My Reply to Glendon Hermanus on the Tithe and the Authority of the Church

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.

Turning it Over to the ACNA: The Rwandans Have Had All the Fun They Can Stand

A hard conclusion to avoid:

In a move that took most people by surprise, the Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Rwanda, the Most Rev. Onesphorus Rwaje publicly handed over a number of US bishops and clergy who had been canonically resident in Rwanda to the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA)

“I am here to be with you as you officially receive bishops, presbyters and deacons who have voluntarily requested to be canonically transferred from the oversight of the Anglican Church of Rwanda to the ACNA,” he told conferees of the ACNA Assembly 2012.

One thing that has always been the great unknown in the ecclesiastical experiment called the ACNA has been this: how to pull together all the African jurisdictions that have come to this continent into the new fold.  The whole process of the Rwandans and the AMiA hasn’t been a pretty one, but my guess is that the people back home have had enough of North American egotism and wanted to bring closure in as graceful way as possible.

One thing that makes this a little easier is GAFCON.  It looks like the centre of the Orthodox wing of Anglicanism will in fact end up in Africa in spite of the problems with the AMiA .  When that process moves forward, same Africans will have more say about those with whom they have communion.

Hopefully the rebels on this side of the Atlantic will remember an important principle: treat people you meet on the way up well, because you’ll meet them again on the way down.

Whiskeypalians Until the End

That’s StandFirm’s Matt Kennedy for you, reacting to Ridgecrest’s dry policy for the upcoming ACNA Provincial Synod:

No scotch, no sherry, no cigars? It’s bad enough for the laity and the presbyterate…but the bishops. How shall the bishops endure this deprivation?  This may be the first North American Anglican gathering in which the bishops are present but the spirits are not. I don’t see how anything good can come of it.

My second year Latin teacher–an Episcopal minister himself–introduced me to the old saying that “where there are four Wiskeypalians, there’s always a fifth”.  Evidently, even with the Anglican/Episcopal divide, some things never change.

There are not a few “old timers” in the Church of God who won’t even go to a country club or which holds a liquor license.  We have some Episcopal friends, however, who sometimes act like they won’t go anywhere if it doesn’t!

I would call your attention, however, to some of the comments on the StandFirm post re alcohol abuse among the clergy.

My own position in the matter–which for some reason got a lot of heat–is at my post Should Christians Drink?

Another Try at Minimising Eternity

From (where else?) The Lead:

The most popular immortality narrative is Soul. Most Christians now believe that their souls, which persist after death, will be reunited with their resurrected bodies. Souls thus solve a lot of the identity problems associated with the earlier Resurrection narrative. Cave argues that Soul narrative resolves the Mortality Paradox by denying “that the failing body is the true self, identifying the person instead with exactly that mental life that seems so inextinguishable.” In Christianity all souls are equal before God, so if the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the universe is interested in your life then who are your politicians to ignore your desires?

It used to be that liberals were associated with universalism, i.e., everyone goes to heaven.  But I’ve noticed the last few years that, these days, those on the religious left seem to be drifting to a practical annihilationism.  This makes sense: if you embrace the “culture of death” about this life, why not the other one?

In their ham-handed way, however, The Lead has stumbled upon a key issue: what do we do in eternity?  The author they cite makes an immediate translation from the theological to the political (natch!) by saying that “…if the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the universe is interested in your life then who are your politicians to ignore your desires”?  The evangelical “on the other side” (James Garlow) does little better: his cited comeback is that “your every desire is satisfied more abundantly than you’ve ever dreamed”.  The key problem on both sides these days is our desire.

What I am about to say isn’t going to sit well with many people out there, but I’ll say it anyway: the goal of our lives isn’t to have our desires fulfilled, and that’s true both in a temporal and an eternal sense.  Most of what is wrong with our culture these days stems from making that goal the summum bonum, and that includes the unsustainable levels of public and private debt that have destabilised our economy.  Our goal needs to be this: to be “in synch” with the desires of our Creator.  When we make that our goal, most everything else (including this) will fall into place, and we’ll stop wondering what we’ll do if we achieve real eternal life.

Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change: An Old View

This, from A.W. Grabau’s 1913 classic Principles of Stratigraphy:

The chief agents in retaining the sun’s heat within the earth’s atmosphere are the carbon dioxide and the water vapor, which act as thermal blankets. It has been estimated by Arrhenius (2) that if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere were increased 2.5 to 3 times its present value, the temperature in the arctic regions must rise 8° to 9° C. and produce a climate as mild as that of Eocenic time, so that magnolias would again grow in Greenland. On the other hand, if the CO2, were decreased to an amount ranging from 0.62 to 0.55 of its present value, a fall of from 4° to 5° C. would result and glacial conditions would again overspread the northern parts of the continents. These estimates have been seriously questioned, but the general fact that both CO2 and water vapor act as thermal blankets is established. Chamberlin (13, 14, 15) has discussed in detail the bearing of these facts on former continental glaciation. his argument being that the abstraction of the CO2 from the atmosphere during the periods of extensive vegetal growth, i. e, the periods of coal formation, tended to refrigerate the climate. The amount of CO2 taken from the air in the known geologic periods and locked up in the coals and limestones of the earth has been variously estimated at from 20,000 to 200,000 times the present atmospheric content, or even more. Another factor favoring the consumption of CO2 is the extensive subterranean decomposition of the rocks following a period of elevation with its attendant fissuring of the rock and the deepening of the zone of circulation of surface waters. These, supplied with CO2 at the surface, are active in the carbonation of the decomposing rocks. The solution of limestones and other carbonates is a further source of abstraction of CO2 from the atmosphere, since the original monocarbonates are changed to bicarbonates in the process of solution, the second molecule of CO2 being derived from the atmosphere. This is, however, a temporary abstraction, for on the reposition of the limestone, either by chemical or organic agencies, the second molecule of CO2 is set free again. Hence periods of extensive limestone deposition must be periods of extensive supply of CO2 to the atmosphere, and this would have the effect of ameliorating the climate. It is important to note that extensive coal formation is dependent on the great expanse of land areas, while extensive limestone formation depends on the expanse of the sea. Extension of the land is accompanied further by an extension of the deep-seated circulation, and by decomposition and carbonation of the crystalline rocks, as well as by periods of solution of the carbonates. The two periods of great land expansion, followed by well-authenticated glacial periods, are the close of the Palaeozoic and that of the Cenozoic. Other periods are the pre-Cambric, the close of the Siluric and the opening of the Devonic, the close of the Jurassic and opening of the Comanchic, and the end of the Cretacic. Periods of marine extension, on the other hand, with the formation of much limestone and the accompanying setting free of CO2, were the middle and early upper Ordovicic, the early Siluric (Niagaran), the Mississippic, the upper Jurassic, the mid-Cretacic, and in some regions the Eocenic and Oligocenic. Much evidence exists that these periods of extensive limestone formation were periods of mild and equable climates, very nearly uniform for all latitudes. (pp. 29-30)

There are several interesting takeaways from this:

  • Grabau certainly links the increase in CO2 (and water vapour, for that matter) with an increase in global temperature.
  • He also thinks that changes in these from purely natural causes took place in the past.  He’s also open to the idea that climate in the past may be more desirable than it is now, something that would choke current believers in climate change.  He tells us that the setting free of CO2 resulted in “mild and equable climates”.
  • There’s none of the dread panic we see these days when considering sea level rise.  Seas rise and seas fall; that’s just a reality in the dynamic environment we live in.  There are two probable reasons for this apparent nonchalance:
  • Populations in those times generally didn’t crowd themselves on the coasts the way they do now (see this relatively recent assessment of the practice).
  • The general consensus in those days vis-à-vis science was that problems were made to be solved, not wrung the hands over.  The fact that our “scientific” élites are so apocalyptic in their view of life shows that they’re not as scientific as they think.

Everyone these days argues about the “facts” and the “science” but how we view both is just as important.  And the latter doesn’t necessarily follow in a straight line from the former, as we see here.

Abortion, Infanticide and the "War on Women": A Lesson From China

There has been a great deal of discussion these days about gender selective abortions, which, when done, usually go against girls.  We’ve been presented stories of nations where the ratio of men to women in the population is rising to “unprecedented” proportions because families are doing away with their baby girls through abortion.  And, of course, this practice has reached our shores, where Congressional attempts to stop it have not gotten through (and would probably be overturned by our court system).

This practice, as is so common in our media, is presented as a complete novelty.  But there’s no novelty here.  Let’s consider a country where this practice has been widely called out of late: China.  The practice of eliminating infant girls through infanticide was well established, as this 1882 account describes:

The power of a Chinese father over his children is as full as that possessed by the Roman father, and stops short only with life. The practice of selling children is common, and, though the law makes it a punishable offence should the sale be effected against the will of the children, the prohibition is practically ignored. In the same way a law exists in the statutebook making infanticide a crime, but as a matter of fact it is never acted upon ; and in some parts of the country, more especially in the provinces of Keang-se (Jiangsu) and Fuh-keen (Fujian), this most unnatural offence prevails among the poorer classes to an alarming extent. Not only do the people acknowledge the existence of the practice, but they even go the length of defending it. What, they say, is the good of rearing daughters ; when they are young they are only an expense, and when they reach an age when they might be able to earn a living, they marry and leave us. Periodically the mandarins inveigh against the inhumanity of the offence, and appeal to the better instincts of the people to put a stop to it ; but a stone which stands near a pool outside the city of Fuhchow (Fuzhou), bearing the inscription, “girls may not be drowned here,” testifies with terrible emphasis to the futility of their praiseworthy endeavours. It is only, however, abject poverty which drives parents to this dreadful expedient, and in the more prosperous and wealthy districts the crime is almost unknown. (China, Robert K. Douglas.  London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1882, pp. 91-92)

When American military officer Joseph Stilwell visited the realm of “Christian Warlord” Feng Yu-Hsiang in 1922, he could see the following:

Death was as common as the windblown dust of China, its reminder everywhere in the grave mounds that would wear way over the centuries to be plowed back into the fields, its visible presence in the corpse of a girl baby, victim of infanticide at birth, laid out unburied between the grave mounds for the dogs to eat.  (Stilwell and the American Presence in China 1911-45, p. 99)

Neither the Qing emperors nor Feng had the wish to perpetuate the practice, but it was the custom and it was perpetuated anyway.

Now we have the People’s Republic with its one-child only policy, a new impulse towards eliminating unwanted baby girls.  On paper, we eliminated the infanticide; in reality, we simply shifted the timing backward and the method forward.  The main difference between the elimination of baby girls in the past and in the present is that now we don’t bother waiting until they emerge from the womb.  Now we’ve advanced to the point where we are able to find the gender of the child early on and do the deed more quickly than wait nine months and then make decisions.

And of course, to be complete about it, the Chinese aren’t the only one who have done this for a long time.

There are two things that can be learned here.

The first is that the line between abortion and infanticide isn’t as clean–or even existent–as proponents of the former would like for us to think.

The second is that giving a parent the power to abort or kill a child is a reversion to the pagan past, whether we’re talking about the Chinese or ourselves.  It was Christianity which removed the power of life and death over a child from a parent, placing same power in the hands of God.  To secularise a society is, in reality, to paganise it.

But we like to fancy ourselves as too brilliant for such intellectual legerdemain.

I think it’s worthwhile to repeat this quotation from Lu Xun:

They seem to have secrets which I cannot guess, and once they are angry they will call anyone a bad character…Everything requires careful consideration if one is to understand it.  In ancient times, as I recollect, people often ate human beings, but I am rather hazy about it.  I tried to look this up, but my history has no chronology, and scrawled all over each page are the words: “Virtue and Morality.”   Since I could not sleep anyway, I read intently half the night, until I began to see words between the lines, the whole book being filled with the two words–”Eat people.” (Lu Xun, Diary of a Madman, V)