In my last post, we looked at a brief introduction to Herbert Armstrong's perspective on church finance. This time, I would like to contrast that with what I find in my Bible.
Many people say “Christ commanded tithing to the Pharisees, therefore it is commanded for us.” Let's start by reviewing that point.
What was Christ's attitude towards the many monetary demands of the Sadducees and various other religious officials?
(MATT. 17: 24-26) 24 When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free."
Some would immediately point out that a temple tax and a tithe are different. I'll give you that. But my point goes deeper than that. The people of the Old Covenant nation were in effect strangers from God (PSA. 39: 12; DEU. 31: 17; MATT. 23: 37) and hence the need for travel three times a year TO the place where God appointed a meeting. The New Covenant Church constitute His temple - even His very body. He is in us. We are the sons. The sons are free! Indeed this applies for there is a great distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant relationship between men and God.
Jesus corrected the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23: 23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” By this verse, every study about tithing proclaims “Jesus has commanded tithing for us.” Or something to that effect. Is that what was being said here? Let's think about that.
To whom was Jesus speaking - people of the Old Covenant or New Covenant? To the Old, and therefore He speaks to them in terms of the Old. And to whom specifically does He speak - to everyone or just the Pharisees? He addresses only the Pharisees. I will illustrate further. Read verses 1-3 of the same chapter:
(MATT. 23: 1-3) 1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples [it says to whom He speaks], 2 saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees [it says about whom He speaks] sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.
Now, how many of you keep Hanukkah? Or avoid Gentiles? Or wash your hands before you put anything in your mouth? Or tithe on what you earn, AND on what you purchase, AND on what you sell? Or keep the traditions of the elders by following the Talmud? Or pay the temple tax? Or keep any of the various other observances commanded by the Pharisaical leadership, JUST AS CHRIST SAID TO DO? I suspect the answer is something along the lines of “None.” So, the command Christ gave directly to the multitudes to obey the Pharisees in verse 2 is not binding on us, but the command Christ gave directly to the Pharisees to tithe in verse 23 of the same chapter and book IS binding on us? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever!
Of course the New Covenant Church is not commanded to obey the Pharisees. Jesus worked very hard to distinguish between the eternal spiritual traits of God that we are to emulate and the corruption of the traditions of men that prevented a proper relationship with God. Of course Jesus wasn't speaking to us, but the Pharisees only -- unless you are willing to accept that He called you a hypocrite as well?
Additionally, Jesus specifically took “Moses' seat” (which was a seat of judgment) away from the Pharisees, and took it upon Himself (JOHN 5: 22). Probably more importantly, Jesus abolished the Levitical Priesthood entirely, establishing the order of Melchizedek with Himself as High Priest (HEB. 5: 4-6, 10). As the transfer of Moses' seat removed the authority of the Pharisees to judge, so the appointment of Christ as High Priest removed Levi's authority to collect tithes. Levi is the only entity permitted to collect tithes.
Interestingly enough, no new command was ever issued to tithe to a ministry. Yet Armstrong taught this one rule, given to Levi only, has moved - without Christ's saying so - from the old priesthood into the new. This is a mingling of the two Covenants... a changing of the law.
Let's look into I Corinthians 9: 1-18 now.
What is Paul saying here? He is saying with clarity that only he and Barnabas supported their ministry from their own labor. According to Paul, none of the other apostles or elders and their wives in his time worked to support themselves. He is saying with clarity that those who preach the gospel are entitled to some support from those who are preached to in order to live. He is using an analogy between the ministry and the Levitical priests to show how both are entitled to live from the offerings of the people. BUT he also makes it clear that “I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me” (v 15). He says with great faith and humility that his goal was not to receive material things (v 18). Paul is not denying a right to receive a wage from the church, but he is doing what only a very precious few have ever done: putting receiving the glory of God much higher than receiving material wealth. Here is why I emphasize that point: If tithing were commanded in the New Covenant, both Paul and those he preached to for free were in violation of the law. Keep that in mind, and let's go on a bit.
Let's circumspectly search these verses for a command to tithe. Disappointingly for many ministers, it is not in there. When people who demand tithes look at these verses they see a command to tithe because the line between the Covenants has been blurred in their minds (not in reality). In their defense, even Peter admitted that sometimes what Paul wrote is hard to understand (II PET. 3: 16) also read (II TIM. 3: 1-11). But it is of utmost importance to understand that just like God's covenant with Abraham is completely separate from His covenant with Israel, so is His covenant with Israel completely different than His New Covenant with all who believe. This is perfectly in line with Hebrews 8: 7-13. "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (v. 13). They are different and completely so. To mix them muddies up the distinction between shadow and reality. Sure there are vague similarities, but they are not the same.
When the New Testament makes it clear the Levitical priesthood is done away, along with it the right to collect tithes of field, flock, and orchard (never money), and then institutes a new sacrificial system of faith in God through being “living sacrifices”, it thus raises the bar from 10% to 100%. Can one be a 10% living sacrifice? We cannot simply say, “There is a problem here that I must solve. I want tithes... I know, I will change tithe laws!” as Herbert Armstrong appears to have done.
I liked this comment that Bob left on my last post so much, I'd like to copy it here for you:
"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'."
Well said, Bob.
I suspect the root issue we continually face is in desire for money. The Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16 should scare any minister away from the love of money. The grave will welcome the lovers of money when their cash runs out! You cannot serve God and mammon (an unhealthy pursuit of money). Armstrong's ministers have no problem claiming to be Levites when tithes are involved. To whom I ask, “If you're a Levite, where is your me'il, ephod, breastplate, and headdress?” Oh, the law! the law! ...just not THAT law!
Enough background. Are there examples of how the ministry was to be supported?
To start, we have to ask, "how did Christ get His support?"
(LUKE 8: 1-2) 1 Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, 2 and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities — Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, 3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.
Could this have been a fourth tithe? Or perhaps a tithe on women only? Of course it wasn't! Although, I'm surprised no one has thought of this as a way to extract even more funds. (I should be careful lest I put ideas in their heads.) Jesus was supported by free-will donations while tithes were yet going to the priests. In no way was this a tithe system!
Now, what example did Jesus set for His ministry to be provided for in their duties?
(MARK 6: 7-9) 7 And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. 8 He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff —no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts— 9 but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.
(LUKE 10: 1-8) 1 After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. 2 Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. 4 Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. 5 But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you.
Definitely not a tithing system! Where are those ministers who say "we must all do exactly as Christ did," now? Dodging this issue, I'd suspect.
I Timothy 5: 18 has been used to promote tithing, arguing that since a minister is worth his wages then a tithe system is still in effect. This conclusion is logically non-sequitur (it does not follow that because a minister is worthy of wages therefore there is still a tithe). But Paul was quoting Jesus from Luke 10: 7, and Jesus WAS NOT referring to tithes! A minister is worth his wages, but as we clearly see from our Example, those wages do not come from tithes.
(LUKE 22: 6) 35 And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?” So they said, “Nothing.”
I think the idea of relying on donations frightens a lot of ministers. Tithes are secure and dependable. People don't want to live with uncertainty, like the humble farmer who depends on God's generosity for his livelihood. It especially terrifies a lot of Christ-peddling ministers who are used to disproportionately large salaries, being served instead of serving, promoting a multi-million dollar global work of impersonal magazines and media rather than feeding the flock and preaching in person, and so forth -- in short following an example other than the one Christ left. The unjust minister shouts “The law! The law!”, but when it comes to following this example as Christ set, it is explained away quickly. “The law! Just not THAT law.”
Realize that God's Church has always been poor. These abundantly wealthy past few decades are by far and away abnormal. In the more distant past, ministers often literally sold or forfeited all they had to preach the gospel truth that God opened their minds to see. A great number gave their very lives in service to Christ and His church. Look at Paul's own words. How did he live his life every single day (I COR. 11: 26-28)? He was weary. He was sleepless. He was cold and naked. Do ministers who make high-5 to 6 figures annually have any understanding of that at all?
(II COR. 11: 7-9) 7 Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. 9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.
Paul preached to the Corinthians free of charge! Paul's ministry in one area was funded by the generous free-will offerings of other areas until this new church could be raised up and support itself with a functioning structure and an elder to watch over it. And even though Paul had every opportunity, especially as a former Pharisee, to use the word “tithe”, he does not, and instead uses the word “wages”. Very telling.
(ACTS 20: 34-35) 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Again, Paul is seen as providing for his own ministry by his own labors. This would be abhorrent, scandalous, shocking to a Levite! He supported the weak and taught us to do the same. He saw the gift of what He was blessed to give as being infinitely more important than receiving any material thing whatsoever from those he preached to. How refreshing! And what was his trade? Paul was an Apostle and a tent maker. Yet he found time to minister and preach. What a man! Who among the Armstrongist ministry in these late years has the "total resolve" to be like Paul? Certainly not Ron Weinland, who rests from wearying travel with even more travel.
In summary of this post, the flock is served by the ministry, and the ministry is provided for by Christ. How Christ provided did include free-will donations from the flock, but not one word about tithes - even when ample opportunity was given a former Pharisee to use this word. Instead we see a clear-cut system of giving. The ministers had faith in Christ to provide. They didn't worry about "How will we pay for x, y, z?" They were so excited to share what Christ graced them with that they didn't seek material income. Anyone who did, as Bob pointed out, was a "peddler of Christ". [Again, I urge you to read my post on "The Didache" for more on this.]
I agree completely with this quote from Richard Nickels [a tithe-believer]:
“I have refused to live off the tithes, in spite of urging from some that I quit my job and live off the tithes. If I did this, it would likely change the nature of my service. I would need to say and do things to please men rather than please God. I might become a hireling. Is it wrong for a Church pastor to receive a salary? No. I Corinthians 9:9. But, the nature and terms of this salary must not compromise him. His work ethic must be impeccable. He must be free to preach the Truth as he understands it. He must truly be a workman.”
An unpaid minister is generally superior in service because he is following the titheless example he has from the New Testament. If HWA was right, and God loves quality, why not insist on the very best -- an unpaid minister?