The internet can be a very hostile place. Facebook can be toxic. I try not to respond to things I see in social media, because I know how easy it is to be slandered and attacked by people who do not know me. I have been the recipient of that kind of treatment and do not want to make a habit of doing it to others. I much prefer leaving people alone and not “policing the universe,” especially if I do not have a personal relationship with those who some might think need policing!
However, every once and a while, something comes across the internet, which if confirmed, can be so disturbing and so slandering to our Father’s nature and character, that it is appropriate to respond publicly. This is especially so if the source is from someone who influences hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. With great influence comes great responsibility, and the need for great accountability, and not just from “hand-picked friends and associates!” If someone posts something publicly, a public response is not a “violation of Matthew 18,” neither is it “judgmentalism” nor slander.
I have confirmed from two sources (1) that Bill Johnson of Bethel Redding, taught the following in the context of a mandatory tithe to his local church:
The tithe is God’s rent payment for living on His earth and breathing His air. Beware of being evicted!
Other than “Jesus is Lord,” Bill and I would agree on very little. That’s neither a big deal nor big news. So that is my disclaimer!
Bill and I disagree on the issue of a mandatory tithe to a local church to “fulfill righteous obedience,” “avoid being cursed by God,” or worse, being “evicted by God” (Whatever that means!), etc. If there are those who want to pursue the details of that difference further, I recommend Matthew Narramore’s book: The Tithe: Low Realm, Obsolete and Defunct, and for a New Covenant alternative to coercive tithe teaching, our own title: Money and the Church. If these titles do not convince anyone that Bill, and others, are mistaken on this subject, and that there is a better way to handle finances in the ekklesia than guilt, fear, and shame-based, “punitive God” doctrines, nothing will.
Christians have disagreed on this topic for two thousand years! We can and should walk together in spite of strong disagreement on this topic or many others for that matter! But walking together does not demand silence on controversial topics. Secure people can take having their views challenged without viewing it as an attack on their person, or a “lack of submission to authority,” or “the devil attacking the ministry,” and so forth. That applies to me as well as anyone! Bill is entitled to teach what he understands to be “truth” as much as any of us are. But this quote/statement crosses a line: it slanders God.
It is a gross misrepresentation of our Father. Our Father is not a demanding heavenly landlord who keeps ledgers and accounts on “who has paid Him and who hasn’t,” charging his children as “tenants” for the privilege of being in His spiritual apartment complex and using His cosmic utilities! God forbid! There is not a shred of scripture, either old or new testaments, to support this metaphor.
Our God is FATHER, NOT LANDLORD, and at that, a Father who out of His great love and abundance, lavishes freely on the JUST AND THE UNJUST. The notion that his children owe Him “payment for services rendered,” is morally and spiritually offensive.
Now, financial giving–especially to the poor, those in need, and for gospel propagation–out of a spiritually sensitive, generous, and responsive heart to God’s goodness is, of course, kingdom normal! We cover that at length in our book.
But if we have to slander God’s character to keep the cash flowing into our institutions (the illegitimately alleged “storehouses”), we have reached a new low.
I am someone who has been in the calling of public speaking and teaching for several decades. I know what it is like to fire-off an ill-advised and ill-thought-out metaphor, and regret it (especially if we are trying to be “clever” . . . yes, preachers do it all the time) and wish I could have it back, but it be too late. I would hate to be judged by the stupidest thing I have ever said in my life while I have been teaching: You know, the “I’m an idiot” moments of life where the tongue speaks before the brain thinks! I don’t want to make a man an offender for a word, as the scripture says. I hope this is an “I’m an idiot for saying this” moment for Bill and Bethel! I have certainly had my share of those moments, and imagine before I die, I will have others! But I also hope I will find the grace to admit them when my lips flap before my brain is on the job.
My hope is that Bill would regret this offensive metaphor. Because I know the greater scope of Bill’s (and others who would agree with him) teachings and practices on the subject of money–elder’s must be mandatory tithers, charging fees for special weekend retreats with elders, etc.– my hunch sadly is, that he means it. If it is not an ill-advised preacherism, it reveals a very disturbing attitude of heart, as the heart is where speech comes from. I pray he doesn’t mean it, and that if given a chance, perhaps spurred by this and the writings of others, he might withdraw that statement. It is a painful, manipulative, and fear-based attempt to control people and their finances.
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1) Confirmed sources: http://www.ibethel.org/podcast/2012/01/31/money-101, (This podcast has been recently taken down by Bethel.); http://theautumnrains.wordpress.com/category/tithe-gifts/