You Must Ask the Right Questions
I received a newsletter from Worldview Weekend and wanted to comment, but their site (hopefully unintentionally) discourages comments due to the form asking for your full address and age. Hence another blog post of mine is born. And the title I chose is of course a reference to the movie “I, Robot”, where the hologram doctor would sometimes respond to a question with, “I’m sorry, my responses are limited. You must ask the right questions.” We often read at a shallow level and don’t always have the time to “ask the right questions”, to think through to a statement or article’s logical conclusions. Sometimes what is left unsaid tells us more than what is said. To be fair, the writers typically didn’t mean to convey some of those conclusions, but that’s all the more reason to stop to analyze them so the writer’s intentions can be clarified.
Two of the articles in this newsletter caught my eye, and I’ll examine each separately below. I hope that these critiques are taken as constructive criticism (not to be equated always with positive criticism!). As I’ve noted many times, even the most “positive” people don’t hesitate to get decidedly negative when they see criticism, an irony all too common among Christians today.
It’s refreshing to see more people speaking out against the traditional (and erroneous) law of tithing. As mentioned in the article, the tearing of the temple’s curtain was more than a supernatural feat, but was in fact a powerful object lesson illustrating the abolishment of clergy/laity distinctions. And as the book of Hebrews makes abundantly clear, the law and the priesthood are inseparable; where one goes, so goes the other. It is not possible to hang on to some pieces of the old law, such as tithing, as if the curtain was not completely torn.
But though the article does mention tithing non-currency, it doesn’t go far enough. The truth is that it was never currency, but crops and animals; see this article. And it isn’t “the church” using its resources but the individuals; churches do not have resources but only people. We really need to ditch this corporate ownership/building program mentality. Also, it isn’t “church leadership” who is to be entrusted with handling people’s gifts, but whoever is going to distribute them--- which could be anybody, leader or not.
Now I must take exception with the ridiculous claim that “the NT commands that pastors be paid (1 Cor 9:8-14; Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:18). Paul also implies that an offering should be taken weekly (1 Cor 16:2)”.
First of all, 1 Cor. 9 concerns missionaries who have given up their livelihoods to take the gospel where others have not gone or cannot go--- NOT salaries for local residents! (Jesus’ warning about “hirelings” should give great pause to such claims.) The support of missionaries is without question in all of Paul’s letters that talk about it, but never does he specify a salary for some resident CEO.
But what about Gal. 6:6? First notice the context; before and after this is, “If anyone thinks they’re special, they are nothing and fooling only themselves”, and, “A person will harvest what they plant”. Let’s apply that to salaried professional orators, shall we? What is the harvest of money? In fact, I don’t see money mentioned here at all, but only “goods”. This is clearly about food and clothing, not funding a career. And keep in mind that this same Paul said that he refused to be “robbed of this boast” by being paid (1 Cor. 9:13-23).
I’ve written before about 1 Tim. 5:18, and asked the unanswerable question, “If honor=money and elders get ’double honor’, then who gets ’single honor’ and how much is that?”. Though Paul cites an Old Testament passage about wages, the context here is clearly and explicitly about literal honor, not a euphemism for cash. Paul is teaching Timothy to not allow baseless or flippant accusations against proven leaders of exemplary character. But more importantly, Timothy was not to show favoritism and let guilty elders off the hook. That is, with double honor comes double shame; the guilty elders were to be made a public example as a warning to others. If only the churches would practice that!
I’ve also written about the fact that 1 Cor. 16:2 does NOT specify a weekly offering. The Greek there is “on the first of sabbaths”, which referred to the first Sunday of the Feast of Weeks. This is corroborated in verse 8 by Paul’s mention of Pentecost, which was the final Sunday of the Feast. That is, Paul wanted them to take up ONE collection on a particular day so that when he came at Pentecost the money would already be ready for him to take to the needy in Jerusalem. A specific collection on a specific day for a specific gift to a specific group of needy people is NOT “a weekly offering”. Note the phrase in the article: “this presupposes generous giving from the congregation”; it is a thinly veiled guilt trip for regular salary support.
So while it’s good to abandon the legalistic tithe, it is not good to still keep the purpose of that tithe, which was to support priests who had no land of their own. Yes, it included also distributing food to the poor, but not all the tithes were for that purpose. Many who claim to have studied the Bible thoroughly are nonetheless shocked to read what is found in passages listed here. In fact, some tithes were to be used to buy party food and “strong drink” (Deut. 14:22-29)! Let’s not try to keep bits and pieces of the old law, but recognize that the curtain in the temple is completely and permanently torn.
(I REALLY detest the final sentence there: “But a Christian should want to invest as much of his money as possible in eternal things, and it would seem that a good church is doing eternal work, and thus would present a good investment of the pastor’s money.”. WHAT? Whose money?? Though it’s poorly worded, the intent at best is to say that paying the pastor is a good investment in eternal things. But giving to the poor is NOT giving to the pastor, who is NOT an old-covenant priest presiding over a church that is NOT “the storehouse”.)
Isn’t it great? Nine men meeting to study scripture for an hour and a half every Tuesday morning (at a pricey restaurant). Men, men, men. No women. At Panera. And if that doesn’t say it all, there are enumerated points to further extol the virtues of the Panera Men:
- Bread, spiritual or otherwise, is the quintessential stuff of life. But aside from the fact that all of us, men and women alike, can benefit from it, I’m pretty sure that taking up nine seats in an upscale restaurant every week for that length of time might not be the best example of stewardship or consideration.
- Here we go again with the “The Pastor” thing. But why only pastor the men? And it isn’t just this guy but all the “pastors”. Are men so spiritually different from women that only men can pastor or be pastored by men? It isn’t as though this guy is saying there’s a similar arrangement for women either, or that the Bible studies are “men’s issues”. Are all the “sheep” males?
- It’s all well and good to “pastor” families, but why is his “touch with the entire congregation made through the father or husband”? It’s rather condescending to “make exceptions” for women who are single or have unbelieving husbands; it has kind of a “bottom of the barrel” feel to it. It’s one thing to have more personal friends among one’s own sex, but it’s quite another to have such an unbalanced connection to a whole church. And if the goal is to “successfully help the entire church”, then shouldn’t those “exceptional” women be in the Bible study too?
- Though it’s mild by comparison to some I’ve seen, here we have the ’poor burdened pastor’ showing through these meetings that he too has “struggles”. Where would the men have gotten the idea that a pastor is super-human in the first place? Who has put him up on a pedestal, and why hasn’t the pastor taught them that this is wrong? Where in the New Testament does is say that those with the gift of “pastor” should “teach a well-manicured message” every Sunday, or run business meetings, or be the only ones capable of “obtain[ing] the meaning of a text”? Take away all the unbiblical traditions and there is no need for showing the laity how human their clergy are.
- Again, it’s nice that this particular pastor admits to not being all-knowing and to having things to learn from others. But when do the “exceptional” women get to see and participate in this experience? When does he stoop to their level too (though stooping shouldn’t happen at all)? Is this really for the whole congregation?
- Finally, a pastor who values interaction! So why not do this on Sunday mornings then? And why not let women interact as well? Why don’t they want women “to open the Bible and teach something”? When he says “Men talking Bible truth readily and pointedly and in a stimulating manner is an art to be learned”, he isn’t using “men” in the old generic sense, as is quite obvious by now. And why doesn’t this wonderful training take place in Sunday School where it belongs, as a replacement for the typically shallow “quarterly” routine?
- It’s nice to know that “we haven’t shared ignorance” but “become what we read”. Does that include “treating others as better than yourselves”--- even “laity” and women? I hope someday that this guy and his buddies will “live it out” to that degree and not be satisfied with “half a loaf”.
- So this is also for the purpose of “discover[ing] future leaders”--- but only men? Why isn’t it as important to see how women “interact with each other and the Bible”?
If these guys are too intimidated to include women, there should at least be a group of women (and their female pastors!) doing all of this as well. But somehow I don’t think that’s on the menu. Though he quotes the Anabaptists (including the phrase “brothers and sisters”), he has made the masculine preeminent in no uncertain terms. Unless to “be more like Jesus” is something only men can do, there is no more excuse for this kind of “we men are the leaders” ignorance and pride.