Why Do We Fund Church The Way We Do?

There is something that bothers me as I sit here.  It is the sense of wrongness that is inherent in how the church is run.  I speak of it as a single entity, even though I know there are multiple denominations, each with their own structure, hierachy, means of accountability, etc.  Everything feels wrong.

The concept of tithing is just one example of the sense of wrong that I have.  Iwould challenge you to look at the justifications that are used to explain why Christians are to tithe.  Consistently, the first place that pastors go is to the Old Testament.  The tithe was given to the priests, the sons of Levi.  In Numbers 18: 20-24 it is made clear that the priests, the Levites, were to receive the tithe instead of an inheritance of land.  However, we are not under the Law of the Old Testament that was given to the nation of Israel.  We are under a new convenant of Grace!  Moreover, we are all to be priests!  So then, to whom are we to tithe?  For that matter, do you see any pastors forswearing the right to own property in exchange for a tithe?  I didn’t think so.

Let’s look instead at the New Testament, in which we are to be in fellowship with one another and share EVERYTHING with each other.  Acts 2:44-46 shows a vision where people are pooling their resources and giving freely to one another as needs arise.  All the people were doing all the work.  Compare this with “the work of the church” in America today.  Many of those who are poor or in need don’t even go to the local church at all!  They go to the local welfare office.  We send missionaries to Peru, and Iraq, and France, forgetting that the uttermost ends of the Earth are just down the street.

Where does your tithe go?  Whose life do you touch with the money you place in the coffer?  Do you even know?  I can tell you the last time I remember touching someone’s life.  My wife and I went to Waffle House (not a classy joint, as I’m sure you could guess), and the waitress was clearly having a rough day.  For a meal that cost less than $20, we left a tip of either $10 or $20 (I can’t recall now).  We could just hear her reaction as we were stepping out the door.  Her life was touched.  She knew someone cared.  There was a face behind that money.  Who knows you care?  The church accountant?

I think we’ve forgetten that the Gospel is about having a personal relationship with Jesus.  We want to see people get saved, but we don’t want to get personal.  It’s messy!  Well, guess what.  Relationships are messy.  I should know, I’ve had a few of them over the years.  My mom, my dad, my wife, my sister, my friends, not a one of them has gone perfectly.  I have some regrets, but I’m better for having those relationships than not.  I cannot model Christ to a picture in a postcard.  Sure, I can send money, but the United States has been sending money to African nations for years to no avail.

Love isn’t about sending money someplace.  Love is what you do when your buddy calls you at 2am asking if you can run him to the hospital because he hurts too bad to walk.  Love is what you do when your girlfriend has a fever and you crash on the cot in case she needs you to get her something during the night.  Love is when you look a bum in the eye, and buy him a burger and a shake, and tell him who sent him food.  Love is when you give him $10 for dinner that night.

Relationships are messy things.  Love demands that you get right in the center of the messiest parts of people’s lives.  It’s a funny thing.  Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.  They stank, I promise you.  Jesus talked to an adulteress and forgave her, as well as telling her to knock it off.  Jesus hung out with a prostitute.  I think we’d find Jesus walking the streets, talking with hookers, drug addicts, and chewing out pastors if he were here today.

And while you think about the tithe, remember that it had to be the sole means of support for approximately 8% of the entire population of Israel.  Do you have that many of your church’s members working full time at your church?  I didn’t think so.  I bet you found that with around one in every twelve men a priest, there were a lot of small groups that gathered on Saturdays.  You couldn’t do business.  You couldn’t work, or watch football, or do a lot of other things.  I think people talked about God.  All day.  Together.  In small groups.

Can you name twelve people in your church that you could see hanging out with every Sunday afternoon?  I’m not talking about doing Sunday School for an extra long session, I’m talking about talking.  At some point, you’ll talk about your worries, your pains, your illnesses, everything.  And you’ll pray for each other and mean it.  Maybe you’ll gather some money when one of you breaks a leg, and find that you had $200 for food for the week.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have time to take turns cooking for your buddy as well.

I’d love to hear stories like this in churches, where people speak about it as a normal occurance.  Heck, you could invite a coworker to hang out on a Sunday afternoon.  It would be a radically different way of doing church.  It would be almost… Biblical.

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