Does God Get it Wrong?

 

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There seems to be a never-ending parade of folks hearing from God. I would say “these days” but it has been happening from the beginning of time.  There are those who sit at the bus stop  claiming to talk to Jesus (or BE Jesus). Those guys are mentally unstable, right? What about the guy in the suit standing behind a lectern who tells you that God told him something? Crazy? Prophetic?

Let’s look at a few, actual, historical examples. The pattern is obvious and changes little over the course of history. Some of this might surprise you. If you thought a guy in a suit is more credible, what about 3 of the largest religious affiliations on the planet? Are there lessons to be learned here? Let’s take a look:

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1. In 610 AD, nearly 6 centuries after the death of Christ, a 40-year-old prophet from the Arabian Peninsula began receiving messages from God from the angel Gabriel.  He was believed (and his followers continue to believe today) to have been the restorer of the original monotheistic faith; that of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

The problem? The information supposedly imparted in this direct revelation, when speaking of the errors of Christianity, is inaccurate in regard to what Christianity actually teaches. When these writings speak to matters of historically objective Christianity, they don’t contain what is written in the Old and New Testaments, rather what was understood about these writings in the Arabian peninsula during this period in history.  If you want to quickly identify a man-made historical document, you can validate (or disprove it) in light of information which would have been available to a *man* at the time, and contrast that with what was actually true yet little known, but would be known to an omniscient *God* at that point.  How does this play out?

In the content above, we have descriptions of christianity which are not only inaccurate, but in direct conflict with the christian faith.  Without going into the errors of the infancy gospels or the divinity of Christ, here’s an example that should be obvious to anyone: In condemning the teaching of the trinity, the Koran identifies the trinity as God (the father), Jesus, and Mary.

So, either God somehow changed (or forgot) the persons of the trinity, or the author of this content had a historically limited view of the christian faith.

The result? Islam, the second largest religion on the planet and it’s revelation from God, The Koran.

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How about on the American shores?

In 1835, a 30-year-old New York man, who had previously received direct revelation, multiple times from God himself and angels, began translation work on what would later be known as “The Book of Abraham”.  This translation was from ancient Egyptian Papyri which had been found, sent to America, and purchased by the young man.  Even more surprisingly, this young man was enabled to not only translate the ancient text, but to codify the alphabet and grammar from this single document.  Quite impressive!

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The problem?  While egyptian hieroglyphy was unknown in the mid 1800’s, it was later developed substantially and experts were able to go back and view both the papyri and the supposed translation.  In 1912, these documents were sent to 8 scholars who all identified the papyri to be an ordinary funerary document.  Their feedback on the young man’s supposed translation:

Egyptologist Dr. James H. Breasted of the University of Chicago noted:

“… these three facsimiles of Egyptian documents in the ‘Pearl of Great Price’ depict the most common objects in the Mortuary religion of Egypt. (his) interpretations of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.”

Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie of London University wrote:

“It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations”

Dr. A.H. Sayce, Oxford professor of Egyptology,

“It is difficult to deal seriously with (his) impudent fraud…. (he) has turned the goddess [Isis in Facsimile No. 3] into a king and Osiris into Abraham.”

 

The problem? The author is Joseph Smith, founder of the 3rd largest religious denomination in the United States, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), better known as “Mormons”.

 

And finally, one that may surprise you as it hits within “mainstream” Christianity:

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In October of 1900, a 27 year old Kansas man named Charles Fox Parham formed a Bible College in Topeka, Kansas.  The only textbook was the Bible and the only teacher was the Holy Spirit, with Parham acting as the spirit’s “mouthpiece”.

In December 1900, Parham sent his students (who had been at the Bible College less than 3 months) to diligently search the scriptures for the Biblical evidence for his theory of the “baptism in the Holy Spirit”.  The students returned with the view that “baptism in the Holy Sprit” was evidenced by speaking in unknown tongues.

With this view, Parham called a “watch night” prayer service on December 31, 1900 to pray fervently through the night.  According to Parham, after midnight on January 1, 1901, a student named Agnes Ozman asked that hands be laid upon her in prayer.

“I had scarcely repeated three dozen sentences when a glory fell upon her, a halo seemed to surround her head and face, and she began speaking in the Chinese language, and was unable to speak English for three days. When she tried to write in English to tell us of her experience she wrote the Chinese, copies of which we still have in newspapers printed at that time.” – Charles Fox Parham

I’m sure you can guess where this is going.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your view) we DO still have copies of what Agnes wrote during those three days:

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The problem is predictable and follows the pattern. While Chinese was obscure on the Kansas plains in 1901, it is not obscure today.  What you see above is most certainly not chinese.  I personally submitted this paper, with no background story, to a colleague who holds a PhD in Chinese from The University of Texas at Austin as well as several Chinese chinese co-workers. Their responses were uniform:

“This is gibberish.”

 “This isn’t Chinese.”  

“This is actually quite funny. Someone said this was Chinese?”

The problem?

The woman, Agnes Ozman was a student of Charles Fox Parham and her experience is now known as the Topeka Revival which began the modern Pentecostal-Holiness movement. Parham’s ministry moved several times to areas which continue to this day to be hotbeds of the pentecostal movement, notably southwest Missouri and Houston, Texas and in 1914, Parham’s “Apostolic Faith Movement” merged with several other pentecostal groups to form The General Councils of the Assemblies of God, the largest pentecostal denomination in the world.

Parham’s view of this “baptism in the Holy Spirit” was its necessity for assurance of the salvation of the believer and that ONLY those exhibiting this baptism would be raptured at Christ’s second coming ,whose total number would be 144,000. (A view later rejected by the Assemblies of God.)  The problems here are obvious and many as there are significantly more than 144,000 people speaking in tongues. There are more than 280 million pentecostals globally. 1 in 4 professing Christians identify themselves as pentecostal.

Of interest is the fact that Parham believed these utterances to be literal, known, human languages which would eliminate the need for missionaries to receive language training prior to their placement on the mission field. Parham labeled this as “xenoglossae”, or “foreign languages”.

The most notable and documented cases of this belief was of A.G. Garr.

The following is from Dr. Gary McGee (Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church History and Pentecostal Studies at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary):

“God is solving the missionary problem,” trumpeted the Apostolic Faith newspaper,published by the Azusa Street mission in Los Angeles, California. Indeed, “the Lord has givenlanguages to the unlearned, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Zulu and languages of Africa, Hindu and Bengali and dialects of India, Chippewa and other languages ofthe Indians, Esquimaux, the deaf mute language and . . . the Holy Ghost speaks all the languages of the world through His children.”

The best-known attempt to demonstrate this proficiency came when Alfred G. (“A. G.”) Garr, pastor of the Metropolitan Holiness Church in the city, and his wife Lillian, left for the east coast in July 1906 to board ship for India, the first missionaries to leave Azusa for the “regions beyond.”

Unlike their Protestant missionary counterparts who often struggled to learn the necessary languages for mission work, the Garrs insisted they had already received the ones they needed directly from the Holy Spirit before they even left the shores of America. They could now avoid the time-consuming delay of formal language study—usually requiring several years—and begin preaching once they arrived. 

Though a missionary to India visiting Los Angeles had challenged Alfred’s ability to speak Bengali, he went still confidant that he could not only speak the language, but Chinese as well. Lillian claimed Tibetan and Chinese.

Early in the Calcutta revival, A. G. Garr not only had to face his inability to speak Bengali, but also had to re-examin the actual meaning of speaking in tongues. 

The young student, Agens Ozman later spoke of her experience, which began the modern Pentecostal-Holiness movement (which birthed the Assemblies of God, Church of God, Church of God in Christ, and the United Pentecostal Church) and summed up the problem with the errors we see in the following article published in 1909:

“Some time ago I tried but failed to have an article printed which I wrote calling attention to what I am sure God showed me was error. The article maintained that tongues was not the only evidence of the Spirit’s Baptism. When that article was refused I was much tempted by Satan, but God again graciously showed me He had revealed it to me, and satisfied my heart in praying that He might reveal this truth to others who would spread it abroad. For awhile after the baptism I got into spiritual darkness, because I did as I see so many others are doing these days, rested and reveled in tongues and other demonstrations instead of resting alone in God.” 

And here we see the common thread in all “direct revelation” from God. At best, it leads to unorthodox theology and a misfocus on the “new” message over the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, such as…

“The biggest thing for us in our exegesis of Scripture is that we believe in baptism in the Holy Spirit.” – Greg Mundis, executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions

…and at worst leads to outright rejection of Christ’s atoning work (Islam and Mormonism).

I challenge you to look at the message of any ministry which received such “direct revelation” from God, do they point to Christ’s atoning work on the cross for the forgiveness of sin? Do they confront the unbelievers with their sin and plead for their repentance, salvation, and rest in Christ?

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I believe that you’ll find, as the Mother of the Pentecostal movement herself found and repented of later in life that they do not.  “New Revelation” will always, always, replace the gospel.. and it will replace it with faith in yourself; your “feelings” and your works. If these revelations are truly “from God” then they would, be definition, be on par with commands of scripture. In other words, they would be law and to disobey them would be sin. These “new revelations” may be as seemingly obvious as someone claiming that a 900 foot Jesus appeared  and commanded them to build a medical center which would be a success (and which actually closed 8 years later) like Oral Roberts.

Others, like the current “Vision Casting” phenomenon are a bit more subtle.  Either way, looking for direct/extra-biblical revelation is a recipe for disaster.  Either way, we’re obscuring the gospel taught by the apostles, and putting people under new “law” outside of scripture.. all because of a “vision” or something “in our spirit” or “laid on our heart”.

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God speaks to you. He speaks to you every time you open scripture and begin to read of the faith once and all delivered to the saints.

Don’t be deceived by your subjective emotion. The heart is wicked above all things and certainly not the place to look for “nudges”.  Open the word, the very “breath of God”.

Marc

 

 

And She Rang Her Bell….

 

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If you’ve never heard the term “Bike Rodeo”, let me explain this little joy to you; Every year, our local Police Department partners with local schools to sponsor an event in which young children are encouraged to bring their bikes to school for a safety inspection and to practice riding through an obstacle course.  It really is a lot of fun.  This year, my 2nd grade daughter was ready for her first Bike Rodeo. We spent time installing all of the necessary safety equipment; Horn, Bell, Headlights, and Taillights (Where was all this stuff when we were kids?!?).

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Next up, practicing and riding through our little neighborhood. Picture a giggling 8 year old proudly shouting, “Daddy, watch!”, “Daddy look!” as she peddled down each cul de sac.  Showing off her safety training, she would stop at each stop sign and in exaggerated fashion look both directions for traffic.  And then, peddle off again as I walked a few yards behind.

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“Car!” I’d shout, and she would stop peddling and pull to the curb as a car would slowly pass and wave.

All was well until I saw it… and it all seemed to happen in slow motion… a large black SUV backing out of an elevated driveway, unable to see my little girl.

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Baby, stop.. car.

She kept peddling.

Baby, stop!

She kept peddling.

STOP!!!!!!!!!

She turned quickly, lost her balance and toppled over, unhurt, but frightened at my tone.

Baby, whey didn’t you stop?!? You saw the car, you heard me yelling for you to stop!

“Daddy, I saw the car. I was ringing my bell so they would stop!”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. She was trying, as hard as she could, doing the “right thing” and ringing her little bell to stop the suburban that would have crushed her as she rang it.

But her peril wasn’t subjective. It wasn’t dependent on her effort or use of what she thought to be the right tool. Her little barbie bicycle bell was, simply worthless to stop the impending threat.

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I want you to hold onto that image as we look at a threat even greater to people even more helpless.

There is an event coming which, to paraphrase John Piper is 10,000 times 10,000 times more certain and heavy than the threat of a truck backing out of a driveway. It’s arrival is certain, and its impact will be felt by every man, woman, and child who has ever lived.

We will all be judged by the perfect, holy standard of God.

I want to challenge you, individually, to know that this event is a certainty. It’s coming. And the only salvation is repentance and faith in Christ’s sacrifice for your sin. There is no other salvation.  You can ring your little bell, you can use any other name, faith, or excuse.

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The church is full of hypocrites.

Ring. Ring.

I believe that all roads lead to the same truth.

Ring. Ring.

There is no God. I am my own truth.

Ring… Ring… Ring.

And for those of us in Christ, I want to present this challenge to you in a different manner. I hear the bell ringing in the modern church going on every day. There is one thing, and one thing alone which will stop those who do not know Christ from peddling into the path of their destruction, ringing their bells as they go;

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The gospel.

The good news that God has reconciled sinners to himself by grace through faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

But we don’t believe that, really. Sure, we’ll throw that up on a webpage somewhere under the “Word of God” section on our “What We Believe” tab under the “About Us” page.  But do we really believe that? Or do we ring our bells? Our bells of pragmatism, our bells of technique, or bells of attraction, our bells of relevancy, and our bells of “mission”.

I think the American church is still orthodox enough to believe and confess that WE are saved by grace through faith in Christ and not works, but our actions seem to indicate that we believe “THEY” are saved by our works and not the power of the Gospel (well, not without our help, anyway.)

So, the church rings its bells, to ourselves and to “them”.

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To ourselves:

Be still and listen to what God is speaking to your heart.  (Mysticism)

Ring. Ring.

Give your best to God and He’ll give His best to you! (Moralism)

Ring. Ring.

God loves everyone and would never judge people for being who he made them to be. (Rationalism)

Ring. Ring. Ring.

And to “THEM”?

Put on a show they will want to see to attract “them”

Ring. Ring.

Build relationships with “them” and win them to our community.

Ring. Ring.

Build missional models, employ leadership techniques,  and leverage demographic research to cast vision to “reach them” for Christ.

Ring. Ring.

Give them messages which will create “life change” through being better parents, and better spouses. Tell them how to live their best life now! Tell them that God has an incredible purpose for them, to “release the champion within them” if they’ll just be “audacious” enough to “go for it”!

Ring…Ring…Ring.

Our actions speak louder than our words. We simply do not believe that God will use the simple, foolish, offensive message of the gospel to change hearts of stone to hearts of flesh and save sinners from God’s just wrath.

God has promised in his word to use the simple means of grace; Word, Water, Bread and Wine to save and feed his sheep.

Preach the word. Shout it out until they stop and topple. Or they will keep ringing their bells, and we along with them, as they are crushed.

“They” don’t reject Christ because we lack the model, the technique, or the “hook”.  Scripture clearly tells us that “they” reject Christ because they are at enmity with God.  So you can build the model, master the technique, and design the ultimate “hook”.. and join with them in ringing a new bell headed for the same truck.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

 

Marc

 

Dear Church, My Plea

One of the real joys of the “Top 10” article going viral is that it’s given me a chance to hear from young believers who are hungry for the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Or, as Paul wrote in Galatians, the ONLY gospel.) rather than any of the replacement/false gospels so prevalent in the church today; who long to hear (and have difficulty finding) about Christ crucified for sinners.

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This week, I’d like to post a poem written and sent to me by an American college student at a large, public university.

As a short bio, the following:

“Scared of Hell. Walked the aisle. Said a prayer. Baptized. Felt some feelings.

Only recently learned how Law & Gospel are appropriately separated.

& have learned about the external Word and sacraments.

I am currently studying at the University of Arkansas. I’m 21.”

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Dear Church,  My Plea

We don’t want modernity.

We don’t want your empty promises.

We don’t want your self-help sermons.

We don’t want to find security inside of ourselves.

Stop telling me that Christ needs my commitment.

Stop telling me that I’m good.

Stop giving me new law to keep.

Stop idolizing youth.

Stop dumbing down the message.

Stop sugar-coating truth.

Stop feeding me donuts.

I need His body and blood.

Point me not to a prayer.

Point me to His Word.

Teach me His promises.

Teach me His Law.

Tell me I can’t keep it.

Tell me He fulfilled it.

I am a sinner. Just like you.

You tell me what to do.

& leave out what’s been done.

Care not about my entertainment.

Care about His message rightly proclaimed.

You give me a purity ring.

I need armor.

I need this message of reconciliation.

I need Christ crucified for sinners.

This news is good.

This Word brings life.

Rebuke this moralism.

Rebuke this mysticism.

If moralism is the message,

I don’t need Jesus.

If mysticism is the message,

I’ll get high on something else.

I’m done with this pretending.

I need solid food.

If my best life is now, I’m going to hell.

I don’t care about Friday.

I don’t care about feelings.

I’m a sinner like you.

I need Christ.

He brings life.

This fake smile’s getting old.

My Sunday clothes are wearing thin.

My heart is growing numb.

I’m broken by sin.

I need conviction from the Law.

& healing from the Lord.

My strivings are futile.

The Law leaves me condemned.

Please talk about sin.

Let your message be bloody.

Place the cross in the center.

For Christ, He alone is worthy.

Amen and Amen! Nothing for me to add here. This is poignant, passionate, and absolutely overflowing with the gospel. Fantastic!
Marc

Sacred Cow Series: Tithing

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Next up on the “sacred cow” series, an article I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time but haven’t been able to work on; Tithing.   I think this may well be my most controversial article and figure it will generate a lot of negative feedback because it will place me squarely between tithe preachers and their revenue stream, and Christians who are  tithing to “be blessed” and “avoid curses” by “robbing God”.  If there are two areas you tread dangerously, it’s a persons money or their attempts at works-righteousness! But I simply have to write this one because the amount of abuse I’ve seen here is absolutely disgusting.

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That being said, here we go.  A couple of ground rules before you start if you would be so kind:

1. Read the entire article. Look at scripture in its entirety, and in context. Try to put tradition aside as you look at what scripture actually teaches. Not “principles”, but what scripture actually says.

2. Understand that I am not. NOT. NOT! (clear enough?) saying that you shouldn’t give to support the local church.  If you’re looking for a justification for not giving, it won’t be here.

First of all, let’s define the term “Tithe”.  Yes, it’s clearly in the Bible, no doubt about it.  But what does the term tithe mean? Is the way the term is used today in agreement or opposition to what scripture teaches?

Tithing, as we will discuss here is the current, modern teaching of

“The first 10% of your income, given to the local church.”  

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There are other subtleties that we will discuss including “firstfruits”, etc. But “The first 10% of your income to the local church” is a summary which I think fairly represents the position, and to which nearly all tithe-teachers would agree.

I will contrast that with the Biblical teaching of the tithe, utilizing the most used verses by tithe-teachers and show how tithing, as described above, is unbiblical.

As a quick look at history, would any of the following surprise you?

1. Jesus never tithed.  (He was a carpenter)

2. Peter never tithed.  (He was a fisherman)

3. Paul never tithed.  (He was a tentmaker)

4. Gentiles did not tithe.

5. There is no record of “tithing” as currently taught in the first 8 centuries of the church. Not from scripture, nor from early church fathers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, et al.

6. Tithing was virtually unknown in America until the 1870’s and rarely even mentioned in seminaries.

Feel free to attempt to disprove any of those! For something that is claimed to “bring a curse” or “rob God” there certainly seems to be a glaring absence of this teaching from both scripture and church history!

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So, let’s work through Who, What, When, Where, and Why of tithing, in scripture:

WHAT? 

What was the tithe?

There are 16 verses which cover the content of the tithe.  In summary, the tithe was:

Always and only food from farms and herds of only Israelites who only lived inside the holy land (the boundary of Israel) and only from the increase of those crops and livestock as the Lord caused growth. 

It was alway, and only crops and livestock. Period. There is no record of money being tithed, ever, in scripture.  While some may argue that money wasn’t available and this was a barter-based agrarian economy, I submit the following:

Money is mentioned 32 times in Genesis alone.

Money is mentioned 44 times before tithing appears in Leviticus 27.

The term money appears 62 times, and the unit of measure (shekel) appears 32 times in the first 5 books of the Bible.

The financial system was advanced enough to even contain laws on fines, dues, taxes, and banking laws prohibiting high interest.. all before tithing appears in Leviticus 27.

So, then what was the tithe?

30 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. 31 If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. 32 And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord. 33 One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”

34 These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. (Leviticus 27:30-34, ESV)

As we see above, it is only seed of the land, fruit of the trees, herds, and flocks. Not money. We also see that it is NOT the “first” or the “best” as some teach, it is explicitly described in scripture as the 10th animal which passes under the staff and could be either “good” or “bad”.  While we’ll cover it in more detail later, notice to whom this command is given in verse 34. (The people of Israel.)

In total, there were actually FOUR tithes, none of which match the modern definition of tithing:

1. The Levitical Tithe (crops and livestock as shown above)

2. The Festival/Feast Tithe: Once a year a tithe of food in Jerusalem to be eaten in the streets by all peple.

3. The Poor/3rd Year Tithe: Kept aside in their homes and given to the poor on every 3rd year.

4. The King’s Tithe (1 Samuel 8)

So not only do modern tithe teachers not follow the actual system of tithes laid out in the Old Covenant, which would total 23 1/3%, the “tithe” they do teach is nowhere found in ANY of the four actual tithes of scripture.

Who?

Who tithed? To whom did they tithe?

The tithe was required of those who raised crops and livestock. It was required of those under the Mosaic Law. It was required only of those within the geographic bounds of Israel.

To whom was it paid?  This is extremely important for you to understand:

The tithes were paid from the people to their local Levitical cities. NOT to the Temple storehouse.  The system worked like this:

The Levites were tasked with temple service and political service to the King. Since there were far too many Levites to serve at the Temple at the same time, they were divided into 24 groups (called “courses”).  On a 48 week lunar calendar, each group would serve at the Temple in Jerusalem two weeks (twice) per year. The remaining Levites (who were not currently “on duty” at the Temple) remained in their particular Levitical city. (There were originally 48 of these scattered throughout Israel/Judah).

So let’s think about this. Does it make sense that the entire tithe, the 10% of all foods and livestock from the people would be delivered to the Temple in Jerusalem?  Or would it make more sense that people would take these to the local Levitical city for the Levites who lived there 46 out of 48 week of the year?

Of course not.  What actually happened was that the people would bring the tithe (again, crops and livestock) to the local Levitical city.  Then, 1/10 of THAT 1/10 would be taken to the storehouse at the Temple in Jerusalem.  (Nehemiah 10)

Why?

Why did the people tithe? 

The people tithed because it was commanded in scripture (Leviticus 27).  This was part of the Mosaic Covenant that the people had entered into with God at Mt. Sinai:

 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that theLord has spoken we will do.” – Exodus 19:5-8

Notice that this blessing is conditional! IF they will obey God’s voice and keep the covenant. But we notice, in great detail, in Leviticus (the chapter immediately preceding the chapter introducing the tithe) what would happen if they DIDN’T keep the covenant!

Well, sure enough, as you would expect, man botched it and didn’t live up perfectly to the law. And as it pertains to the discussion of tithing, they really blew it there. (A good example is Nehemiah 13: 4-10)

In light of that, let’s look take a long, hard look at the tithe teachers favorite prooftext.. you know it.. Malachi 3:

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.

(Malachi 3:8-11)

 

Let’s take a long, hard look at this passage.

1. Who is “you”. Since “you” is the pronoun for those robbing God, we’d better get this right. It’s serious. “Robbing God and being cursed” serious.

Malachi is a very short, 4 chapter book.  Take the time to read it for yourself!

In Chapter 1, God begins to address the people of Israel, but notice something: In verse 6 the audience changes to the priests!

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’

The priests had taken that which had been given to them as a tithe, and had vowed to give God the best of that 1/10 (as they were required to and had vowed in the Levitical covenant!), but they had lied and given God the damaged animals (Malachi 1:8 and 1:13)

Now, read carefully: Not only is it clear from context that “the people” are not being discussed in Malachi (it’s the priests), but the text specifically states that the people weren’t being chastised for not bringing the tithe!  Chapter 1 makes it clear that they DID bring their tithe! The problem is that the priests then kept the best for themselves and offered the damaged animals. Look closely, remembering that “you” is the PRIESTS.

13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says theLord. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.

So, he (Priest) has a male in his flock, vows it (Levitical Covenant) and yet sacrifies to the Lord what is blemished (fail).

We continue with Chapter 2:

“And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. (Malachi 2:1-2)

Again, who is “you”? The priests!  And the curse on? The Priests! Because? They violated the Levitical Covenant! We see this with absolute clarity as we continue with the rest of the passage, below:

 Behold, I will rebuke your offspring,[a] and spread dung on your faces, thedung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.[b] So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts.My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction[c] was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people[d] should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways butshow partiality in your instruction.”

Who is being cursed? They Priests! Why? They violated the Levitical Covenant. This simply can NOT be applied to “the people”. Firstly, because the passage is both explicitly and contextually speaking of the priests. Secondly, the “people” would NOT have been under the Levitical Covenant!

 As we continue in Chapter 3, there is a small change. For one verse, the people of Judah are mentioned in the their person “they” (not “you”) but the text returns immediately back to the “you” fo the priests.  Now, notice the final line of chapter 2: “Where is the God of justice?”

God answers in Chapter 3:

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.

So, as we have shown with absolute certainty, “you” refers to the priests and NOT to the people. To further prove the point, the robbery is caused by not bringing a full tithe into the storehouse. Who brought tithe into the storehouse? The Priests!

So, at the risk of being absurdly redundant, I want to drive a stake through the heart of this erroneous teaching:

“You” is the Priests, NOT the people and could not be otherwise for the following reason:

1. Grammar: From 1:6 on, “you” is alway the priests.

2. Context: Only the Priests would be guilty under the Levitical Covenant

3. Context: Only the Priests would bring anything to the storehouse in the Temple.

So even if you somehow believe that tithing was an eternal principle (it’s not) and that all men in the old testament/covenant were required to tithe (they weren’t) and that somehow the tithe was on income (it never, ever was) you still absolutely can NOT make Malachi about people robbing God by not paying a tithe to the local church.

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The abuse I’ve seen here would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. I’ve actually read a letter written by a “Pastor” who compared a wife not tithing (due to her husband’s refusal to support the ministry) to being an accomplice in a bank robbery. Anyone who would make such an absurd statement has disqualified themselves from ministry as one who cannot rightly handle the word of God.  At the risk of sounding harsh, if you cannot read a 4 chapter book and determine context through a simple pronoun like “you”, you have no business teaching, much less condemning anyone with your doctrine.  (End of rant)

Now, let’s work through to the New Testament understanding now that the definition of the tithe is:

Always and only food from farms and herds of only Israelites who only lived inside the holy land (the boundary of Israel) and only from the increase of those crops and livestock as the Lord caused growth. 

There is not a single passage in all of the New Testament which requires the church to tithe. None. Not one. Ever. I’m not even arguing about “what” the tithe is (money or crops and livestock), it’s simply NOT there. Ever.

Jesus didn’t tithe.

Peter didn’t tithe.

Paul didn’t tithe.

If this was something so serious as to cause curses for robbing God, don’t you think it might have been mentioned? Just once? Maybe? How about the first church council in scripture, where Jews and Gentiles were working through the differences in their views of law and grace. It would have to come up, right? I mean, who would want the new gentiles to be robbing God and coming under a curse? (As you might guess, it’s not brought up. Ever.)

Does it strike you odd that tithe-teachers don’t teach tithing from any New Testament text or command, but resort to an obscure letter chastising priests for breaking their Levitical vows to point out the requirement to tithe?

Let’s think through grace vs. law.  Are you required to keep any of the rest of the Levitical law? Of course not!

There is one passage, perhaps which could cause some confusion (or be twisted badly to teach tithing), Matthew 23:23

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

So the scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites and were tithing on “garden herbs” (mint, dill,and cumin).  And are then blasted by Jesus for ignoring weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

1. Who was Jesus talking to and in what context? The 23rd chapter of Matthew is an entire chapter of Jesus completely teeing off on the scribes and Pharisees. Read it in its entirety! To begin with, Jesus has a crowd, turns to them and completely blasts the scribes and Pharisees to the crowd:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.

2. Why would Jesus say that they should follow the law?  Again, who was he talking to? Israel. When? In the Old Covenant. Jesus lived under the law. Israel lived under the law. This, however, changed (and remains changed) under the New Covenant.  Look closely at Jesus teaching to those who would have been under the law during his earthly ministry. He heals men and then sends them to take care of their obligation at the temple. Jesus lived blamelessly under the law!  Contrast that with how he spoke to those (Gentiles) who were not under the law.  So, it shouldn’t surprise us at all that Jesus said these scribes and Pharisees should keep the law.

3. What did they tithe? Again, crops. From inside Israel. Under the Old Covenant.

To somehow use this text to teach that Gentiles, or those under the New Covenant should tithe cash? To say that it’s a stretch would be kind.

As I close, I want to give you the sedes doctrinae, the scripture which speaks most clearly to this subject for the New Testament church and believers.  It’s not an obscure book chastising Levitical priests for breaking their Levitical Covenant. It’s not a chapter where Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, it’s a crystal clear passage on how the believer in Christ should give:

 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart,not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:7-8

We give in grace because we have been greatly given through grace.  Not under compulsion or threat of curse under the law. Thanks be to God that we are no longer under the curse of the law because Christ was cursed by being crucified for our atonement.  For some, that may mean more than 10%. For others, that may mean little or nothing. Some of the very people abused by tithe-teachers are those who should be RECEIVING our giving. The poor, the widow, and the orphan.

To wrap it up, the teaching of the moder tithe-teacher as “The first 10% of your income to the local church” fails, biblically, at every…..single…… point.

The tithe was never the first 10%.

The tithe was never money.

The tithe was given to the Levites in their Levitical cities.

I will caution you, however, that this error is plaguing the church in our day.  Many churches require anyone in leadership to tithe. Some even require tithing for membership. Regardless of the validity of this claim, you may well be removed from your place in the church if you do not support this erroneous teaching.  Be prepared. Many churches (and I have seen this with my own eyes) track tithing by members and will directly confront (and threaten removal from leadership) should you fail to pay.

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My question? Why would you want to belong, let alone support and serve a ministry which so recklessly abuses God’s people by so obviously twisting His word? After what you’ve just seen in God’s word, in context, you should seriously question anytime you hear someone attempt to use Malachi 3 as a “tithing” text for the church. At best, they’re either careless or inept at handling God’s word, and at worst they are attempting to twist God’s word to get into your wallet. (Neither option is very flattering)

I do believe that there are many tithe-teachers who have been misled in this tradition. I hesitate to question anyone’s motives or heart. I will simply say that to saddle God’s people with requirements of the law, and laying a burden upon the poor will certainly kindle God’s anger.

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So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Give…Freely…In grace.  Don’t lose another minutes rest over paying a tithe. And don’t for another moment expect God’s extra blessing by your obedience to this misapplication of the law.  If you think God is going to love you more or make your tires last longer, or give you rewards “pressed down, shaken together and running over” because you give 10% of your paycheck to your local church, think again. God isn’t running a Ponzi scheme, but your church might be.

Give as you have decided to give in your heart. Give as your able in light of the grace you have received, and rest in the gospel of grace.

Marc

 

Note: Dr. Russell Earl Kelly has done some great work here and his work in this area has been extremely valuable.  His book: Kelly, Russell. Should the Church Teach Tithing, A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo DoctrineISBN 0595159788.

The Mirror of Facebook

I did something recently that was useful, stereotypically middle-aged, and surprisingly emotional; I went back and read through what I have written on social media over the last couple of years; Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs.  And my conclusion? I suck.

No, seriously. Try as I might, I’ve used the tool of social media to sin against God and against my neighbor.  I’ve taken shots at thinly veiled “opponents”, I’ve questioned motives, and I’ve used it to feed my ever-hungry ego.  And I’m guessing you have too.

No, not everything I do on social media is so blatantly (and intentionally) negative. In fact, most of it is meant positively. I use this blog and social media as a platform to proclaim the gospel. I use social media as a way to keep in touch and share pictures with friends and family around the world.  But scripture teaches me that as a fallen man, even my “good” works are to be repented of as they are so obviously (as we’ll see below) tainted with sin.

With that, I’d like to take a few minutes this week to talk about how understanding the “Three Uses of the Law” allows us to use social media in a powerful, powerful way.

In short, there are three uses of the law: As a Curb, as a Mirror, and as a Guide.

Let me explain with the following, excellent, summary from Pastor Mark Schroeder:

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CURB: The Law is a curb. Like a curb, it helps to keep us from going off the road and hurting ourselves and each others. The Law has penalties. The Reformers called this use of the Law the political or civil use. The Law’s civil use civilizes us because we need to be! As James Madison wrote, there has to be government because men are not angels. It curtails externally because we would murder, thieve, and whore against each other at random and that is the world envisioned in the novel, Lord of the Flies. There is a limit and it is the No of the Law: see Matthew 5: 21-37. “Just ask yourself the question: which came first, the first limit on speed or the first accident? It is the accident which is judged to be bad. And then speed limits are established in the effort to limit the evil of accidents.” (Pr. Lou Smith)

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MIRROR: The Law is a mirror. “The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light that lurks within our nature” (hymn #297, LBW, ‘Salvation Unto Us Has Come’) Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Grayis about a very handsome man who has a portrait painted of himself. He puts it into the attic and years later, still handsome, looks at and realizes his death and sin. This is what the Law does internally. “…through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) “…if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7: 7) The Reformers called this the spiritual use of the Law: to show us our sin and that sin is death and the dead can not save themselves.

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GUIDE: The Word of Law is a guide. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” Psalm 119: 105. We are called to preach and teach the law (see St. Matthew 5: 19), so that the Gospel and good works be plain: they come from faith in Jesus Christ alone. The 10 Commandments show us if our good works are truly pleasing to the Lord. An old saying: “No one became good by act of Parliament”. We only live in love, and not fear of punishment, because of the only One Who fulfilled the Law. When we do so fear of what we’ve done, turn not to your self, but turn to the Lord: repent!

So, the law is for ALL men as a curb in that it keeps us from complete anarchy in society.

It’s for ALL men to see their sin in light of the perfection required by the law.

It’s for BELIEVERS as we look to the perfection of the law as a guide to living (though we will continue to fall far, far short each day.)

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The mirror part is tough. I can think of few things more painful than taking a serious look at yourself in the mirror.. especially the mirror of God’s perfection in the law. But just as we need to see flaws in the mirror to make a change, we need the mirror of the law to drive us to the one who saves. This may be a tough article to read (Lord knows it was tough to write!) and you can write it off as Marc being all of the things below, but scripture makes it pretty clear that all of us fail here. Maybe in varying degrees when compared to each other (we all have “those” fb friends)… but all fail completely in light of the perfection required in the law.. that we love God with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourself.

Social media has been an excellent mirror for me lately, and I’ll walk through several types of posts.. see if any of them hit home for you as well.

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1. I’m awesome.

I go to awesome places (and people pay me to go there, because I’m so awesome), I buy awesome things (and deserve them because I’m awesome). I have awesome kids (because I’m an awesome Dad).  And I have a beautiful wife (because beautiful women love awesome guys). I sometimes meet famous people (because awesome people go to the same awesome places.)

Yet.. that’s when I’m on a “high”. That’s when things are going well. What about the day to day pedestrian life most of us live?

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2. I’m sarcastic.

I sarcastically rail against people who don’t agree with me on politics, faith, parenting, or even “really” important things like having the audacity to cheer for the sports teams where they grew up instead of where I grew up.

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3. I’m needy and prideful.

I do it rarely, but sometimes I post flattering pictures of myself. (My humble midwest upbringing usually demands I make a goofy face, or have other people in the picture, but I do it.) I post pictures of me doing cool stuff with my kids (often taking these pictures instead of actually enjoying the time with them) to show what an awesome Dad I am.

So, the mirror of the law shows me my sin.. through social media.

I don’t love God with all my heart; I often love my pride or comfort more. And I certainly don’t love you as I love myself, and find my human nature recoils in envy when I see you post something that I wish I had, or wish I could do.

Do you do these? Out of pride? Out of envy? Out of bitterness?

Ladies, do you post “selfies” with sultry faces? Why? Is that really the attention you want? Who are you looking to for validation? What’s your goal here? And Married sisters? Seriously?

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Are you incessantly railing on political issues? Why? Are you actually engaging in dialog to make a difference, or just throwing rocks at straw men?

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Are you posting sentimental “Jesus” stuff on your wall about how the bad guys are out to get christians? Why? Are you actually reading your bible and proclaiming the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins?

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(This is a pet peeve of mine. Is the “Jesus” stuff you’re posting actually scripture or just sappy, sentimental snippets. Do these match the tone of the political stuff you’re posting?)

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In the end, it comes back (as it always does) to the sin of pride.

I want feedback from people to feed my pride.

I want to proclaim my political beliefs and project my fears about the bad-guy-of-the-day into the world because of pride.

I want to rail against and question the motives of those who disagree with me because of pride.

This post might be a bit too raw. Maybe i’m hanging it out there too far. Maybe we just don’t talk, out loud, about these things. Maybe it’s just me……

But maybe it’s not. Maybe this will hit home and lift the mirror of the law to brothers and sisters in Christ to see our need to seek our worth and validation only in the cross of Christ and to flee there for forgiveness.

 

Marc