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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Church Financing - part 1

What examples do we have of payment to the ministry in the early church? Were they supported by tithes? I would like to look in to that. But, for time and space's sake, let's start by looking at Armstrongism for a bit.

There exists the kind of 'minister' who says “Give! Give!” But what he mean is “Give to me so I may have for myself!” James 4: 3 tells us why: “...that you may spend it on your pleasures.“ Unfortunately, one tithe is soon not enough and new tithing and offering laws need to be found to finance an ever more extravagant hierarchy. Calls invariably begin to "send in the widow's mites!"

"And yet, many of us seem to LET DOWN, and grow slack in supporting this great and glorious work. ONCE AGAIN THE RECEIPT OF MONEY IS FALLING OFF! Once again, the situation seems ALARMING! I need your immediate and MOST GENEROUS RESPONSE! Do you know WHY it is such a difficult financial struggle to conduct God's work? It is because THOUSANDS of you Co-Workers who may be poor financially, and have but a little, get to thinking that your little -- perhaps only a dollar or two -- would not be big enough to help. It is BECAUSE so many of you who can't send more are failing to send in your widow's mites that this glorious work of God often faces a crisis. Of course that makes it all the more necessary for those of you who CAN to send in large offerings -- $50, or $100, or $1,000 or more. It is the FAITHFUL TITHE-payers among you, and those who send in generous amounts when you are able, that keeps tiding this work over."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Co-Worker Letter", March-April 1972

Such a one, of course, diverts blame to the law, preaching about how "in force" and "non-negotiable" the Old Covenant laws are. His hands are practically tied! Except, when it becomes necessary to follow those laws he begins to cherry pick. How good are the laws God gives to the Levites? Good enough to demand tithes ...but ignore everything else! Good enough to demand they be paid in, but then ignore the laws about how they are to be distributed out to the poor and elderly. How good are the laws of traveling for the Holy Days? Good enough to keep 1/3 of them but certainly the full price should be collected none the less. So, preach about how good the Old Covenant laws are if you are willing to keep all 630 of them, but do not cherry pick.

"How can any institution function without money?", they ask. Some churches have performed better under a tithing system as compared to a system of voluntary giving, but certainly in large part because they don't teach giving. Many consider the end of the tithing system to be synonymous with the end of the organization itself, but this only betrays a lack of faith in God's ability to run the show and provide for His Church. Perhaps it also betrays the real, avaricious motive behind the call for money. “How will we afford x, y, and z?”, they plead. If your aims were truly in line with God's, is God not able to make all grace abound that we are always sufficient in all things and have abundance to do every good work (II COR. 9: 8)? Many, after decades of indoctrination, would say “...and God provides through tithing!” Yet search the New Testament for a command to tithe and you will only find laws of 100% giving, or search for an excuse to transfer the Levitcal system over to the ministry, and you will only find the Levitical system abolished and replaced. The focus of demanding tithes is entirely backwards!

Herbert Armstrong actually taught it was the whole duty of a Christian to provide for the needs of the ministry.

“But this giving of their prayers, encouragement and financial support was God's assignment as the very means of developing in them God's holy, righteous character.” 
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 111

“...as the very means for the general body of lay members to develop God's own holy, righteous character – by means of giving – giving their continuous prayers for the apostle, giving their encouragement, tithes and offerings.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 112

In fact, it was taught the first specific reason for the existence of the church is:

“To provide a unified body of Spirit-led believers to back up the apostles (and evangelists)” 
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 114

Can there be a more clear and textbook definition of 'fleecing the flock'?? No wonder there were so many humility issues in the ministry! 
But Paul, an Apostle of Christ, under inspiration of Christ Himself, says “the administration of this service... supplies the needs of the saints” (II COR. 9: 12). Christ's position is the diametric opposite of Armstrong's position. Even the very definition of the word "minister" is "servant", yet who do we see being taught to serve whom? Armstrong: flock provides for the ministry. Christ: ministry provides for the flock. Give vs. get indeed! [I urge you to read my post on the Didache for more on this.]
Was Christ's focus really the focus to Armstrong? Was this verse in mind when people were advised to sell their houses to pay third tithes? And not only that, but Paul specifically identifies who supports the administration: “Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness” (II COR. 9: 10). 
Did you catch that? “He” who supplies seed of the Spirit to sew and bread to sustain is none other than Christ! We had our purpose backwards!

And again, we were taught:

“Jesus had not come on a soul-saving crusade”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 113

He didn't? "He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (HEB. 5: 9). Sounds like He did to me! And He said "It is finished" (JOHN 19: 30).
We said He wasn't, but immediately we committed all efforts to send out a dragnet to scour the earth for as many tithe-paying souls we could bring in! Success in “the work” was measured in numbers and dollars. No one cared who was dredged up so long as they “pay, pray, and stay”. We were in error!

I wrote this introduction post to highlight where I feel Herbert Armstrong went regrettably awry (regrettable not only for the tens of thousands of lives he affected but for his own life which had value to God - Christ died for HWA too). What we need is a Biblical solution. In my next post, let's look at how financing a ministry was actually done in the New Testament.

2 comments:

Baashabob said...

Good article! Tithing and church governance/hierarchy were the two first things I looked into after leaving the cogs. I ended up writing an article for The Journal on the same subject as this last posting. I only barely scratched the surface but had to keep it short so it wouldn't be too long to be accepted. There are many other scriptures, other than the ones you have used, that address this particular subject.

One of my favourites is 2 Cor.2:17, which talks about those who are peddling the word of God for a profit. In the KJV it says "corrupting", which is why the cogs will always quote this verse from the KJ and not any of the more modern translations. In the Greek/English lexicon that I refer to, it actually says the meaning of this word is "peddling, like a cheap carnival huckster". Doesn't that sound familiar?

xHWA said...

Thanks for the compliment. I'll pass credit to the One who deserves it.

Sure does sound familiar, Bob!
A carnival it were, but the show wasn't free.

Nice point you bring up about 2 COR. 2: 17. I'll think on that a while. Thanks for mentioning it.