Monday, November 21, 2011

Of Kings and Priests: Part Two

Financial abuses have run rampant in the Church for the past three to four decades.  Scandals, a lack of accountability, and misappropriation of church funds have left a wound in the hearts of many would-be givers, namely those in whom the Lord has given the gift of generosity.  Monies that should have gone to the extension of God's kingdom have been diverted to other secular causes and charitable institutions as a backlash for the years of poor financial stewardship and a lack of financial transparency by our church leaders.  This lack of trust has only been exacerbated by the media's attempt to demonize the Church in its exposure of "big name" ministers who have misappropriated funds.  This attempt by the enemy to divert Kingdom finances has dramatically slowed the Church's progress in reaching every nation, tribe and tongue. 

Amidst the abuses of power and money, the Church is making efforts to repair its financial reputation as various councils and organizations, such as the EFCA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), seek to shore up the lack of accountability that exists, especially in a great number of independent, charismatic and evangelical fellowships.  i must say that it is incumbent upon the individual believer to know and understand where and how the money they give is appropriated.  If church leadership is unable or unwilling to give an account of finances to its parishioners, then the saints of that particular congregation should request such an account so that they continue to give with a clear conscience. 

If giving should lag, leaders may need to re-assess whether they have appropriately given account to those who give of their monetary resources.  Quarterly statements and semi-annual budget meetings could help encourage believers who may otherwise be distrusting or afraid to give into ministries where they are not assured as to how resources are allocated.   This may also instill confidence and show "on paper" where and how the the giving should increase.  However, if such transparency does exist, it is not the right of the believer to withhold finances from their worshipping community should those resources not be used in accordance to their own desires, unless the allocation of the aforementioned resources were being used in a way that violates the conscience of the particular giver.  It is extremely important for the individual to understand the difference between a disagreement and a violation of one's conscience. 

Many believers do not understand the principles of giving set forth in the Scripture.  This leads to much confusion when it comes to purposed and regular giving, namely the tithe.  It is important to note that the tithe is a Biblical principle established prior to the institution of the Mosaic Law .  The tithe is considered by Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians worldwide as the standard starting point of giving for new Covenant Christians.  Some argue correctly that 100% of their money belongs to the Lord, not just 10%.   Unfortunately, however, it tends to be the same group who do not even give 10% of their income to the body of Christ on a consistent basis even though they make such bold claims that 100% of their money belongs to God.  Some immature or otherwise selfishly inclined Christians use minor discrepancies in the church budget as an excuse not to give, which brings a curse not only on the individual's finances, but also the Church as a whole.  Still there is a growing population of Christians who contest that the New Testament eradicates the tithe established in the Old Testament. 

It was Abraham, the patriarch of our faith who brought 10% of his spoils to Melchizedek the priest of the most high God. Now consider this, our Lord Jesus, according to Hebrews 7 and Psalm 110 is priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.  Thus, to bring the tithe to the Body of Jesus as established in this ancient account, is to bring the tithe to Jesus himself who is our "priest forever in the order of Melchizedek".  As we give our tithe to Christ's body which is presently on earth, we continue the precedent set forth by Abraham (who was justified by faith and not by the law) in giving to the priesthood, that it, Christ's Body.  This established principle of giving 10% to the priesthood is ancient, and should not lightly be forsaken by those who claim to be more enlightened than their predecessors with assertions that the tithe is "outdated" or part of the law that was nullified by Jesus' death and resurrection.

This same group of Christians long for the days of the early church to return yet refuse to begin their trek toward early church life with a simple 10% of their income, claiming their "freedom" from such "religious" and legalistic practices, all the while forgetting that the early church in Jerusalem were not only paying tithes and temple taxes, but were also selling land, homes, and personal property so that they could lay the money at the apostles' feet.  It's sad to say the we would be hard-pressed today to find many believers in America who would give up their lattes or their next smart phone upgrade in order to help support a needy family in the church.  Others, when excusing themselves out of regular giving will say,  "God wants me to feed my family and pay my bills first."  While these arguments may sound good and true, they lack Biblical integrity and mock God's ability to provide for those who have entrusted Him with their finances.  It is with these excuses and an innumerable amount of others that the Kingdom of God suffers from a lack of financial support.  This, my friends, is a missing of the mark. 

Let me make this clear, under the New Covenant, we are not required by law to tithe, for Scripture clearly says in 2 Corinthians 9:7, "...let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver."  Notice the word "purposes".  In the Greek form, it means to "resolve to or intend to do".  In other words, giving is something that should be predetermined; it is something that we should resolve in our hearts to do, not merely as a result of spontaneous "feeling". 

Many years ago, i purposed in my heart to give 10% of my income to the Lord, no matter what.  It was the first "bill" to be paid when i received any type of gift or income.  i do not look at my monthly expenses to determine weather or not i can afford to tithe that month; i simply write the check every pay period by faith understanding God's promise to provide for my needs.  When i give of my tithe, i consider it my rent for breathing, and my security in being provided for that month.  I know it doesn't sound very spiritual, but it is an extreme act of faith, especially when the budget doesn't always work on paper, or when there seems to be more month than money.  When we tithe, God obligates himself by His own word to provide for our needs.  It is the only portion in Scripture where we are permitted to test God.  And without exception, God has always been faithful in my finances, because He has given me the grace to "purpose" in my heart to give.  This brings me joy and enables me to trust God with more of my money which produces more joy, more cheer in giving, and so on.

Many well intentioned teachers and pastors have also misinterpreted the word "cheerful" in the passage mentioned above.  Some assert that the Greek word hilaros, from which we derive our English word hilarious, means that giving should be done with extreme spontaneity and laughing as the offering plate is passed.  Is this really what Paul meant?  As RK Bently writes, "Tithing is joyous, but not a joke."  The word hilaros in this scripture is given in its neuter and actually means "properly, propitious, disposed because satisfied, describing someone who is already persuaded or won over and ready to act."  In other words, our giving should be something that has already been settled in our hearts to do.  In other words, giving should not only be spontaneous when the Spirit moves us for a particular cause or person, but also something that is regular and done with a sense of commitment and fortitude.  Although the English word hillarious is derived from this Greek root, our English version is somewhat different from how the original audience would have heard it. With this common misunderstanding of "hillarious giving" there are those who withold their gifts to God because they didn't feel like laughing when the offering plate was passed.

With that said, it makes sense that so many New testament Christians struggle with the concept of the tithe, mostly because of faulty teaching or a lack of teaching all together on stewardship.  Many pastors and preachers avoid this subject altogether because they are afraid that in emphasizing this teaching they may scare off people from their churches or bring an undue suspicion to their parishioners.  Although well intentioned, this mindset is biblically incorrect and is retarding the mission of the Gospel, bringing a curse to the personal finances of individual believers, and reinforcing an entitlement mentality in the Church.  If the said teachers truly want to become more Christlike, they will not fail to teach on money, for Jesus taught on money more than any other subject after the Kingdom of God.

Because tithing was also a part of the Old Covenant Law, some feel it their duty and their right to shrug it off as something that Christ has abolished.  However, those same well meaning Christians may consider Jesus' own words that He did not come to abolish the Law, rather to fill it full or to complete it. So we must all look deeper with spiritual maturity in our sights to resolve the question of giving in the New Covenant.  From my years of study, reflection, and experience on the subject, i have come to resolve that giving is more of a heart condition than anything else.  Those of us who resolve in our hearts to give on a regular basis without exception,  often recognize the weaknesses of our flesh and the need to establish consistent guidelines so that we can maintain our dependence on the Lord and a healthy separation from our money.  i have come to recognize that regular tithing helps to me to keep money in its rightful place, not as something to be slave to, rather as something that can be used as a tool for Kingdom purpose.
 
It would do us some good to follow this principle not only for our own financial health, but for the health of our worshipping communities and the Church worldwide.  Why should there be any lack in God's household if everyone who is receiving ministry and fellowship from the Body is also giving a portion of their income in a regular and consistent way?   In an age where excuses abound, we are more apt to pay for cellular bills and cable TV than we are to give to the very Body of Jesus.  This, my friends and fellow travelers of the narrow way, is a sign of serious illness in the Church and is need of serious and immediate attention by both priest and parishioner.  To be continued...

In the Lion, In the Lamb,

mark

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