A few of you will remember my exchange with Russell Earl Kelly on the tithe. Given the way the tithe is generally presented in full-gospel churches, I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten a great deal of blowback on my position.
That has finally come from one Glendon Hermanus from South Africa, who commented on one of my own replies to Kelly. Since Hermanus has taken the trouble to verbalise what many people probably think about this site, I think a thorough reply is in order.
Let’s look at his comment, and begin with this:
Reading through your website, and your reasoning on the subject of tithing, dare I say Mr. Kelly, you have done major damage in subverting the authority of the church, and a God-given principle, the tithe and offerings, to give individual believers breakthrough in their personal lives.
The first problem is that Evangelical churches have subverted their own authority through serial rebellion, as I demonstrate in Authority and Evangelical Churches. As far as the benefits of the tithes and offerings are concerned, I’ve always felt that there are so many preachers that make this their ministry obsession that someone needs to balance this with other considerations such as personal (and ecclesiastical) thrift and a general distrust of the stability of the systems of this world (which addresses the political side of prosperity teaching).
Then we have this:
I doubt that you are Spirit-filled, or that you are a born-again Christian, and am concerned that you have become a spokesman for people who will do anything to wiggle themselves out of obedience to God’s Laws and principles, which God has given to cause the Church to walk in victory and freedom.
If he’s serious about being Biblical on this point, he should at least go to my pastor on this, who is probably sympathetic to his point of view. But then he might have to listen to an account of all the work I have put in on my church’s finance committee to ensure that my church can “walk in victory and freedom”. I want my church and God’s work to succeed: I’m not convinced, however, that a lot of the church’s financial ways (and I’m thinking about its own stewardship of the resources that God has given it) are a way to get it where it needs to go.
That leads me to another point that Pastor Hermanus probably doesn’t want to talk about: stewardship is a two-way street. One the one side God’s people should support God’s work. On the other hand the church is obligated to both manage those resources in a responsible way and be transparent about it to those who give.
I also suspect that he missed the following:
Finally, on a more personal note, I make a lot on the site about growing up in Palm Beach, probably too much. (People do find it interesting, though…) My wife, on the other end, grew up in very serious poverty. But she and her family tithed and gave offerings through the whole dearth of resources. They also backed this up with serious Christian living and very tight management of their substance. The blessings we have today are in no small measure a result of that faithful (and comprehensive) stewardship. (Dr. Kelly might argue that being married to me isn’t much of a blessing, and he’s probably right!) People who have the same experience (and there are many) will find Dr. Kelly’s message very offensive, especially his characterisation of tithing as a “lottery,” which is one reason I satirised it the way I did. The next reaction he gets may exhibit more anger and pain than mine.
He rounds out his comment with this:
Your energies could be better used to bring balance to the subject of giving, by teaching God’s people how to overcome by giving, instead of pages of criticism with no solutions for the individual believer. Teach them what God’s Kingdom is all about. Teach them they are in the world and not of the world.
One of my big objections to prosperity teaching as now taught is that it reduces the Christian life to a transactional process based on finances. That, in my opinion, is worldly. How is it possible that we can pay off a God who owns everything? How can we pay for a salvation that could only be won by a fully divine Saviour on the cross? How can we make money the centre of our Christian walk when we cannot serve it and God at the same time?
As far as “balance” is concerned, that was one of my goals with Kelly. Both Kelly and Hermanus have a shared assumption: that, for something to be practised, it must have explicit Biblical mandate. Kelly rejects the tithe because it doesn’t have the mandate he’s looking for; Hermanus insists that it does. In a sense I answered both with this, from the original post:
Christianity is a total commitment: life, mind, heart, soul and possessions. Most laity have to work for a living; they give a third of their time and a larger portion of their energies into making a living. What they give to their church and to the ministries is a part of them. Dr. Kelly can go back and forth all he wants on whether tithing is what is needed, but given the totality of the Christian commitment, 10% is still low except for the destitute (and I dealt with that in the last post as well.) Dr. Kelly dislikes tithing, but what does he propose for an alternative to support the work of the church? A few pence in the offering? Or no offering at all?
I still believe that the New Testament standard is higher than the tithe and higher than even the offerings that Pastor Hermanus is so fixated on. There are good practical reasons why the church in Apostolic times backed off from the communal system Jerusalem used, but the principle of total commitment remains.
If enunciating that principle then and now is Pastor Hermanus’ idea of “pages of criticism with no solutions for the individual believer” then so be it. My guess, however, is that my fault in his eyes is that I don’t make a strong enough link between the Christian’s need to make a complete life commitment with their finances and the local church’s absolute entitlement to the fruits of that commitment, and that deserves an explanation.
I’ve spent time in a variety of churches over the years. I think the local church is the key place in a believer’s life. And I don’t believe in supporting or being part of a church whose teachings are unBiblical. I probably should have said it before on this blog but I’ll say it now: a church that isn’t worth tithing to probably isn’t worth belonging to.
But the large variety of churches that one is presented with in the Evangelical world, for better or worse, changes the dynamic from an authority/obligation one to a fellowship/trust earning one. Evangelical churches are set up to compete one with another; they need to earn the trust and respect of their flocks and not simply expect them to perform. (Actually, any church needs to earn the respect of its flock and not simply demand it, but I digress). And, of course, there is the issue of parachurch ministries, which drives many pastors batty. But many of these are doing ministry that local churches and denominations, for one reason or another, cannot or will not do.
I believe that a local church which is faithful to the Gospel and is a good steward of what it receives will never lack for resources to do the work that Jesus has sent us to do.