Monday, March 9, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 8


Whenever anyone asked me about "tithing" (back in the "pastor/layperson" days), a demeanor of guilt was most often the prompting force. My answer was consistently that it was never commanded in the bible, but used as a minimal portion by example. I would inform them that the only standard for giving in scripture was out of cheerfulness and not out of compulsion.

There were also times when I wondered about why I was compensated for exercising a gift. There might not be a direct correlation, but I couldn't help fend off the thought of Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8. You know the dude that offered money so he could receive a gift given by God's Spirit? And Peter blasts him with: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart."

Viola and Barnes make interesting and very challenging observations about tithing and pastoral salaried in this chapter.

First tithing. There is obviously an overuse (perhaps abuse) of one particular passage (Malachi 3:8-10) when the institutional church approaches the "need" for all participants to fork over 1/10 of their income. There also seems to be a classical and unbiblical superstition promoted as well.

This passage seems to be many Christian leaders' favorite Bible text, especially when giving is at a low tide. If you have spent any time in the contemporary church, you have heard this passage read from the pulpit on numerous occasions.

...What is the result of this sort of pressure? God's people are persuaded to give one tenth of their incomes every week. When they do, they feel they have made God happy. And they can expect Him to bless them financially. When they fail, they feel they are being disobedient, and they worry that a financial curse looms over them.

PC points out that the context of the Malachi passage was provision taken for the sake of those who were in need (widow, fatherless, stranger) and that they were the rightful recipients. This point segues into the unbiblical practice of paid clergy. Ownership of property appears to be the historical culprit.

Charting the history of Christian tithing is a fascinating exercise. Tithing spread from the state to the church. Here's the story. In the seventh and eighth centuries, leasing land was a familiar characteristic of the European economy. The use of the tithe, or the tenth, was commonly used to calculate payments to landlords. As the church increased in ownership of land across Europe, the 10 percent rent-charge shifted from the secular landlords to the church. Ecclesiastical leaders became the landlords. And the tithe became the ecclesiastical tax.

...As far as clergy salaries go, ministers were unsalaried for the first three centuries. But when Constantine appeared, he instituted the practice of paying a fixed salary to the clergy from the funds and municipal and imperial treasuries. Thus was born the clergy salary, a harmful practice that has no root in the New Testament.

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

...No wonder it takes a person of tremendous courage and faith to step out of the pastorate.

1 comment:

Russell Earl Kelly said...

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