Sunday, September 16, 2007

Challenges and Opportunities

Let's see if God might help us articulate clearly some of the challenges and opportunities presented by whatever-it-is that we think is or may be happening in the world (postmodernism? Kairos moment? Decline and Fall of the West? Kingdom coming?) What might it mean to steer a spiritual course that avoids the Scylla of cyber-optimism and the Charybdis of existential despair?

Your initial comment should mention both a challenge (problem, difficulty, hurdle, hindrance) AND an opportunity you see before us, a caution AND a "pedal-to-the-medal" exhortation! Brevity is appreciated; prolixity should be eschewed.

82 comments:

jastclark said...

as soon as i finish with my dictionary, i'll have a comment my geek speak doesn't include many of these words....

jastclark said...

Brian can you clarify cyber-optimism, i liken the Scylla and Charybdis concept to being between a rock and a hard place but don't understand cyber-optimism in this context and it wasn't an entry yet in wikipedia.
One thing I believe is a challenge for us is the politically correct movement that is before us and is gaining ground, the challenge as i see it is in a world where everything is acceptable by man what argument is there that I cannot worship Jesus and Buddha, or in a world where all in acceptable by man why would a person practice or follow teachings of absolute truth that will cause a man to have to change rather than just accept a man as they are? I do see an oppurtunity in this where people are more willing to talk and open the conversation but the truth hook doesn't always seem to hold enough to draw a person closer.

Robert said...

Eschewing prolixity sent everyone running for Webster! Can pithiness be excessive?

josenmiami said...

I have talked with a couple of the younger men, and I believe they have backed off the blog because of the heavy academic tone we have taken, of which I am the chiefest of sinners. One of them told me that the converation and vocabulary "went over his head". I'm going to try to keep it more practical and down to earth in the future.

Challenges: how Christians can live in a pluralistic society without become adversarial.

Opportunities: We need followers of Jesus who will launch out into secular American society with the same missional approach as someone who studies Arabic for a year and tries to "become" an Arab to reach Arab's. We need to give such missionaries to secular society some leeway to incarnate the kingdom and love of God to the secular world in culturally appropriate ways for seculars. If we don't find an effective way to do this, in one or two generations U.S.A. Christianity will resemble Europe: non-existent or isolated.

jastclark: welcome back!

Brian Emmet said...

Yes, pithiness can be excessive. And I can be guilty of excessive prolixity (i.e., talking too much and using high falutin' words to do so). My apologies to any and all whom I have put off. I will seek to mend my ways and hope you wil re-engage the conversation.

I would want to turn Joseph's challenge around a bit, maybe look at it from another angle: how can we live faithfully in a pluralistic society, without becoming totally "of" it? Where might faithfulness require us to "stick out like a sore thumb" in a pluralistic world... and where and how has our "Christian" subculture hindered us from engaging our pluralistic world?

josenmiami said...

good one Brian! I think we might find some scriptural help on that in the book of Daniel.

Sean said...

Challenges:

1) The pursuit of wealth and a comfortable standard of living.

2) The apparent marriage between Christianity and politics; recovering the prophetic role of the Church

3) Legalism in churches.

Opportunities:

1) Living authentically for Jesus through actions - i.e. living the life of a Christian:

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:18)

People only see your faith by what you do, not what's inside your heart (they can't see your relationship with Jesus other than through your actions).

2) Love God, love your neighbor.

Sean

PS: I was trying to be short and to the point as possible. :)

mbrennan said...

Challenge:

Shifting from belief to an incarnation of the Living Word.

Opportunity:

See the singularity of agape in Love God, your neighbor, and your enemy. Same love, escalating challenge. If Christians will embrace the command to love their enemies with the love of Christ, it will lead to practical action, movement to where the "sinners" are, disentigration of inhibiting structures, in order to seek friendship with liberals, muslims, secularists and other "enemies" of Christendom. In ordre to become a "friend of sinners" you have to drop the debate and become a listener. These things are discovered when doggedly pursuing to love all men in a practical, relational way. Grace and Truth incarnate.

Robert said...

Brian.

Prolix...fun aside...a good word.

Pro...forward...lix from liquere...fluid...statements marked by using more words than necessary. Learning to say more with less...a good discipline.

The challenge: Saying less...listening more.

The opportunity: Engaging other's to discover where the Holy Spirit is at work leading them to the feet of Jesus. Simple...profound.

mbrennan said...

Engaging other's to discover where the Holy Spirit is at work leading them to the feet of Jesus. Simple...profound.

Thanks Robert. Simple work, lifelong work.

Jeremiah said...

Challenge:

Combatting the Muslim global expansion. This expansion is largely due to a birthrate at least 3 times the birthrate of other populations. (Google "Muslim birth rate"

Solution:

"Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth..."
We need to recognize the dire necessity of reproducing both physically and spiritually in order to fulfill the first command.

josenmiami said...

Robert: good job at brevity with substance...a great example for us all!

Jeremiah: sorry to be picky again, but I am not sure that I like the word "combatting" used in that context. Too adversarial, although I agree with your solution in paragraph #2.

How about "lovingly engaging" or "redemptively responding? (where is Caleb when we need him?).

Brian Emmet said...

Good stuff--thanks to all! Maybe we can now respond a bit to what's been placed on the table. For example, to Sean's comment about money, materialism, wealth, etc.--I'm trying to tackle that with/in our congregation. How can we widen the conversation beyond tithing? Don't get me wrong, an initial goal is to help everyone become a tither... but that can't be the end. How about after people become more generous givers? Again, that is a very good thing, but is that the end of the conversation?

How about questioning single family homes? Our inherently wasteful lives?

And how to tackle this in a way that's missional...not just funding more missions and ministries (again, a very good thing to happen), but also in a way that engages those around us (without becoming boasting about how great we are). Actually, there are some folks around us who could have a great deal to teach us!

josenmiami said...

you said: "an initial goal is to help everyone become a tither"

are you sure about that? why "tithing" instead of "giving"?

Sean said...

The question of economics is huge for the American church.

(Acts 2:44-45) "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."

(Acts 4:32) "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."

How radical should we get about economic issues within the body?

These verses (and there are more) are counterintuitive to our current economic system of market capitalism. The new economy of God places more emphasis, it seems to me, on the needs of others than on profit or surplus...

I could go on but I'll refrain, since I want to make this short.

Sean

Brian Emmet said...

To Joseph's question, I would say that we can only begin to give once we have been faithful to tithe... but don't want us to get lost in a discussion about tithing per se, unless there is interest in doing so.

Sean's point about what "the economics of the kingdom" might look like, especially in contrast to prevailing assumptions about free-market capitalism, might be worth some serious head-banging!

Robert said...

I like giving...with the standard of the older covenant as a point of reference. If the New Covenant is "more glorious"...the old standard of tithing serves as a measuring point to help us know when we are truly enterng into giving. We meed some objective measure...tithing provides us that marker.

The national average of giving for church members in the US is under 2%. Somebody needs conviction.

josenmiami said...

2% is about what Muslims are expected to do.

I agree, Robert, that we should exceed the old Testament tithe as as standard.

I just met with a pastor this morning who is desparate. They are having to move out of their meeting place and he is not getting paid. They have gradually diminished downt o 54 people ... two large house churches. But he cannot conceive of any other way of "doing church" and he feels the pressure to keep the plates spinning in order to keep money rolling in to pay his salary and pay the rest. The system is breaking down (IMHO). The idea of getting a job and sharing Christ "gratis" does not seem to enter his head.

Sean said...

I've always wondered this: is the church suppose to be functioning off of a tithe system as described in the Old Testament (people often cite Micah 6:8 as a prooftext)?

I'm not so sure.

I think the New Testament community should be practicing a form of Jubilee - something Israel couldn't do. One of the problems many of the prophets saw was economic injustice - i.e. the poor were being marginalized and oppressed.

What if everyone in the church, working within the capitalist system (I do not advocate revolution in any way), earned money but did something radical with it: kept what they needed and gave all of the surplus to the community? Can you imagine how much money that would free up?

Of course, I think that the community in Acts resembled this more than what we have now. It wouldn't be compulsory by any means. God loves a cheerful giver.

josenmiami said...

good question Sean. Sacrificial giving as a lifestyle is one antidote to the extremes of free market, consumer individualism. Living in community is another.

Regarding the tithe -- I beleive the only way to truly empower individual believers to be priests to God (1Peter) and fully mature followers of Christ is to encourage them to give abundantly and cheefully to whatever God directs them to give to. The only way they can give cheerfully, is if they hear from God and he directs their giving.

The moment we obligate them to "give" or "tithe" to maintain a local church structure ("storehouse") we are erecting a new priesthood, along with the old testament tithe. We are "taking" their tithe, rather than "receiving" their offering.

Aside from the one obscure ref. to the tithe in Matt 21, there are three things that NT encourages people to give to.

1) the poor.
2) apostolic/missionary outreach (1Cor. 9 if I am not mistaken)
and...
3) spiritual mentors or teachers (Gals. 6).

there is no mention anywhere of tithing to a local church....especially to pay for meeting facilities or salaries of specialized religious professionals.

Perhaps that is why the percentage of giving is so low in the American church. I personally would ike to see much more of the tithe directed toward outreach and assistance toward the poor...something along the lines of Rick Warren's outreach to aids victims in Africa. we would quickly get the attention and admiration of secular liberals.

Sean said...

Wow - you've got me thinking Joseph.

Related to money in the church are a whole host of issues and/or challenges:

1) The professionalization of the pastorate and bureaucratization of the church. Does this force us to have a monetary support mechanism within the church to pay them? Should we be hiring pastors in the first place? I think you're saying this, right?
2) The commodification Christian worship through the Christian music industry. Since we have commodified some roles in the church (the pastor), has it affected other areas within the church (Christian publishing industry, Christian conferences, Christian schools, colleges, seminaries, Christian coffee mugs...).
3) The division between rich and poor within the body of Christ, as well as racial, gender, and ethnic division/
4) Geographical division in the body of Christ which reinforces class and racial division (i.e. largely white, middle-class, suburban churches as opposed to black, poorer, inner-city churches).

josenmiami said...

1) yup, thats what I am saying...don't know where everyone else has gone...when they read this, I will probably be in deep do-do. Its hard to see as long as you are stil inside the system, depending on the paycheck.

Brian Emmet said...

Robert and Sue Grant are here, so I've been reading but not writing. I'll try to post some thoughts soon.

Robert said...

Sean...you don't hire pastors. You might call them as an extention of apostolic care...but you don't "hire" them. To enable them to use their time to serve the local church more fully, you may support them...but you don't hire them. That mentality (not directed at you personally) has created a living hell for many a pastor. The pressure to do the dance when the music isn't playing to justify your pay check is what isn't biblical. Considering it a blessing to be able to support an ascension gift, even if it means sacrificial giving is what releases anointing and function. If people elect not to use the old covenant model of tithing to guide their giving and support, it is not a test of fellowship. It will remain to be seen if they respond with something that produces generosity sufficient to do the work.

Sean said...

Robert, I agree some churches don't operate like that. My statements were too broad. I realize the situation on the ground is more complex. But some do.

My twin brother is a youth pastor. Some parents have this expectation of him, almost unspoken, but says "We're paying you..." It is subtley dangled over his head...they want service. They're paying for it, after all.

Sean

josenmiami said...

i just met with a young man who is one of the specialized "pastors" on staff at a large church in our area. He is afraid that he is about to be fired because he is not cranking out the numbers that are expected of him.

Brian Emmet said...

My understanding and practice is that the tithe is the Lord's and therefore is not an offering or 'gift'. Tithes support the church's work of proclaiming and extending the kingdom. I think Sean's points and Joseph's examples illustrate well what happens when people are not taught that they are NOT 'purchasing' 'goods and services' through their tithes.

A smaller house church, without building, 'staff,' etc., might well decide that all of their tithes can go outside their immediate boundaries into kingdom ministry. A different sort of church might well decide that tithes provide for staff, benevolence, outreach and ministry, etc. Robert made an interesting point in a conversation last night that in the OT buildings were provided for by special offerings, not by tithes. We don't live in an ideal world, so I am not advocating that a church should never have a mortgage, but also think we'd be healthier, wealthier and more generous if we were more careful, thoughtful, prayerful (and hopefully thereby) less worldly in how we approach these things.

josenmiami said...

You are absolutely right about not living in an "ideal" world. I am going to email you later with some personal reflections on that.

I basically agree with most of what you said...I do believe our NT giving should equal or exceed the 10%...and that the first 10% should be given to God out of gratitude and stewardship rather than as a "spiritual investment".

I also belive that the Covenant network is a bit of an anomoly in contemporary Christianity. You, Steve, Kevin and others are good examples of true shepherds, caring for the flock (of course, that is what the teachers taught us in the 70s), and among our circles, the tithe is often given more to a person than to an institution, which I would place under the rubric of Gal. 6, sharing in all good things with him who teaches.

In my case, my tithe goes to my spiritual mentor over the years, who also happens to be a missionary and is doing an apostolic work among political people. Two out of the three reasons for NT giving.

I agree that an outwardly focused local church, with a shepherding leader can be a legitimate place for people to agree to give their tithe and offerings, as long as it is not taught as spiritual obligation (giving to the local church, rather than to the poor or mission outreach)

I also think that in the majority of contemporary churches, it works more the way that Sean and I describing....so it comes down to an issue of the heart and motivations.

I also know of an incredible number of pastors who are dying and tired of the hamster cage, but do not have a clue how to support their families outside of a full-time, church employment.

Patrick said...

Joseph, as you are discipling new believers, have you come across teaching someone the practice of tithing? How did they receive it? I have some friends that don't believe tithing should be a modern-day practice, claiming that Mal. 3 is in the OT, among other things.

Do you know of other religions that reflect this idea of tithing in their customs and beliefs? I can't think of any off hand.

Patrick said...

Those questions are for anyone, not only Joseph. And regarding what is being discussed right now: what you guys are talking about is no small potato. To walk out what has been said will require major church reform. Especially in the life of the pastors. Is this stage of change coming? I hope so. If so, that would take the "business" aspect out of the church. Church would no longer be about money (and therefore numbers), but would actually have to be about God and what He is saying. That's kinda scary.

Props to using money for widows, orphans, poor, social justice, missionaries, apostles and spiritual leaders. I like my church and our Sunday morning service. It would be uncomfortable to live without it. But if we used the money (and energy, emotions, etc.) that it took to put on our weekly program and contributed that towards our neighborhood, missionaries and such, (which we do on a smaller scale), I think we'd see more fruit born from those areas.

Jeremiah said...

Joseph,

There is nothing wrong with the word "Combatting"

Sorry. We are in a life and death struggle. Our combat may not involve physical weapons (although we have an obligation to protect the innocents under our care) but it is, nonetheless combat.

Onto a much happier topic.

Our church has a better than 90% tithing and offering rate.

Jesus explicitly advocated the tithe in two different gospels in what was probably the same conversation recounted from different angles. (Luke 11:42 & Mt. 32:23) He did, however, in the same sentence, subordinate the practice to the more important matters of the Law i.e. Justice, Mercy, & Faithfulness. Elsewhere He explicitly states what He implies here, that "where your treasure is, there is your heart"

We teach that where you give your money is a reflection of where your heart is. I am always amazed at how small a 10% discount in a store looks, but how huge a 10% tithe looks! :) Aahhh the depth of my own wickedness...

Flat out that's where it is. Last year, for the first time since my grandad started leading our church we had our finances decrease and we didn't make budget. We had been dealing with some very serious disruptions to our unity. No wonder. Some in leadership advocated teaching on giving, some on tithing, etc. Dad said no no no, we will teach on responsible financial practices during the little offering message we always have before we pass the plate and we will spend months and months preaching on JESUS. So he spent 6 months discussing the 7 aspects of the Glory of GOD as outlined in Ex. 33 and elaborated on in the rest of scripture. This year we have not only met budget but had a surplus larger than last years shortfall.

GOD blesses where the heart is.

We don't "hire" pastors, but the biblical model is that the tithe follows the lines of authority. The people tithe to Levites (i.e. those responsible to teach the people The Way of The Lord who then tithe to the priests.

This is what they live off of. There are also multiple types of tithes, I'm sorry if this is old of you older guys, but some of the younger ones never heard it yet.

Some tithes were to have a party with, some were to be saved and some were to give directly to the Levites. There were about 3 different ones described.

Following that would follow a script OT model.

I think Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of the law would pass away until heaven and earth passed away and that HE didn't come to abolish but fulfill the law. It seems obvious that HE fulfilled whatever portion of the Law "set us right with GOD" and that portion which involves interpersonal or intrapersonal relationships still stand. OOOOOOHHHH that is an unpopular teaching in an egalitarian society that doesn't want anyone to tell them what to do!!!!

So lets say that tithing, as explicitly advocated by JESUS in two gospels and implicitly advocated by the portion of the law which was not fulfilled in the sacrifice on the cross still stands.

No matter how you slice the cheese, it still comes down, as you all have already agreed, to where the heart is.

I love you guys and have missed this, off to watch MNFB.

josenmiami said...

good stuff Jeremiah, the only thing I would question is the fact that in the NT, we are not supposed to have "levites" and "priests"...we are all a kingdom of priests (1Peter) and every believer has direct access with no need for human mediators.

I think a combative attitude toward society or toward non-Christians is problematic. You don't see it in Jesus, and you don't see it in Daniel (or Joseph, for that matter).

Patrick: good questions, I'll think on it. I don't advocate changing existing churches, especially when people like you, say you like the church...it is obviously doing something right. If we are going to advance into secular society, however, we need to be re-thinking these things.

I have taught a couple of young believers about giving...it is a slow, and non-linear process.

love you all!

Jeremiah said...

Regarding "combat", I sincerely believe the path to victory over the pagan god of islam is by sending an army of men and women armed only with the Blood of Jesus, the Word of their testimony and a willingness to lay their lives down, to preach the gospel. They will go realizing that when they step foot on islamic soil they have hours maybe days before they are tortured and killed.

But where will we get men and women like this? We have a population in decline, both physically and spiritually, a fat sedate society descending into anarchy for a short time and then into totalatarianism. Maybe, unless the Lord intervenes. But we see the Chinese church rising, armed with exactly this attitude and this plan. So I cheer on the Chinese and all those good Christians who have been fed the "raw meat and gunpowder" of the Message of Cross and the Kingdom. I feel the tug of this fat lazy society and pray the Grace of GOD will sustain me and the Fear of the Lord will consume me. But this is a dangerous prayer and a perilous seeking, when that Fear comes it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands the Almighty GOD.

"Is He safe? No He isn't safe, but HE is good."

So where else? No where else!

Yes, we are a Kingdom of Priests you will get no argue from me regarding the "Priesthood of all believers", but it seems that the practicality of the division of labor and giftings lends itself to those who dedicate themselves to teaching and what may be termed a "Levitical call" if they aren't termed Levites.

John M. said...

"A slow and non-linear process". Good line, Joseph.

That sounds like a description of the sanctification process that transcends/includes giving but includes our life and growth in God.

At least mine has certainly been non-linear -- especially in the last few years. I always thought that everything would be "set" and kind of on automatic pilot by the time I reached my 50's. My experience has been just the opposite.

My growth, understanding, right living vs. mess-ups, and, yes, even my giving have been much more non-linear in the past decade than in the 40 decades that preceded the one I'm living now.

I haven't really tried very much to analyze why -- I've been too busy living it. But as I reflect here, momentarily, I realize that I have much more grace and much less judgment in me toward others than at any other period in my life.

I think that is because I have become acutely aware of my own need for grace and forgiveness on a practical, everyday living level than ever before.

John M. said...

Jeremiah, you slipped in a post between mine and the one I was responding to.

Regarding the word "combat". I'm hearing the same discussion you and Joseph had earlier, only couched in different terms.

One approach, which you are or seem to advocate, is "confrontational evangelism" -- which will get you killed in some parts of the world, ostracized in some, and ignored in others.

The other approach, which I hear Joseph advocating, is missional and relational. It could very well ultimately lead to some of the same end results as above, but you get a lot more time, flying under the radar, to influence lives and sow seeds of the Kingdom.

I wouldn't say that God never calls one to confront and combat, and I know that this has been the accepted style and attitude of generations past.

I would question, though, if God is not calling us to incarnational, missional, relational sharing of Him and His Kingdom.

Jesus wasn't afraid to confront, but he seemed to reserve his confrontations to his disciples and to the religious status quo.

When he related to "sinners" and outsiders, he was decidedly non-confrontational.

Sean said...

I believe evangelism can be done multiple ways, whether it is relational or confrontational, or a mixture. I remember sharing the gospel with one Jewish guy who had zero concept of what sin was and whether he had sin. Needless to say, there was a bit of confrontation there in the context of a relational atmosphere.

Jeremiah, I think God has been sending His servants to Islamic nations for wuite some time. There are more underground Christians in the Middle East than one might think.

American or Western Christians are probably not the best people for this task. There's too much bad history there; they don't trust us.

But Chinese and Korean Christians do have access in that part of the world - more than we do anyways.

Economics: have we resolved this one?

Brian Emmet said...

Couple of suggestions/requests: could we focus on our own practices as much as we can, rather than getting hung up on or frustrated with what others are or are not doing? And let's remember to be as succinct as we possibly can, OK, Jeremiah (friendly wink, wink)?

Sean, I wasn't sure how to understand your question, "Have we finished with economics?" There certainly is more to "a biblical approach" to economics than titthing and giving -- did you want to head into that more deeply?

Joseph, I'd like to hear a bit more about not having people do things out of 'obligation.' I realize that God is never coercive--we cannot and should not force anyone to do anything--but don't we at the same time want to communicate (and demonstrate) to them that confessing Jesus as Lord 'obligates' them in some ways? The Lord loves a cheerful giver--so if I'm not feeling cheerful about giving (leaving aside for a moment that Scripture is speaking here of giving and not tithing), I shouldn't do it, because that would be doing it out of obligation?

josenmiami said...

Oh sure Brian. When I used the word “obligation,” I was referring more to situations where I have seen pastor’s tell people that they “must” give to that specific local church, using the Old Testament “storehouse” reference, rather then teaching them the loving obligation to give to God and to recognize his ownership.

I do think that there is a loving obligation to observer the commands of Christ … “if you love me, keep my commands” … I just think it is important for a local pastor who is wearing several hats (teacher of the sheep, employee of the church receiving a salary) to very careful to distinguish between the obligations of loving and following Christ, versus the real human need to motivate people toward common goals and programs as a local body.

In our situation in Miami, we began several years ago giving new “disciples” a written overview of valid NT objects for financial support; basically the three things I listed earlier. We have a charity working near us in South Dade County where people can give to the poor, we provide them with the names of several missionary/apostolic outreaches, and we also offer mentoring/discipling if they desire it. We teach them that they should give (in excess of 10 percent), but we do not control their giving. We leave them to seek God and hear from him where they should give.

This is easier for us to do now that before, because we have no salaried employees and no building or meeting costs. Neither do we have a centralized fund to administrate. I hope that clarifies my use of the word obligation.

I want to be clear that I am NOT advocating this for everyone...other approaches can be valid. I am just responding to your question about "obligation".

Brian Emmet said...

Gracias, Jose. I appreciate your clarification and am with you on the praxis!

Sean said...

Economics: for a couple of years now I've been thinking about market capitalism. For one thing, we're basically stuck with it. We're not going to have a revolution to change the system.

But, we do not have to let it dictate what we think about money and how to use or regard money.

Is the descriptions in Acts 2 and 4 a possibility or not? Should we be striving for them?

(Acts 2:44-45) "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."

(Acts 4:32) "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."

John M. said...

Jeremiah, there is another way to look at the two verses you cited to make the point that Jesus taught his followers to tithe. (Matt. 23:23, Lk 11:42)

Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, not his disciples, and he was actually rebuking them for being legalistic about the tithe while neglecting the "more important matters of the Law". Combining the two verses, Jesus lists these as: justice, mercy, faithfulness, and the love of God.

As you mentioned, Jesus put tithing on a much lower tier than the matters listed above. Most of the evangelical church has done exactly what the Pharisees were doing (how many sermons have you heard on tithing/giving vs. justice for the oppressed, showing mercy to sinners and each other, faithfulness, and loving God and loving others.

I think Jesus would say something similar to the church today. He didn't do away with tithing, (at least among those who were "observing" the Law), but he certainly diminished it in relation to the "weightier" matters.

It's actually difficult to make a case for tithing outside the observation of the Jewish ceremonial Law. The N.T. has a lot to say about generous, joyful giving, but virtually nothing to say about the tithe, except to make certain points that are really unrelated to tithing/giving, such as Jesus references here and the reference to Abraham and Melchizedek in Hebrews 7.

I'm not saying that tithing is a bad thing. I'm just suggesting that you nuance your comments a bit. I don't think you can draw from these two verses that Jesus, "explicitly advocated the tithe" in a universal sense. I think we should just admit that the tithe is a practical way of maintaining the local church as we know it, and stop trying to make it an absolute, New Covenant command.

On personal note, I have found that I need the discipline of tithing or I will actually end up giving less than 10%.

Sean said...

Just a note, if Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32 is a reality, tithing is no longer an issue.

The Church would be practicing some type of economic Jubilee.

The pull of money is stronger than any other thing in our culture.

Brian Emmet said...

I confess to some puzzlement about what feels to me like 'protecting' people from the onerous practice of tithing. Like all good things, tithing can be perverted... but the perversions should not drive our practice. Tithing is, like all of God's ways, wonderful and for our good: it helps set us free from the love and control of money and materialism; it gets our hearts invested in kingdom priorities; it expresses our gratitude and devotion to God for his gracious generous goodness; it helps serve and support the members of the communiity to which we are joined by Christ within his Body.

The arguments against tithing are something of an argument from silence. Yes, the NT does not talk about tithing much... but every time it does, it does so in positive terms. Might we not assume that the fist disciples, emerging out of their Jewish culture, naturally brought forward this practice? Sure, thhe citaation from Hebrews is not making a point about tithing directly... but there is no indication that the author views tithing as optional or negative. After all, we do have from the earliest periods evidence that Christians practiced tithing.

Inviting, and yes, possibly commanding, disciples to tithe, and then to go on to become generous givers, is actually doing a great thing for them! God is offering them blessing that can come no other way. Because money is involved, there are a thousand ways for it all to go wrong, and only a few ways for it to go right, but that does not excuse us from seeking to practice it rightly.

steve H said...

I'm way behind on these comments (haven't had time to keep up lately), but I have a few comments to offer.

1) Concerning whom to support, Joseph, you said the poor, apostolic ministry (1 Cor 9), and spiritual teachers. I think you need to add the "honor" that goes to elders -- and double "honor" to those who rule well, especially to those who labor in labor in the word and doctrine (1 Tim 5). In both the Cor and the Tim passages Paul supports his instructions / exhortations with the same OT passage -- "Don't muzzle the ox that treads out the grain." Sounds like support to me.

2) Concerning the tithe -- a significant part of one's interpretation here is how the NT correlates with the OT. (1) I believe the case is strong that NT assumes the continuing validity of the OT laws unless they are fulfilled or changed in NT teaching. (2) Beyond that the Levitical priesthood tithed to a higher priesthood -- that of Melchizedek of which order Jesus was a member. If Levi in Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (Heb 7) -- well before the Mosaic law was given -- then there seems to be a deeper issue here than simply OT vs. NT. (3) Besides, even if it's not required I would choose to tithe and would teach disciples to tithe since it is in giving tithes and offerings that we are invited to test God -- to see if he won't pour out blessings. And he's never failed yet!

Besides, with a few possible exceptions, most of those whom I have met who resist the tithe don't do much when it comes to giving.

steve H said...

Sean, I don't usually put the word "jubilee" to it, but I deeply appreciate you wrestling with the implications of Acts 2 and 4. Those passages and 2 Corinthians 8 (which extends to the sharing to churches across national boundaries) have challenged me for years.

I see no evidence that the sharing should ever be coerced (such as civil gov'ts do when they take from some in order to give "charity" to others). However, a powerful outworking (and measure) of Christ's love in His people is our taking care of one another and our sharing with the poor. And now I'm under conviction again.

One more comment on tithe: Brian, I think it was, said the tithe is the Lord's! We don't give it just anywhere we want. I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, Lev 30 where that statement is made tells us that people who "borrowed" the tithe for another purpose, in effect, had to pay 20% interest for using it. At the same time, even in the OT as far as I can see individuals were responsible to God for the tithe; I don't know of any evidence that either the Levites and priests or the civil leaders had the responsibility to enforce the tithe.

In our community, by the way, we teach the principal of tithing without apology! We do not check up on who is or who is not tithing with certain exceptions. We do hold tithing as one of the commitments members of the community make to support the work and mission of the community. Therefore, we would not recognize people as leaders of the community if they do not support the life and work of the community with their tithe.

Jeremiah said...

Steve H.,

I really don't have much to add to what you said. What you described is what we practice and teach. We don't (and I don't think you do either) make that much of a deal over it, regarding it as a side issue which reveals where someone's heart really is.

Joseph H.

Incidentally, the 3 different directions you suggest using the tithe, (plus I guess what Steve brought up) are laid out pretty clearly in Rushdoony's "Institutes.." He gives a very thorough treatment of it that you might find useful. I haven't read all of "Institutes..." but what I did read seems pretty good.

John M.

See Steve H's & Brian E's comments regarding "Ceremonial Law" and the disciples carrying forward the Jewish Culture. I agree with what they said.

Brian E.

I agree with what you said about the tithe stuff. I don't think I'm the worst offender about being insuccinct though :)

Also, regarding what I am doing to counter the population issues I brought up. I have 4 kids & two dogs. The kids I am raising in the Fear of the Lord as best as I can and the dogs give the kids something to boss around. I am also working to preach and live the Message of the Cross and the Kingdom at every chance I get and to make disciples.


John M. (again)
I too am involved heavily in "immersive missions" its just not as cool as vampires. I'm immersed in the world of engineering and I try to share the gospel or bits of it at every opportunity. I get 45 hrs a week with them. I just had a good chance today to drop a little nugget on the guy next to me.


While I do want to understand how they think and be able to "talk their language" I just don't ever want to actually think like that. I want to think like Jesus.

Jeremiah said...

Sean,

You raise some good points regarding Acts 2-4.

I would only say that Jesus spoke extensively about stewardship of both others property and private property. Proverbs also does the same. While communal living is offered, so to is personal property. I'm not defending capitalism. Just offering some direction regarding the personal stewardship side.

Sean said...

Jeremiah (and everyone else)- yeah, the personal stewardship is a thing I need to get straight. My wife and I found a community here in Nashville (a group of believers made up of Jews and Gentiles). So, this issue will come up for us.

On the larger picture, I see the Kingdom of God demolishing the lines of division between the people of God: race, gender, social status, ethnicity, national identity, and yes, economic class. In the first century, one of the major divisions in the church was between believing Jews and Gentiles (sadly, this still exists today). But what I see in Acts 2 & 4 is the demolition of economic division.

The prophets in the Old Testament criticized the wealthy and powerful for oppressing the poor. Since land was a sacred right passed down through tribal markers, it was considered inviolable. But, sadly, people's land was taken away by the wealthy. Birthrights and inheritance were lost, which induced the prophets to confront oppression.

But now we have a New Convenant - a new community - and the LORD has enacted something astounding: all share wealth so no one is oppressed, trodden underfoot, left out in the cold to fend for themselves. People are cared for by the community. The purpose was to eliminate once and for all economic division among the people of God. This is huge. It is radical.

More often than not, we don't see economic hardship among ourselves for this reason: many congregations are made up along social/economic class distinctions. Surburban churches generally have members that are doing okay. This radical Acts agenda doesn't seem very necessary because nobody's in serious need.

But it might be the case that if a wealthy congregation looked across town, or another city, state, or country, they would find a congregation that was barely surviving, because most people are poor. Churches in Cuba are really poor. Many Cubans live on $5.00 a month according to Ron Pearce.

So, this economic agenda must cross more than an economic barrier to be instituted effectively. It must cross racial lines, ethnic lines, and national or international lines. This was done in the early church, as the Thessalonians sent money to assuage the plight of the poor in Jerusalem.

That's some of my thinking, but I'll stop there, because I think I wrote too much.

John M. said...

Hey Jeremiah,
Thanks for your points and counter-points. Well-spoken and well-taken. I didn't mean to imply that you're not being salt and light in the market place. I support what you are doing 100%, because I know who you are and I trust your character and your heart. It's good to get inside their heads as much as possible, but I agree that we want to have the mind of Christ.

Steve and Brian, thanks for the clarifications and clear statements that help sharpen, define and correct mine. You will notice my last paragraph, regarding my personal experience. At the same time I wrestle with the issues I raised, and find myself unable to come down in an absolute manner regarding the tithe/giving issue.

josenmiami said...

wow...we got some action in here!

Here is a thought...how can we emphasize the tithe concept without emphasizing the idea of priesthood?

I have been thinking about the rending of the veil in the holy of holies...is this not a serious core issue? If we set up mediators between God and the people are we not in danger of idolotry? Is not the tithe and the priesthood intrinsically related?

Brian Emmet said...

Jeremiah, you are correct that you are not the only one who occasionally goes on and on a bit... I plead guilty.

And therefore to be brief: I believe that Christians should present their tithes to the Lord in the context of the local congregation: the tithe belongs TO the Lord, but comes IN to the local assembly. (It belongs TO the Lord, not TO the local congregation!) That assembly, according to how it is governed, is responsible to steward the Lord's tithe according to the Lord's purposes.

steve H said...

I agree, Brian, as far as the tithe coming into the local community to be stewarded. However, if the tithes are to be used to support workers, then, in my opinion, our local communities need to be sharing some of the tithe with legitimate translocal workers -- again it's significant to me that Paul used the same OT passage as the basis for supporting both apostolic ministry and elders (1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim 5).

Joseph -- there is a priesthood now as you know I'm sure. Jesus is the HIGH PRIEST after the order of Melchizedek. And the first mention (remember the hermenuetical principle regarding first mention) has Levi (in Abram) tithing to Melchizedek. The tithe and priesthood are intrinsically related.

Jesus is the High Priest. His body is the priesthood. Levi in Abram gave tithe to Melchizedek. The Levites also gave tithes to Aaron's famiily. It seems the pattern is fairly clear to me.

steve H said...

Sean, if you have time read 2 Cor 8 (and 9) carefully. I'd like to know what you think of the economic equality that Paul spoke about between communities.

Sean said...

I hear what everyone's saying, but...

I think the Acts 2/4 paradigm replaces the tithe. It's one of things that changes when the New Covenant is enacted.

If a congregation is made up of 40 families with incomes ranging from $30,000/yr to $150,000/yr, how would the Acts 2/4 paradigm be practically applied? Families would provide for themselves and ther needs. All of the rest could be given to the congregational pool to support 1) those who pastor, teach etc. 2) the poor in their neighborhood, 3) the poor in other congregations regionally, nationally, or internationally (yes, even for a church that, God forbid, is in a different denomination!), 4) whatever else is needed.

If a family that makes $130,000/yr can live on $90,000/yr instead, that frees up $40,000/yr. If there is abundance, then that church finds or adopts other faithful communities around them or overseas to relieve their plight (and not hoard it). So, instead of purchasing a $230,000 lighting system for your own church, you could buy food for a struggling church in Kenya (there was a church in Lexington, KY who spent $230,000 on lights). The tithing paradigm is not what Acts 2/4 is speaking of from what I can tell. It is something new, different, and yes, radical. People were selling their land (their inheritances!) and houses to ensure everyone was cared for.

No, you cannot mandate this I guess, but I think this is the paradigm the church is to operate on, not the tithing paradigm.

If this is a pipe dream, please, correct me. But I think this is what Acts 2/4 is really saying. We don't know what to do with it because we're still stuck in this Old Testament tithe paradigm...

josenmiami said...

Brian, can you give any NT scripture to support the idea that the tithe should be handled through the local assembly?

Steve: I recognize that our giving belongs to Jesus as the High Priest. What I am referring to is the tendency to set up human mediators between the saints and Jesus, whereas, the OT priesthood was done away with and we are all to be a "kingdom of priests."

As I am sure you already know, when the Reformation happened, Luther changed the name of the clergy from "Priest" to "Pastor" but really did not end the priestly system.

It seems to me that using the OT concept of tithing and routing it through the local assembly still carries the danger of creating a NT priesthood, which, in effect, the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglicans still have unapoletically, and Prostants have in practice, if not in theory.

josenmiami said...

you can tell I did not use my spell checker...sorry...I needed more coffee

Jeremiah said...

I like the word prostant. I think it is more accurate than protestant. Most of us aren't protesting anything these days.

Joseph I think the reason we have a de facto "priesthood" is primarily two fold. 1)it feeds the leaders ego and 2) it is easier for people to pay someone to do the gritty work of walking through tough stuff with people rather than doing it themselves.

It is a point we hammer on continually that we are the Church and we all have a responsibility to minister to each others in our need. This is a common tack in "relationally based churches" vs. "program based churches". For example, we had girl die about 3 years ago was hit in a head-on accident by a drunk driver. The accident occured ~9:30 and I found out at 11:30 on my 30th birthday. (when the phone rings past 10 you are in for a long night) I spent the night with 20 or 30 of my closest friends with the family. The cops who showed up were stunned. Most churches pay a guy to do that stuff.

The point isn't to brag its to point out that the financial arrangements aren't really the source of the confusion, they simply become more or less skewed.

The biblical distinction is that Levites were primarily to perform the service of teaching the Law to the other tribes as well as acting as judges, that is why they were dispersed throughout the other tribes. The Levites were NOT primarily priests. There was only 1 clan (the Aaronic clan) who were priests and they had two Levitcal clans (The Kohathites and one other I can't remember) to act in service support (i.e. janitorial) of the meeting place. According to the Law sacrifices weren't even allowed outside of the 1 worship place, although this was never obeyed after Joshua died. So there would have been no lawful reason for the priests to live anywhere except for near the one worship place.

In this context, it is a rather easy transition to make room for a specialized group of people who are charged with teaching judging etc. that aren't priests. I agree that we have seen largely an usurpation of this specialized group of teaches etc. on the priestly roll from the Church, but this is not essentially a financial problem (although it then exacerbates financial issues) it is largely and ego/laziness problem.

Sean,

Economy is based on the greek work oikos which is "family" I think the Biblical model of economics is that the family is the basic economic unit (per proverbs and the Pauline letters) Once you get past that, there is, in fact a strong obligation to provide for the poor and needy, beginning with those in the Church and extending to those outside. (per James etc.)

But if Poverty of spirit isn't addressed first, no amount of economic redistribution will ultimately help.

Robert said...

Joseph,

Your question was directed to Steve regarding pristhood. Allow me to offer some thoughts from the west.

Presbyter is the word translated variously. It is used for elders, pastors...or in some cases priest. The later is a carry over from the Oxford Movement after the reformation when some desired to move back toward the Roman church and a resurrection of anglo/catholic practices. Where there may some in the Anglican communion who subscribe to that view, it would be a significant misrepresentation to suggest that as generally characterizing Anglican ecclesiology.

The leaders I have met from the global south as well as here in the US are passionate followers of Jesus who see themselves as servant missioners...apostolic missioners extending the Kingdom to those who don't know Jesus. This is not intended to be an apologetic for Anglicanism or my association with their efforts. I do want to avoid an inaccurate representation of those who are our brothers and sisters who would be mortified if they thought they were being viewed as standing between people and Jesus or a priestly caste doing magical stuff at the communion table.

Brian Emmet said...

Joseph--if tithes belong to the Lord, and the Lord is building his church, it seems fair to me that tithes would come into the local congregation, to build/support it (yes, these needs to be carefully qualified, ala the $230k lighting system), and then be disbursed according to several criteria, as we have been discussing here. No, I do not have a specific passage that commands this, it just seems "good to the Holy Spirit and to..."

...me! If the tithe is the Lord's, I think you can also run into problems with individualizing our practice of tithing: I am maintaining control of "my tithe," I can begin to confusing tithing and giving. I think we're all agreeing that the answer to bad practice is not no practice, but better practice. I'm flexible on this, by the way--if someone wants to send their tithe to World Vision or the local food pantry, I'm happy that they're at least parting with 10%!

What if they want to buy U2 CDs, in order to support Bono's ministry?

Sean, it doesn't appear to me that the Acts 2/4 paradigm and practice became normative, but I know that there are folks, good ones, who would argue that way. Paul doesn't seem to reference this specifically in his letters...or did I miss it (certainly possible!)? However, I think this line of conversation may prove more interesting and fruitful than tithing; I think we may have covered the territory on that topic somewhat well?

Jeremiah, at this point you gently remind me of our blog policy on verbosity...

josenmiami said...

hi Brian, we can move on from tithing if you like, but you are still assuming that the "tithe" and "giving" should not be "confused" and I am not yet willing to conceed that the distinction exists in NT Christianity. The concept of the tithe is murky at best in the NT, and the two times it is mentioned, it is in a context of being less important than the weightier matters...but try telling that to a pastor in a new building program! I still see a problem in the connection of maintaining an OT system of tithing and a clergy-laity division that does not have any place in NT faith and practice...but time will tell and God will determine the truth of this issue...

Jeremiah: for once I am in total agreement with your comments about problems of NT priesthood!

Robert, I have been blessed by your descriptions of the pastoral leaders of the Anglican communion in the 3rd world...as well as what I have come across in Brazil.

I recognize that in every legitimate Christian fellowship or organization there are spirit-sent servant leaders who most often fall into one of the 4 or 5 categories of "equippers" mentioned in Eph. 4:11.

You can always spot such genuine leaders because their attitude matches that of St. Paul in Corinthians:

1CO 3:5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed...
1CO 4:1 Let a man regard us...as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

What I am talking about in my concern about the priesthood of the believer, is not the appropriate recognition of such equipping, servant-leaders but a specialized, religious priesthood, which usurps the uniqueness of Christ as our sole mediator. I see it all around me in this city, especially in the hispanic churches but also in the Anglo megachurches.

I especially ran into this during the ten years I pastored in Miami. Perhaps because of their Catholic background, the members of my church constantly expected me to be a mediator and "holy man" on their behalf...I tried repeatedly but could not change that expectation, and there were plenty of other pastors nearby more than willing to play the priestly role in order to attract them to their church. Many of the people who did tithe, had additional expectations that based on their giving.

That is the major reason I am no longer pastoring a church. I finally threw in the towel and left. Perhaps others in this discussion have not had to deal with that. Perhaps it was cultural, only a hispanic problem. I just think it is hugely serious to undermine the work of Christ that resulted in the rending of the veil of the holy of holies giving everyone direct access...

Sean... I hear your concerns and share them but have not had anything to add yet. Processing...

Brian Emmet said...

Joseph, I'm merely asking if we've covered the various possible bases in the tithing discussion, not that we have resolved it. I'm happy to continue, if there is energy to do so.

A small but significant quibble: I believe it's the priesthood of the believers, not the priesthood of the believer--I think that's actually something the Reformation may have gotten wrong. It is the fulfillment of several OT prophecies about Israel being for God a "kingdom of priests."

Joseph, I honestly don't get/follow your contention that tithing inevitably results in a clergy-laity distinction, introduction of other mediators between God and man, etc. Can it? Sure (witness your experience in Miami, although I might press the cultural accommodation argument with you there). Must it? Don't see that. I don't think that the folks in my church view me as a spiritual magician who has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men... but I could be in denial or self-deception. What evidence should I look for, and I mean the question sincerely. There's way more to your comment than I have responded to, so pardon my "cherry picking" response!

josenmiami said...

ah... ;-) but you subtly changed the terms of the discussion! You inserted the key word "inevitably" which I have never used. "Must it"? No obviously not. I am glad to hear about your folks in your church...my guess is that the same would be true in Kevin, Jeremiah, Steve, Dennis or Michael's churches. A balanced mature approach. No problem.

In my experience in Miami, there were many variables...hispanic culture, the fact that I started the church in Miami in the 1990s, (when did your church start? What is the average period of years your folks have been with you?), perhaps I unconciously encouraged the hero worship in my zeal to grow a megachurch...we attracted a lot of church hoppers around 1994 and 95, and it goes on.

but "inevitably"? ...no, I never said that. I am just implying that in some cases, there ..."may"... (notice the operative word here) be a connection between a distorted (exagerated) "pastoral" role and an Old Testament theology of tithing to support it. Definitly not with you or your church though...I sincerely mean that.

but hey, I like the idea of 3.2 beer, new wine, and especially old wine, and a good cigar and you can get me to shut up! (I might go fix a gin and tonic now).

John M. said...

Sean, regarding the Acts 2/4 discussion. There's definitely the principle of generosity and willingness to govern/restrict lifestyle for the sake of helping others.

But, actually living it out is really tricky. How much is enough? How radical does one get -- common living quarters and meals...one lawnmower for every six houses...no vehicles over $15,000 or should it be $10,000 or $8,000? Should everyone have a "green" vehicle...but you can't do that for the dollars above? Should everyone even have a vehicle? And how do we not get into a legalistic approach or a prideful, "I'm sacrificing more than you are." Or judgmentalism, "They should be kicked out of the community because they just went and bought a bunch of brand new clothes instead of going to the Goodwill store...

When I try to project how it would work without a spontaneous outpouring of the Holy Spirit (which is what happened in Acts) I get confused. How do you sustain it over a life-time? How do you sustain it into the next generation(s)? Probably the Amish are the best model of this that we have in North America (at least with any degree of visibility; there are some "new monastics" coming up in the emerging culture), but even the Amish have difficulty holding on to their children as they hit late adolesence.

In your example you still had people owning homes and controlling their own finances, so I may be being too extreme in my questions.

You mentioned the responsibility we have of caring for our own families. Again, how do we define that -- just living now, or saving for college; for your daughter's future wedding; building some capital to set up your son or son in law in a small business; preparing for retirement so as not to be a burden on your children after you have passed your years of productive labor...

These are all practical issues (and granted not without cultural baggage and expectations) that I wrestle with when I look at those scriptures. Should I sell my house and move to an apartment? Or should I keep my house and use it for hospitality, social and Kingdom related gatherings, and as a gathering place for my extended family as it grows through marriage and child-bearing? All of that sounds virtuous, but the reality is that Vicki and I use it most of the time and enjoy the space and all the "stuff" we have accumulated over the years...

...then there's my frivolous hobby (collecting diecast cars/building plastic model cars) that can consume a lot of time and money if I let it (and I tend to do that). It is totally expendable and only provides personal enjoyment. So should I jettson that, liquidate it and give the money and the other money I would be spending on enlarging the collection to the poor?

I'm not trying to be factious or unnecessarily difficult. These are just the questions that come when I try to figure this one out. Also, mostly, I think, because of my religious/cultural/family heritage, I wrestled for years with guilt any time I went out to eat, bought something new or spent money on "frivolous entertainment". I wrestled with guilt when we had the house built we are now living in. It is a really nasty bondage. I know I don't want to fall back into that trap, nor do I want to perpetrate it on others.

This ain't no simple issue is it?

What do the rest of you think? This is one that can be idealized and theorized, but gets complex quickly when one thinks about trying to apply it.

Sean said...

John, good heart-felt points. I'm not advocating communal living or anything of the sort, nor creating a class of Christian that is more spiritual or faithful than others. I'm not even advocating selling one's house. And the guilt thing: that is not the way of the Gospel. And passing an inheritance down to one's children is godly.

At the same time: our culture has trained us to think one way about wealth, and the New Testament in another way (possibly a radically different way). Our culture is imbibed with a Ben Franklin ethos; a capitalistic ethos: the American way and the American Dream. My reading of Acts 2/4 seems to go against the grain of accumulation for the sake of comfortable living.

We live in a capitalistic system; the system is set up to make decisions for us without us even questioning them. Acts 2/4 questions our materialistic culture with a razor sharp sword. We live in a market culture, but the real question is, do we have to live by its values? I think for us, we should continue to operate in the capitalistic system (instead of overthrowing it in some revolution). But, as we live and operate in it, we don't have to live "of it". After we pay our taxes, and provide for our families' needs (which, includes health insurance, transportation, and savings for college/weddings), what do we do with the surplus? Each family has to decide that between them and the Lord I guess. But maybe the standard is not 10% anymore, but Acts 2/4. I don't know...

josenmiami said...

I think that Sean is right...we live, breath and swim in a free market ocean and we so used to it that we don't even notice it. Gary Henley has commented on the middle class values of "saftey, security and comfort"... and he abandoned those by moving to N.A. at age 70.

There are a number of recent books written from the perspective of sociology of religion that are analyzing the "religious free market" and see the North American church (and Pentecostal churches in Latin America) functioning as entreprenureal endeavors with a spiritual product in a competitive market, trying to get the marketing "edge" to attract more consumers. It is a reality...although it can be argued that it is not all bad.

so it comes downt to values in how we live day-to-day. I think it is obvious, to respond to John, that communal values cannot be coerced...the Marxists tried that.

One of the things we did as we moved away from "church" to "community" is to throw a spotlight on the "One-anothers" of scripture.

with all of our new disciples, (and old ones) we first point them to the commands of Christ, and then secondly to the "one-anothers" ...

We spent 8 months discussing our way through the 36 one anothers, organized into 8 topical areas.

Also Deb and I have modeled it ... at one point we moved out of our house into Deb's mother's house and allowed a young couple in financial trouble to live 2 years rent free in our house.

True Biblical communism must be a personal choice out of obedience to and love for Jesus and a real personal committment to other individuals -- its relational, not an "ideal" construct.

Robert said...

Joseph,

Agreed...there are clear examples of misguided leaders assuming the elitist role of mediator or allowing those that follow to place them in that position. It is compounded when a leader "wants" that position and has people who needs them to be in that role. A form of co-dependence. I can see why cultural Catholics have a different way of seeing priesthood because that is all they have known. Catholic guilt can have them stuck in that view. They need holy men to be on higher ground than they are to interpret God to them.

On tithing...my position is that the OT model should be a guide...not a law. A case could be made that the early Church inherited certain assumptions as Jewish believers. I would not build a hard case on that conjecture. If the last book of the OT talks about robbing God by witholding tithes, it suggests something worth a pause. If tithing was a standard under the less glorious covenant, how should we measure "giving" under the New Covenant? Something ain't right when the national average is 2%. If there is no benchmark, everybody does what is right in his own eyes...what they feel good about. That has not worked in cirlces I know. I have used tithing plus as a guide (not a law)throughout the past 42 years to make sure I am exercising good stewardship. If I don't have some bouy markers, I am capable of getting random and drifting off course. Maybe that makes me inter-testamental. If I was as sensitive to the Holy Spirit as I should be, maybe I would look back and see that I fulfilled tithing without thinking about tithing.

In Romans 3:31, Paul raises the question..."Do we, then, nulify the law by this faith?" His answer..."Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." So how does faith uphold the law when it comes to stewardship? Our giving should at least equal or exceed OT standards. How do we measure that without looking at a 10% guidline?

steve H said...

Concerning the financial issues I would recommend the work of a Youth with a Mission guy -- Earl Pitts. (Now those from the Ohio valley, don't snicker. He has nothing to do with the character on WLW.

Pitts has studied the Bible on the issue of money and mammon and finance deeply. I would not take every application he makes 100%. But it is good stuff.

He comes up with something similar to what someone has said -- that every household should draw a circle that includes everything they need to live in the light of their calling and situation. And that everything beyond that be given directly to the kingdom or invested in things that produce money to be sown into the kingdom.

http://www.wealthrichesmoney.org/index.html

josenmiami said...

I think we all agree that there are genuine "shepherd" leaders, "servants" of Christ as St. Paul would put it, who are commissioned by the Holy Spirit to gather, equip and coach the people of God.

I think we also would agree (based on Robert’s response) that when the “pastoral” office becomes exaggerated or distorted, or when the pastor stops being a servant-coach and becomes a “mediator” between the people and Christ, it is problematic at best, and at worst, a form of idolatry.

Where we probably disagree is the prevalence or extent of scenario number 2. I see the Covenant churches as a pleasant anomaly in this area, but I am inclined to believe that one of the major problems with current Christianity is the tendency toward a professional priesthood dynamic, whatever you call it. I don’t believe it is “inevitable” but I do believe that it is predominant and at least partially explains the huge drop-out rate of pastors, the low level of effective discipleship, the absence of any clear moral distinctions between church goers and seculars.

I tend to agree with Barna’s “frog in the kettle” analogy of a few years ago. The church on the left is in trouble (the U.S. Episcopal church) and the church on the right is in trouble (Conservative Political Evangelicalism). I know some will disagree with me here, but the present American church model, to use Dow’s famous phrase, is unsustainable in the future. And a large part of the problem is the clergy-laity issue, which is not a new problem… it has been around since at least 180 a.d.

Give it 10 more years. If I am wrong, I will own it and apologize to you “church & historical tradition” guys.

I do think that pastoral leaders who have been trained within the Covenant movement are much more likely to be empowering shepherds and servant-coaches in the best biblical sense…perhaps because of the teaching and training we received. That may be one reason why we have had such difficulty growing large churches – we are swimming against the religious free market cultural stream.

Robert said...

Joseph...

Exactly...we are swimming against the current of the present free market system which is producing some strange models of church. One is the idea that we throw out all recognized leadership and let Jesus lead. If that scenario is followed, it is inevitable that somebody emerges with a voice of authority. Get rid of the leaders so I can become the leader.

When you refer to the "church & historic tradition guys"...I am not sure you are getting what I am saying. I, in fact, agree with your comments about an unsustainable model for the future. What does worthy tradition look like in the future? It is certainly in process within circles I know. It is time for a "vegetable" and the services of a well informed beverage counselor.

josenmiami said...

hehehe... I like the vegetable comment! I just had one with my good friend Dr. Sam and our wives (they didn't partake).

My comment about "you church and historical tradition guys" was mostly playful...it was not a criticism. There are probably two discernable trends or "poles" of thought represented in this blog...both valuable and in dynamic tension in my opinion. One is the "church and historical tradition emphasis" in which camp I would place you, Steve and Brian (and sometimes John M. when the issue of E.O. comes up)...and the other "pole" or burden is the incarnational-missional orientation in which I would place myself, Matt Brennan, Gary H., Paul P., and sometimes John M. when we are not talking about the E.O. (sorry John, I am in playful mood tonight). Jamie seems to have the amazing ability to fully embrace both perspectives fully and simultaneously and Michael Tomko is a little hard to pin down (not in terms of discussion, but in terms of orientation). Sean is a refreshing critical voice regarding the religioius 'free market' and social ethics.

I would have to put Jeremiah in the "gift of calling down fire from heaven" consensus (again, just being playful) and Patrick and William in "watch and learn wisdom" apprentice category.... Johthmusician and Jimmy in the "bored and I'm outa here" group.

did I miss any regulars?

I see the logic of your comments about leadership Robert, but I am not sure I agree. I didn't answer your question, but I will give it some thought and processing. I do have some ideas.

and now, I have been posting way too much in here...I need to lay low and let some other people talk.

Sam and Cindy said...

And though you would have had no way to know it, you also have Cindy Chen in the "lurking and reading" category.

Greetings, guys!

Keep up the discussions, and one day when I have a lot of coffee and/or extra brain power, I will jump into the fun.

Be blessed

Cindy

Robert said...

Joseph,

This dialogue will go on for a long time in a circle of friends without it defining who is on the inside of the circle and who is on the outside looking in. It is not a matter of "the way" but "ways" we approach the life of the Church. There are different models that have the same outcomes in view. As long as we avoid insisting on the "right" way we will maintain an atomosphere of collegiality and respect on our journey toward the Kingdom. I look forward to what will emerge.

josenmiami said...

Cindi! Welcome...so good to have you and Sam checking in with us. Feel free to contribute anytime...this a group of RNP (really nice people).

Robert, my thoughts exactly! My playful description of various poles of thought are not intended to define anyone as right or wrong, or in or out. I see the various views expressed in our discussion as truths in dynamic tension, like the bicep and the tricep muscles, which must work together in opposition to give mobility to the arm. Cut either one, and the arm will not be able to function properly. Both are needed.

I remember in the early to mid 1990s when I was lobbying for more institutional structure, when you and Paul made a key decision to keep us centered around our relationships rather than membership in an organization. As I look back on those times, I now realize that was a significant and crucial decision that has allowed us to keep our circle “open” rather than closed and to focus our unity on our mutual relational commitment rather than membership in an organization or adherence to common set of doctrinal propositions.

One of the exciting things about our blog discussion is the high level of diversity in theological views, generation, streams, and hopefully one day, gender. In living systems theory, the higher the level of variation, the more survivable the organism. I think our prospects for surviving the ‘kairos’ transition are improving through these discussions.

Brian Emmet said...

Dang it all, I had wriitten two or three absolutely brilliant ripostes, received the "Your Comment has been saved and will appear shortly" messages--and then, nothing!

I add my welcome to Cindy, and by all means: weigh in!

I'm sensing we may have gone round the barn on tithing? We haven't resolved it, but we have had a good airing of varying viewpoints, so maybe time for someething new?

Robert said...

Brian,

Do have the time for a brief repartee before ACM? Or even some anticipatory thoughts and reflections about what this year's ACM will yield? Three weeks to go...

R

Robert said...

Joseph,

BTW...to assure you that I am eager for the incarnational church...I am attending a Missio Intensive at Denver Seminary with Alan Hirst and Michael Frost. I will let everyone know the latest and greatist from the premier forward thinkers for missional/incarnational churches. Wished all of you could be here to yell and scream...

Robert said...

"Greatest"...hate it when that happens. Th Missio event is this Friday and Saturday. If you type in Missio Intensive...it will give you the locations of other like events.

R

josenmiami said...

cool... wish I could be there too... sometimes I feel as if the evangelical world is passing me by...let us know what you think.

Brian Emmet said...

New post up... but no problem continuing here as well...

John M. said...

Joseph, maybe you're passing it [the evangelical church] by...

Robert, look forward to your comments about the conference.

josenmiami said...

I was referring to the fact that all these years we have been in Miami, we always seem to be in the trenches, just trying to survive, and never have the extra time or money to go to the cutting edge church or mission conferences. I often feel like I have watched the last 15 year go by from the sidelines.

John M. said...

Yeah, I can relate to that. I wasn't even able to make it to ACM until it landed in Columbus. I've gotten used to catching the conferences and gatherings vicariously and second-handed through talking with people who do attend or through the Christian media.