Money, Honey

Here is a new article by Thomas Hohstadt (www.futurechurch.org) … he says that “The church’s teaching on money threatens its very existence. If leaders do everything right, yet fail in their message about “money,” the last piece of the puzzle will not snap into place” ….

 

MONEY, HONEY!

The bridegroom loves his bride. He loves caring for her, supporting her. Unless, of course, the bride loves money more than she loves the bridegroom.

The church is at a crossroads. We’re seeing the end of “religiosity”–in all its forms. We’re seeing the “deconstruction” of the pseudo “sacred”–in all its piety. And this forewarning includes “money.”

Our moment of decision is driven by the New Laity. These new leaders are the spiritually yearning, spiritually-led trailblazers, self-starters, entrepreneurs. Usually, they are institutionally alienated, and many have already left the church.

They keep replying, “Been there, done that!” “We’ve been burned before, and we’re not going to be burned again.” With chastened innocence and clear-eyed honesty, they no longer give themselves (or their money) to insiders’ clubs, commercial products, or empty edifices. And–just because someone says so–they no longer contribute blindly to “bottom lines,” sky-high overheads, or missionless “missions.”

More to the point, they no longer bow to the “party line.” For their vision reaches deeper and expands farther. They embrace, for example, the raw truths of a pre-Christendom heritage and the sober warnings of a post-Christendom reality. And, within this vision, they demand honesty, authenticity, and integrity from what’s left of the church.

Put another way, they no longer linger among the manipulated masses. For they now access information, facts, and Scriptural truths hidden from previous generations. They know what they know.

More important, they’re changing the future. Whether in the church or outside the church, they will represent–in a few short years–the prevailing Christian convictions. For the Lord of History has released their constraints. Already, the “uncertified” are becoming spiritual giants, the “unauthorized” are moving in incarnate power, and the “unentitled” are speaking with prophetic boldness.

If there is hope for the future church, religious leaders had better show integrity to these new “spiritual” believers as well as to the old “religious” ones. They had better show authenticity to these budding disciples as well as to the remnants of moribund Christendom. Yet, even if religious leaders do everything right and still fail in their message about “money,” the last piece of the puzzle will not snap into place.

A Co-Dependency World

Yes, of course, ministries need money. When ministries think they can be successful without money, they’re just indulging in “spiritual snobbery.” But you won’t find that snobbery here. To the “realists” among my readers, this is a good news article, not a bad news article. And, receiving this message, ministries will be empowered, not unempowered.

Indeed, the big picture on “giving” opens awesome opportunities for both growth and integrity. Unfortunately, it is not the picture the church presents.

Let’s not be hard on the clergy, though. Their hearts–for the most part–are in the right place. They just need help. Surely, they are under tremendous pressure to show measurable success. Further, they’re raising money the way they’ve been taught to raise money. Indeed, they’re following the same monetary patterns their peers follow.

Furthermore, they’re doing this in faith! And anything done in faith should always bring the “fruit” of faith!

Of course, to make the present system work, clergy must forge their congregations into a silent consensus that follows out of habit or duty. Without the right reasons for giving, leaders must pull together an obedient multitude of hand-fed sheep. And without faith in divine inspiration, “spiritual authorities” must resort to old command-and-control structures.

In other words, “guilt” is the leverage for giving. And it results, of course, in lethargic conformers who follow rather than lead. It results in gathered ghettos who busily bury stillborn spirits. And it results in anonymous congregations who never reach anything near full maturity. These are the same ones, by the way, who watch television without a remote.

Then, among mostly well meaning clergy, we always find a few “bad apples.” They are the self-serving ministries who shamelessly seduce their followers for reasons that cannot stand the light of day. They are the false teachers who abuse the gospel for gain. And, they are amazingly gifted charlatans who bring in vast sums of money–simply because they can!

Whether well-meaning or “well-off,” the world of church money is a world of cautious stakeholders and personal survival. It is a co-dependency world of skeptical clergy and lazy laity. In the worst cases, leaders will avoid anything that threatens the “bottom line.” And anything means anything.

So, “If it works, do it!”  Yes, ministries take money. The problem is how they take money. God does not play second fiddle to mistaken doctrines. “He that serves God for money will serve the Devil for better wages.”(1)

The Right Reasons

Diehard-legalists will have trouble with the next, so let’s get it over quickly:

The best scholars repeatedly prove that tithing is not a New Testament command, that tithing has no place in the New Testament church. There are no reports of tithing, no admonitions to tithe, nor any rebukes for not tithing.

Isn’t this obvious?

After all, New Testament Christians are under a New Covenant. They were never under the Old Covenant. Jesus brought to completion the Old Testament Law by nailing it to the cross. So we have no legal obligations, no legalrequirements, and no legal compulsions for tithing or anything else under the Law.

More important, we’re now under grace–or undeserved favor–and “against such . . . there is no law.”(2)

Even so, many clergy still take a small handful of scriptures out of context to support the notion of tithing. Typically, they quote Jesus’ only comment about the tithe (Matthew 23:23). Yet, this scripture is not a command to tithe. Instead, it simply rebukes those religious leaders who were still under the Law.

Here’s the big picture: Throughout the New Testament, there are “no strings attached” in our giving. Instead, Scripture pleads with one overarching imperative: Give for the right reasons!

The right reasons include profound gratitude and a heart bursting with love. The right reasons include guidance from the Holy Spirit and a free response to that guidance. The right reasons include any amount we’ve chosen and anyrecipient we choose.

In summary, New Testament giving is far more radical and robust, visionary and volatile, than any of the other reasons for giving we’ve been given so far.

“The Great Accountant in the Sky”

For those who prefer the Old Testament to the New Testament–or, for those who prefer “earning” their favor from God instead of freely receiving it–then look out for historical quicksands! For our idea of Old Testament tithing is not even close to what the Old Testament teaches.

Tithing was intricately involved with Hebrew culture, tradition, and history. Yet, we’ve conveniently culled what we want. We’ve tailored their clothes to our own fit. We say, “Yes, we’re redeemed from the Law–except, of course, forour version of the Law.”  It can’t be done that way.

Scripture is fiercely unyielding on this point. If we obey one part of the Law, then we must obey all of the Law.(3) And, if we don’t, we’re “cursed” and “guilty of it all.”(4) “All” means 613 commands and codes. No one would want that, especially the clergy. And, in truth, it would mean considerably fewer contributions.

When we make something “sacred” that is really not sacred, religious institutions and ambitious evangelists usually add additional rules to the system. In other words, distortion begets distortion. And, we find examples of this in today’s controversial “prosperity message.”

Supporters of this teaching insist that godly believers can put their faith wherever they want to put their faith. Indeed, the desperately poor need prosperity and know first-hand that monetary blessings are not ungodly. After all, our faith and hope will plant either “good seed” or “bad seed,” so it makes sense to plant “good seed.”

Questionable ministries, though, bring huge distortions to these beliefs. And, highly prosperous, high-profile leaders–who challenge even Christ for adulation–bring dishonorable manipulation to their sanctuaries. They preach sure-fire formulas for guaranteed blessings–if, of course, the money goes to their ministry.

Their followers, unfortunately, easily confuse spirit and flesh. So the more gullible end up chasing blessings instead of God. They end up putting faith in their “faith” instead of in God. And, they end up treating God like a slot machine instead of a sacred manifestation.

This greed-based theology hardly differs from the “selling of indulgences” prior to the Reformation: “God will pardon sin in exchange for a gift to the church.” Then and now, we have put a price on God’s grace, a measurement on His mercy.  We have made God “The Great Accountant in the Sky.”

The Big Squeeze

Whether in innocence or infamy, the church’s teaching on money threatens the very existence of the church.

“Have-to” laws on giving put people between a rock and a hard place. Compulsion, obligation, and demanded duties hold believers hostage. And this misinformation creates severe consequences in the lives of believers. Some are told they won’t even qualify for blessings unless they tithe. And others are told their very salvation depends on tithing.

People are already struggling with guilt and condemnation, yet some leaders add even the touch of the demonic: “You’re robbing God. If you don’t cough up, God will get you. He’ll place you under a curse.” (This reference to Malachi 3 is just one more example of misused Scripture. Taken out of context, history, and tradition, it has become the whipping post for “bigger agendas.”)

What could be more evil, for example, than demanding tithes from widows who live on $250 a month? This doesn’t even agree with Old Testament law!

Worse, the church’s message on money cancels Christ. Or, as Paul said, it “severs” us from Christ.(5) For legalism is not love and control is not grace. And–just as bad–giving, under someone else’s “authority,” cancels the Holy Spirit. The clergy, obviously, can’t teach Christians to follow the Spirit, then give them rules and regulations for giving.

Inspired giving is the fulfillment of life itself. But reducing it to “paying a bill” is a tragedy. The laity are getting clear who’s really “robbing God.”

“Make money your god and it will plague you like the devil.”(6)

The Secret to Giving

In the first instance, giving has nothing to do with money. (Even Old Testament tithing has nothing to do with money.) Money, in fact, is never consecrated, and giving money is never a sacrament. For money is simply our “stored-up selfhood.”

When we give, in other words, we give ourselves. And Christian giving is inseparable from Christ within. It’s not a passive response to someone else’s faith, someone else’s reasons, or someone else’s decisions. Nor is it reduced to a “good idea,” a “moral obligation,” or “the responsible thing to do.” And, of course, it has nothing to do with an “honorable decision,” self-esteem, or civic pride.

Giving is the “doing” of our faith. First, we give ourselves to the Lord,(7) then we give form to the “substance,” “evidence,” and “proof” of our faith.(8) In other words, we bring into being “nonexistent things . . . as if they [already] existed.”(9) After all, these are the definitions of faith!

In this sense, giving is a creative act. And, a creative act is always the work of the Holy Spirit. Or, as Jesus said, we give the Spirit within.(10) It’s an inspired, spontaneous, transcendent event–a proactive collaboration–the interface between eternity and history. In other words, we are “co-authors” in a world not so much a Creation as a “Creating.”

So giving is constantly putting our selfhood into history, constantly planting seeds, constantly kick-starting our moment in history–no matter how big or how small that moment may be. Indeed, it may be only “the ironing a white, pocket handkerchief.”

Yet, our giving intimately engages us, totally involves us. In no way is it detached or removed from our emotions, for we “purpose in our heart.”(11) The notion that hope and faith, for example, can be separated is intellectual nonsense. And, the notion that giving and love can be separated is a spiritual impossibility.(12)

So compassion is the motivational secret to giving. Our compassion is driven to unload its burden–it desperately looks for places to release itself–it begs for opportunities to share itself.(13) Otherwise, the pain is almost unbearable.

The Price of Survival

In this urgent moment, the church’s lack of money is not the issue. The lack of integrity is the issue. For God is bypassing all the “systems” that have been wrongly established in His name.

If we want to reach the spiritually hungry–but not necessarily the religious diehards–we must re-examine our most deeply held delusions. If we want to reach hidden lovers of Christ–but not necessarily numbed lovers of Christendom–we must avoid our most outdated structures.

Instead of following the “party line,” we must advance right reasons for giving. Instead of growing anonymous congregations, we must mentor eager entrepreneurs. Instead of marching like lemmings off the cliff, we must remove unnecessary barriers to mature spirituality.

This means authentic leaders must shift from harvesting to cultivating, from manipulating to mentoring, from teaching to modeling. And they must change from programs to people, from “doing” ministry to “equipping” ministry, from managing institutions to making disciples.

For the church is not an organization, it’s an organism. It’s not an institution, it’s a living system. It’s not a structure, it’s a spontaneous response to the hastening of history. Yes, these transitions take courage, but–in the long run–they will increase church support, not decrease it.

The world is looking for integrity, and integrity is looking for the church. It’s the currency of the future–the price of survival.

“We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display.”(14)

© 2006 Thomas Hohstadt

(For more on the New Laity, click here.)

ENDNOTES

1. Sir Roger L’Estrange, http://www.apuritansmind.com/Stewardship/ShortQuotesOnWealth.htm.

2. Galatians 5:22, 23; AMP.

3. Galatians 5:3, James 2:10.

4. Galatians 3:10, James 2:10.

5. Galatians 5:4, AMP.

6. Henry Fielding (1707 – 1754) http://www.quotationspage.com.

7. II Corinthians 8:5, AMP.

8. Hebrews 11:1.

9. Romans 4:17, AMP.

10. This is the original meaning of Luke 11:41. See Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary/ New Testament (Chattanooga, TN; AMG Publishers, 1993) p. 403.

11. Acts 11:23, AMP.

12. I Corinthians 13:3.

13. II Corinthians 8:4, AMP.

14. II Corinthians 4:2, 3; The Message Bible.