How should we fund ministry efforts (local and trans-local) in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, in a new covenant, grace-based, non-coercive way in community? On the one hand there’s the way we’ve been doing it for centuries, that I hope to have convinced you in this book is at least lacking if not utterly broken: tithe to an impersonal institution to support a professional class of full-time clergy who are the real “ministers.” On the other hand, there are the more reactionary elements who believe that no individual, under any circumstance, should be compensated in preference over an another, as we are all equal as “ministers”–the gift of hospitality is as worthy of compensation as preaching and teaching.
So how do we get off paying some people for certain gift administration, but not others? The very thought of compensated professional, “full time,” ministry is anathema to many folks as it is viewed a regression back to the despised clergy-laity divide. (These objections are examined closely later in this chapter, and again in Chapter Seven of my book.)
Principles or Person?
Each of the above groups has its justifying proof texts. Many things in scripture are explicitly clear, many things are less clear, some things are debatable, and other things are, frankly, obscure. If the issue of “rules for giving” were crystal clear from scripture, there would be no debate on the issue among believers of sincere motive. Since this has been debated for about two thousand years, the matter is not going to be resolved with proof texts. That’s why I spent so much time laying out kingdom values before reaching this chapter. Is there a scripturally sound middle ground on this matter that is based on the greater kingdom values that have been presented in this book? I believe there is.
My personal hermeneutic is Christ-centered. That is, I believe that the center, the point, the objective, the endgame of all scripture, (both covenants) is ultimately to reveal the person of Christ. In my opinion, the goal of all scripture study is not to find “line upon line and precept upon precept” principles that we’re supposed to obey. Isaiah 28:7-13 is clear on that.[i] That approach is designed to cause us to fall backward, to be broken, snared, and captured, hopefully to exhaust us to be ready to relate to God! God had, and has, a rest for His people in His Person. When we do not want the rest and relationship of His Person, He gives us “principles, line upon line, precept upon precept” as if feeding milk to babies. The point of scripture is to lead us to His Person. It is always relational.
A rulebook can be mastered by memorizing the rules. A relationship with a real Person, with a real personality, real personhood, can never be reduced down to the rule book. It is like reading a resume. A resume can be completely factual, accurate, and true, but reading the resume is not the same as knowing the person it represents. The scriptures accurately represent its Author, but the Author will not be circumscribed by our intellectual application of His resume.
I believe many areas of scripture are annoyingly vague, lacking specificity, even seemingly contradictory, because we are to relate to His Person through the scriptures and by the Spirit. The reason for the vagueness is by divine design.
Our human nature wants to find the rule, the principle so we can just “obey and do it.” That was the self-condemning oath Israel pronounced on themselves at Sinai.[ii] Moses got the Person. Israel got the rulebook. Israel said (paraphrased): “Don’t reveal yourself to us, we’re scared of you, just give us your rules and we promise we will do them.” That promise to obey the principles of God lasted all of a few chapters, before they broke their “commitment to obey the principles.” Living by principles didn’t work then, and it hasn’t worked since. That’s the whole point of the need for a new covenant and a fundamentally new creation. The new covenant is not Second Leviticus, even though we regularly treat it as such.
God knows this propensity in us and does not accommodate it, even in His scripture to us. Should some of the secondary issues (such as our topic) of scripture be incontrovertibly clear, there would be an irresistible tendency in our carnal nature to come to a place where we think: “Aha, we’ve got it!” and then proceed to beat everyone else who hasn’t “got it” over the head with the “clear teaching of scripture!” Those things in scripture that appear to be indefinite are designed to make us seek the Author of scripture, Himself, rather than the rulebook.
This includes the area of finances and funding local and trans-local ministry. If we go to the scriptures expecting to find narrow, clear-cut, “how-to rules” for how to handle money and ministry, we are going to be disappointed. We will not find them. We will find guidelines of the heart, not rules for finances.
You will find compensated full time ministry, and you will find ministers working with their hands. You will find bivocational ministers. You will find verses to justify whatever inclination you have. We have to do better than slinging prejudicial proof texts at each other. If we have to look for a “proof text” to justify generous giving to people we love, who sacrificially serve us, well, I think we are to be pitied. If love needs a rule to exercise itself. We are to be pitied.
In a kingdom economy of exchange, where agape itself is the real currency of life, lesser currencies should flow freely. Looking for a regulation for giving from the scriptures ends up accusing others, or excusing ourselves. I would suggest that if we are in a community of relationship without the free flow of exchange of finances, that we look at our hearts, because our giving will follow our hearts. Cold hearts yield closed wallets.
It is easy to accuse others of what we think they may be doing wrong–shame on those “religious tithers,” so bound to religion!–while we do nothing or little. We make a religion and idol of being a “non-tither,” that is ten times the bondage! It is just OUR bondage, so we prefer it. It is much easier to justify our own parsimony while delusionally thinking we are exercising our liberty to be free of the constraints of religion.
If love, safety, relationship, openness, and transparency of finances don’t exist in a community, and if every dollar has to be weighed and measured against some scriptural proof text, I pity that community.
My good friend, Loren Rosser has written an excellent series of articles on this topic from a relational perspective. I will be reposting them soon as a follow-up to this series. I highly recommend them.
This blog is an excerpt from our book, Money and the Church: A Better Way to Live and Give, available at www.stevecrosby.com
______________________The time has come for mature believers to embrace the Way of the Kingdom and release antiquated concepts regarding finances that have kept them bound to a worldly system. In this seminal work, Money and the Church, Dr. Crosby draws upon years of ministry experience, exegetical expertise, and most importantly, a pure heart poised to enter authentic Kingdom function to broach such an extremely critical topic. The truth contained in this book, not only unravels the false teachings and misconceptions about financial stewardship that have plagued Christendom for centuries, it significantly illuminates the foundational principle of Kingdom giving, which is Love and brings freedom to the believer who would desire to enter. – Bryon Wiebold, The Forerunner Ministry
[i] Please see Crosby, The Silent Killers of Faith, for a thorough presentation of the implications of Isaiah 28 and teaching “line upon line and precept upon precept.”
[ii] See Exodus chapters 20, 24, and 32.
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