Friday, July 21, 2006

How much should we give?

Ant drew our attention to Andy Hickford's recent Christianity Magazine article, something which drew a lot of very strong mailbag response in the issues since Easter. Some extracts:

...When it comes to Jesus and the law, it can be a bit confusing. Matthew 5:17 says that Jesus came to fulfil the law. Romans 3:31 says that he upholds the law. In Romans 7:6 it says that Jesus released us from the law and in Ephesians 2 Paul writes that Jesus abolished the law! So, just what is the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament’s laws?! Basically, Jesus replaces the Old Testament law. In him it is all fulfilled and upheld, because he completes it. We are released from its regulation and condemnation- that’s what meant by ‘He abolished the law.’ However, its wisdom and history is fulfilled in Christ.
How does this work with Martin Downes' observation that instruction on parenting is take straight out of the law and applied for Christians?
...most Christians I know don’t need freedom from tithing – or even freedom from the guilt of not tithing -they need freedom from consumerism. Like the Pharisees before us, it’s so easy to ‘strain the gnat’ of doing our tithing exegesis, only then to swallow the whole cultural camel of ‘Bigger, Better, Newer Faster’ – of more. The early church father Cyprian was right ‘on the money’ for today, when he said of his generation “Their property held them in chains, chains which shackled their courage and choked their faith, hampered their judgement and throttled their souls.”
Is the real issue with the way we spend rather than give? I find it very interesting that the church father's pick up on exactly the same issue... we easily blame our culture for the way that money compromises us but this pre-dates our capitalism. Could it be that we're so compromised that there is no escape? If not, where is the freedom going to come from?
I try to navigate my choices with John Stott’s great summary of the Christian’s attitude to money – ‘generosity simplicity and contentment’ as my mantra. I try to keep Petersons lovely translation of Mathew 6 foremost in my mind ‘ What I am trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so occupied with getting, so you can respond to Gods giving.’ But if I’m honest, whilst helpful these things don’t solve my dilemmas....Maybe these decisions are not supposed to be made from some rule book, but in conversation with the law giver himself - a life-long journey of changing seasons and themes.
Is giving just going to come back to subjective decisions and prayerful exercise of wisdom? Or, can we develop some guiding principles to help us along the way? The letter response to Hickford that most sticks in my memory is one that feared that if obligation to tithe was removed giving would fall meaning that pastors end up out of work, is that a valid fear?