Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eliminating the Tithe: Magnifying Christ and Mission a Response to Les Puryear

I don’t typically respond to other people’s articles, and I try to stay out of controversy.  Hopefully I do not regret responding here, but Les Puryear seems to be a reasonable man and if there were any discussion I think it would be cordial. 

Puryear recently posted an article on what is wrong with the SBC.  Number two on the list (in no particular order) was “preachers and Seminary professors who teach that the biblical principle of storehouse tithing is not valid today.”  He followed up that article with one this morning accusing those that “eliminate the tithe” as “jumping through hermeneutical hoops to dismiss biblical teaching”.

Here I am not so much going to respond to the discussion of tithing specifically but what I believe is a faulty hermeneutic that drives Puryear’s conclusions. 

In his recent article there is one particular statement that stuck out to me:

I do not agree that we should ignore the Old Testament and obey only New Testament commands. If so, then we would be throwing out more than half of the Bible!

He follows that up with citing 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Psalm 119:105, and Matthew 5:18 to show the danger of ignoring the OT commands. 

If the purpose of the Old Testament is to give us a rule book of commands then I would be more apt to agree with Puryear’s conclusions.  But if the purpose of the Old Testament is to point to Christ (in all of its shadows, sacrifices, etc.) then the Old Testament is not thrown out simply because we no longer adhere to certain laws within the Old Testament. 

In this article three things are listed that are no longer valid: “dietary laws, the ceremonial law, and the sacrificial system”.  Certainly Puryear would not argue that we are “throwing out” most of the Torah just because we see it fulfilled in Jesus. 

As Tom Schreiner has aptly pointed out in his work on Christians and Biblical Law, “the tithe is irretrievably tied to the old covenant, which is no longer in force”.  We do not pay regular tithes to the Levites and to the priests.  All believers are now priests.  Do we then pay tithes to one another?  To truly follow the tithe we must live in the Old Covenant; and that is Schreiner’s point. 

But What About Jesus in Matthew 23?

One of Puryear’s points is that Jesus DOES teach tithing in the New Testament.  In Matthew 23 he tells the Pharisees that they should have tithed.  Their problem is that they were neglecting other matters like justice, mercy, and faith.  But the tithing part they got correct.  Jesus does not rebuke them for tithing in fact he affirms them for it. 

But it is worth noting, again as Schreiner does, that “his positive words about tithing were directed to Pharisees who lived under the old covenant”.  Schreiner then goes on to point out that Jesus also “commended offering sacrifices in the temple (Matthew 5:23-24), but no one today thinks such would be advisable if the temple were rebuilt.”

Tithing and Missions

Count me then as one of those that is a problem within the SBC.  I know that many fear that if this teaching would progress…where we no longer required a tithe in our churches…then an already strapped financial church would be buried.  Furthermore, God would not be please because we would be “robbing God” as it says in Malachi. 

I must admit that does cause me to suggest these things with trepidation.  But might I suggest that it may be possible (hear my trepidation) that mandating the tithe is actually hurting our churches.  Inspired by a question from David Platt’s book, Radical, I asked myself the hard question: what would be different if rather than asking how much can I spare I start asking how much will it take?  (Read that article: here)

Is it possible that many people give their minimum 10% (and we know statistically we often fail to do this) when the cause of missions combined with the way that God has financially blessed us would actually necessitate a much larger sacrifice?  Again what would happen if we did not have a fixed 10% that is the expected amount—but instead we began asking “how much will it take”? 

My contention is that we do not “throw out half the Bible” by not mandating a storehouse tithe.  Rather we magnify the beauty of Christ in saying that He has fulfilled the Old covenant and has now set in its place a blood-soaked new covenant that comes with a non-negotiable call to love one another.  Such a call actually necessitates that we live MORE sacrificially than a tithe and not less**. 

**I am not here accusing Puryear of teaching something akin to only giving a minimum and not giving over and above the tithe. 

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