Burden On The Poor

If a believer wishes to tithe out of a personal decision or conviction, that is fine. Tithing becomes a problem when it is represented as God's command, binding upon every believer.

Strikingly, the Church of England did away with the tithe as a legal requirement as recently as the 1930s (Murray, Beyond tithing, 3-6).

C. B. Hassell, History of the Church of God, from Creation to AD 1885 (Middletown, NY: Gilbert Beebe's Sons Publishers, 1886), 374-392, 472; Smith, From Christ to Constantine, 123. The Montanists of the second century were the first to pay their leaders, but this practice did not become widespread until Constantine came along (Smith, From Christ to Constantine, 193). * For a response to those biblical passages that some have used to defend clergy (pastor) salaries, see Viola, Reimagining Church.

Under the Old Testament system, tithing was good news to the poor. However, in our day, mandatory tithing equals oppression to the poor." Not a few poor Christians have been thrown into deeper poverty because they have felt obligated to give beyond their means. They have been told that if they do not tithe, they are robbing God and breaking his command." In such cases, the gospel is no longer "good news to the poor."' Rather, it becomes a heavy burden. Instead of liberty, it becomes oppression. We are so apt to forget that the original tithe that God established for Israel was to benefit the poor, not hurt them!

Conversely, contemporary tithing is good news to the rich. To a high earner, 10 percent is but a paltry sum. Tithing, therefore, appeases the consciences of the prosperous without impacting their lifestyles. Not a few wealthy Christians are deluded into thinking they are "obeying God" because they throw 10 percent of their income into the offering plate.

But God has a very different view of giving. Recall the parable of the widow's mite: "Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 'I tell you the truth,' he said, 'this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on'"" (Luke 21:1-4, NIV).

Sadly, tithing is often viewed as a litmus test for discipleship. If you are a good Christian, you will tithe (so it is thought). But this is a bogus application. Tithing is no sign of Christian devotion. If it were, the first-century Christians in the churches that Paul raised up would be condemned as being undevoted because all available evidence shows that they did not tithe! 35

Not to mention the overlooked complexities of tithing. Consider the following: Does one tithe on net or gross? How do tax exemptions apply? Murray details the ignored complexities of trying to import the biblical system of tithing as practiced by ancient Israel to our culture today. (n a system of jubilee years, Sabbaths, gleanings, and firstfruits, tithing made sense and helped to distribute the nation's wealth. Today, it often leads to gross injustices (see Beyond tithing, ch. 2).

Murray powerfully demonstrates that tithing ends up hurting the poor (Beyond Tithing, 8-10, 35-38).

Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:18, 7:22; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; James 2:5-6 (all ray).

Paul planted approximately fourteen churches. They were all heavily Gentile. Paul never put the Law on them (see Galatians). To say that the Gentile churches that Paul planted tithed is an argument from silence, and it runs against the entire grain of his law-free gospel. To Paul's mind, if someone tithed, that made him a debtor to do the whole law, which includes circumcision (Galatians 5:31.

One of the lingering roots behind the sustained push for tithing in the church today is the clergy salary. Not a few pastors feel that they must preach tithing to remind their congregation of its obligation to support them, their operational costs, and their programs. Regrettably, the promise of financial blessing or the fear of a financial curse has been employed too often as an incentive to ensure that the tithes keep rolling in.

In this way, tithing today is sometimes presented as the equivalent of a Christian stock investment. Pay the tithe, and God will give you more money in return. Refuse to tithe, and God will punish you. Such thoughts rip at the heart of the good news of the gospel.

The same can be said about the clergy salary. It, too, has no New Testament merit. In fact, the clergy salary runs against the grain of the entire New Covenant." Elders (shepherds) in the first century were not salaried." They were men with an earthly vocation." They gave to the flock rather than taking from it. It was to a group of elders that Paul uttered these sobering words: "I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive' (Acts 20:33-35, NIV).

Giving a salary to pastors elevates them above the rest of God's people. It creates a clerical caste that turns the living body of Christ into a business. Since the pastor and his staff are compensated for ministry, they are the paid professionals. The rest of the church lapses into a state of passive dependence.

If all Christians got in touch with the call that lies upon them to

See Acts 20:17-38. Note that these are Paul's last words to the Ephesian elders, thinking he would never see them again—so they are significant (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Peter 5:1-2).

See F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 418; Simon J. Kistemacher, New Testament Commentary: Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 737, 740; Rolland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 196 2), 50; Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Church Life (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1980), 62-63,139-143; R. C. H. Lenski, Commentary on St. Paul's Epistles to Timothy (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1937), 683; and R. C. H. Lenski, Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 303-304.

The New Testament references to elders makes this plain. In addition, 1 Timothy 3:7 says that an overseer must be well thought of in the community. The natural implication of this is that he is regularly employed in secular work.

be functioning priests in the Lord's house (and they were permitted to exercise that call), the question would immediately arise: "What on earth are we paying our pastor for!?"

But in the presence of a passive priesthood, such questions are never asked." On the contrary, when the church functions as she should, a professional clergy becomes unnecessary. Suddenly, the thought That is the job of the pastor looks heretical. Put simply, a professional clergy fosters the pacifying illusion that the Word of God is classified (and dangerous) material that only card-carrying experts can handle.'

But that is not all. Paying a pastor encourages him to be a man pleaser. It makes him the slave of men. His meal ticket is attached to how much his congregation likes him. Thus he is not able to speak freely without the fear that he may lose some heavy tithers. (Many a pastor has confessed this very thing to us.)

A further peril of the paid pastorate is that it produces clergy who feel "stuck" in the pastorate because they believe they lack employable skills.' I (Frank) personally know a good number of pastors who felt convicted to leave the ministry. All of their schooling and training had been dedicated to studying and preaching the Bible. While these skills are noteworthy, they are of limited appeal in the secular job market. The major hurdle they now face is forging a new career to support their families. A friend of mine, an ex-pastor himself, is writing a booklet on how pastors can find employment and enter new careers after leaving the clergy system. His ideas are not based on theory. He and others like him have fleshed them out.

Even so, it is exceedingly difficult for many contemporary pastors to acknowledge the lack of scriptural support for their office simply because they are financially dependent upon it. As Upton

* According to Elton Trueblood, "Our opportunity for a big step lies in opening the ministry of the ordinary Christian in much the same manner that our ancestors opened Bible reading to the ordinary Christian. To do this means, in one sense, the inauguration of a new Reformation while in another it means the logical completion of the earlier Reformation in which the implications of the position taken were neither fully understood nor loyally followed" ( Your Other Vocation [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952]). The words of Jesus come to mind: "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge ..." (Luke 11:52,

The Greeks spoke publicly for a fee. Jewish rabbis learned a skill and could not accept money for religious services. (n this way, the modern preacher has adopted the Greek custom rather than the Jewish custom that Paul of Tarsus followed even as a Christian.

Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." No wonder it takes a person of tremendous courage and faith to step out of the pastorate.

A number of my (Frank's) ex-pastor friends have admitted that they were part of a religious system that subtly but profoundly injured them and their families." Unfortunately, most of us are deeply naive about the overwhelming power of the religious system. It is a faceless system that does not tire of chewing up and spitting out its own."

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