Monday, July 28, 2008

Maybe It's Supposed To Be Enough???

Hang on ... I'm about to show how much I may not know about a lot of stuff. But something struck me yesterday as I was preparing for the "Serving God" seminar I'm leading at Westmont Baptist on Sunday nights, and I can't shake the thought. So, despite the fact that my Dad always said "You can either keep your mouth shut and make people think you're an idiot, or you can open your mouth and remove all doubt", I'll say it anyway.

The thought is this: when God told Moses to build the tabernacle, He gave thorough instructions; subsequently, Moses instructed the people to bring in all the fine stuff .. gems .. fine woods .. cloths ... gold .. all that stuff to him so they could build the tabernacle as instructed. And, after some period of time, he told them to please stop, as they'd brought more stuff than needed.

Then, Moses called in the contractors and had the tabernacle built.

Much later, Solomon built the temple. I don't see the funding method chosen, but I figure it wasn't a 30-year Variable Rate mortgage. I figure God had already supplied the stuff, as Sol was fairly well off, as I understand it.

But, regardless, it was appropriate to build a temple, as that's where they met with God. That made sense, as the instructions to build the tabernacle ... that portable tent-thing ... came at a time when Israel didn't have a homeland. On the other hand, the temple was built when they did.

So along comes Jesus and says that the time was now here when people would worship Him in Spirit and in truth; that answer in response to a question as to where we were supposed to worship God. I believe the mountain ... maybe that was done in the tabernacle .. and the temple were both mentioned.

Where did the idea of big temples, now, originate? Was it with "the church" way back when, before the Protestant Reformation? Aren't they a link to the old non-personal relationship with the mother church, rather than with the Living, Personal, Risen Christ ... our only access to God?

Maybe so.

And I also wonder where is the NT example of building a NT version of Solomon's temple. I don't recall it, albeit my memory ain't what it used to be (and probably never was, anyway). So perhaps it's true that the huge buildings which we think "Glorify God" are our idea, not God's. Sure, we're commanded to assemble together ... my interpretation is for the purpose of prompting one another to love and good works ... but it sure seems that churches, when organized, immediately orient themselves toward building their own "temple". And I've heard some state that such a concept even works to the detriment of overseas missions, as we too often do some evangelizing and then build a building, which the overseas mission church may be ill-equipped to maintain, and may not help in their efforts to win people there, anyway.

I have been concerned about this for some time, check here, but I didn't really make the connection until yesterday.

So, a couple questions:
  • Is the clear statement of how the tabernacle was funded, supposed to be instructive, to us, as to how we should operate now? Should we, in fact, call on the church body to bring in what we need, and then confess that's enough for us to do what God wants us to do?
  • Is Jesus' statement about worshiping in Spirit and in Truth, given in response to a question about geography and buildings, instructive for us relative to building our modern versions of Solomon's temple?
  • Should we pay attention to the Biblical statement that the borrower is the servant of the lender, and question whether churches should be servants of Mortgage Companies?
I only know of a few churches that have purposed not to build a big building ... churches like The Journey, Mosaic, and probably some others. What I haven't heard is much commendation or admiration for them. In fact, I've heard The Journey roundly criticized for doing the sort of thing I can envision Jesus doing, were He here on earth. Stuff like reaching people in a brewery. Maybe they have some problems up there, but THAT ain't one of them.

I don't know. I really don't. But I do know that our church has indebtedness of over Nine Million Dollars, and you can imagine the financial impact of just paying the interest on that, let alone amortizing the debt. But one thing I'm pretty sure of: we didn't even explore the alternatives.

Seems we'd rather ask God for a big building, than merely for a place to meet.

Maybe we don't want to be limited to what God thinks is "enough".

**EDIT NOTE** Here's where I stick my foot in it. Here we have the modern-day church, speaking here of baptists, millions strong. Mostly, apparently having their money struggles (like 15-20% giving 80-85% of the money?). Now, to me, tithing is a simple biblical principle, yet few seem to be doing that. In our church, given the number of members, and if the average income were about what ours is .. and remember, we're retired .. then the gross church-member income would probably be somewhere north of $50 million. A tithe of that would be $5 million a year and we'd be swimming in money. But we're constantly under budget in income. As I mentioned at Westmont last Sunday, the church has plenty of money; it's just that most of it is still in the members' pockets. And I frankly I wonder why that is. Why hasn't the membership gotten the message?

Is this yet another example of "easy believism"? Have we made this whole thing so socially appealing and attractive that we've completely lost whatever those folks in Acts 2 had?

That's my bet.

If so, who did THAT?

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14 Comments:

At 2:04 PM, July 28, 2008, Anonymous ~Mad said...

Point taken - you always hit the nail right SMACK on the head!

Great post.

(Comment written from one of our large/larger/largest buildings)

~Mad(elyn) in Alabama
www.xanga.com/madewyn

 
At 3:45 PM, July 28, 2008, Anonymous PJ said...

I'd further note that New Testament giving was always and only about meeting the real needs of real people in real time - not about programs, buildings, or organizational budget requirements.

 
At 4:31 PM, July 28, 2008, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

pj,

Even the OT statements refer to bringing in the tithe so there may be meat in the House. Sounds a lot like the KJV version of what you said.

:)

 
At 6:30 PM, July 28, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're exactly right, Bob. The parameters for the tithe, given in Deut. 14:22-29 will never be preached from any Baptist pulpit. (Especially verse 26) ;)

Patricia

 
At 1:35 PM, July 30, 2008, Anonymous PJ said...

Bob, maybe I have misunderstood you, but the OT passage about tithing is not about handing over 10 percent of your monetary income to an organization. It was about saving up for an annual celebration Thanksgiving meal "before the Lord where the Lord shall put His Name" AND supplying a local food bank in each town for the Levites, widows, orphans and aliens, who had no land and therefore no way or means to support themselves (see Deut. 14). Hence, "bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house." Preachers misuse this verse to mean "bring your money to the church." In the NT, you see the church's giving to be something more like Meals On Wheels for widows and disaster relief for Jerusalem in the famine, and personal assistance given to Paul to meet his needs. Yet today, what is preached is, hand over your 10 percent to the organization (so the committees can better designate it), and the organization claims the right to apply the tithe to its budget, while the givers have little to no voice. But Bob, the members ARE the Church, and Jesus' example of the great commandments featured a protagonist who specifically would not have "tithed" by either Jewish or Baptist standards. Yet the Good Samaritan did help the one in need in his path, using his own resources and his own intitiative, and he illustrated the highest form of obedience to the most important commandments in the eyes of the Son of God. Can you be sure that those members with money "in their pockets" aren't doing the same? Just maybe, the church has interpreted tithing and giving to its own organizational benefit, rather than in light of what Scripture actually shows. I don't think the church's objective needs to be "swimming in money," any more than it needs to be building showplace worship centers. This is not "easy believism;" this is about being the Church, rather than a being country club member.
PJ

 
At 7:45 PM, July 30, 2008, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

pj,

My principle is quite simple. I'm to give the tithe to God, and not select where it is to go. And there are enough admonitions to bring it to God's house, that that's what we do. If I go to a church to be fed, then that's where the tithe goes. And as it is no longer mine after I give it, I have no say in where it goes, other than that as a member of the body. And THAT, I do.

In the OT, they brought of the first of their harvest, or the increase of the flocks. I don't see them saving it up for a once-a-year deal. And, the reference to not muzzling the ox doesn't apply to farm animals, IMHO.

So we agree to disagree. No big deal. Thanks for the comment.

 
At 12:39 PM, August 02, 2008, Anonymous PJ said...

Dear Bob,
Please believe me that I am very familiar with your point of view. I used to share it. You do, in fact, select where your tithe goes, by virtue of stewardship. But as I have studied Scripture, I see a consistency that is not taught from pulpits - that is, whether in OT Israel, or the NT church (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35), or the teachings of Jesus Himself, giving was always about meeting needs - not about becoming wealthy, nor about buildings and programs. Jesus Himself told us what "giving to God" looks like, "inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me." Notice that the goats weren't even aware of the needs in front of them. "Lord, when did we see you ... and fail to...?" (Matt.25)

I am not trying to argue, because I do not expect to change yours or anyone's mind. I only hope to be heard.

I am saddened that it seems churches do not hold themselves to the same standards that each member must hold himself, living within his means. The $9 million debt of your church will be passed from one generation to another. How many real needs might have otherwise been met? And Proverbs talks against becoming surety for a neighbor's debt. Please don't hear me saying "don't support your church." I'm NOT saying that. Our own church has a MONTHLY budget of $14K, and last month, we were $89 over, and we support it. But it's not overly programmed, overly staffed, is missions/giving-minded, and we rent space at a local entertainment complex ("the only church in town with its own laser tag.") The expenses are few, so that the focus can be true.

I also do not understand your statement that "the gross church-member income would be somewhere north of $50 million," unless the church comprised only oil company executives, who are seeing profits north of $11 billion this quarter. At least in our neighborhood, working-job people ARE struggling with the doubled price of food, gas, electricity, and necessities. And I do not share my neighbor's point of view that she can order God to provide the lifestyle to which she would like to become accustomed by sending money to the TV preachers. It's more subtle in the Baptist church, but somewhat the same principle.

I find myself in agreement with George MacDonald, when he said to a congregation in Glasgow, "One may readily conclude how poorly God thinks of riches when we see the sort of people He sends them to." He furthered the thought in a letter to his father, "Riches indubitably favour stupidity, poverty mental and moral development." Jesus Himself did not seem to think highly of wealth, as the the parables of the rich fool (Luke 12) and of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16)demonstrate, and said in the context of money, "What is highly valued among men is destable in God's sight." (Luke 16:15)

Blessings,
Patricia

 
At 1:31 PM, August 02, 2008, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

PJ,

First, I discount what MacDonald said about riches. There have been many examples I know of, like Robert LeTourneau and, for that matter Stanley Tam (whom I met personally) who are Godly men exercising wonderful stewardship over a lot of money. So his statement is, in my mind, simply untrue.

Second, the work of the Lord was not passed on to you and me as individuals, but rather as parts of the church .. the ekklesia. Check Ephesians 3:10 for that.

The church is essential for the work. God places people within the local body who are gifted in certain ways, so that together they may act as a body to accomplish the work that Jesus started (and the church is to complete).

And the church needs money to do that. It needs the support of its people, whom I see as commanded to bring their tithe there. That part hasn't changed since the time of Malachi.

If you'll check my blog post again, you'll see I am not a big fan of most churches. If there is a problem with FBC's being in debt by 9 million, FBC did it themselves. And ditto for the fact that, whereas the SBC claims 16.5 million members, there are actually between 7 and 10 million who even attend enough to be called "active". That is, IMHO, pathetic. And it's the churches, and their leadership, who did that.

As to the statements about what's valued, that doesn't indict anyone with a lot of money. It indicts those who value money above the things God values. He certainly doesn't object to riches, as He gave Solomon a whole lot of that, even though he didn't ask for it.

Lastly, we have over 2,500 members. $50 million would not be overstating the gross income, in my mind. Just do that math, keeping in mind we're a "successful" suburban bedroom-community church.

 
At 2:34 PM, August 02, 2008, Anonymous pj said...

Bob,
It doesn't bother me if you don't agree with MacDonald. I think on the whole, when you see the sorts of "successful" people in the world's marketplace, that his statement is pretty true - the Donald Trumps, Paris Hiltons, oil execs, even political figures who exempt themselves from the requirements they place upon constituents, etc. MacDonald himself had many wealthy friends, including Lady Byron and Princess Alice. I agree with you that there are godly wealthy people who are good stewards of that which God has given them. I know some myself, and as you say, they do not value their money above that which is truly important.

I agree with you that the church needs money. That was not my point. I agree that the Church is a whole body, and Scripture says we are "individually members of it." I Cor. 12:27 Each is gifted individually, each a steward of his own gifts.

Malachi was written to Israel (verse 1), which preceded the church, and the verses that reference tithing do, in fact, refer to God's parameters for tithing, which He gave Israel in first person voice in Deut. 14. Scripture is consistent with Scripture.

Blessings,
PJ

 
At 7:48 PM, August 07, 2008, Blogger Ken Hearn said...

Bob,
Love the post. I can't agree with you more. I think the reason most (or a lot)of Christians don't pay tithes is because they are not "sold out". They're only there for the "feelgoodism". They just want enough of Christianity to forget their problems and make them feel good about themselves. But, not enough to be "sold out". They don't want to practice what the minister preaches.

 
At 10:55 AM, August 12, 2008, Anonymous PJ said...

Jesus answered the question of such comparative spirituality in Luke 18:9-14.

James 2:27 answers the question of what God sees as "pure and faultless" practices, which are consistent throughout all the Scriptures, both OT Israel and NT Church.

The question is not with individual giving - reread what I've said before - it's with the church's arrogant attitude of entitlement, to plunge future generations into bottomless debt, and to ignore Scripture where it's not convenient. Churches should be accountable for their stewardship, as are individuals. I very much believe that Scripture DOES INFORM, and THAT is what I see as being brushed aside.

 
At 11:08 AM, August 12, 2008, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

"Churches should be accountable for their stewardship, as are individuals."

Amen.

Perhaps that starts with someone speaking up and pointing out what may be wrong and needs fixing....

 
At 2:16 PM, August 12, 2008, Anonymous PJ said...

I made reference error, it's James 1:27, not chapter 2.

Thank you, Bob. Thanks for hearing me.
Blessings,
PJ

 
At 11:02 AM, August 16, 2008, Anonymous PJ said...

I forgot to answer one thing. You said, "I don't see them saving it up for a once-a-year deal."

Deut. 14:22-26
"Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine, and oil and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for His Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if the place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put His Name is so far away) then exchange your tithe for silver, and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever your like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice."

My Bible's footnote says, "Having instructed the people to bring their tithes to Him, God invited them to enjoy the tithes in His presence." Sounds very much like Thanksgiving, celebrating God's provision for that year before Him. Clearly, from Malachi, the Israelites had neglected the practice, and failed to 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.'

The next verses, relate very much to the second Great Commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Deut. 14:27-29
"And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands."

Interesting thing: What Israel had neglected under law, the Church broke out in grace spontaneously in Acts.
Acts 2:45-47
"Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone AS HE HAD NEED. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved."

Truly, I see Scripture as instructive, and that ignored. When churches do not set their vision sights above other men's pocketbooks, they miss the point entirely.

 

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