Meaning in the Mundane

This month marks two years since I decided to walk away from organized religion. It has been the most wonderfully adventurous two years of my life, full of surprise and revelation, and I am grateful beyond measure for what God has taught me in that time.

But it hasn’t been easy. The months immediately following my departure were overwhelmingly lonely and confusing. I struggled to understand the nature of my relationship with God outside those four walls, and what it meant to truly be part of the Church, yet apart from the system that has claimed her name.

At first, I felt an intense need to do something for God; something to both legitimize and give meaning to the decision I’d made. Perhaps I needed to give more to the poor? Feed the homeless? Maybe I needed to become a missionary? Maybe I needed to become more active in community events?

What did God want from me now?

Not to suggest any of those things are bad ideas, but I eventually realized that I had a real problem; not in what I was or wasn’t doing, but with the false connection I’d learned to make between the things I did with my life and my role in the Body of Christ.

It was in the struggle to reconcile this dilemma that God taught me what I think might be the most valuable lesson I’ve learned so far in this journey:

What it means to “abide in Christ”.

How to Build a Body

To abide in Christ means to live in him, although the phrase itself used to strike me as sort of mystical and weird. It’s one of those “Christian-eze” phrases I’d heard many times in church, but it never really had any clear meaning. In order to understand what it means to abide in him, I had to first come to a different understanding of what it meant to live as part of the “Body of Christ”, because that defines how we live in him. Unless I had left the church system and come to better understand what the Body of Christ actually is, then abiding in it would never have made any sense to me.

So, what does it mean to be a part of the Body of Christ? Although the Biblical analogy mentions the larger, more visible parts of our bodies, such as eyes, ears, hands, and feet, I’d like to consider something much, much smaller.

You and I, although we normally consider ourselves to be single, complex organisms, are not. We are actually large collections of smaller and simpler organisms. In some ways, we’re more like living, breathing ecosystems of smaller organisms. The things we think of as “us”, such as our movements, feelings, and thoughts, are a collaboration of individual organisms working together as a collective.

What amazes me the most about this, however, is that this collaboration is completely unintentional. Our cells are not TRYING to build a body at all, and yet everything they do is perfectly coordinated to accomplish exactly that!

This is a pattern found in literally everything that exists, from what is seen with the naked eye, to those things seen through microscopes or telescopes. Everything, no matter how large or intricate, is comprised of smaller and simpler things, and those smaller things are also comprised of even smaller and simpler things. The pattern seems endlessly recursive, and there are no exceptions to it in all of nature; it is completely pervasive and inescapable… even for you and I.

But as amazingly complex as creation is, that complexity is not produced by the deliberate, coordinated efforts of it’s members. Instead, it is the deliberate work of an amazing creator who stands outside what is created.

A flock of starlings, for example, behaves as a single organism, morphing, twisting, and undulating in ways unplanned by the members that comprise it. The actions of the individual starlings are simple, and yet what emerges from that simplicity is stunningly complex and beautiful. That’s the pattern: complexity emerges out of simplicity, and the parts of the whole are often unaware it is happening at all.

The starlings are not TRYING to coordinate this; They are actually being orchestrated by something, or someone, outside themselves!

Could it be that God orders the Body of Christ in a similar fashion? Perhaps “building the Church” is not something we are supposed to be thinking of doing at all! I’m personally unaware of any Biblical command to do so. In fact, Jesus explicitly said HE would build it himself! (Matthew 16:18) We’re told that we, “like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house”. (1 Peter 2:5) The stones are not attempting to build anything; they are being placed by a builder!

I recently listened to a brief talk given by Wayne Jacobsen where he put it this way:

If he says he will build it, what does that mean for you and me? What does it mean? Don’t! If I’m going to get the coffee… if I tell you “look, let me get the coffee,” what are you going to do about that? Just sit right there! I’ll go get it and I’ll bring it to you, right? Jesus said “I will build my church.” I think he really meant that.

So, how do we build the body? WE DON’T!

In fact, we can’t! The Bible tells us that he’s the one who is building it, not us. If we belong to Christ, then we are living stones being positioned by the builder into a design of his choosing. The blueprint is exclusively known to him, and not us. What would be the point of building without a blueprint?

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)

He Works Together ALL Things

God doesn’t limit himself to using only our success, either; he works in our failures! Whether we are attempting to serve God, or even intending to oppose him, God is invisibly working it all together for his purposes (Romans 8:28). When Joseph’s brothers intended to do evil, God was actually intending their actions for good (Genesis 50:20). After this, God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart so that Egypt would be destroyed and the Hebrews would go free. Romans 11 tells us in great detail that God purposed Israel’s rejection of Christ for his own purposes, too. Even Judas, in his ultimate betrayal of Christ, seemed to be working in accordance with God’s plan!

Consider these proverbs:

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

“A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?” (Proverbs 20:24)

We like making plans, but those plans are always part of his plan, first. When we make plans and fail, he’s at work. When our plans succeed he’s also at work, although often in ways entirely different than we assume! For example, my own departure from organized religion was a direct result of people trying to “be successful” in ministry, though it was not their intention. They might see that as an unfortunate loss on their quest for success, but I see it as great personal gain, while I am unimpressed by whatever success they feel they’ve had since. Our perspective is so small! Whatever the intentions were of all people involved with that situation, including myself, I’m confident that God worked through it to bring greater revelation of himself.

Like cells, we are always unintentionally part of something bigger than we are capable of even being aware of, and definitely greater than what we’re capable of “building”. We should have faith that the body IS being built, and that it is not because of our plans. Yes, it is being built when we accomplish our “great works for God”, but it is equally accomplished when we fail miserably, or even make no plans at all! It is done when you feed the homeless, but also when you simply feed your children. He works through what’s done both in the spotlight and in the shadows, in the productive times and the wasted time, in the “sacred” places and the “secular” places.

If there is something to do, it is only this: to genuinely love the people around you. God’s work is done outside of, and yet somehow through, the carrying out of our routine lives; we are unwittingly a part of it every single day. There is great meaning in the seemingly mundane.

Abiding in Christ

My friend Michael Clark once told me that God made me “a human BEING, not a human DOING.” At the time, I had no idea how to just BE God’s son. Years of servitude in a broken religious system had inoculated me against understanding that.

Churches are very good at feeding this misconception. They create an odd mixture of relationship, which is NEVER about performance, and institution, which is ALWAYS about performance. As with any business, the more active you are within a religious institution, the more you’ll find favor among your peers. Promotions and accolades are always given to those who best contribute toward the success of the organization. This can sometimes feel relational, especially if you’re good at performing, but it is an unhealthy relationship at best, and an abusive one at worst.

We aren’t supposed to perform for Christ; we’re supposed to abide in him.

“Abiding in Christ” simply means living out your day to day life knowing that you’re in him. It’s not mystical or mysterious, other than it means believing in faith that he is the one working all things together, even right now, at this very moment, and without your permission.

A single cell living in your arm ABIDES in you; it does not TRY to abide in you, it just DOES abide in you. When you move your arm up, it moves up, too, and may not even be aware; It’s just included in the movement. So also, if we are counted as part of the Church, we will be moved when God moves. We won’t be able to help it, and may not even know it. Abiding in Christ means that there is meaning in every moment, not just the “spiritual” ones; each moment is inherently spiritual.

I’m no longer interested in changing the world, leaving a legacy, or making a mark. I’m not interested in learning how to build a bigger church, and I’m just as uninterested in starting a home/simple/organic church. I’m not interested in “starting a ministry”; I just want to live life. I love the simplicity of just LIVING, completely free of those agendas, and knowing that somehow, far beyond my understanding, God is working through it all for his own purpose.

I love being unabashedly “mundane”.

I love being a husband and father. I help my friends and family members when they need it, but I don’t think of myself as useless when they don’t. If no “ministry opportunities” present themselves, I don’t have to go hunt one down in order to feel like I’m serving God. Instead, why not just rejoice in times of relative peace?

Be still and know that he is God, and that he is working invisibly through the things you’re tempted to think of as nothing. Visit the lonely, encourage the downtrodden, and speak up for the outcasts. Show genuine compassion for those he brings in and out of your life.

There is no greater work than love.

Advertisements

Church Budgets: The Dirty Details

Lonely_Bird_by_MsJimmy

I’ve written before on church (mis)behavior as it pertains to money, but a friend of mine recently asked in a Facebook thread for some sources on that information. I decided to post some of what I’ve read, but to do so here on my blog where everyone could benefit. The primary goal of this post is to be informative for those that care to do some digging of their own. Unfortunately I’ve observed that many people aren’t interested in looking at this kind of information, but I hope it will help those that do. I hope, also, that some of you will consider sharing resources of your own in the comments so that others may benefit.

I strongly encourage you to do your own hunting on this, too. There’s a lot out there to be found. Depending on how honestly you look at it, you may come to understand why so many people outside the church hold the view that churches are all about their money…

Maybe they’re right.

Determining just how much money is brought into religious institutions seems to be pretty difficult. I have personally claimed on various occasions that the number is over $100 billion (with a “B”) annually, however I actually believe that number is conservative based on what I’ve found online. Beyond revenue, however, what if you were to factor in things like assets, investments, and housing allowance? What about the incalculable value of a massive work force which volunteers it’s time for free? The total value of assets at the church’s disposal could actually be in the trillions.

Consider the value of real estate alone. According to TIME, the Vatican may be worth $10-$15 billion all by itself! Sure, other facilities aren’t worth that much, but most larger churches do have facilities worth millions. Does this really reflect the attitude of Christ?

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2)

The Money Coming In

Estimates vary wildly depending on where you look. I prefer to weigh in on the conservative side so as not to overstate things, and the exact number isn’t that important. The point is that the number is enormous. Even more importantly, though, is that the assets are spent in a manner that doesn’t even remotely resemble what Jesus would do with it.

Still, here are a few links you may find interesting in trying to determine (or understand) just how big the actual number is.

First on the list is a Newsweek article making the case that removing the tax-exempt 501c3 status from American churches could release a considerable amount of money to help those whom the church is supposed to be helping anyway. The estimate is $71 billion! Of course, many church buildings would simply fold up and that number would drop quite a bit were the tax exemptions to change, but just let that number sink in a bit…

http://www.newsweek.com/are-churches-making-america-poor-243734

Second is an article focused specifically at the Catholic church. It actually says:

Based on the kinds of numbers provided in this column, Harris estimates that total annual revenue for the Catholic church in America works out to around $153 billion, but he’s the first to admit that’s really just a guess.

Even if that guess has a wide margin of error, that’s impressive; even more so when you realize it doesn’t include protestants or non-Americans…

http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/churchs-deep-pockets-butler-did-it-and-myths-about-atheism

The final link for the “income” side of things includes a very interesting statement from a commenter: http://askville.amazon.com/total-revenue-churches-basically-non-profit-hard-find-info/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=529474

This figure (percentage of gross income given to a religious center by Americans) has been around 2% for some time (Barna says 2.2% for 2003). So take the total income of all Americans (about 10 trillion dollars for 2005, the last year that data is available) and multiply by 2.2%, and you’ve got an approximate answer: 220 billion.

Also, another comment from the same page:

According to the report “Giving USA”, American donors gave more than $260 billion to charitable causes in 2005. Of that, about 36% of that, or $93.18 billion, went to religious organizations.

Keep in mind that this is almost $100 billion in donations alone, and in America alone. It doesn’t factor in other countries, and doesn’t factor in things like real estate, record sales, movie deals (don’t laugh), or other revenue-producing investments.

The Money Going Out

When I wrote my first blog post about tithing I had been doing a LOT of homework on such things. The post was made in two parts, with the first one written more as an appeal to common sense, and the second being more scripturally focused. In the first one I provided two links to some very helpful information about average church spending habits. Recently, however, I’ve discovered neither of those links worked anymore, so I’ve adjusted them to point to copies I had saved of those articles. I’m including them here, too, because they illustrate the “outflow” side of this problem.

That first blog post is here, by the way: Why I Stopped Tithing – Part 1

The first of the two links I provided in that post gives a pretty exhaustive report on the average budgetary breakdowns of churches. Having spent almost a decade as an elder on the board at the last church I attended, I can personally vouch that this breakdown is pretty close to the budget I observed during the years I was there. The short version of this article is that less than 5% of what comes into the church is left over for anything remotely resembling what the Bible calls “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” (James 1:27)

eccu_2013_church_budget_trends.pdf

As bad as that one is, this second link is FAR more disturbing. Rather than a breakdown of budget, it points out several very unsettling facts about church spending habits which show just how far our priorities have gone off course.

scary_statistics_by_doug_perry.pdf

That article focuses more on what’s done (and not done) with that leftover 5% that is supposedly given to reaching the lost. Here are a few of my favorites quotes:

  • Annual church embezzlements by top custodians exceed the entire cost of all foreign missions worldwide. Emboldened by lax procedures, trusted church treasurers are embezzling from the Church $5,500,000 PER DAY. That’s $16 Billion per YEAR! (For reference: TOTAL Christian spending on foreign missions is only $15 Billion. God forgive us!)
  • 40% of the church’s entire global foreign mission resources are being deployed to just 10 over saturated countries already possessing strong citizen-run home ministries.
  • More than 90% of all Christian materials are in English, but only 8% of the world speaks English.
  • All costs of ministry divided by number of baptisms per year. Cost per baptism in India: $9803 per person. Cost per baptism in the United States: $1,550,000 per person.
  • 91% of all Christian outreach/evangelism does not target non-Christians but targets other Christians in already-evangelized countries or people-groups.

But… Not All Churches Are Corrupt!

I invariably get angry people telling me I should stop pointing at the “corrupt” churches as a means of dragging down the “good ones”. The problem is that even the “good ones” invoke God’s name to collect money (which is wrong enough by itself), and then spend only the smallest fraction of that income on the things God actually cares about. The question I’m posing is a simple one: are the organizations which are collecting (or worse, scripturally demanding) money in Jesus’ name using that money in the same way Jesus would?

If you gave Jesus $100 billion every year, what would he do with it? I recently attempted to pose this question on Facebook through satire by writing a fictitious Bible passage. It went like this:

And when Jesus had collected the tithes from the people, he gave thanks and called his disciples unto himself. Having counted it he then broke it into five portions. The first three portions he took and gave them to Himself, Paul, Peter, and their personal assistants as compensation for their hard work. The fourth portion he then put toward bills and improvements on their building of meeting.

Taking the final portion, he then further split it into four smaller portions. He then gave the first three of those smaller portions to his disciples, instructing them to fill their place of meeting with wonderful music, childcare programs, youth events, and other creative ways of persuading the people to come away from their normal lives and join them in the building.

At last he took the final fourth portion of the final fifth portion and distributed it among the needy. Sadly, it didn’t help very many people.

He then rebuked the multitudes for not bringing more. He explained that he really wanted to do more, but just couldn’t because the true work of God required a very large overhead. He then admonished them to exercise their faith through increased giving and trust that the Father would supply their needs, or else their money would be under a curse.

2 Matthew 4:18-23

Although the story is obviously fictional, the approximate breakdown of portion sizes used in it are factual, though rounded a bit for the story; 60% for salaries, 20% to building and other expenses, 15% to various programs, with 5% (often less) left for real ministry.

My point here is not targeting supposedly “corrupt” churches; the aim is much broader. This is essentially how virtually every church operates. If you hold your own church to be different, then you should do some digging into the actual income and spending of your church. If you do, don’t get distracted by the amount it DOES give. Look at percentages. What portion of money coming in actually goes to anything but running the church?

In my own case, I was satisfied to know that several thousand dollars were given away each year by my previous church. Somehow this was enough for me that I never really scrutinized the quarter million spent each year on nothing but salaries, utilities, office expenses, building upkeep, flashing lights, and so on. We actually gave a good deal less than the 5% average. This doesn’t mean I believe it to be “corrupt”. The trouble is that it’s fairly normal.

Bottom Line

For the sake of argument, lets say a church can boast that its giving budget which is ridiculously above the 5% average. Let’s say 20% of it’s revenue. Even still, an organization which puts 80% of it’s focus on things God doesn’t care about shouldn’t claim that it’s primary focus is on serving him.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:21)

Remember that you cannot serve both God and money. Find out where a church’s treasure is, and you’ll find out where it’s heart and focus is, too. What things matter most to a church? What things does it truly believe are the last it could let go of? I’d personally start with the 60% that goes to the pastoral staff…

But what if Jesus were “senior pastor”? Would anything change? How much money would he claim as a salary? Would he even take a salary? What would he spend in marketing? Would he be concerned with a weekly stage production? Would he see any value in owning a huge building at all? Would he actually ask for my money? Wouldn’t he just model generosity by giving away what’s his, and leave me to do the same with what’s mine?

Wouldn’t he say that, rather than a building, I’m giving to him whenever I give to the least of those around me?

An institution which conducts itself in a manner inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus should be careful about claiming itself as “Christian”. I’m not convinced that institutions (as opposed to individuals) can even rightly be qualified as “Christian” at all, but if one is going to try then it should at the very least be willing to accept rebuke and then confess its sin.

It’s time to stop defending this sort of madness as being somehow necessary for ministry. It’s time for repentance.

Nothing But the Truth

I spoke today with a new friend. Our conversation centered around the true nature of the gospel, grace, and our freedom in Christ from our sins. It’s a conversation I’ve had a lot lately, and I’ve come to believe there is HUGE misunderstanding among believers about what the gospel really is. I won’t even be scratching the surface, here. Instead, my hope is that God, by his Spirit, will use the following to bring understanding. I pray he’ll do the teaching instead of me…

The Old Covenant Law Was to Point Us to Something Better

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
– 1 Corinthians 15:56

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
– Romans 3:19

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.
– Galatians 3:24

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming– not the realities themselves.
– Hebrews 10:1a

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
– Colossians 2:17

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
– Romans 8:3-4

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.
– Hebrews 8:13

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
– Hebrews 7:18-19

For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
– Hebrews 10:1a

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
– Romans 3:20

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
– 2 Corinthians 5:21

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant– not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?
– 2 Corinthians 3:6-9

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.
– Galatians 3:23

But now that you know God –or rather are known by God– how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by [the law] all over again?
– Galatians 4:9

For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.
– Romans 7:5

It is Finished! The Work of the Cross

But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.
– Acts 3:18

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
– Colossians 2:13-14

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
– Romans 10:4

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
– Ephesians 2:14-16

For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
– Romans 7:5-6

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
– Galatians 4:4-5

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
– Romans 8:1-2

For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.
– Hebrews 7:12

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need– one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
– Hebrews 7:22-26

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. “Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything.
– 1 Corinthians 6:9-12

Grace is Not a License to Sin

“Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
– 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
– Romans 5:20-21

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
– Romans 2:4

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
– Romans 6:1-4

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
– Romans 6:5-7

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
– Romans 6:8-10

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
– Romans 6:11-12

We are No Longer Under the Law

But now that you know God –or rather are known by God– how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?
– Galatians 4:9a

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar… But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
– Galatians 4:24, 30-31

We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers…
– 1 Timothy 1:9

For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath.
– Romans 4:14

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
– Galatians 3:10

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.
– Romans 7:4

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
– Colossians 2:20-23

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
– Romans 7:6

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.
– Galatians 2:19

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”
– Galatians 3:12

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
– Galatians 5:1b

You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
– Galatians 5:4

Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
– Galatians 3:25

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
– Galatians 5:18

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
– Romans 3:28

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
– Romans 6:14

How Should We Live Without the Law?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
– Galatians 5:22-23

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
– Matthew 16:24-25

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope– the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…
– Titus 2:11-13

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
– Romans 1:17

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
– Romans 3:22

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
– Romans 5:1-2

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
– Hebrews 7:18-19

Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
– Romans 13:10

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
– Galatians 5:16-18

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
– John 17:20-23

Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”
– Galatians 3:11

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
– Hebrews 11:6

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
– Galatians 5:6b

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
– John 15:5

The Sin of Forsaking Fellowship

Lonely_Bird_by_MsJimmy

As of roughly a year ago, I have quit going to church. Permanently. My reasons aren’t relevant to this post, but it wasn’t a decision that I came by easily or quickly. There were many questions that plagued me throughout the time leading up to my eventual departure, but I wish to inspect one of them in particular: What was I going to do for fellowship?

“Fellowship” is something held in very high regard to Christians. It probably should have been included as the 11th commandment. It goes like this:

“let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Oh, man! I certainly didn’t want to be one of those “SOME people”.

I was troubled: If I were to leave, how would I be able to keep this command? How would I be held accountable in my walk with God? Who was going to be there to correct me when I was out of line? Certainly God, by the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t do this himself! I was terrified that if I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer to this question that I may slip and fall away from the faith. I had heard rumors of Christians that didn’t go to church, though I didn’t really know any of them personally, but I was pretty sure the few I’d met were probably not very serious Christians.

Person after person would plead with me to reconsider. If I had to leave the church I was at, or even take a little break for awhile, then that was partially understandable… so long as I didn’t just give up on church completely. These people were genuinely concerned for me (and still are), and I was genuinely terrified for both myself and my family. The last thing I wanted to do was lead them off a spiritual cliff.

The Edge of the World

Once upon a time, the world was flat. It was full of sea monsters that devoured entire ships that ventured too far, and ships that ventured even further were in an even greater danger; they would fall off the edge of the world.

And so it was with my understanding of Christianity. Attempting to follow Jesus without a Pastor or at least a group of other Christians to keep me in line was almost certain spiritual suicide. I was never to leave the safety of the church’s harbor. Still, I wondered if perhaps there was something else that had become of those ships that fell off the horizon. I had recently been doing a bit of sleuthing of my own, and come across the stories of other ex-church explorers that had not only survived, but kept their faith intact.

And then, one day, I had an epiphany…

I live in a country that permits me the freedom to serve any God I choose in pretty much any way I choose. I can go to a Christian bookstore and buy another Bible for my collection any time I like. I have the freedom to pray in public. I can turn on my radio and listen to Christian-themed music (not usually a fan, actually, but I COULD). I can go online and read the thoughts of an endless sea of Christian authors for free, or watch a favorite preacher on television (again, not usually a fan, but I COULD).

But I compared this to what I know of Christian history in the first century, and continuing even today. People are threatened with violence, but they follow Christ. Their own families turn on them, even seeking to kill them, and still they choose Christ. They are starving, and impoverished, yet still they serve Christ. It seems that in the days of the early church a Christian would be killed, but then two more appear in their place. The Christians, the “little-Christs”, were like an unstoppable force.

And here I was, worried that I couldn’t follow Jesus in an environment where I was completely free to do so. No persecutors, a relatively comfortable lifestyle, a happy and healthy family, and I was scared the sea monsters were going to steal away my faith.

Seriously, what kind of a Christian would that make me?

He’s Either In You, or He’s Not

Imagine somebody told you that he really loved his wife more than anything; that she was the center of his life, his reason for living, and that his marriage was the stuff of fantasy. You ask him, “what’s your secret?”

He tells you all about this club for married men that he goes to every week. In this club all the men talk about how much they love their wives and encourage one another to stay faithful to their wives. He also tells you that whenever someone leaves the club, they end up in divorce. He ashamedly admits that every time he himself lapses in attending to this club, he cheats on his wife.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say this guy doesn’t really love his wife.

But is this how we see our relationship with Jesus? As being wholly dependent on membership to a club responsible for keeping us close to him? I began to see that if I were to stop attending a church service then there were only two possible outcomes. The preferable outcome, of course, would be that I would continue serving him as I always had.

On the other hand, maybe I would in fact cease to follow after him. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that if this were the case, then I really wouldn’t have been “falling away” at all. The harsh truth would be that I had never really loved him in the first place. If I were standing there before God, with NOTHING between us, and I walked the other direction to harlot myself away, then I would be exposed as a liar. What would I say in my defense? That other people weren’t there to push me back toward him against my will?

If this was true, then covering it up with a regular meeting would be the WORST thing I could do! I’d be a liar! Worse, I’d be deceived. Ignorance may be bliss, but it certainly won’t draw me closer to the one I claim to love. I realized my weekly meetings may be actually blinding me to my true nature, slowly dulling my senses until I was totally numb to how distant I actually was. If so, I’d be far better off staying at home. At least then I’d have a chance at waking up from the delusion.

Here’s the real question: Who am I when nobody is around? Who am I when nobody is there to “hold me accountable”? This is an important question to explore, because THAT’S the person God sees when he looks at me. He doesn’t care one bit about the carefully curated Sunday image. I may very well be able to fool myself, but he never falls for it.

That One Verse

But still, what about that verse! Remember:

“let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” – Hebrews 10:24-25

First let me point out that there is way too much made of this verse. I have heard this verse repeated like the chorus of “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” (maybe that dates me?) You know why it’s repeated so much? Because there really aren’t any other verses to go with it.

One verse.

Not that this makes the verse invalid, but let’s really take a look at it. Temporarily move everything you know about “church” out of your head and look at it with a blank canvas. Now, paint a picture of what it says about HOW we are to meet together. Does your picture include a steeple? A choir? A preacher? If it does, you need to try again. None of that stuff was there. It just says “meet together”, without saying anything about how to do so.

Actually, it doesn’t even say that. It says don’t NEGLECT to meet together. In other words, take advantage of meeting with the believers if you can, but what if you can’t? Were the Apostles in sin when they sat in their jail cells, apart from any fellowship?

This single verse is used as a real guilt trip for those that have, for one reason or another, decided to leave their churches. These people actually tend to guilt themselves, thinking that they are doing something wrong because they’re not obeying a clear command. Despite their best efforts to try and find others in their area with whom they can meet, they are stranded and haven’t made any such connections.

If such is the case, are they NEGLECTING to meet together? It seems to me they are trying, but there’s just nothing to neglect. If the opportunity arose to meet with other believers (apart from all the religious ceremony they’ve decided to leave behind), they would take it. In the meantime, can’t they spend time seeking Jesus on their own without being judged for it?

And besides, is this really even a “command” at all? It seems the author of Hebrews is making more of a suggestion when he uses the phrasing “let us consider”. Furthermore, when taken in context, v.25a is the only portion of the passage that mentions anything about gathering together. It’s really not even part of the bigger point he’s making.

SIDE NOTE: to those that believe a “church” service to be the fulfillment of this supposed command, I would ask that you seriously consider how much fellowship actually occurs during a 90 minute service? With everyone sitting in rows, staring at the back of a sea of heads, and a small handful of people doing all the “ministering” (performing) from a stage, do you really feel this is fellowship?

What is a NEED?

QUESTION: In order to be reconciled to God, I need to have faith in Jesus and (fill in the blank).

Yeah, it’s a trick question. You can’t put “fellowship with other believers” in that blank. In fact, you can’t put anything in that blank. What is it that we NEED in order to be followers of Jesus, other than to follow Jesus? Fellowship with a community of believers is an amazing gift that I should cherish and enjoy when it’s available, and I’d be foolish to NEGLECT it, but it’s not a NEED that will cause me to shrivel up when it’s unavailable.

If my faith relies on something that can be taken away, then I’m relying on things I shouldn’t be relying on. If I’m imprisoned, starving, without a Bible, and without any friends, would I then cease to follow Christ? Even worse, would I blame it on a lack of the things I needed in order to do so? Is it not true that his grace is sufficient for us?

Even among those I’ve met outside of traditional churches, there seems to be this idea that fellowship/community/family/etc is among the most basic necessities of our faith. One of the most common questions I get when people find out I don’t go to church is: “what do you do for fellowship?” It’s spoken of as though it’s water for our soul.

It troubles me that we’ve put this on so high a pedestal. ALL we need is Christ. He is everything. He is our bread, he is our light, he is our portion. If my faith would crumble without fellowship, or a pastor, or even a Bible, then there are idols in my life that I am leaning on instead of Jesus. I need to ask that he take those dependancies away.

But For Those Still Curious…

All that said, I AM personally fortunate enough to be able to gather regularly with some amazing friends. I count this as an enormous blessing; I have spoken to many out-of-church Christians that aren’t so lucky. They desperately long for such a group, but God just hasn’t lined that up for them. These people love the Lord, and have in no sense “fallen away” as a result of being disconnected from local believers.

I remember the time immediately following my own departure from institutionalized Christianity; It was so very bittersweet. I felt God’s hand in a way I never had before as he held me close. In the absence of anything else to lean on, he taught me to lean on him. At the same time, I was very lonely indeed. For a time I was depressed, really. Up to that point, my life had been entirely wrapped up in the church system, so leaving meant I had unfortunately been cut off from almost everyone I knew. It was a confusing season. It was honestly too much to bear at times, but God was there to carry all that I could not.

Eventually God was gracious enough to permit me the company of an incredible family of believing brothers and sisters. They mean so much to me! We get together every week and usually spend anywhere from 6-9 hours together, and sometimes more. These relationships are far richer than anything provided by the comparatively cold meetings of a religious ceremony.

And while I’m grateful that God has allowed me this family, I hold them completely open handedly. They are a treasure, but not a need. God may at any time decide it’s best for them to move along, and best for me to be alone again.

But if this happens, I know that he is still more than enough.

The Fear of God

I grew up thinking of God as being all-loving and benevolent, constantly working everything for everyone’s good. The idea was that God is the perfect picture of love; void of anger, malice, or any of the other traits I disliked. In more recent years, however, I’ve come to see him in a different light.

My earlier picture of who he is didn’t develop in a vacuum, however; most of the Christians I’ve known seemed to describe him this way, too. Good things came from God, the rest did not. When bad things happened it was said to be our own doing, or the doing of bad people, or perhaps even the devil, but certainly not God. Some of us might have ventured as far as saying God “allowed” certain things to happen, but this phrasing was used to absolve him of having a direct or even purposeful hand in such things. In all this we were careful not to implicate God as a cause.

If one wishes to ensure God is held securely and exclusively in an all-loving light, then it becomes necessary to disconnect him from the disagreeable stuff of life.

But then when discussing or reading the Bible together we’d stumble from time to time upon passages that spoke about the fear of God. This posed a real problem for me personally. What did that even mean? How could I fear a God that never works anything but blessings? This concept would often be rationalized away by others as a healthy respect for him, or maybe a respect for the unpleasant things he could bring about if he wanted to, but of course that was only theoretical; he was too wonderful to actually work in such a manner.

Such explanations were like saying we should fear the fire that’s tucked away in a fireplace behind an enclosure because it could burn you… but of course nobody is afraid of a fireplace. We know better than to touch it, and so long as we don’t mess with it we know it’s safely going to sit there and without harming us. Such fires are under our control and pose no real danger. Sure, we know the fire is hot and potentially capable of doing terrible things, but we are confident that it won’t. We control it. It’s contained. It’s tame. For the sake of argument one could entertain a fictional scenario where the fire suddenly bursts out of it’s borders, acting of it’s own will and consuming the entire structure that once contained it…

But such a scenario still evokes no fear because we know it will never happen.

So was this how I was supposed to “fear” God? As only hypothetically dangerous but without posing any real danger, or perhaps worse as one contained and under my control? As one capable of doing frightening things, but never ever inclined to do so? What if, instead, this fire actually had a will of it’s own? What if it had been known from time to time to incinerate those who angered it? What if the same fire that was warm, comforting, and useful were NOT in our control? What if it could not be contained and moved however it saw fit to do so? What if it owed me no explanations and didn’t really care what my opinions were?

I’d try and push it out of my head as one of those things I guess I just couldn’t understand about God… but then I also knew the Bible was pretty clear on the importance of fearing God:

The Bible says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 110:10, Prov 1:7, 9:10), and that it actually turns us from evil (Prov 16:6). Fear of the lord brings life (Prov 14:27, 19:23). God’s friendship and covenant is reserved for those that fear him (Psalm 25:14). When Israel crossed the Jordan into the promised land they were told it was “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Josh 4:24). Even Jesus told us to “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 1:28).

My God vs. the Bible’s God

Several years ago I started reading my Bible with the intent of reading the whole thing, something I’d never done before. I began realizing how worn out certain comforting patches of scripture were, and also that those patches only constituted a fraction of what was actually in the pages. As I went along I was forced to read various parts that I never would have selected for myself, and definitely wouldn’t have heard preached in a sermon. Time after time I’d bump into something unsettling or even frightening, but I’d just shake it off and keep going. If something really rattled me I’d just console myself with the knowledge that I probably just didn’t grasp things well enough yet. I just needed to give it time.

The hits kept coming, though. I kept colliding with passages that didn’t play nicely with my view of God; endless accounts of God becoming angry and full of wrath. He exacted vengeance on people and decreed entire cities be demolished along with their citizens. He’d hide himself and harden hearts. Not to say he wasn’t also shown to be full of amazing love, grace, and patience, but there was a lot more than that. I had come to view God as though he had somehow misplaced his ability to commit fear-inducing acts.

There are land mines hidden in the Bible. These are the parts that kind of get skipped over with shrugged shoulders. They are the stories that will either force us to reconsider our comfortable philosophies, or otherwise to move along and bury what we just read. It was these land mines that eventually lead me to a startling thought:

What if these land mines were only difficult to reconcile because they weren’t compatible with a set of false presumptions I was unknowingly clinging to? What if I was approaching the Bible with a preexisting idea of who God is rather than coming to it in order to LEARN who he is?

But at some point I quit fighting it. I made a deliberate decision to stop looking away from the uncomfortable parts. I attempted to just read those difficult passages and take them at face value. Slowly I began to realize that when I compared my picture of God to the one illustrated in scripture, there was a gaping difference. This time, however, I chose to allow those parts to redefine how I saw him instead of running away from them. I decided that if the Bible described God in a way I didn’t like, I was going to believe it anyway and let my preconceptions go. I began to see how much I had come to fashion God in an image that, while comfortable, was not the same God defined by the Bible.

No wonder I couldn’t fear him.

Biblical Reactions to God

I used to speak of being in God’s presence as a wonderfully enjoyable, almost sensual experience. I’d refer to the presence of the Holy Spirit as a warm, cozy feeling… much like that fireplace. I know that not everyone has felt this way, but my Charismatic upbringing taught me that the real presence of God is a nearly euphoric encounter. I, along with the “really spiritual” people around me, would speak about how “anointed” an event, sermon, or song was based mostly on how good we felt about it. I didn’t see this at the time of course.

But then I began to wonder: where does the Bible describe the more euphoric encounters with God that I was pretty sure I’d always experienced? Where do we read of people coming away from God’s presence saying “Oh, man! That was incredible! That felt so good! I’m just dying to do that again

Isaiah 6 records the prophet’s encounter with the Living God as a terrifying one, with even the seraphim using their wings to shield themselves from his overpowering holiness and glory. When God spoke at Mt. Sinai to his people their response was one of sheer terror, begging Moses to go in their place and let them stay behind. Every single time I read of someone having an encounter with the almighty, there is fear. In fact, people have the same reaction when even seeing an angel, sometimes even being tempted to bow down and worship them. I don’t see them having a watered down “respect” of a theoretical god, I see them having a sudden realization of the intensity of the real deal.

Was it possible that my own encounters weren’t quite what I thought they were?

Domesticating God

God describes himself as an all consuming fire (Deut 4:24, Deut 9:3, Isaiah 33:14, Lamentations 2:3, Hebrews 12:29). While the fires built by humans are warm and safe, God is very different. He is fierce. He will not be contained or directed. I had made the mistake of drawing my picture of God based on the descriptions of other people and the verses they had selected to support their view. When I decided to start redefining him based on what I read in the Bible, a very different picture came into focus.

My apologies for being so blunt, but I had castrated God. I defanged and declawed him, then tied him up and sat him in the corner. I put a box around him and was happy to go warm up next to him when I was cold, but didn’t fear him at all. This was all an illusion, of course. God may have permitted me to proceed with the delusion that he was happy to sit there safely under my control, but it was only for a time and only for the purpose of slowly and lovingly drawing me to a deeper understanding of who he REALLY is. He chose to sit there and speak softly to me, keeping his true power concealed.

If God is real at all, then he has certain character traits that define him. These traits are immutable; they do not change, least of all for me. I don’t get the luxury of removing all the dangerous features of who he is and keeping the rest. I have to take it all in, in it’s entirety, or I’m not actually seeing the real thing; I am looking at a false God. An idol. A creation of my own.

I don’t mean to say that God is not loving, any more than I’d say a fire is not warm and inviting. He is still all the things I’ve always known him to be; my redeemer and friend, my shield and shelter in the storm, and my only firm foundation. It’s just that he’s so much MORE than that. I must attempt to reconcile all that is revealed about him in his word, both Old Testament and New. It’s not as though he’s repented of his Old Testament ways and finally come to see things my way.

When God says “vengeance is mine”, he’s saying two things at once. He is partly stating that vengeance is wrong for me, but it always escaped me that he’s also saying that he is vengeful. He is not a man. His ways are not my ways, nor his thoughts like my thoughts. There are things that are wrong for me and are simultaneously right for him. We are not to be jealous, but he describes himself as jealous. See, he’s not bound by the same restraints that I am. He is a roaring lion, jealous and vengeful, fierce and untamed.

And Still, God is Love

And yet he is also Love. He is my friend. He is my heavenly father. He comforts me when I’m broken, holds me when I’m weak, and visits me when I am alone. He sustains me with the words from his mouth and goes before me when my way is uncertain. He is my light in the dark. He is the singular source of anything good that may be present in my life, despite my attempts to hold him back.

I suspect this will seem an impossible dichotomy to some, nevertheless it is how he is described by the Bible. He is both the wonderful and the fearsome, and I no longer wish him to be any other way. He is irresistibly compelling exactly as he is. He is mysterious and beyond my reasoning. I’m drawn to him like a moth to a flame; and perhaps that is a wonderful analogy… I am nothing more than a moth and I know he may choose to end my life for his purposes at any time, yet I welcome it. He is worth it, and I trust him implicitly.

There is nothing I could possibly state with any number of words either written or spoken to describe this new picture of who God is. I both fear him and can’t stay away from him. He is a raging fire inside me that drives me to things that seem like madness to those around me, and I can’t help it. My life is his alone, regardless of how others may measure it.

So here’s my point: I hope only to direct you to a fuller understanding of him. If you have limited him to only the things that make you comfortable, you are truly missing out. Pray that he would reveal himself to you more fully. Don’t listen to half-formed, man made ideas of who he is and dare to take it all in. When you stumble into those Bible texts that describe him in a way that unsettles you, I dare you to take it all in as part of who he is. It’s frightening, but it’s also crucial; because your view of God will determine everything about how you seek and serve him.

Regarding the “Done With Church” Buzz

In case you haven’t heard, there is a growing concern in Christendom these days over the droves of people leaving the church. For years now I’ve noticed articles popping up from time to time that have discussed this trend, but lately they are coming at much greater frequency and intensity. The language used to describe the change is increasingly impassioned, too. Just yesterday I read a blog that said our churches are “in many ways hemorrhaging to death”. Strong words, indeed.

The noise of chatter around the issue is deafening, and opinions are of course as hot as they are varied. This is true not only of those faithful church-goers concerned about the shift, but also among those that embrace it as a move of God. Regardless of where your own leanings are, it is increasingly obvious that a shift is most definitely occurring, and that it’s picking up speed. It’s beginning to turn some heads, and NOBODY really knows where this shift is taking us… least of all me.

I myself have been “church-free” for nearly a year now. My feelings, therefore, are as passionate as anyone’s. While I, like many others, have a great deal to say on the matter, it is not my intent to do so as a part of this post. Instead I hope to point out two particular trends I’m seeing in most of the articles being written, specifically in those posts written by people that are faithful church attenders and supporters.

The Switcheroo: A “Church” and THE “Church”

The first trend I want to draw attention to is a problem with definitions, particularly with the word “church”. Most Christians know and would agree that the word church is not used in the Bible to describe buildings or the events held in them. The Bible refers to the people of God as the church. I personally have a real problem with using the word “church” to refer to a building or program (though I’ll resign to doing so in this article), but certainly can respect that most people do in fact use it in this way.

The problem, however, is when someone takes the definition and justification of one idea to reenforce a completely different one. Let me explain. One article I read the other day spent time reminding it’s readers that the church is the bride of Christ, citing Ephesians 5:25-32, just before making the following statement: “…that’s why you go to church. Because Jesus says the Church matters. He loves the Church, and you love Him.”

So here you have verses talking about the Bride of Christ being used to justify the necessity of attending a program; a program you won’t find anywhere in your Bible, I might add. The author manages to get away with this bait-and-switch because the word “church” is used by many to describe both concepts, but this does not mean the concepts are interchangeable.

In a way, the words “church” and “church” are homonyms; two words that are spelled and pronounced the same that mean two completely different things. One refers to the people of God, and the other refers to the institutions we’ve created to systemize those people. Consider two homonyms for the word “bow”; something used to fire arrows and something used to play a violin. These words are spelled and pronounced the same, but I can’t use them interchangeably because their meanings are different. This means I can’t use the story of Robin Hood and his skill with a bow to try and convince you he was an expert violinist.

Yet that is precisely what is done in many articles being written about those “leaving the church”. Such articles go on and on about how Christ loves the church, established the church, and how important the church is all throughout the New Testament, but then they use that to convince you that somehow God himself has instituted the thing we call church today. This is utter nonsense. When someone uses phrases like “go to church”, “start a church”, “dress for church”, etc. they are speaking of an institution unknown to the Bible. I’d advise you to beware of articles that use this tactic to justify human traditions.

The Presumption: They’re Obviously Wrong

The other trend I see is a simple lack of understanding. This is to be expected of course. If the author of an article is a faithful church supporter they obviously don’t share or understand the opinions of those that no longer are. They are left to make their best guesses at what people with differing ideas are thinking.

But my issue with this isn’t that they don’t understand. Of course they don’t understand. It does bother me, however, that there is very little (if any) room left for even the remote possibility that the move away from our long held traditions could be a positive one. It is presumed that 1,700 years of tradition must be right, and there is no way these people could legitimately see something they don’t. I realize this may be too much to expect, but is it really so far fetched to consider that MAYBE the people that are leaving are being drawn out by God himself?

The prevailing attitude I’ve personally encountered is a total unwillingness to entertain questions about the value of our traditions. The Bible says little (and often nothing at all) of buildings, programs, offering plates, or hierarchy among believers, yet these things are too often treated as untouchable sacraments given to us by God himself.

Those that have stopped attending a church are seen as people that either need to be prayed for or guarded against. Some authors talk about them as though they are a disease in need of earlier diagnoses before it’s too late to stop them from leaving. “Solutions” to fix them are offered left and right, but it seems impossible to find an author willing to grant enough respect to entertain that perhaps those who leave are actually seeing something they can’t.

On a personal note, this trend for dismissal strikes home. There was a time not so long ago I was respected as a teacher and one who passionately loved the Lord and his word. People would line up to say how much they enjoyed what I had to say, and go on and on about how God was clearly moving in my life and was speaking through me to them. This changed of course once the questions I was asking made them uncomfortable. I’ll admit I was completely unprepared for how quickly people can turn on you. It breaks my heart that so many have so quickly forgotten who I am, assuming me to be completely deceived and no longer capable of seeing the most obvious truths of God. NOTHING about my walk with him has dwindled at all; it has only intensified since my departure from the church walls.

And yet it’s so clear to me now how little room there is in modern Christianity for the idea that someone could truly love the Lord and simultaneously want nothing to do with church traditions. Many that have left these traditions wish so badly they were able to share freely with other believers the amazing freedom they’ve found in Christ outside of the structures, but all too often they find they’ve already been dismissed by the ones they’d like to talk to. Most people love these traditions and are afraid to entertain anyone or anything that might call them into question.

If I Could Make a Single Request

Most of the articles grappling with this topic attempt to close with some sort of recommendation. The suggestions are diverse: let them go and move on, be more relevant, be less relevant, watch for and remove them sooner, create more opportunity for their gifts… the list goes on. Nobody agrees on WHY people are leaving, but the suggestions on what to do about it all follow a common theme; they are attempts to make it stop.

But if I could throw my hat in the ring and make a suggestion of my own, I’d call for more openness to the possibility that the “done with church” folks may not be entirely crazy and deceived. Is it really so impossible to believe that perhaps God is legitimately doing something in and through them? Is it really a good move to just dismiss them and look for ways of plugging the leak?

Like it or not, this shift is happening. It can’t be ignored. I’m reminded of a story in Acts where the religious leaders of the day were facing a frightening shift of their own. They, too, were scrambling to find a way of controlling it. In their search to stop the rebellion, one of their own, a Pharisee on the council named Gamaliel, reminded them of past changes that had come to nothing and gave them this advice:

“So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39)

Wise words. There is so much fear being expressed about what’s happening, but fear shows only a lack of faith. Isn’t God in control? Hasn’t he said of his bride that the gates of hell would not prevail against her? I would remind those looking for solutions that if they are truly executing the plans of God then there is absolutely no need to fear. The present matter will be a memory before long and things can get back to business as usual.

Nobody knows how this is going to play out in the end, but if it’s the Lord will then there really is no solution and all these attempts to plug the leak are at best a waste of time. If it’s not then it’ll blow over and come to nothing. Either way, my suggestion would be not to dismiss your brothers and sisters that have left by assuming they simply have a problem, or worse that you can solve it. My main request would be that you hear us out and consider what we feel the Lord is genuinely doing in our lives.

Purpose in Pain

This is a re-posting of a comment I made today on a previous blog post. I thought it might be worth sharing as a post of it’s own. It’s probably a bit more of a rant than the more thought out articles I normally post, but I’ve decided to post it as is. Perhaps it’ll help someone today.


There is a picture in my head which I don’t think I’ve ever been able to adequately express to anyone with words, but it’s something like this: We see and accept that nature has laws, but God is the source of those laws. What is “natural” are those things in harmony with God, while anything not acknowledging, relying on, and magnifying his glory is in fact “unnatural”. Every good and perfect gift is unidirectionally from him alone. We have no love, no joy, no peace except what comes FROM him and THROUGH us. We are in fact not even ABLE to love him unless he puts that love in us first, for he indeed is the singular source of any such love. In us there is NOTHING good!

So I picture an unseen, heavenly “dimension” of things created which see and abide by this principle. All creation, both seen and unseen, is created for the glory of God and is to operate for that singular purpose; his glory. All God EVER does is for that one reason. Humanity is wholly UNNATURAL in it’s desire to glorify itself. We are cursed and depraved. There are ways that really, truly SEEM completely right to us, but the end thereof leads only to death. These ways are unnatural according to God’s universal decrees…

… yet for reasons unknown he has mercy! By his grace he draws some of us back to life in him and sanctifies us back to what is in fact natural. The things we see as right and wrong, blessing and curses are in fact backward because WE are backward. When God brings us low and causes us to “suffer”, this is seen in the wrong light. In our depravity we mislabel this blessing as curse, when he is in fact breaking us out of a system of thought that keeps us opposed to his kingdom. Our thoughts keep us bound to a kingdom that will perish.

Oh God, have mercy on us! Would you continue to break us free of those things which seem right and make us comfortable, complacent, and ultimately opposed to you! Break our wills that we be restored to our proper function in glorifying you throughout all creation!

We must remember that those things which are seemingly a curse are a temporary and light affliction in view of eternity, and that God corrects (through trial) those he loves. This is done by means of the crucible: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.” (Prov 17:3) Precious metals are refined by being brought to a boiling point so that the impurities may be revealed and given up. Likewise, our hearts are refined by the LORD bringing our hearts to a boil so that the evil we harbor is brought forth to be removed.

Don’t run away from pain. Recognize the hand of God at work and ask how you may serve him and yield to him in that season. If you are called according to his purpose then you can rest assured that he is working all things together for both his glory and your good! Rejoice in your trials and know he can be trusted! Seek, then, to serve him by your obedience and glorify him by your offering of praise in the darkness. Let the world wonder at how you rejoice in the middle of pain, and be sure and take none of that praise for yourself so that you may properly function in your ONLY created purpose:

To glorify your creator.

Why I Stopped Tithing – Part 2

This post is a more in-depth biblical unpacking of the thoughts and concerns I introduced in Part 1. I hope you’ll consider reading it to get the whole story :)


Tithing is a terribly difficult topic to approach. In my own experience, any attempt to do so with anything but affirmation of the idea is immediately met with a great deal of hostility, especially if you’re talking to paid church leaders. This isn’t a surprise, of course. Upton Sinclair is quoted as saying “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Those that defend the practice of tithing will sometimes go to embarrassing lengths to reinforce it. This of course is because our present-day view of what a church looks like depends quite heavily on a sizable budget. If that income stream is perceived to be in danger, reactions run hot.

One thing that makes this topic so difficult to take an honest look at is a fear of the potential ramifications. What if it were found that tithing isn’t a biblical mandate? What would that mean for our churches? This can definitely be a fearful thing to consider, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to dig for the truth. It’s important to look honestly at what scripture has to say about tithing, and to do so without overcomplicating the issue with fear of a particular conclusion. One must first seek out the truth of the matter regardless of what any such truth may mean. We can deal with the consequences after coming to a conclusion, however difficult that may be. If it were shown that the popular view of tithing today were false, there are a couple ways one could choose to act upon that truth.

Why Does it Matter?

Sometimes it’s insinuated that I’m making too much of this issue and I’m questioned as to why it matters so much. Why not just let it go? Is it really worth arguing about? These questions are usually asked with a good deal of passion, which of course makes them self-defeating. If the issue weren’t important enough for me to bring up then it also wouldn’t be important enough for someone to defend so passionately.

But that’s not why it really matters. Consider the weight of the issue; people are attempting to use the Bible to claim they stand endowed with the authority of God himself to demand that others must support them and their vision. Such a claim is true if it can be supported scripturally, but otherwise it’s horribly blasphemous and damaging to the people of God. It’s anything but unimportant.

Verses About Tithing should Be About Tithing

When looking at something like this there is the issue of who has the “burden of proof”. In other words, if I walk up to you and claim that God commands you to give me 10% of your money, should I be expected to substantiate my own claim or should you be expected to prove me wrong? Obviously the burden of proof lies on the one making the claim. Our investigation into this issue, therefore, should not require that we to prove the church to be wrong. They are the ones making assertion that tithing as a biblical concept, therefor they must prove it.

So then what would would we expect such proof to look like? I’m going to recommend three simple requirements that should be met for any verse to logically support tithing.

The first requirement for a scriptural proof about tithing is that it should be comprised of scriptures about tithing. I know that sounds overly obvious, but it actually needs to be strongly emphasized. Many of the verses used to “prove” that tithing is required for New Covenant believers don’t actually refer to tithing AT ALL. For example:

In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (1 Cor 9:14)

Some people try and use this verse to try and show the New Testament teaches tithing. If you view tithing as the practice of paying pastors to teach then this might slip by you, but that isn’t biblical tithing. You could attempt to make an argument that this verse mandates that we should pay pastors (something I’ll rebut later), but you definitely couldn’t say it mandates our present day understanding of tithing. It has no connection whatsoever to the practice of tithing as defined in the Old Testament. It’s also not saying how they should get their living or who should pay it, and certainly is not prescribing a percentage of anyone’s salary. It’s useless for this discussion.

And pretty much every verse you’ll ever come across to substantiate the contemporary form of New Testament tithing looks like this. If you learn to look for this pattern you should be able to dismiss ANY verse presented as a proof of modern day tithing. It’s invalid just pick any verse that relates to giving, generosity, or even (arguably) monetary wages and jump to the conclusion that it proves tithing. Tithing is something very specific and different. There is a TON of detail in the Old Testament that God gave us on exactly what tithes were.

  1. It’s always consumables, without exception. Some try and say this is just cultural as though they didn’t have things like furs, precious metals, or other valuables. You can actually see in Deuteronomy 14:22-26 that the Israelites were told to eat their own tithe! Money is tough to eat.
  2. Before God changed the rules in Deuteronomy, the only people that received tithes were of the tribe of Levi. (Numbers 18:19-28) Is your pastor a Levite? If not, it’s unbiblical for him to claim a tithe for himself.
  3. There were multiple tithes totaling to MORE than the classic 10%. Most biblical scholars agree on something more like 23%, though I’ve heard some say even higher. The exact percentage is unimportant for this discussion, but if we’re going to insist that tithing is still in effect, we should at the very least get into the Old Testament to figure out how to do it biblically.
  4. The tithe was brought to the temple of God, which no longer exists today. No, our church buildings are not temples. Scripture is clear that WE are the temple of God in the New Covenant. It’s blasphemous to take our buildings and equate them to the temple of God.
  5. Tithing was for Jews operating in a theocracy with God as their head. You’ll never find a reference to Gentiles tithing. The idea would have been repugnant to a Levite priest receiving such a thing, anyway. What you DO see in Acts 15 is a meeting of the Apostles to decide which of their 2,000 year old laws and traditions were applicable to Gentiles. It’s a short list that fits in verse 20. Tithing didn’t make the cut.

If you get nothing else from reading this then I hope you get what I’m trying to say here. Next time anyone tries showing you a New Testament passage about giving or generosity or anything else that isn’t specifically about tithing as a proof for tithing, I hope you’ll see the fallacy in that. It’s like talking about cheeseburgers as a proof for how wonderful carrots are.

You Can Easily Evaluate Tithing Passages for Yourself

You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to investigate this topic. I’ll take the time to break down a couple common pro-tithing verses in just a bit, but first I’m trying to equip you to look at these verses for yourself and see why they are invalid. People will bring all kinds of verses to you as supposed proofs, but if you can remember these simple ways of evaluating their legitimacy you’ll be pretty well armed against being mislead.

The first and most obvious is what was just discussed; You can’t use scriptures that aren’t talking about tithing as a proof for tithing. But what about other verses? There are two other simple things to consider when looking at any other passage that will quickly dismiss them as being supportive of contemporary tithing:

  1. They’d need to be New Testament verses. This should be a given, but it amazes me how many times people pull up Old Testament scriptures about actual tithing as proof that we should still tithe. This only proves that tithing WAS a practice in operation (something clearly not in debate), not that it still should be. It also fails to address why we would selectively pull out that single part of the Old Covenant to keep without adhering to the rest. That system was a package deal that can’t just be broken up and rearranged any way we like. Any verse about Old Testament tithing isn’t relevant to the topic and must be immediately dismissed.
  2. They’d have to relate to a system that in some way resembles our modern day churches, which live and die by salaries, buildings, programs, events, etc. No such institution is found in the pages of the Bible. Anywhere. This is really important: If one can’t show that an institution resembling our churches received tithes, then what would keep ANY benevolent institution from teaching that they require a tithe? Surely claiming a tithe isn’t something that just any institution can do. It must be able to show that it existed and received tithes in the Bible. I’m not saying you can’t or even shouldn’t give to a church if you want to, I’m simply pointing out the fallacy of a church telling you that God says you must.

So, three simple tests: 1) is a verse talking about tithing, 2) is it a New Testament passage, and 3) is it talking about what we refer to as church (or something like it)? If a church is claiming that God almighty is backing it up and furthermore commands his people to give their income to it, it should be able to find at least one verse (and realistically a good many more) passing these logical requirements. Sadly there are no such verses, but the lie lives on anyway. People use verses about Old Testament tithing, or pick any verse about any form of giving, generosity, or wages and try and say the verse proves New Covenant tithing. It’s night and day different!

Inadmissible Scriptural “Evidence”

Ok, so let’s breakdown a few of the more popular passages that are used to support tithing as a required New Covenant practice. Let me reiterate that every one of these should be recognized as immediately invalid anyway because they don’t meet the logical requirements discussed; they aren’t actually talking about tithing, nor are they referring to church as defined today. Nonetheless we’ll take a look at them for the sake of the argument. We’re only going to be looking at New Testament verses here, since spending our time looking at Old Covenant verses to prove the legitimacy of New Covenant tithing should seem an obvious waste of time. I do, however, want to give a quick mention to the ever-popular Malachi 3:8-10:

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.

Of all the verses used to coerce God’s people into a pro-tithing view, this is arguably the most abhorrently twisted of all. First of all, if you look at the context you’ll see God is actually talking to the priests. They are the ones robbing God, which is quite different than how the verse is commonly spun today. Secondly, how does a verse about bringing food into a storehouse to be used for those in need have any possible application to a modern day church that looks absolutely nothing like a storehouse? A modern day church that spends virtually it’s entire budget on itself can hardly be called a storehouse. Even if the work of the church is benevolent and good, it’s not a storehouse. There is no parallel.

Matthew 23:23

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

  • This verse could just as easily be interpreted that Jesus is simply pointing out that their priorities are in the wrong place as they practice false piety. Look at the context and you’ll see the predominant message of the entire chapter is the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Tithing gets barely a mention here and certainly isn’t the primary subject being discussed.
  • This verse IS New Testament, but is NOT New Covenant. Christ hasn’t died yet, therefore the New Covenant hasn’t yet been put in effect. To interpret this verse in support of tithing poses no issues anyway.
  • Notice the tithe here is “mint and dill and cumin”. If we wish to take this verse to mean we must still tithe today, then let’s do an actual Old Covenant tithe… one consisting of consumables! Every time you see the Old Covenant tithe mentioned as instituted by God, it was always edible things that were tithed, not money.

Matthew 10:9-10

…You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.

  • Once again, this has nothing to do with tithing.
  • Focusing on the part that says “the laborer deserves his food” completely ignores the clear command to “give without pay”
  • The only “wages” to be received here is food, not money. Some translations mistakenly render the greek word trophe as “support” or “keep”, but the word is used 16 times in the New Testament, all of which the KJV renders as “meat” or “food”. We’re definitely not speaking of monetary wages here.

1 Corinthians 9:14

In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

First of all, aren’t we ALL to proclaim the gospel? But let’s look instead at a claim Paul is making for the first half of this chapter: that one who is devoting his life to preaching the gospel is within his rights to make a living by doing so. This is especially emphasized in verses 1-14. I find no scriptural evidence to say it’s wrong for a minister of the gospel to be paid for doing so, but such a person should not be paid as a “tithe” required by God. Paul here is simply saying it would be wrong to fault him for accepting support in his work. He’s not creating a mandate that ministers be paid, he’s taking a defensive position (as made clear in verse 3) against those that would attack the legitimacy of the idea.

Also, let’s look at the examples he gives in his defense: Do we not have the right to eat and drink? (v.4) Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? (v.6) You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain (v.8) The plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. (v.10) Do you notice a theme here? Food analogies! It’s more than coincidental that Paul is making so many references to food here and NOT monetary wages. I’m not claiming it’s wrong to receive monetary wages, but food speaks more of a need than a want being met. Many pastors today are having far more than just their needs being met and could quite easily supplement any aid taken from the church with a job of their own. The point is simply that a shepherd’s heart should be to take only what’s needed, and certainly not to demand it forcibly from the sheep. It should also be added here that Paul’s ministry involved constant beatings, imprisonments, starving, and other hardships so that the gospel might be preached. He was constantly on the move. I could get behind supporting that! His heart was such that he would never have accepted more than he needed.

1 Corinthians 16:2

On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

This is not money that was being given to a pastor, building, or anything else resembling a modern day church. It was something that many believers, in this case the ones in Corinth, were saving up as a gift to be given to aid the church in Judea which was suffering the effects of a severe famine. In verse 3 he clearly states that he’ll be picking it up to take to Jerusalem, not to keep for himself nor to give to any other person or program. He’s prescribing a way that the Corinthians can systematically save for this cause.

1 Timothy 5:17-18

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

  • The context of the passage is dealing primarily with rebuking, honoring, and disciplining. It’s a set of guidelines on how to treat people. Interpreting v. 17 to refer to wages makes no sense within the context.
  • If we’re trying to use this to talk about wages, what in the world is “double honor”? Double what amount? What does this have to do with a tithe again?
  • The greek word translated here as “honor” is timees. It has nothing to do with wages. It’s used 43 times in the New Testament and conveys the valuing of something or someone. We’re just saying someone serving as a leader should be treated with extra honor.
  • Even if Paul were talking about wages here, let’s talk about how much those wages ought to be. I’m not prescribing a certain income range, but let’s consider the analogy of the ox treading the grain for a moment. If an ox ate a majority of the grain while he was treading, would you keep the ox? No doubt the ox would enjoy such an arrangement, but that’d be pretty inefficient if the goal was to produce grain. An ox gleans what little bit falls out of the grinder as he treads, but this is a tiny percentage of what’s being ground. Pastors ought to consider following Paul’s model by keeping the nobility of taking very little, if anything at all.

Matthew 6:21

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also

  • Clearly this is not saying a single word with regards to the practice of tithing. The context of this passage, specifically v.19-20, is saying our treasure is heavenly. Most of the chapter is telling us NOT to worry about earthly treasure (the kind of treasure many churches claim God is demanding) at all.
  • If this is meant to support the idea that we must give our money to a church, then the church is where our heart is. The church is not Christ himself. Is the idea that if I give my money to the poor instead of a church that my heart is in the wrong place, even though to do so would scripturally be synonymous with serving Jesus himself? (Matt 25:40)

What DOES the New Testament Teach, Then?

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:7)

This should pretty well settle the matter all by itself. Amazingly, I’ve heard this verse taught side by side with Malachi 3:10 to tell people they’re robbing God if they don’t tithe. I can’t figure that one out. It should also be pointed out that this verse isn’t even talking about believers giving to the church they attend (which should be obvious since no such thing exists in scripture). They are actually taking up a collection to send along to believers in Judea suffering from the results of a famine.

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Tim 5:8)

It’s inexcusable to tell a single mom or a family that’s barely getting by that they are robbing God if they don’t give. Furthermore to say they should “sow in faith” into some ministry and just believe God will make all the finances work out is just thinly veiled prosperity gospel nonsense. Some people should be taking money from the collection plate as it goes by instead of being told they have to put something into it. The Bible is overflowing with compassion shown to the poor, something most of us should pay attention to. (Lev 14:21; 25:6, 25-28, 35, 36; 27:8; Deu 12:1-19; 14:23, 28, 29; 15:7, 8, 11; 24:12, 14, 15, 19, 20; 26:11-13; Mal 3:5; Matt 12:1, 2; Mark 2:23, 24; Luke 2:22-24; 6:1, 2; 2 Cor 8:12-14; 1 Tim 5:8; Jas. 1:27)

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common… There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold (Acts 4:32,34)

I see a lot of giving here, but nothing about tithing to leaders that were in charge of them. They were all expressing their status as equal brothers and sisters in the Lord, each sharing with everyone to the extent that “there was not a needy person among them.” They actually eliminated need among themselves by caring so liberally for on another! This is pretty different from making sure the church staff salaries are paid by the poorer families in the church.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. (Luke 6:30)

The Bible repetitively commands us to be givers, but this is too often spun as a command to give to your church and/or leaders. That’s a blatant twisting of what scripture calls us to.

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matt 25:37-40)

To teach that giving your money to a church is synonymous with giving your money to God is the exact opposite of what is taught very plainly here. Do you want to minister to Jesus? Feed his sheep. Help your Samaritan neighbor. Don’t abdicate God’s clear call for you to do so by giving to a Church to give on your behalf. It’s fine to allot some amount for that purpose if you feel lead, but make sure you aren’t left standing empty handed when your neighbor comes looking for help and you’ve given it all away to “God’s work”. You don’t want to be caught sending them away saying “God bless you” when God wanted to bless them through you! (James 2:15-16)

It’s Time For a Change

Tithing is one of those things that has a certain appearance of Godliness to it, but the way it’s taught is a lie that gives rise to some pretty terrible practices. It’s packaged as a commandment of God, but it gives rise to us unknowingly judging one another by how faithfully we give. Non-tithers get relegated to the position of second-class christians by the tithers… especially church leaders.

I’ve watched it play out in ugly ways, too. Tithe records get inspected to determine which church members are loyal to the house and which ones aren’t. People get passed over for being permitted to serve in certain ways because they don’t tithe. Even worse, people get asked to resign because they don’t tithe. Those that are big contributors get treated with extra favor. People get broken down by the average dollar amount represented by each member as a way of measuring out how many more members are needed to make budget.

Sadly I’ve done this myself before God showed me how wrong I was for doing so. In hindsight I was in terrible error. God, please forgive me.

Our modern twist on tithing is a lie, and most churches survive on it’s acceptance. Certainly there are ways the church could minister without basing itself on something so perverted! If we cannot, then we would be better off just closing our doors. We as followers of Jesus should seek a fuller understanding of the kind of love he modeled for us. His ministry and the ministry of his disciples after him was not based on salaries, buildings, or programs. He showed compassion and spoke the truth. He did it under a tree, from a boat, or on a hillside. He had no home while he did so. He gave freely, and he gave all… while taking nothing.

I certainly don’t model this perfectly in my own life. I’m not nearly enough like him. I’m doing my best to yield to him as he shapes my life. I want to fade away so that people can more clearly see him when they look at me. I’ve got a long way to go, but the Spirit that he’s filled me with recognizes some bad fruit growing from our current methods. We really need to rethink some things.

Further Reading

If you have always held to tithing as being a biblical practice, you may be feeling like I did once I stumbled across all this. I was terrified and become obsessed with seeking the matter out. I looked hard for months in search of biblical support to reaffirm my long-held beliefs, but ultimately came up empty handed. How could I have had it so wrong?

I want to encourage you to fervently seek it out for yourself. Look to God himself and study his Word, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you do. It is not our intellect that leads us into truth, so put your confidence in him to show you what you need to see! You’ll find that in the seeking you’ll also draw closer to him, which is the most beautiful thing of all!

To get you started, here is a list of virtually every passage about tithing that there is. I should point out that the first two (in Genesis) are included only because they involve giving a tenth, but don’t actually have anything to do with the Old Covenant Law as instituted by God. If you know of any other verses that refer to tithing, please let me know so I can add it to the list:

I also want to point you toward some online resources I found enlightening about the topic. These are of course commentaries and not scripture, and they are all decidedly not in favor of tithing. I’d encourage you to look up arguments in favor of tithing too! I haven’t kept track of pro-tithing articles that I’ve read like I have the articles presented here, but I’ve read a lot and you should too. There’s no shortage of pro-tithing articles out there and you’ll find them on the web without much effort.

These first few links are free books available as PDFs. I haven’t read them all in their entirety, but I benefited from what I did read.

And this is just a sampling of some of the pages I’ve read or scanned through. Again, these are all against modern tithing, but there’s seriously so much info out there, though. Just start hunting!

Why I Stopped Tithing – Part 1

This post is deliberately light on scripture references and is intended as a warm-up for Part 2. I hope you’ll consider reading it to get the whole story :)


I have faithfully (religiously) been a “tither” just about my entire life. I was taught as a young child to tithe on the money I earned for doing my chores, and as an adult I have regularly given 10% of my gross income to support the local church. As a good Christian parent I have dutifully passed this principle on to my children, too. I’ve never been reluctant in my tithes; I’ve always happily given toward what seemed to be a good cause in hopes that God would use that money for good, and I’ve unashamedly taught anybody who’d hear me out that they ought to do likewise.

Now before continuing I should pause to clarify something vitally important: I mean no disrespect toward those who still believe or even teach tithing as a Biblically mandated practice. I know this is a sensitive topic for many and I hope I’ll be able to convey my heart on the matter. None of what I’m about to say is meant as a slander to anyone; On the contrary I know firsthand that those subscribed to the tithe are doing the best they know to do and genuinely mean well, however these many wonderful and well-meaning people have bought into a long held misunderstanding. It would be neglectful of me to ignore so great a misunderstanding, but it would also be hypocritical of me to do any finger pointing on the subject toward anyone but myself. I’ve championed the teaching of tithing as much as anyone I know. To my own shame I’ve probably beaten a few people with the idea, and at the very least silently harbored judgement against the “non-tithers” in my heart… something I truly regret now.

How NOT to Give Your Money to God

Tithing is a tough thing to ask honest and open questions about. For many people it touches on a deeply held conviction and stirs some strong emotions. I hope to write a more scripturally based point-by-point piece on this topic soon, but this time around I want to try a more “let’s just think about this for a minute” sort of approach, starting with a recent survey on average church budgets in 2013. This survey breaks down with a good bit of detail exactly where the money given in good faith is actually going. You should look over the survey for yourself, but let me give you the short version:

58% of an average church’s budget goes toward personnel expenses, 18% toward facilities, utilities, maintenance, rent, etc., and 6% toward various administrative and office expenses. In other words, just over 80% of the money that’s brought into your average church goes to nothing but the building and the people that staff it. The remaining money is then primarily spent on the various programs run within its walls: programs for children and adults, fancy lighting and equipment for the music team, decorations, cash reserves, building funds, etc. All these things are focused on pleasing and impressing the people in attendance.

Less than 5% goes to any sort of missions, helping the poor, evangelism, or anything else that lends genuine aid to those truly in need.

If these numbers don’t immediately concern you then you should take some time to read this. The person who authored this piece describes it as “a compilation of the scariest, most embarrassing, most shocking statistics and information about the Church and its affairs.” It’s a bit sensational, but does a great job at quickly breaking down what really bugs me about the way the church (mis)manages it’s finances.

Being a “Good Steward” with Your Money

I’ve always confidently asserted that giving 10% of my money to the local church was the best way to obediently and faithfully manage the money that is truly God’s and not ours. God is a giver and wants us to give!

Well, yes; he is a giver and wants us to give cheerfully and generously… however blindly giving to an organization that barely spends a nickel on anything but itself hardly qualifies as good stewardship. The specific budgetary breakdown will of course fluctuate a bit from church to church, but the bottom line is the same virtually anywhere: all but a mere pittance of what’s taken in by the church is consumed and spent on itself.

If you gave hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year to a charitable organization and one day realized that less than 5 cents on every dollar was spent on anything but the charity itself, how would you respond? I’m pretty sure the response would be an easy one in any ordinary secular setting, but within Christendom this kind of thinking is set aside. It’s not just a question of what makes sense logically, but we have to do God’s will regardless of how sensible it is.

But then I also have to accept that the church spending 95% of that money on itself is God’s will.

The more I thought about this the more obvious it was that there’s just no way that could be God’s design. I just can’t buy into that anymore. I can’t imagine Jesus passing a collection plate, taking 60% for himself and his disciples, spending 20% to build a fancy temple for preaching, spending another 15% on programs to market himself and impress potential converts, and finally splitting the last 5% up to help people. I see clearly that the ministry of Jesus and his disciple’s was quite costly in terms of their time, emotions, and even their lives, but there’s no way to substantiate the idea that Jesus needed a big budget so that he or his disciples could be full-time “ministers of the gospel” with huge budgets to fuel fancy programs.

But God Commands Us To Tithe to Our Local Church!

Where do you see a tithe commanded with regard to anything other than the Old Covenant priesthood? What we call church today is solely the invention of men. Mostly these programs are run by quality people that genuinely serve God in the best way they know how, but you won’t find anything ANYWHERE in the Bible that resembles our normal Sunday routine. People are always quick to point out that this doesn’t automatically make it inherently evil, which is true, but it DOES disqualify it from laying claim as the God-ordained recipient of the Old Covenant tithe. God was EXTREMELY specific in the Old Testament on how tithes were to be given and who was to receive them. The details are so exhaustive it’s pretty tough to read them without being bored to tears. By contrast, there is almost nothing at all said of this practice in the New Testament, and certainly nothing that would connect it with our modern day churches. If we so confidently ignore most of the Old Covenant as inapplicable to us today, then what makes the tithe different?

If we really want to apply those Old Covenant principles to our modern day churches, but we don’t want to adopt the whole covenant as issued by God, then who gets to decide which parts we keep? If someone claims that their new program is the rightful recipient of the Old Covenant tithe then they should be able to clearly show where God commands such a thing. It’s not good enough to simply say “I mean well and I’m preaching the gospel, so therefore whatever God specifically laid out for Old Testament Levitical priests is now mine for the taking. God says so.”

Are we to believe that just anybody at all can gather people to meet in a fashion of their own choosing and then tell those people that God commands them to give 10% of their income to the organizer? What if you started a small meeting in your home of ten people? Would you then be right in claiming that God’s divine decree was that you get a tithe from all your members’ income? Where is there ANYTHING at all in scripture that permits us to import things that are specific to the Old Covenant into the programs of our own invention? If we are to do such a thing then why is it ok to take only those parts of God’s program we find most beneficial and leave out the rest? Worst of all: after we’ve invented our choice blend of the Old Covenant with our own ideas, why is it ok to take God’s name in vain by claiming he invented it and that he commands his people to support it?

Well, it’s not ok at all, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. After having made our strange blends of Old Covenant and modern programs we try to use verses like Malachi 3:8-10 to tell people they are robbing God by not giving to the storehouse. Somehow for most of my life it escaped me how absurd it is to try and apply this verse to our church programs… In what conceivable way does a modern day church resemble a storehouse? What are we storing and for whom? What sort of storehouse would spend 95% of the donations entrusted to it on paid staff, marketing, and weekly meetings while ignoring the scores of genuinely needy people outside it’s doors? This verse is utterly meaningless when applied to the idea of God requiring you to give a tenth of your income to a local church. If anything it would be better applied to your local help center for low income families.

There’s a Better Way

I’d like to propose an alternative: take the money you’d normally give to your church and devote it to your neighbor instead. What if the thousands or millions of dollars an average church spent on itself each year went instead to spreading the love of Christ in a way that tangibly touched people’s lives? What would happen? What if YOU took it on yourself to give directly to meet people’s needs? What if you personally expressed the love of Christ toward the people God has put in YOUR life in a way you KNOW would be most meaningful? Sure you could abdicate this to an organization to do on your behalf, but in what way is this possibly better? You know the needs of these people better than any organization on Earth. God has uniquely enabled YOU to minister to them in a way that no organization ever could.

What if you paid to replace your neighbor’s broken water pump? What if you picked up the grocery bill once a week for the stranger behind you in the checkout line? What if you helped your friend cover their rent this month and refused to let them pay you back? What if literally 100% of everything you devoted to the work of God actually went to the work of God instead of the overhead of a program? What kind of opportunities might that open for you to share the gospel with people after tangibly and personally demonstrating the love of Christ?

But Giving is to Be Done AFTER Tithing!

I’ve always believed that giving in this way is something to be done as an “offering”; that it is given above, beyond, and in addition to my tithe. I must first pay the money that I owe to the church and then optionally give to those around me if I have anything leftover and am feeling generous. In other words: not giving my money to a church’s programs and paid staff is robbing God of something I am REQUIRED to give, but then showing charity is OPTIONAL and only to be done only after I’ve paid my dues to God via the church? If almost none of my tithe is to be applied to true ministry (loving those in need), and furthermore if such ministry is only accomplished optionally by some other monies, then what in the world is my tithe even for? This is terribly backward. Doesn’t the word say:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

And then there’s the time Jesus warns us that when we don’t tend to those in need we aren’t tending to HIM (Matthew 25:31-46), and that his response will be to banish us from his presence for eternity! Jesus places a pretty high premium on caring for those in need. Downgrading the care of your neighbor to “extra credit” done only AFTER taking care of fancy buildings and the people that run them is a terrible perversion of what the Bible teaches. Where is any such thing actually taught in scripture? Where on earth did we get this idea?

The exact opposite is true; give generously to your neighbor FIRST. Don’t you dare send them away hungry and hurting because you’ve given all your money to a church and have nothing left. If you genuinely believe that giving your money to any such program is good stewardship, either because your particular church is an anomaly that gives a majority of it’s resources to those in need (or it simply doesn’t bother you that 95% of your money is going nowhere but to the program and it’s organizers), then do as you see fit, but you should do this AFTER serving those God has sent to you for help.

Not Under Compulsion

I want to reiterate what I said to begin with: none of this is written as a slander against those that call for a tithe. I have only the deepest respect for men who have devoted their lives to the spread of God’s word, most of whom believe and teach the tithe, but I do want to bring to light a terrible misunderstanding by which I myself was once deceived. I’m not looking for a way to evade giving that which God may require, but the Bible simply does not teach any such thing. I am compelled to properly understand what the Word of God has to say about how to steward the resources he has placed in my care. Blindly handing 95% of it to be squandered on programs seems not only to be terrible stewardship on my part, but also does very little to accomplish any of the things that God expressly desires.

If you genuinely believe in an organization, whether a church, a radio broadcast, a soup kitchen, a missionary, or anything or anyone else, I encourage you to give to it often and generously. Help those in need, and set money aside regularly to do so; only be sure and give cheerfully and not under compulsion. Be freed to give to any person or group in the way you feel would best minister the love and grace of God. God puts people in your path and wants you to help them; don’t ever let someone tell you that you must give to your church first and only help those people if there’s anything left over. Give what you can when you can, but not at the expense of those around you in need and certainly not at the expense of your own family’s needs. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8)

My hope in writing this is to see God’s people freed to show his generous love in a personal one-on-one way that could never be accomplished by any organization, no matter how well intended it is. I deeply regret ever having said anything that brought condemnation on anyone as though they were a second-class Christian for not paying their tithe, and I don’t want to see anybody wrestle with that kind of false guilt.

Don’t ever give because you’re told that you are obligated by God… his people should give readily and joyfully as an extension of the great gift they have received! Give to those in need because God has given you a great abundance from which to give.

Starting Over

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
(Psalms 63:1)

God has been turning me inside out lately. I want so badly to understand him; his character, his commands, and his requirements of me. The more I seek the more I find my view of him to be miserably worthless. The creator of the universe in all his glory will not be contained within my own imagination nor the collective understanding of all mankind! I feel sometimes like I’ll burn from the inside out if I can’t somehow express what he is showing me, and yet I fall inevitably short of expressing him at all. He is magnificent beyond the most eloquent expression, whether word, song, or picture, and so it seems I must resign to continue burning.

In this burning, however, I am compelled to seek him out further; to study his word and read the musings of other believers who have done the same. This searching invariably leads me to questions that taunt and plague me at every silent moment. Often the searching only uncovers harder questions!

Although satisfactory answers are sometimes perpetually beyond reach, I find the hunt itself brings a satisfaction of it’s own; searching the unsearchable to better know the unknowable.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
(Romans 11:33)

Relying on Pillars

But there is a difficult thing that happens with this searching; many “unshakeable” truths are suddenly shaken to their core. Ideas I’ve clung to my entire life are suddenly no longer there for my support. Often the pillars that were once integral to the structure of my faith are revealed instead as ill-placed obstacles in need of demolition. I’ll refrain for now from discussing these pillars, but suffice it to say that it is a terribly unsettling experience! Which portions of my structure can be trusted, and which are about to buckle?

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.
(Hebrews 12:25:27)

With all those once unshakeable pillars having come into question I’ve had to step back and reevaluate what truths I can still rely upon… and I’ve narrowed it down to just one: the Word of God. This excludes even my own understanding, my personal experiences, my feelings, and intuitions. This excludes the assertions of the seemingly mature and well studied.

Bottom line: if I can’t line something up with scripture, no matter how much I or anyone else may feel it’s true, I have no choice but to conclude that it’s in error.

And this has been exceedingly difficult… maddening in fact. Not because my belief system is being turned inside out (although this too comes with it’s own challenges), but because it so often puts me on a collision course with some very popular ideas, and regrettably the people that cling to them; people with whom I really just want to get along with.

Relying on People

So when I’m wrestling with a question and the answers I find don’t sit well with fellow believers, especially when I so deeply respect those believers and their counsel, how should I respond? How do I know whether or not my thoughts on a matter are in error?

I have always believed and even taught others that we should rely on the counsel of fellow believers to know whether or not we are hearing from the Lord. I’ve held that our fallibility makes us too error prone to seek God on our own without the confirmation of others in the faith to bring us correction. While to some extent I would still recommend this as a good baseline, lately I’ve had to wrestle with a serious dilemma posed by this notion: What do I do when I’ve done all I can to seek a matter out using God’s Word as my compass and although it seems to clearly say one thing, the idea proves unsettling among the people whose confirmation I’m seeking?

Comparing my thoughts with the thoughts of others whom I respect has always served as sort of a litmus test for whether or not I’m still “in line”, but more recently I’ve found myself quite out of line with some well established ideas and the people that hold them. By my own standards this would mean I’ve lost my way and am in need of a course correction. If, however, the ideas posited in the verses I read seem clearly perpendicular to popular opinion and just won’t leave me alone… then what should I do?

Relying on God’s Word Directly

It’s tempting to just rely on established ideas and the people around me, but what if the Bible is saying something else? For awhile I couldn’t shake the idea that this must have meant I was really missing something. Surely a proper understanding of the word would result in unity between me and those around me, right?

Well as nice as that sounds it’s quite opposite of what I read in the Bible:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”
(Matthew 10:34-36)

“Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three…”
(Luke 12:51-52)

It seems that finding yourself in disagreement with others may actually be par for the course. In fact the Bible clearly affirms that the prophets, Christ’s disciples, and even Jesus himself were rejected by others… especially religious leaders. That means my litmus test for self-examination by the opinions of others is no good, regardless of who those people are. It might even be that reversing the test would make it more effective; perhaps our understanding of God’s word SHOULD be unsettling and even polarizing to the majority.

Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
(Luke 6:26)

We CANNOT judge our understanding of scripture by how many people agree with us. God reveals himself to us individually and directly by his Spirit and through his word. We don’t need an interpreter or a higher level of understanding or greater intellect, because it isn’t through any of those things that God reveals himself to us.

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”
(Acts 17:27-28)

It’s an old cliché, but God has no grandchildren. He directly teaches each of us through the Holy Spirit. Each one of us are to abide in him directly, not through the understanding of intermediaries.

Starting Over

It would be far easier to just fit in with everyone, but that isn’t the course he calls us to. It seems unthinkable that simply seeking him out could sometimes result in separation from the people we love, and yet isn’t that exactly what scripture tells us will happen?

So I do my best to seek out his word and be obedient to what he reveals through it. I still seek a multitude of counsel (Proverbs 11:14), but there are clearly many times in scripture where the multitude was completely wrong. Actually it’s far more often the rule than the exception. And although it’s a terrifying thing to be in the minority and be so unsure of myself, I must be personally convinced of God’s word and the Holy Spirit through whom he reveals it rather than denying it for the opinions of men.

So to you too, Christian, I say: be diligent in seeking him and know that he can and WILL be found.

I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me.
(Proverbs 8:17)