Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shame on you...

About a year ago, I sat in a business meeting at church as one of our leaders literally wagged his finger at the membership, saying "shame on you, if you don't tithe....shame on you."

For the sake of context, this was our church's annual business meeting, in which the membership votes on things like amendments to the church by-laws, new members of the Pastoral Leadership Council and the annual budget. 

It could probably go without saying that the budget portion of this meeting became a little...heated. 

Disagreements on finances and budget have probably been the cause of more church splits than promiscuous pastors, harpsichords in the contemporary service and grandmothers who suddenly speak in tongues and spontaneously combust in the middle of the offertory - combined**. That's not statistical, but I'd wager on that statement's truth. 

I don't think there were any real arguments at the meeting, but there were a lot of questions, many misunderstandings and a few flaring tempers. 

Then that whole shame thing happened. 

"Shame on you if you're not tithing."

Now, for the sake of the discussion, I'd like to clarify something. I'm 99% sure that by "tithing" he means giving 10% of your total income directly to the church you attend for them to do as they please need. Anything a person gives to missions or as a special gift is to be on top of their tithe. The tithe is a starting point, an obligation, must

In addition, let me be completely transparent. I was not giving financially to the church at that time. I had at one point. However, I hadn't in about 6 months. I was giving, but I wasn't giving money to or through that church. I gave of my time, my talents, my support, advice...but not monetarily.  This is because I didn't fully trust or support the way the church was spending their (read our [read the Lord's]) money. 

This whole situation got me thinking, and I have a question. Hopefully, you can help me answer it. 

Are Christians biblically commanded to tithe to the local church body they attend?

Let me tell you why I say "no", and thereby justified not giving financially to that church. 

First of all, New Testament Christians do not tithe. They give. There is no percentage, only a missional Kingdom mindset. They recognize the reality that all wealth and personal possessions proceed from God, are cared for by God and are to be used for the Kingdom of God.

Christians are commanded to give to the body. 
They are commanded to give to those in need. 
They are commanded to care for the sick, imprisoned, poor, orphaned, widowed, abandoned, enslaved and mistreated - especially within the body of believers. 
I try to do so. I admit that I could do more. Be that as it may, I try. 

There is no scriptural mandate (although there is a biblical example) for giving to the local church.
Here's the thing, though, the local church looked extremely different at the time the New Testament was written. It was assumed that believers would give to support the ministries in their community. What's more they lived with everything in common. These were some hip-hip-hippies. Many of them sold all their stuff - properties and possessions, giving the proceeds directly to the apostles to do with as they saw fit. If someone was in need, not only did the brothers and sisters know about it, but they would give abundantly to fill that need. They were family. 

Churches didn't have to deal with rent (met in homes), mortgages, utilities, insurance, retirement, technology, carpets, program expenses, salaries, childcare, travel expenses, upkeep and repair, books, coffee, dishes, barbecues, tents, bookshelves, desks, welcome mugs, printouts, signage, lighting, musical instruments, seating, podiums, shiny silver communion trays or grape juice to fill them.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not necessarily saying that churches shouldn't be buying these things. It's always worth questioning, but that's for another blog. All I'm trying to point out is that the local church and giving to support its needs looked very different for the early church. 

Neither am I, in any way, suggesting that we not pay pastors or staff members. I'd like to be one some day. If one of the employees at that church had been hurting financially, I'd have gladly given to help support that need. Truly, I would. Nor am I accusing anyone in the church of any financial wrongdoing. However, I didn't really approve of the way the money was being handled and spent. 

It's about stewardship. I am called to be a good steward of my finances. This is something that I struggle with at times, and I've never kept it a secret. I like stuff. Nice stuff, and I know that if I were to sacrifice some of my stuff, I could do more for the Kingdom. This is a reality for me, and something that I will be held accountable for. 

It's about stewardship for the church, too.  It's also about faith and transparency. That's something I'm not so sure my church was very good at. 

Besides, is that really why we want people giving financially to the church? 
Because of shame? 
Because of duty?
Because of obligation?

Where in the Bible does it say that "God loves a shameful giver."? It doesn't. On the contrary, people are encouraged to give cheerfully, joyfully, out of the overflow of gratitude that they feel for the grace God has shown them, toward the needs of others in love. 

Guilt, manipulation, and shame are never good, or godly motivators. 

If that's your tactic, you might end up with a short-term change in your coffers, but you'll never see a life-long change for Christ. 

There may be a place here for some shame, though.   

Shame on them...for not trimming the fat, for holding on to out-moded programs, for spending money on some things and not on others, for storing up in barns preparing for the lean months, instead of trusting God with the future and being faithful with the funds they've been given....shame on them.

Shame on me...for being addicted to stuff, for spending money on my own pleasures while countless suffer from hunger, homelessness and oppression. Shame on me for buying lattes and loafers even though I'm in debt while talking big game about preparing for a future in ministry...shame on me.

Shame on you.  I don't know what for, but you do. You know where you fall short, where you fail, the areas of your life that you spend too much on, where you over-indulge...shame on you.

And shame on us all...for judging one another, for wagging fingers at the planks in each others eyes, all the while neglecting the log jams in our own. Shame on us for complaining about what others do with their finances, while being unfaithful with our own...shame on us all. 

And Oh! Praise be to the only faithful one, Jesus Christ, who takes away our guilt and shame! Who lavishes us all with his grace and provision! Praise him who was judged in our place and found guilty, the sin-soaked sacrifice! Praise be to him by which we are reckoned righteous! 

Shame on us all for forgetting. 

**My sincerest apologies if you happen to be the unfortunate grandchild of a dear spirit-filled woman who burst into flames during the seventh chorus of I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever, that classic worship song by beloved Christian artists Sonic Flood, who are still making music, although no original members remain in the band. My condolences. 

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