Sunday, August 12, 2018

Christian Tithing

This is a great question: Should Christians use tithing as a basis for giving?

Christian tithing refers to giving a minimum of 10% of one’s income to the Lord through one’s local church. The Church has debated the concept of tithing throughout its history, yet overall, has affirmed the Old Testament tithe as the basis of Christian giving. 

A Brief Biblical Argument in Favor

The Christian tithing discussion has focused upon the Lord’s tithe in the Old Testament, not festival giving, giving to the poor, or other tithing, or even freewill offerings above and beyond the Lord’s tithe. 

The concept of tithing itself permeated ancient near eastern cultures prior to the giving of the Law to Moses. Pagans would offer tithes from their property, produce, and currency to their gods. The first recorded example in the bible of a follower of Yahweh offering tithes is that of Abraham:

After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh, that is, the King’s Valley. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:17–20 ESV)

Jacob, in Genesis 28:18-22, offered to give the Lord a full tenth out of all that the Lord would give him. Tithing actually pre-dates the Mosaic Law and both of the examples of Abraham and Jacob are examples of voluntary giving motivated by grace.

This reality served as the background for when God gave the Law to Moses. In the Law, God systematized tithing for his worship and maintenance of his new nation of Israel (Leviticus 27:30-32; Numbers 18:21-32; Deuteronomy 12:5-19; 14:22-27). Later, the prophets would frequently exhort the people of God regarding the practice of tithing, often due to their neglect of it (e.g., Amos 4:4-5; Malachi 3:7-12). The historical writings recorded the renewal of the practice of tithing after returning from exile (e.g., 2 Chronicles 31:4-12; Nehemiah 10:34-39).

In the New Testament, the Gospels have recorded a few discussions of tithing, for example in Matthew 23:23-24. But, overall there remains an absence of instruction on tithing in the rest of the New Testament because of the impact of the New Covenant. Instead, the Apostles put forward other reasons for giving (see 2 Corinthians 8-9; Hebrews 7-8): (a) personal motivations, such as giving sacrificially, voluntarily, joyfully, thankfully, generously, and the list goes on; and (b) New Covenant considerations, because of the greater covenant including the Holy Spirit and the need to support churches on mission.

We Still Have to Answer the Question

The question of whether or not Christians should use tithing as a basis for their giving will likely continue to be debated and discussed, which gratefully should advance our understanding together. However, Christians still need to answer the question, in practice, somehow. Giving remains an important issue in Christian discipleship and maturity in the faith. Under both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, giving has been presented as a matter of grace, though administered differently.
At what level of giving would you suggest starting? Would you dare suggest less than 10%? Shouldn’t believers under the full blessings of the New Covenant in Christ give more than those under the Old Covenant? And prior to the Law, even the pagans in Abraham’s day who worshipped false gods gave their gods 10%; but, Christians worship the One True God!

Our Personal Journey of Christian Tithing

When growing up, I observed people putting a token $20 in the offering plate each week. I thought that was a lot of money being a young child. When I became a true Christian in my high school years, I don’t recall receiving instructions or guidelines on tithing of giving (maybe I wasn’t listening). Anyway, I kept all the money I earned; actually, I foolishly spent it all on myself. During my college years, I didn’t earn much of an income at all, but I occasionally gave what I could afford and was learning about giving at the church I attended. After getting married and starting to earn a living, we started to tithe—it was a delight and served as a key to our Christian growth together at our new church.
However, when we entered full-time Christian ministry finances become challenging due to minimal income, babies, and student loan payments. We struggled to tithe, live, and not default on our loans. Tithing became something we felt we could only do every other month; as a result, it became an agonizing commitment, contributing to weekly sadness and daily tension. So, we decided not to tithe, but taking someone’s advice, we decided to give 2-3% and work hard to change our situation. This was a painful decision because we didn’t fully believe it was the right decision. At first, we kept track of what we owed God, but eventually gave up on this. Anyway, it wasn’t too much longer, and the Lord provided a little more income, so we sought good counsel, consolidated our loans, and began to increase our giving to 10% as fast as we could.

Soon after that decision, our church’s interim preacher at that time preached a three-week series on giving. He covered information we already knew, but the Lord used it to encourage us in our renewed commitment to giving 10%. He told the story of his own journey of not only tithing, but for a number of years increasing his giving by 1% a year until he felt the joy of sacrifice—wow! We continued to tithe, but tithing was still a real struggle for us, but was also a real joy for us. We understood in a new way, so many things about giving financially as an act of worship to the Lord and mature responsible commitment to his mission. Ever since that time, our favorite check to write is our check to our church!

Moving Forward

Christians, especially Christian leaders, should prioritize their lives in order to position themselves to honor the Lord in the matter of tithing. Don’t make excuses, such as, being in debt, going through hard times, giving elsewhere or in other ways, or hoping to get to that level of giving soon. Learn to tithe early in your Christian walk and make the commitment to tithe for the sake of your spiritual health. In addition, making and keeping a budget that includes tithing will provide even greater freedom and cash flow for further generosity.
Christian tithing shows that we really believe: (a) all that we have belongs to the Lord, (b) he is faithful to us in meeting our needs, and (c) our lifestyle should be different than the world because we prioritize worship and service to God.

What further questions do you need to explore to strengthen your understanding of a biblical view of giving? What stories of blessing do you have that you could tell to encourage others?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Bible Is Not A Leadership Handbook

What is biblical leadership? Or, what is leadership according to the bible? These are great questions to which many of us continually seek the answers. If we could put together a biblical model of leadership, what would that biblical model of leadership involve?

Caution: This might not be as easy of a project as it at first sounds. Volker Kessler (2013) examined two pitfalls when attempting to write a biblical view of leadership: Christ Against Culture and Reconstructionism.

Pitfall One, Christ Against Culture

The first pitfall, Christ against Culture (Niebuhr, 1951), attempts to find a pure form of biblical leadership without respect to culture, or input from other resources. Those who attempt such an approach to use only the bible, and nothing but the bible, often fail to realize that when the bible doesn’t directly address certain matters, they themselves tend to fill in the gaps with their own cultural experiences of what would be best. Hence, it ends up not really being a pure form of biblical leadership, anyway.

Kessler provided examples of Christian leadership forums from Russian, German, Hungarian, and American perspectives. Have you observed people attempting to find a purely biblical form of Christian leadership, only to fail in the end? If so, what role did culture play?

Pitfall Two, Reconstructionism

The second pitfall, Reconstructionism, attempts to discover modern theories of leadership in the bible and reconstruct what was supposedly really there in the bible all along. Kessler described four phases in this process:
  1. Perception of what is currently popular in leadership discussions. 
  2. Acceptance of the useful insights for the church, even citing biblical parallels. 
  3. Assimilation through proof-texting and normalization of the freshly re-discovered biblical leadership. 
  4. Standardization of this newly declared biblical view of spiritual leadership as true and good biblical leadership. 

He provided an example of the contemporary emphasis on visionary leadership in American evangelicalism. Have you seen this reconstructionist process at work with other leadership theories, ideas, and fads?

What about: leadership as influence, servant leadership, heroic leadership, the leader within, loving leadership, coaching, leading like Jesus, leadership by the book, authentic leadership, laws of leadership, early church leadership, tools of leadership, healthy leadership, heroic leadership, painful leadership, courageous leadership, etc.? (Based on a cursory search of Amazon, there appears to be an almost unlimited supply of Christian leadership books, approaches, ideas, and repackaging of others’ ideas.)

Kessler concluded that: (a) the bible should not be viewed as a leadership handbook, (b) leadership theories are necessary and useful, and (c) the goal is to develop multiple leadership theories consistent within the Christian framework. This seems like a modest and refreshing proposal of a schema that remains tethered to theological and biblical (even authoritative) foundations, and a proposal that calls for awareness of cultural contexts in such a way that they can be appreciated, incorporated, and challenged. Is this proposal sufficient?

Putting the question back to you: If you could put together a biblical model of leadership, what would that biblical model of leadership involve?

Kessler, V. (2013). Pitfalls in biblical leadership. Verbum Et Ecclesia, 34(1), 1-7. doi:10.4102/ve.v34i1.721
Niebuhr, H. R. (1951). Christ and culture. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Early Church Was Complex, Not Simple

Without noting it specifically, Schnabel (2004) described the spread of the early church throughout the mediterranean world in the first century under the direction of the Apostles along the lines of complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory. The new emergent churches self-organized in what might be termed regional networks with each church functioning along the lines of what CAS theory would describe as independent agents.

In contrast to traditional mechanistic and even more current organic and open systems organizations, leadership in CAS finds expression within a network structure of “non-hierarchical relationships comprised of human points of contact” (Hatch & Cunliffe, 2013, p. 281). Hatch and Cunliffe delineated how networks form in light of “fragmented, specialized markets” (p. 281) and end up developing unique “lateral relationships and partnerships” (p. 281).

From a CAS theory perspective, then, the early missional churches lived and thrived in states of disequilibrium. They co-evolved as a system and network along with their environment they were seeking to impact. The new logic of leadership in CAS theory is really old logic: “leadership is an emergent event, an outcome of relational interactions among agents” (Lichtenstein et al., 2006, p. 2).

From my work in assisting church planting movements in east and south Asia, and even central Europe, the CAS approach fits naturally; those doing successful church planting actually approach leadership and change from a CAS perspective without knowing the theory. Leaders build shared vision within the larger complex system, take a facilitative and empowering approach toward other agents (leaders and churches), and enable change rather than direct change.

Interestingly, church planting in the USA happens slowly compared to many places in the world. Might this be at least partially explained by the commitment to traditions and mechanistic models of formal education, church buildings, full funding, and using processes and employing leadership in ways that are non-adaptive?

Hatch, M. J., & Cunliffe, A. L. (2013). Organization theory: Modern, symbolic, and postmodern perspectives (3rd ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University.

Lichtenstein, B. B., Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., Seers, A., Orton, J. D., & Schreiber, C. (2006). Complexity leadership theory: An interactive perspective on leading in complex adaptive systems" Emergence: Complexity and Organization, 8(4), 2-12.

Schnabel, E. J. (2004). Early Christian mission. Downers Grove, IL: IVP.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Suffering Stops Sinning

At the time of Apostle Peter’s writing the Roman society was filled with certain joys that needed to be stopped.

We might recall some of them from our history lessons.  There were the famous entertainments of risqué theatre productions, chariot racing culture, and gory gladiatorial combat.  There were the infamous immoralities from giving free reign to passions of all sorts:  temper, sex, drink, slander, lying, and theft to get ahead.  

Christians were seen as killjoys, antisocial non-participants, and cultural traitors who spoke out against such things. When one becomes a Christian many things change with internal desires, outward behavior, and purposeful living.  It is a life lived with much higher joys and meaning and satisfaction. 

In 1 Peter 4:1-5, our Apostle Peter describes how suffering stops sinning.

The New Resolve for the Present and the Future

1 Peter 4:1–2 ESV “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”

Jesus Christ “suffered in the flesh,” meaning in this temporary earthly life and realm of sinfulness.  Of course, Jesus Christ suffered once to deal with sin by His Cross on behalf of His People.  He did this with Holy Spirit empowered resolve to obey God the Father and accomplish His will.

We then are to have, and being His own can have, the same attitude inspired by the Holy Spirit living our lives.  We are called to a new way of life, new devotion to Christ, new resolve against the sinfulness of the world.  When suffering in this world, we should consider how this works to bring an end to sin in our lives.

How is it that unjust suffering works to eliminate sin in a Christian’s life?  Does it inherently work purification?  Maybe, but some would say it just as easily pushes us in the opposite direction.  Does it lessen opportunities for sin?  Maybe, but some would say it provides more.  Above all it works to focus our mind—is this what you have found?

Suffering is not something that works automatically, but only insofar as our mind is set to face it head on and gain something from it, and then it morally strengthens us.  We are to be like Jesus in this commitment upfront to obey God and embrace suffering because of this commitment.  Even though he was the perfect Son of God, God become Man, He in His humanity grew in this strength and resolve.

This mindset going into suffering shows that we are willing to be done with sin; and then it works ever deepening resolve in us, increasing freedom from sin, and establishing a whole new outlook on life.  Suffering then works as a reinforcement; and as a help to us; and as a fence of security.

And so one of the greatest results is that we can live out the rest of our life on earth under the control of new motivations for growth.  We don’t have to follow common human passions, but seek out doing the will of God in this life.

A Sarcastic View of the Past Can be Helpful Too

1 Peter 4:3–5 ESV “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

We were just like all the rest of the “Gentiles,” that is unbelievers without God and without hope, and enslaved to our passions and the ways of the world around us.  We praise God for His rescue of us and making us now part of the People of God.  

How helpful it can be at times to be sarcastic with ourselves about our past life without God in this world!  This is the Apostle’s approach in verse 3.  There was more than enough time to “enjoy” the sins of the morally corrupt and rebellious world.  Of course, this is not how we really see it, rather we are glad to have escaped what we are now ashamed of.

Certainly, not all people live such unrestrained lives in this extreme picture; however we also know that people do not live as clean as they claim either.  The natural inclination to such things is like a seed ready to germinate within each one of us naturally.  We are all infected with the corruption of sin and no one is free from the contagion, nor pure.

As one scholar pointed out, perhaps the activities being described were directly related to cultural celebrations most everyone participated in to some degree, such as, family religious festivals, trade guild celebrations, and civic holiday celebrations.  If so, then the matter of having Christ’s resolve to resist cultural and social expectations makes a lot of sense.

Prepared to Honor God

Christians just don’t do certain things and that is the way it is.  What changes have you noticed in your life and desires?  What parts of you are becoming ever more refined in your pursuit of holiness?  What breaks from sin have proven good and propelled you forward in your walk with Christ?

Where now, today, do you need to put forth the resolve of Christ in the same power of the Holy Spirit?  Remember that suffering is appointed as a help for you in this.  Maybe it is in some of the same areas as Roman society:  entertainment, lifestyle, friendships, or personal control?  What about the passions and impulses that are given free range in our society?

By living resolved to suffer in order to avoid sinning we are further strengthened to live for the will of God.  Be confident and content, for you will succeed and eventually be perfected in the image of Christ.  What might change for you?  What good things might you be hoping for in your life?

So, “arm yourself” with this mindset of Christ for your life from this point forward.  Pray that your resolve will be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and so made successful before God the Father.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

10 Missing Christian Themes

Reflecting on my conversations with Christians, my observations from social media, and my impressions from sermons this past year, I have complied a list of 10 missing Christian themes that need more attention in our churches and Christian living these days.

Certainly, there are other themes to be identified and more verses to be studied. However, from my perspective, Christians in America need to honestly and privately assess their faithfulness on these ten missing themes that scripture presents as vitally important for our Christian discipleship.

I have simply listed the theme and supplied one passage. This way it is simple, and it allows for reflection. Again, many other biblical passages could be provided. May God bless His Word to our souls.

1. Obedience to Civil Authorities

Romans 13:1–7 ESV “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

2. Unrighteousness of Anger
James 1:19–20 ESV “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

3. Slander is Evil

James 3:5–18 ESV “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

4. Sexual Ethics Matter

1 Corinthians 6:18–20 ESV “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

5. Rage is False Spirituality

2 Timothy 3:1–5 ESV “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

6. Christ Truly is the Only Way

1 John 2:22–23 ESV “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”

7. Submission to Authority of Scripture

2 Peter 3:16–18 ESV “. . . the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

8. Courage to be Clear (not Vague) about Commitment to Christ

Matthew 10:32–33 ESV “So everyone who acknowledges me [Jesus Christ] before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

9. Righteousness is Required

Matthew 5:17–20 ESV ““Do not think that I [Jesus Christ] have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

10. Focus, Focus on the Gospel

Ephesians 2:1–10 ESV “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Destructive Leadership

Transformational leaders appeal to the moral values of their followers, seek to elevate their ethical awareness, and motivate and involve them in the mission of the organization. Followers will trust, admire, give loyalty to, and respect these types of  leaders. The opposite of this visionary and ethics-based leadership is a self-serving unethical leadership that leads to the destruction of organizations and the people associated with them. Have you ever witnessed this type of destructive leadership?

In his classic article “The Dark Side of Leadership,” Conger (1990) identified a number of reasons why some visionary leaders fail and fail miserably, highlighting negative leaders who place their personal needs as paramount, chase their visions while miscalculating circumstantial realities, and use their communication skills to deny flaws in their vision and manage their image. 

In their book, The Allure of Toxic Leaders, Lipman-Blumen (2005) described destructive and toxic leaders as those who exhibit highly dysfunctional personality characteristics. But they also placed blame upon followers who seek out such leaders in the midst of challenging and often fearful circumstances. Often, both destructive leaders and those who follow them rationalize their views and mutually support one another and end up advancing a system of destructive leadership.

Recently, Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser (2007) provided a useful description of destructive leadership theory in terms of a toxic triangle made up of threes dimensions, the “confluence of destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments” (p. 176). 
  • Destructive Leaders exhibit the characteristics of “charisma, personalized need for power, narcissism, negative life history, and an ideology of hate” (p. 182). 
  • Susceptible Followers come in two groups, conformers and colluders, “conformers comply with destructive leaders out of fear, whereas colluders actively participate in a destructive leader’s agenda” (p. 183). Conformers make themselves vulnerable because of their “unmet basic needs, negative core self-evaluations, and immaturity” (p. 180). Colluders actively support destructive leaders because of the opportunity to enact their “similar ambitions, worldview, and values” (p. 180). 
  • Conducive Environments for destructive leadership include four factors: “instability, perceived threat, cultural values, and absence of checks and balances and institutionalization” (p. 185).
Have you ever observed destructive leadership theory at work in an organization? What could be done to help those involved dismantle the toxic triangle of destructive leadership, susceptible followership, and conducive environmental factors? What might be the role of prayer, repentance, forgiveness, and the use of wisdom for instituting change?

Conger, J. (1990). The dark side of leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 19(2), 44-55.

Lipman-Blumen, J. (2005). The allure of toxic leaders: Why we follow destructive bosses and corrupt politicians—and how we can survive them. New York: Oxford University. 

Padilla, A., Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. B. (2007). The toxic triangle: Destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(3), 176-194.