feel quite that vehemently radical about it.

Yes, tithing itself is about supporting the religious professionals; I’ve found no New Covenant corollary to regular, measured giving called tithing since there are no Levites.  What we are told to do, instead (and this is so stated only in one verse, so perhaps not nearly as essential to weekly Christian living as church staff members make it out to be), is to save so that we can support Kingdom work financially when needs arise.  Dozens, maybe hundreds of times I’ve heard the KJV phrase “lay by in store” from 1 Cor. 16 quoted as though it means to drop stuff in a collection plate on Sunday morning.  Rather, it means (and this is clear in any translation, it seems to me) to save so that one has resources laid aside when they’re needed for God’s work.

A new surge of resistance rises in me when preachers and other church staff members spend time publicly encouraging a higher contribution level.  This seems so obviously self-serving that it embarrasses me for them. “Give more money, please, so I can continue to draw my salary or maybe even get a raise….  And remember that the Lord said, ‘Bring forth the whole tithe.’  And He also said to ‘test Him’ to see if He can’t be more generous than you are.  And He also said that He loves a cheerful giver, you know, so smile as you drop those checks into the plate!” Aarrgghh.

It has been years since my family put all our available financial “stock” in local church collections.  Other recipients have included the World Bible Translation Center, Camp Shiloh, Camp Manatawny, another church that’s helping a family with distinct needs, Wellspring Ministries, Fillmore Powerhouse, United Way (designated for such things as youth programs and agencies that work for adoption of unwanted babies), Red Cross (designated for victims of natural disasters), and individual missionaries engaged in what I perceive to be indigenous methodologies.  Our intent is to give much more to individual mission works in developing countries and in urban settings in this country. P articularly purposeful giving may not be specified in the NC scriptures, either, but it surely makes sense to my 21st-century (partly late-blooming-Boomer, more-Gen-X-ish, with some postmodern sensibilities) mind.

Not at all suggesting that all congregational offerings, or all Christians’ contributions, fall into this category, I do resist thoughtless, obligatory, perfunctory, blind giving to a plate (or a box, for that matter).  The more purposeful, and the less the money goes to “overhead” and professional salaries, the better … for my conscience, at least.  At the core, my Ekklesia ideal does not depend on professionals, so my heart does not do well when “forced” to fund them.  Not that professionals are all bad; on the contrary, most of them in my personal experience have their hearts generally in the right places and want to do God things.  But the momentum of the system can easily be an impediment to true Kingdom work.

As to amounts, .04% or 4% may be the right %age for some, or 7.2%, or 10%, or 11%, or 32%, but 10% is not legislated. Having a generous spirit is encouraged.

As with many personal statements in various arenas, it’s quite possible that a bit of personal bias has entered the picture here.  Among other possible biases, I would like to acknowledge that New York State taxes have put unexpected pressure on our family finances.  Giving more generously is something I think our family might benefit from — both spiritually and financially — but at this time, because of burdensome taxation and a couple of other factors, 10% isn’t a viable option, and I think God understands.

On being inhospitable

Despite the relatively recent (in the modern era, at least) push toward “seeker sensitivity” and “seeker orientation,” churches have a penchant for being inhospitable to guests. We insiders rarely realize how un-oriented we really are to those who are not us. It’s not that we’re intentionally rude toward outsiders; it’s just that we’re obtuse and intermittently stupid about some things.

The collection/offering/so-called “tithing” opportunity offers us but one example of how blind we can be to the feelings, if not the presence, of visitors in our assemblies.

Picture this real experience from our life (perhaps you will be able to relate) … the collection is in progress. We’re sitting on the end of a row. No one is beside us; in fact, no one is sitting anywhere else on our pew. One of the servers/collectors is coming down the aisle toward us. There is no one on any of the four rows in front of us, and, despite my attempts to avert my eyes, the man’s dutiful gaze meets mine. I’m a visitor in his church, and he has never seen me before. He looks at me expectantly, beginning to hold out the tray in my direction. I shake my head almost imperceptibly, also raising my forearm and bending my wrist back, giving the universally recognized “stop” signal. My message is clear: please don’t bother handing me the tray, for I am not prepared to put anything in it.

It’s a mildly awkward moment for both of us. This has happened to me far too many times, though, and I’m saying something about it.

Given a) the last 30+ years of history with money-grubbing televangelists in this country, not to mention sordid stories of CEOs and CFOs in the business world, and b) the utter lack of clear, New Covenant example for regular, required offerings in the assemblies of the church, all ushers and servants and leaders and all other type of collectors should think five times and pray for guidance (and forgiveness) before offering an unknown visitor a collection tray.

I’d like here to repost some previous comments I made about tithing:

There is precedent for paying someone to do the work of the Kingdom. There is also precedent for paid “regular staff” under the Old Covenant — the Levites were professional regulars.

But I see no precedent for anything like what we have today in churches. We are not Jews, and laws such as tithing are not applicable, per se, since we should not have Levites to support. The vast majority of our religious professionals work in roles that are fabricated from human tradition much more than they emanate from the pages of scripture. . . .

I realize that if I’m in a 2% minority on fighting the clergy system, I’m in a .02% minority on fighting the notion of tithing … so I hasten to point out that the idea of being charitable and supporting the Lord’s work is *not* relegated to the Old Covenant. It’s the strict tithing concept that is an Old-Covenant thing.

Whether you find the notion of the tithe foreign to the New Covenant or not (and at least one of my good friends has verbally disagreed on this point), I hope you will accede on this final statement:

It’s uninviting, inhospitable, and downright dumb to assume a visitor will help to pay your church bills.

Please also see this follow-up post.