Thursday, July 20, 2006

...to be continued?


Over the last few months I've turned my attention to think about Charismatic Gifts and to Divine Sovereignty.... At the end of June I was wondering whether I was free from the tough questions.

And then I ran headlong into another one. This one manifests itself in different issues: You can start with infant baptism and tithing, and you could chuck sabbath in the mix as well.

Anna Mack asked me to do something about understanding the law, in early 2007, and now I've hit an issue where I need to work it out!

The tithing issue is the pressing one as I work on my money study. Israel did it(although it looks like it was more like 23% than 10%), should Christians be tithing? And if not, then what?
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
-- Matthew 5:17, ESV
My instinct is that if Jesus fulfills the law then we're not expected to. The law is like rules that apply to someone else, not to us. Never to us. Imagine the foreign exchange kids in their yellow backpacks not allowed to take them off, I'd be a fool to imitate them... the rule about yellow backpacks doesn't apply to me.
"Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law,
imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed"
-- Galatians 3:23, ESV
So when it comes to money what would it mean to live by faith? What does keeping in step with the Spirit look like when it comes to my bank balance? Doesn't the shadow point us towards something for us? If sabbath points us to our eternal rest in Jesus... what about tithing? Where is the continuity? Where is the discontinuity? What changes, what should stay the same? I'm not expecting to resolve this one in a soundbite but I'd appreciate some thoughts

26 comments:

  1. I think it's very impressive that you managed to resolve your issues with prophecy so effectively that you are using it now - Anna Mack asked you the question in early 2007??!?

    Anyway, this question IS vexing and actually one on which my church eldership is divided, so I will try to have some sensible thoughts!

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  2. Impressed with your time travel capabilities.

    This may be a little bit of a spanner but Paul's teaching on children obeying parents in Ephesians 6 is straight out of the Law. As far as this command is concerned there is continuity between the covenants. As there is also with the death penalty but that is another matter.

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  3. I think its really interesting what you are thinking about. I probably disagree on the law thing(not sure?!) so not sure how exactly what I think.

    I suppose I always thought that it was more of a thing that we were to give happily, and not to think of our giving as how little I can get away with, but how much I can I give.

    Thatprobably is of no use but I did find the DG online resources really helpful in this regard

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  4. Thanks Martin and Mo for your identifying of my inability to construct a sentence... "ask last week, for 2007..." i just couldn't get it to look right....

    Or perhaps prophecy is easier when you know what is going to happen.... Anyways, I wouldn't say the prophecy one is entirely resolved either, but I guess I'm content with where I've got to on that! Hmmm.

    Thanks for the parents/children thought Martin... hadn't figured that before....

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  5. Let me know when you reach a definitive answer.....before you make your millions perhaps. I got thinking about this (again...!) recently coz I read a good article in the latest Affinity magazine (which sadly is not online yet) written by Derek Bigg from Haywards Heath. He has expanded it into an entire book "In pursuit of the truth" published by him and Good Book. There is a chapter on tithing. Perhaps I should rush to it...?

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  6. I was reading Derek Bigg last night, the Tithing chapter is helpful. His blog is here: In Pursuit of the Truth

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  7. Andy Hickford wrote an article in Christianity Magazine on this a few months back. It was very thought-provoking and generated a lot of letters, for and against, such that there are still letters about it in the current issue.
    Original article is here

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  8. Yeah I saw the article and read some of the letters... scary how some people didn't like what he said!

    I was troubled by the letters imagining that if a church didn't enforce tithing then giving would drop - it might be realistic but its a bit unnerving if people only give out of obligation.

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  9. Just thought I'd direct you to this article. I'm not sure I agree with all it's reasoning, but it will surely present you with an interesting position that you should consider and evaluate in your study:
    http://www.bible-truths.com/tithing.html

    God Bless.

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  10. Yes, I've been trying the work out the relation between the covenants for over a quarter of my life now, and getting more convincedly undecided all the time. In this, Sabbath and baptism have been the bigger deals in my mind than tithing, but that's been there as well I suppose.

    I suppose you've seen monergism's money & tithing page?

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  11. Hiya,

    With regard to tithing, I find it interesting that Jesus never says anything good about it (I think!). All the times that He mentions it, it seems to be negative.

    However, He likes it when the poor woman gives her couple of pennies; which is all she had...

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  12. Gareth, yeah thats an interesting one - the irresponsible woman who gives everything much better than the one who gives to match a rule.

    I do find it odd the way that tithing impacts people, so someone on a low income might do it and not be able to afford to live, whereas a rich tither still has vast riches...

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  13. If the regulatory giving of the Mosaic law was for the support of the Levites who were set apart with no land inheritance (income) of their own, so that they could serve in the temple etc, then obviously there needed to be a law so that the tribe wasn't neglected by the landed tribes. The 10% was first declared by Jacob in thankfulness to God, as a personal decision, not mandated.

    The general principle of giving in the OT to me seems to be one of generosity and thanksgiving - exemplified at the building of the tabernacle! The laws seem to be more about prompting thankful remembrance lest they forget, than about the certain percentages.

    Jesus never condemns tithing for the Israelites: at that time there were still Levites who needed to eat! What he condemns is hypocrisy: sticking to the letter of the law but forgetting love, which sums it all up. So he affirms the uncalculating love gift of expensive perfume from the woman, and the temple giving of the poor woman, and denounces those who give from pride and ignore love (the parabolic pharisee, Simon the pharisee, etc.)

    So, given we're the children of Abraham, not under the Mosaic administration with Levites and temple sacrifices, yet still as they knowing the grace of God (if not more clearly), surely it's a call for
    - giving in thankful recognition
    - with the precedents of the Mosaic law and Jacob's decision, committing ourselves by a percentage of our income to a reminder that our provision is from God
    - providing for the needs of those who minister to the church
    - doing all in love

    Deciding on a certain percentage is wise: it's all about love, and love (unlike romance) doesn't happen by itself - it involves decision and commitment.

    I don't think that tithing is a shadow of anything in particular: it's giving which is born of grateful recognition of receipt of grace. All such financial giving points to/demonstrates general life thankfulness to God, recognition of dependence on him and trust in him for the future.

    I've been rather incoherently 'thinking outloud' in this comment so Dave I'd appreciate correction: what do you think?

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  14. Its interesting you mention the purpose of the laws. I remember reading a Piper quote in Future Grace where he observes that if his kids read the OT Law they would see that it was gracious... where we often look at it negatively....

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  15. Absolutely, the law is the staff and notes which write the song of grace-enabled response to grace.

    I was brought up to see the law as gracious, but I do think that holds out having studied it more. The 'old covenant' of Moses and Sinai is so obviously gracious and a Good Thing that I'm always baffled at the bad press it gets.

    It's partly the fault of that blank page that's crept into most Bibles: the one separating the 'old testament' from the 'new testament'. And with our modern eyes, we read New = Good (grace!); Old = Bad (no grace!). Then we read Hebrews and forget that it was written to those who KNEW just how amazing a privilege the law was and were tempted to give up Christ and stick with the law: they need reminded that as Christ is the supremely gracious fulfilment of the gracious law, that would be suicidal! But the law was a shadow after all: shadows don't take an entirely different shape from the reality. The writer to the Hebrews outlines various differences (repetition, incompleteness, etc.) but never draws a grace; legalism dichotomy: grace isn't under question in either.

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  16. The confusion is Rosemary that elsewhere being under the law is seen as a negative, or at the very least a less good thing than being under the Gospel revealed now.

    I am thinking especially of Galatians 3, where Paul talks of the law being like a schoolmaster who's tuition we no longer sit under.

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  17. When I lay my cards on the table the hand I'm holding is the tradtional Reformed tripartite-threefold use view of the Law.

    I guess this is becoming the minority report in British conservative evangelicalism.

    I do find it strange that Psalm 119 is so enthusiastic about the very Law that gets such a negative press today. It is the move that says "commandments=legalism" that I'm sure would puzzle the psalmist (our obedience=righteousness before God is not puzzling though).

    And then of course what do you do with Jeremiah 31 and the Law in the New Covenant?

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  18. The Psalmist certainly loves the law - though I wonder if that is a broader statement than specific regulations..

    Perhaps we need to recover both a positive and negative view of law...

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  19. It is my interpretation that as believers we are longer held to the specified percentage of tithing given under the old covenant. However, the scriptures overflow with verses about giving...to the body of believers, to the poor, out of our abundance, unselfishly, with cheerfulness, etc.....

    If the love of God is truly in us, it won't be an issue of how much do I HAVE to give, but rather we will be compelled to give sacrificially and it will likely exceed the Old Testament commands of the law. After all, the Spirit lives in us, right?

    I recently read a very convicting booklet by Dr. Bernard Borah, who began a new ministry called Good Measure International. (You can read this booklet free online). The statistics given reflect the American Church, but would certainly relate to the UK as well. If Christians gave even just a little more, there would be no forced poverty. This isn't a social gospel either, it's just our responsibility, plain and simple. I encourage you to check them out at www.goodmeasure.org . This isn't my ministry, but I know the people who are doing it, and they have a true passion for the Lord.

    Whether 10% or not, give sacrificially and cheerfully, with an eye on eternity.

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  20. I'm with dr.fundamentalis on this one -- the threefold use of the law (to convict us of sin, to restrain sin, and to provide a guide and rule for life) really makes sense to me.

    However there is something of a spirit involved isnt it. The threefold use of the law is rooted in the truth that lawkeeping doesn't save -- it is a product of our sanctification -- it is a product of the Holy Spirit working within us to create a desire to please God. Thus, a spirit of legalism is right out.

    Russell

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  21. Though Christ does follow up his comment on fulfilling the law in verse 17 with this: "Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

    I would like to see you expand on your instinct that "if Jesus fulfills the law then we're not expected too" comment. My initial thought is that we are expected to follow the law though not as the pharisees taught it to be followed: in a nitpicky, grain of sand sort of way. It could be argued that 1 Cor. 9:13–14 and Gal. 6:6 those in ministry have a right to expect support (tithes) from those they minister to. Hmmmm...Just some thoughts, thanks for a great post.

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  22. Eric - i think those in gospel ministry are to expect support, but i don't think that is tithe based - but need based... so the local church should voluntarily give generously to support its workers, and others elsewhere...

    Is it fair to say that Jesus fulfills the OT law demands, and so their demands can't stand over us? In effect they are commands that were not given to us but to OT Israel in their setting... we on the other hand have the Holy Spirit and are to keep in step with him... And God is the ultimate model of sacrificial generosity....

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  23. See what I wrote about tithing earlier this month. Yes, I did skip over quickly the important and perhaps controversial issue of whether the OT law on tithing is binding on us as Christians. But when it comes down to it, the point is not so much that, or about precise amounts, as the importance of ensuring that God's work in his church is not hindered by lack of finances.

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  24. Thanks for the link to your thoughts. Some interesting points in there.

    The Kostenberger/Croteau link from Justin Taylor is well worth being flagged up again: A Biblical Model of Giving

    I think there is value in looking more at the need of the church than my own needs.... Money & the Church ...since much appears to rest not on a fixed requirement but on the conscience / work of the Spirit in our hearts then hearing of the needs of our churches will help us to make our decisions about what to keep/give.

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  25. I've been thinking a lot about tithing because so many churches these days are using studies about "God's way to financial freedom," etc. and most of these studies are so full of theological error and verse counting that it's hard to see any truth behind it, except that some guy got very rich by selling his opinions to gullible and guilt-ridden Christians. I'm not sure where the 23% tithe came from or whether the word "tithe" literally means 10%, as some say. However, in Israel, the tithe went to support a theocracy - God+country - in other words, gifts to God + taxes. What I get from the New Testament is that everything I have belongs to God - use it wisely, don't be stingy, share. I think this goes a lot farther than arguing over whether the percentage - be it 10% or 23% or whatever - is net or gross of your income. What I give I tend to divide into 3 categories - provide for my family, provide for the poor, provide for the church. I think God gives us a lot of freedom as to how we do this.

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  26. You can of course get round having to deal with the law issue by starting your argument in Genesis 14. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (verse 20) before God made a covenant with him. Therefore, the argument goes, whatever your view of the law we should be tithing.

    For some reason fasting came up in coversation last week and I was struck by Isaiah's description of 'true fasting' in chapter 58. Surely the important thing is our heart attitude towards what we 'own' - ie. that we don't own it, we are stewards of it and it's far better to give it away, back to God, to the widow, orphan etc. As t'other Gareth pointed out.

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