Russell Earl Kelly: A Different Point of View

Dr. Kelly responded to my post, a reaction itself to the CBS Sunday morning piece which featured Dr. Kelly on the subject of tithing.

This whole adventure has to rate the most frustrating back and forth I have experienced in the time I have been maintaining this web site (it started in August 1997, so you do the math.)

It’s a sign of the times that two people who live less than 200 kilometres from each other (the institution from which he received his doctorate is only a few kilometres from where I live) use the “World Wide Web” to carry on a very public debate with each other.  But I think we are far closer geographically then we are in the way we look at church finances.  Really, we’re closer geographically than the way we look at life, and I think this has fuelled this debate longer than it deserved.

Irrespective of whether it makes me look like a snob or not, I tend to look at things through the lens of someone who was raised in the upper reaches of this society and lived to tell about it. That’s a point of view that relatively few Evangelicals share, but it’s one that Dr. Kelly and others (and that includes many of his opponents) should consider before they make statements about wealth and poverty.

Let me respond to what Dr. Kelly has to say.  He’s said much of it before on this blog.

Your answer (about selling all) is far too simplistic. The early church which “sold all” in Acts 2 and 4 thought Jesus was about to return at any moment. The church outside of Judea did not follow or repeat their decision to live in communes until their supplies were exhausted. It took generations to replace what they had willingly given up and start all over again. This is one reason Paul had to bring them food. This same church 30 years later in Acts 21:20-21 was still tithing –not to church leaders—but the temple system. Read the text.

I refuted (in part) Dr. Kelly’s idea of Acts 2 and 4 in Once More, With Feeling, on Tithing.  But in reality, my focus on selling all starts with Matthew 19:16-30, which I discuss vis a vis liberal church in Sell All or Shut Up.  I’m aware as anyone of the economic difficulties of the Jerusalem church.  That’s why their model wasn’t emulated in other places.  But I still believe that Christianity is a total commitment, and that total commitment includes finances.  The fact that Christians hold earthly title to what they have doesn’t change that.

One of Dr. Kelly’s favourite points (and this is even more true with his colleague Bernie Dehler) is that tithing is unfair to poorer people.  What neither one of them may realise is that, if all the wealthier members of Evangelical churches (and defining “wealthy” is always fun) actually brought 10% of their gross income into the “storehouse,” churches would experience a serious “windows of heaven” experience.  This is because, as a general rule, the more people make, the less portion of it they give to the church.  You can say all you want that tithing is unfair to the poor, but if you really want to scare a group of people, just invert your emphasis and campaign to enforce tithing on the “rich.”  (That, BTW, is part of the point of the Widow’s Mite.)  On the flip side, you may not think that 10% is enough for higher income people, but I can assure you that, without the 10% as an initial guide, many of them wouldn’t do that well.

But it’s the rare church and pastor who will put serious heat on his or her wealthier members.  That of course, runs afoul of James 2.  Now that’s an explosive issue, and one of my favourites.  But I digress…

Please be honest to my writings. I spend my time refuting their arguments whether those arguments come from the Old Testament or the New Testament.

Since Dr. Kelly’s opponents generally construct their arguments on the Old Testament, and he likes to refute them at all points, it makes sense that he would spend most of his time in the Old Testament.  I do this to a limited extent and on a different topic in my piece Blowing Your Own Horn.  But I still think that, on this issue, the different nature of the New Testament economy (theological and literal) is the easiest way to refute a literal carryover of the tithe as a legal requirement, and ends the debate more quickly.

I accused him of spending too much time attacking other Christian teachers, to which he answered:

I fight for the truth. I suppose this is true also of Jesus fighting other Hebrews, of Paul fighting other Hebrews, of Martin Luther and the Reformers disagreeing with other Christians. It is unfair to accuse me of doing what all reformers have done and will continue to do…We cannot hide our head in a hole and hope the whole mess will go away. If the Christian press and Christian leaders will dialog with me and those who agree with me perhaps the false doctrine can be corrected from within Christianity. It is a shame that the secular press has to make money off the disagreement merely because the Christian press is running from the matter.

I’m not a reformer, never have been, so I’m not much sympathetic with this argument prima facie.  (Perhaps my school shouldn’t have made me read Animal Farm.)  Beyond that, the biggest problem with a campaign such as this is the nature of authority (or lack of it) in Evangelical churches.   Put another way, who’s going to decide if Dr. Kelly is right or not?  And if “they” are convinced, how can “they” tell these other preachers to shut up?  What bothers me more than anything else about this whole business is that their end game–whether they intend it or not–is state control in one form or another.  This, to my mind, is unacceptable, especially since Evangelical Christianity is seriously upside-down in the minds of many decision makers in our society.

If you get past this post, you will discover that my site and my interests are broad.  I could never bring myself to make a career out of correcting other Christians.  Dr. Kelly obviously feels differently.  That’s a decision he has made and one that he and others of like mind will have to live with.  I frankly could not face God with that, but then again I’ve found that the key to success in Christian life is to do what God leads you to do rather than to allow others to dictate that mission.  Obviously Dr. Kelly is rising to the challenge he sees, and I can assure you I will continue to rise to mine.

2 thoughts on “Russell Earl Kelly: A Different Point of View”

  1. I have stated at least 1000 times that most in the church should give more than 10% therefore I actually agree with your assessment about wy the church is lacking in funds. My complaint is that they try to finance the church too much on the backs of the poor who are givign sacrificially even though they give less than 10%. There is no percentage in teh New Covenant.

    We agree on most points so we can be friends. I love Chattanooga and got my B. A. at Collegedale in 1976 while spending 1972-81 as an Adventist.

    I do have other interests. My second book is Exposing Seventh-day Adventism and my third book is From Gethsemane to Ascension, An Ultiamte Harmony.

    Theh first 126 pages of 288 in my book is on the Old Testament through the Gopspels before Calvary. That leaves MOST of it for New Covenant discussion. Did you ever notice that.

    I love you as a brother in Christ and respect your obvious intelligence. We should go camping at Trenton soon and I will even go hang-gliding with you.
    I will not bother you any more. In Christ’s love.
    In Christ’s love
    Russ Kelly

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