“FOR I KNOW THE PLANS FOR YOU, PLANS TO GIVE YOU A HOPE AND FUTURE”
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Mal. 3:10).
One of the most oft quoted verses of the Bible, Mal. 3:10 is also one of the most abused. Spoken as part of a prophecy against the people of Israel for their failure to abide by God’s covenant with them, this verse is now used extensively to solicit Christians to make tax-deductible contributions to the organized church. Though people are encouraged to give motivated by love, there is an inevitable undercurrent of obligation – while God loves a cheerful giver, tithing is a moral duty (we are told).
The implication is that a failure of Christians to tithe is likewise a breach of God’s covenant with them. Where tithing fits into (or is specifically made a part of) the New Testament covenant is rarely explained. The Mosaic covenant has allegedly been made obsolete, but why this particular piece of it should survive compared to all the other provisions of the Mosaic law is difficult to justify. Just accept it and obey, and you will do well (we are told).
Frequently this moral obligation shows up at offertory time in the use of admonitions to give to God His tithes and our offerings, subtly distinguishing between moral duty (God’s) and discretionary charity (ours). In a true bit of irony, even the use of offerings in this setting is an inappropriate carryover from the Mosaic covenant to the Church. The appearance conveyed to the person in the pew is that you can give your money to God either way you want (and both are acceptable), but biblically speaking both tithes and offerings have no legitimate place in the Church. So the choice is a false alternative – both are inapplicable.
If you are unconvinced by what you hear from the pulpit and you ask your pastor too many questions, you will likely be told that God does not force anyone to tithe, but if you do it you will be better off for having done so. Ah yes, religious pragmatism at its best. Give to God so He can bless you more. If a sense of moral duty won’t get you to open your wallet, perhaps greed will. Anything to keep the gravy train rolling.
Indeed, the observance of the tithe is as familiar to any churchgoer as the organized church itself, for rarely will one be found without the other. Yet, this Christian usage of Mal. 3:10 assumes a lot: 1) the institution of the tithe at some point became applicable to the Church; 2) the underlying basis of the tithe remained intact after the First Advent of Christ; and 3) tithing is God’s intended financing plan for the Church. As we will see, none of these assumptions are supported in scripture.
To understand what the Bible has to say about tithing in the Church, we need to understand how the tithe originated. Since that origin lies in a legal context (a divine covenant – or legal agreement – with Israel), we need to understand the legal reasons for starting the tithe in the first place, the overall applicability of that covenant, the nature of the interaction between the ministry of Christ and the Mosaic law, and what happens when the underlying reasons for the tithe are eliminated.
We also need to examine how the Church was structured by God and the extent to which it may be compatible or incompatible with the prior system. In the course of this discussion, I will also look at instances of tithing in the Bible which preceded the Mosaic law, and whether those give us any further guidance in the matter. Finally, I will consider the real effects of practicing tithing on the Church, the Gospel, and the finished work of Christ.
I’m going to conduct this entire inquiry by resorting to the laws of nature and nature’s God as the means of determining the truth of the matter. For that is my goal – the biblical truth. Not what is customary or usual, not what is approved, and not for the sake of preserving any special interests. Just give me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
If that bucks the established and accredited religious authorities of today, then so be it. I stand with Martin Luther, who bucked the religious authorities of his day regarding the sale of indulgences. And with Jesus, who bucked the religious authorities of His day regarding the practice of Corban. As with both of these prior cases, tithing is yet one more example of a mere tradition of men passed off as the law of God when it is not.
5 BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Pet. 4:17.
Ah yes, one of my all time favorite Bible verses. Why? Because long story short: It’s time for us to get our own house in order, people (who claim to be the people of God)! And for all of you hyper-dispensationalists – no, this verse does not apply solely to Jews.
In order to understand the biblical nature of church government, we need to examine five key biblical principles, namely: 1) the diffusion principle of authority and how it applies to the Church; 2) the role of the clergy and the universal priesthood of believers; 3) the nature of spiritual authority – who has it, what it can be used for, and whether it gives anyone the right to rule others in the Church; 4) how the heavenly or invisible Church interrelates with the earthly or visible church; and 5) the nature of the Church as a corporation and what that means with respect to its internal governing structure. I doubt you have ever heard any one of these five principles preached from a pulpit in any church.
There is a general principle in scripture that evidence of a fact or a proposition should be established upon the testimony of two or three witnesses. Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16, 20; 1 Tim. 5:19. Here, I suggest, we may take each of the five biblical principles as a witness, which when put together are found to always be in agreement pointing to the exact same conclusions, and thus provide a quintuple witness of the analysis I am putting forward. In this way we may know that the analysis is true and firm.
Now, let me provide a brief overview of these five principles so you can see the order and progression of the overall analysis. The 1st Principle (diffusion of authority) will lay the foundation that God has not put anyone in charge of the worldwide Church except Jesus (who is in heaven at the moment), leaving the Church without a visible (i.e., human) head until Christ returns.
The 1st Principle leaves open the question of whether God has entrusted leadership of the church at the local level to various “spiritual persons.” So, the 2nd Principle addresses the question of whether God has entrusted church leadership to the clergy or a priesthood. We then move on to the 3rd Principle, where the question is whether the distribution of spiritual authority via the sacraments, spiritual gifts, or spiritual offices is such that we may reasonably infer certain persons are in charge of the church.
The 4th Principle will help us examine the difference between the way the invisible Church which God has instituted is governed, and the way visible church associations are governed. When we get to the 5th Principle, (the Church as a corporation) we will find out who is actually in charge of God’s Church until Christ returns.
Following these, I will take a look at how modern churches function in real life, and the extent to which they follow these biblical principles of church government. I will wrap up this essay with an examination of the office of pastor in greater detail, and also ask the question, Where Do We Go From Here?
(Note: I know the terminology gets confusing at times, but I view the heavenly Church as functionally equivalent to the spiritual Church, the invisible Church, and the universal Church. Similarly, when it comes to the earthly church, it is functionally equivalent to the temporal church, the visible church, and the local church. For purposes of this essay, the distinction I wish to make is between the Church body that God has created and the church organizations that people have made. This distinction is the key to understanding the matter of church government.)
EAUA TEACHERS FUND, LLPEVANGELICAL ALUMNI FOUNDATION