How to Rebuild a Social Order: First, Start with a Creed

Foundations of Social OrderHere is a good question for a Bible-affirming Christian to ask himself: “Why should I study the creeds?”

In other words, “I believe in Jesus.  I believe the Bible.  I believe in what it says.  I know I’m saved and I have a bright eternal future to look foward to.  Why should I look to the past?  Why should I concern myself with man-made formulations and decisions and writings that were put together centuries ago in a different time and place for different people — for reasons that no longer seem relevant to me?”

I’ll give you one good reason: because civilizations are built on them.

More to the point, because Western Civilization was built on them — meaning, the civilization you and I take for granted because it’s all we’ve ever known (you know, the one that so many who have enjoyed its benefits and advantages are quick to vilify), is historically founded on the ancient creeds and doctrinal formulations that were put together during the earliest centuries of the Christian Church to defend against her mortal enemies, and which were given to strengthen the growing society of believers and prepare them for the task of building a new social order, a new civilization to replace the one that was crumbling and disintegrating around them.

That’s why!

I wasn’t always convinced of this myself.

Having grown up Roman Catholic, I was used to creeds.  Mainly, the Nicene.  We said the Nicene Creed every Sunday at mass.  Its words always made a profound impression on me.  I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.  And that’s just the first line!  By the time I recited the last line, the final affirmation — I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come. Amen. — I knew that I had just publicly recommitted myself, along with the rest of the congregation, to upholding the entirety of the crucial fundamentals of the historic Christian faith.

Corporate, public statements of faith are a powerful thing.

By the time I graduated from Catholic grade school and went on to atheistic, anti-Christian public high school and junior college, religious creeds and professions of faith became a thing of the past.  Their profound impressions had worn off.  At least for a while.

When I finally came around to personally embracing what I had so many times publicly stated as a child that I believed — the basic tenets of the Gospel and of the Christian faith — my newly-rekindled belief in Christ over the next few years began to move in a decidedly different direction: away from creeds and councils and “historic” Christianity.

‘Grounded’ in Scripture

You see, I became a “Bible bigot.”

What’s a Bible bigot?  John Wesley said it best.

My ground is the Bible. Yea, I am a Bible-bigot. I follow it in all things, both great and small. - John Wesley

“Nothing but the Bible, God’s Word, for me!”

Sounds admirable. Even exemplary.

Funny thing is, I didn’t practice what I preached.  (I’m not sure the Rev. Wesley did, either!)  I didn’t “follow it in all things, great and small.”  How could I when my newly-minted anti-nomianism and hyper-animosity toward anything resembling the dead, denominational “Churchianity” that I had abandoned all those years ago, was at a fever pitch?

My “New Testament” faith couldn’t possibly turn to Old Testament laws and principles — or (heaven forbid) ancient “Romish” councils and creeds and outdated statements of man-inspired religious convictions and preferences — for scripturally sound guidance let alone authoritative governance.

It was the fundamentalist non-war cry ringing in my ears: “No creed but Christ. No law but love!”

Can you relate?

Back to the Future

Then along came Calvin.  Into my life.  The Puritans.  The Reformers.  The Westminster Confession of Faith.  Historic, orthodox Protestant Christianity.  Rushdoony.  North.  Sutton.  Gentry.  Chilton.  Jordan.  Bahnsen.  “Christian Reconstruction.” “Theonomy.”

I soon shed the stifling cocoon of my former “Bible-believing” self.  My Christian worldview took to flight.  Apocalyptic, end-is-near, pessimistic pietism gave way to biblical blue skies and scripturally-grounded eschatological optimism.

Eventually, the creeds and councils and theological decisions of the early church to me became the blood, sweat, and tears and vital, living legacy of my spiritual forbears, my ancient brethren in the faith.  Valiant, doctrinal defense of the faith was the arena in which they fought, and many died.  They weren’t perfect.  But, then neither are we!  And yet the church progresses.  The faith advances.  The kingdom proceeds.  The truth stands.

Why study the creeds?

Well, because we owe it to our spiritual forbears.  It is the blood, sweat and tears of a vibrant theological legacy they have bequeathed to us!  We also owe it to our civilization, whose very life is built on them, and whose very survival depends on the preservation and revitalization of that legacy.

So, let’s move forward.

How Firm a Foundation

I start with Rushdoony’s Preface, which he wrote in 1998, a full thirty years after the original publication (1968) of Foundations of Social Order.

Here, he says that the critical theme in all of his writings is the integral relationship between the theological doctrines of the church and the civic health and life of the society around it.  When doctrine and theology are abstracted from life, the result is disaster and evil.  The loss of sound theology in the church leads to decay in the Christian life.

And when the early church was busy “hammering out definitions of doctrines” in its creeds and councils, it was also “laying down the foundations of Christendom” along  with them.  I get the sense in reading the accounts later in the book that they knew they were doing much more than merely engaging in intellectual and theological debate over rhetoric and the nuances of pious prose.  They knew there was much more at stake: their lives and their very societies.

Rushdoony cites legal scholar Harold J. Berman and his book, Law and Revolution, where Berman discusses how the doctrine of Christ’s atonement literally “reshaped” law and society, and also how “the present decline of that doctrine is leading to the death of Western civilization.”

Thus, Rushdoony concludes (he can do no other): “the foundation of true social order can only be in the triune God and His enscripturated truth and word.”

So, let’s take a look at one of those early foundations.

The Apostles’ Creed and Creedalism

Why even have a creed?

That’s a fundamental question you have to answer before you even begin to go to the trouble of putting one together.  The apostles and the early church had the Gospels, the Epistles, ultimately the entire Old Testament and New Testament, plus letters, sermons, tracts and treatises that were composed, written, preached, copied and shared throughout the churches in the inhabited regions of the empire.

Lots of theological information being spread around, disseminated.  In that environment, what purpose does a creed serve?

Here is the answer (from Rushdoony):

The creed is the door to the house of faith.  It is the minimal statement of belief.

Moreover, he adds,

It is intensely personal.

“Intensely personal”?  Creeds?

Rushdoony points out that creeds were written for the individual, who had to affirm every article of the creed as “his personal faith.  This meant that a believer was held accountable for what he said he believed personally, rather than corporately.  Here is where you find one of the peculiar differences between the Eastern church and the Western church, in the formulation of their creeds.  The Eastern church (Greek) uses the first person plural “we”, while the Western church (Latin) uses the first person singular “I”.

Result: there’s less wiggle room in the Western church for an errant believer to walk back from what he said!  But this also has resulted in the Western church being more open to reforms and more successful at summoning and marshalling the loyalty of the faithful.

Creeds were born of necessity.  Churches were collective affairs. They still are.  To join one, you had to least give assent to the basic tenets of what that church taught and believed.  These basic tenets had to be boiled down from a large and growing body of literature (and opinion).  Thus were born these brief, personal “statements of faith”.

The Apostles’ Creed was so called because it was written by early church leaders to briefly summarize apostolic teaching and preaching.  There’s no exaggeration or misrepresentation in the title, though, since the authenticity of its doctrinal pedigree is based on the fact that “all of its articles are to be found in theological formulas that were current around A.D. 100.”

In other words, you can take it to the bank.

The only question is, which version would you take to the bank?  The creed has gone thought several rewrites over the last two millennia.  Rushdoony includes the texts of: The Old Roman Form (A.D. 390), The Received Form (A.D. 700), and an early English form (pre-1066)

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Here is a typical modern version:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic* church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places

https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/creeds/apostles-creed

Rushdoony points out that the Apostles’ Creed is different from all other religious creeds (Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, humanist, etc.). Radically different. How?  Instead of being a “body of ideas or claims concerning reality” (as all of those are), it “offers a synopsis of history.”  In fact, the whole creed is a declaration concerning history.

He discusses the Creed further, along with some interesting quotes by Tertullian, Irenaeus, and the church historian Schaff, drawing attention to the fact that Schaff at the end of his excerpt declares, unequivocally, “Without a correct doctrine of creation there can be no true doctrine of redemption.”  Thus, Rushdoony notes, all of the early creeds begin with God as creator, the starting point of all that follows.

Finally, he observes that “biblical creedalism” is passive: an assent by man that he is a recipient of God’s gracious act of redemption. Yet this gives man ground for “true activity”: to move in terms of true law, the canon of Scripture, “to exercise dominion over the earth in the name of the triune God.  Christian creedalism is thus basic to Western activism, constitutionalism, and hope concerning history.”

Next: Nicea!

By the way, The Foundations of Social Order can be purchased new from Chalcedon Foundation (you can also read it online for free there), and buy new or used from Amazon and other resellers.

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Easter, and the Resurrection of Creeds

I’ve been reading R.J. Rushdoony’s classic study on the major creeds of the early church, The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church. If you have read it, you know what a masterpiece of historical and theological perspective it is.  If you haven’t read it, you need to!

So, here it is, Easter Sunday 2018 (April 1st), and I am just finishing chapter 19 on the Forgiveness of Sins and about to start chapter 20, The Resurrection of the Dead.

What a coincidence!  Easter. Resurrection.

That isn’t the only one.  Another “coincidence” occurred to me as I sat down and began to think about what I was going to write today.  That coincidence had to do with the chapter number which happens to enumerate those particular six pages in Rushdoony’s book (Foundations of Social Order) having to do with the resurrection of the dead.  The number is, as I mentioned, twenty.

Let that number sink in for a minute.

“Turn with Me to the Twentieth Chapter of _________.”

Can you think of any other “chapter twenties” in, say, a certain inspired Book that has a lot to say in a lot of chapters about, among other things, the doctrine of the resurrection?

Correct.

Now, I haven’t checked for any Old Testament examples of this yet — I will get to that — but I have spotted a few New Testament ones just to illustrate the point, and so I will limit my discussion today to these few, so as to keep this article to a reasonable length and scope.

What I found were five examples of New Testament chapter twenties in which the subject or the doctrine of resurrection is being dealt with in some way.

Here they are, in canonical order.

1. Matthew 20.  This is where Jesus gives the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, illustrating the economics of the kingdom of heaven: everyone given his “fair share”.  Immediately following, he goes to Jerusalem with his disciples and on the way he tells them, in verse 18, of his imminent death and, in verse 19, of his resurrection.

Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,  And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.

“The third day he shall rise again.”  There you have it, that’s the first example. Here is another one…

2. Luke 20.  Here, Jesus is confronted with two waves of opposition to his teaching, one after the other.  He quashes them both, one after the other.  The first is from the chief priests and scribes who question his authority.  He fights fire with fire.  They get burned (pretty badly), and they know it.  They regroup and try again. And again they fail.  They know they’re whipped, so off they go to lick their wounds.

Then along come the Sadducees.  They’re the guys who deny the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.  (At least the Pharisees and scribes allowed for it in their highly confused and convoluted theology.)  Anyway, this is the part of the chapter, verses 27-44, that we’re interested in for our discussion.  The Sadducees come along and propose a hypothetical situation to Jesus having to do with the resurrection of the dead.  It is obvious from their fictitious example that they have not only a sketchy idea of resurrection, but also of marriage!–so Jesus clarifies to them the biblical doctrine of both.  In his response recorded in verses 34-38, he refers to marrying and marriage four times, and to resurrection, rising from the dead and life after death four times. He devastates their argument.

The final nail in the coffin of the Sadducees’ argument gets driven in verse 37, where Jesus tells them:

Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.

To this they have no response.  They are left speechless.  Some brave scribe, however, does get up the courage to speak up and he says, sheepishly, (vs. 39, my paraphrase), “Master, you said it!”

When the Lord Jesus Christ talks, smart and spiritually-minded people LISTEN (and do what he says)!

On to the next example.

3.  John 20.  In this chapter, we don’t just have a doctrine of the resurrection presented.  We have an actual resurrection that has taken place!  That of our Lord Jesus.  Now, being that this is Easter Sunday, no doubt you probably heard a sermon — perhaps it was an impassioned and earnest one — on this chapter or on one of the other Gospel accounts dealing with Christ’s rising from the dead to the astonishment of his followers.  So, that being the case there is no sense in me spending much time here on that narrative.  Just so long as we understand that this is The Most Significant Resurrection chapter of all of them!  We  move on…

To the next Chapter Twenty Resurrection:

4.  Acts 20.  This chapter in the book of Acts is where Paul bids a very emotional and tear-filled farewell to his beloved followers and saints at the church at Ephesus, where he has spent the last three years ministering to them with all of his heart and soul (v. 31).  A cursory reading of Acts ch. 20 might lead you to say to yourself, Hmm, I see Paul here traveling and preaching and talking about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and repentance and faith and the grace of God and all that, and even the undeniable and active role that the Holy Ghost has played in making the Gospel effectual and powerful in its working.  But nothing here explicitly about resurrection.

Ah, look again.  This is like John chapter 20.  It isn’t a mere teaching about resurrection.  It’s an account of an actual resurrection that happened.  You know what I’m talking about.  Read verses 7-12.  Paul is in Troas.  It’s Sunday night.  He has just spent a week there with the saints and he is leaving in the morning.  He starts preaching.  He is on a roll.  He is also on the third floor!  This is his farewell sermon.  He goes until past midnight.  Folks don’t go home.  A young man is there, named Eutychus.  Despite all the bright lights in the room, Eutychus falls asleep.  He falls out the window.  The third-floor window.  The fall kills him.  His death is clearly stated in Luke’s account (remember, Luke was a physician).  It is also clearly stated that he comes back to life.  Paul says, “his life is in him.”  Read it in any translation you like.  The saints were quite happy with the outcome.

I like how Eugene Peterson concludes this in The Message (Acts 20: 12):

On that note, they left—Paul going one way, the congregation another, leading the boy off alive, and full of life themselves.

Sometimes resurrection is a four-letter word: life!

By the way, the name Eutychus means “happy” and “fortunate”.  I should say so.

Anyway, Paul continued on his journey, eventually passing through Ephesus to say goodbye.

On to our fifth and final example.

5.  Revelation 20.  This is an easy one.  Even people who don’t study the rest of the Bible will study the book of Revelation and see all the biblical themes, symbols and motifs there.  Two of the big ones: death and resurrection. In Revelation chapter 20, resurrection is center-stage.  Saints are resurrected.  All the dead are resurrected.  Even Satan is “resurrected” — loosed out of his prison — for a while (“a thousand years”) before being burned one last time and then hauled away to his final destination in the lake of fire with all the wicked resurrected, to be tormented day and night forever and ever.

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

The main take-away from Revelation 20 is: not all resurrections have happy endings!

There you have them.  Five New Testament examples of the biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, dealt with in five distinctive chapters which all happen to be numbered “20”.

Now, remember what I said about keeping this article somewhat “reasonable” in length and scope?

I think we’re there!

And so I will continue this discussion of creeds and councils and the doctrinal defense of biblical Christianity — which, frankly, I really did not even get started, did I? — in my next post.  But at least we laid a good scriptural (even numerical) foundation for it.

Until then, Easter Blessings and the joy of Christ’s Resurrection to you and yours.

He is risen.

A Theology of Christian Resistance in 2018

It’s New Year’s Eve.

In addition to whatever “New Year’s Resolutions” you may have committed yourself to for the coming year 2018 — starting a “good” habit, dropping a “bad” one, earning a certain amount of money over and above what you made last year, achieving a certain goal (or, if you’re the ambitious type, goals), accomplishing certain things that are on your “simply must-do” list, etc. — you can add this one: reading a certain book.  It’s called, The Theology of Christian Resistance, Christianity & Civilization, vol. 2, Winter 1983.

It’s an oldie but a goodie.

It was one of those seasonal symposiums published in paperback form by the Geneva Divinity School Press back in the early 1980s — volumes of essays put together by that prolific cadre of Reconstructionist writers, pastors and scholars residing in and around Tyler, Texas.

For the previous twenty years or so, Christian Reconstructionists had written and published boatloads of articles, books, position papers and newsletters.  (And they have continued to do so  well into the 21st century.)  But now it was time to start swinging into action, “getting practical” and putting their money where their footnotes were.  The times they were a-changing.  Evangelical Christians were beginning to awaken from their long, Washington Irving-esque political slumber.  It was now time to play catch-up against the humanists and liberal religionists.  It was time to rediscover our Western heritage of political and social action based on Christian principles.

The resulting broad-based coalition has united conservative Christian leaders and thinkers from different denominational, theological and even eschatological persuasions.

Just take a look at the contributors to The Theology of Christian Resistance:

Gary North

John W. Whitehead

Francis A. Schaeffer

James B. Jordan

Joseph C. Morecraft III

T. Robert Ingraham

Jim West

Archie P. Jones

Alan Stang

Allen C. Guelzo

Michael R. Gilstrap

David Jones

M.E. Bradford

William Marina

Diane Cuervo

Tom Rose

Pieter Jongeling

Lonn Oswalt

Tommy W. Rogers

John Calvin (posthumously)

All of these folks wrote with a singular conviction in the back (and front) of their mind: “The Bible demands action, not inaction!”

To set the table for the rest of the book, here are a few choice excerpts from Dr. North’s Introduction,

We are the inheritors of traditions of political freedom that are intimately bound up with the successful and unsuccessful revolutions of the past. We are the beneficiaries of a common law tradition that itself is the product of revolutions. Ultimately, the history of Western civilization is the history of Christians’ struggles against unlawful State power and the anti-Christian theologies that have under-girded it. Some of the West’s revolutions have expanded State power, others have resisted it.

Because we are under God, we are also under God’s revelation of Himself in His law. Thus, the Bible says, we are citizens of heaven. Paul wrote: “Our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20a). Yet we are also citizens of this world, and therefore under lawful authorities (plural) here. This position of dual citizenship becomes even more complicated when we face the fact that we are citizens of nations, counties, and cities. we are citizens of multiple commonwealths.

When Christians face multiple sovereignties on earth, they find themselves in a perplexing position. Whose sovereignty at any point in time should take precedence? Whose requirements are closest to the ethical demands placed on us by the Bible at any point in history? Furthermore, there are multiple principles of ethical action in the Bible. For example, we are to be truthful, but not at all times (Rahab’s example). It is the ethical task which we all face to apply the relevant biblical principle to the decisions we make daily.

What each man needs, unquestionably, is biblical law-disciplined intuition, meaning a thorough familiarity with the whole of biblical law, and a detailed knowledge of the issues of the day. Men should almost instinctively know the proper course of personal and communal action for a specific decision, assuming they have devoted time to a study of the Bible in this particular area. No Christian can afford to be ignorant of his Bible and of daily affairs. He has to pick and choose among the issues on which he will take a stand, depending on such matters as: his knowledge of the specifics; the likelihood of success in opposition; his responsibility under the circumstances; the importance of the issue for the culture at large, the local culture, and the future; the cost of the resistance project; and his own personal talents. No man can take a stand on all issues simultaneously, and devote all of his resources to all of them. There is a division of labor principle in all human action. We are not God; we cannot know all things exhaustively, nor can we finance all projects exhaustively. But the church, as the total body of believers, though not necessarily as an ecclesiastical institution, should be able to speak with confidence to the issues of the day.

There is more where that came from.

Now, there is a very good reason why this particular volume was written and published before the follow-up, Tactics of Christian Resistance, which came out later on in the summer of that same year 1983.

Again, Dr. North:

The question of Christian resistance is a complicated theological matter. It is also personally demanding, for when the issues become clear, men must commit themselves to a position: Resist or capitulate? Understanding the fundamental issues is preliminary to taking action. Without self-confidence in the legitimacy of the cause of resistance, a resisting group cannot expect to be successful. Men need a theology of resistance before they begin to develop a strategy of resistance. Before a Lenin there must be a Marx- theory before practice.

“Men need a theology of resistance before they begin to develop a strategy of resistance.”

Exactly.

Theory must come before practice.  Doctrine before application.

Which is why a knowledge of the Scriptures is just as vital to finding the right solutions and taking the right courses of actions as is knowledge of the issues and the challenges that face us.

It’s funny.  Even today, more than three decades after these symposiums were published, the public discussion of Christian “resistance” and Christian “activism” in politics and the pursuit of “social justice” is still dominated by liberal Christians, liberal theologians and liberal pastors and leaders, not conservative, Bible-believing ones.

That shouldn’t be surprising, though, since it has been the case since the “social gospel” movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  During that crucial period, Bible-believing conservatives en masse abandoned their hopeful, forward-looking eschatologies, and instead embraced the “end-times”-obsessed, present-oriented, heaven-directed “blessed” hopes that remain popular today.

What happened?

Pietism replaced pro-active faith.

A Theology of Christian Reluctance took its place.  “Backward, Christian Soldiers!”

It is time for that to change.

So, in the coming new year, how about we conservative, Bible-believing, forward-looking, theologically Reformed Christians embracing hopeful eschatologies resolve to start embracing a new mindset.

“Think biblically. Act locally.”

Start by thinking biblicallyTHE THEOLOGY OF CHRISTIAN RESISTANCE (PDF download).

Happy New Year!

How to Build Strong, Vibrant Churches: a Biblical-Covenantal Model

One of the biggest criticisms against the Church Growth Movement of the 1950s to the 1980s was that, although it started with the best of intentions — reaching people with the Gospel in a more structured and systematic way, thereby growing more churches and bigger churches — it degenerated into a formula-driven, social-science-based, “get ’em in the door at all costs” approach to missions, evangelism and … church growth.

Well, today nobody reads C. Peter Wagner and Donald McGavran, except maybe as required reading for a seminary class on The History of the Church Growth Movement in the Mid-to-Late Twentieth Century.  But we still have the millennia-old problem of how to effectively reach the lost and win them to Christ, organize them into local, self-governing bodies as Christ and the New Testament writers said (following Old Testament example), while keeping these churches vibrant, growing and reproducing and making new disciples on a continual basis in their communities.

Solving this seemingly unsolvable dilemma in a reliable and biblically consistent way is the kind of thing that keeps covenantal-theology-embracing, Reformed evangelical Christians up at night… praying.

It is also the kind of thing that gets discussed at great length and in great detail at regional  evangelistic church conferences — like the one that was held last July in Reading, Pennsylvania by the MId-Atlantic Reformation Society.  It was titled, “The Future of Christendom Conference 2017”.

There was a LOT of discussion about evangelism and missions at this conference.  Among the featured speakers was Dr. Gary North.   Dr. North spoke via Skype from his home in suburban Atlanta, GA. He gave two 90-minute presentations.  The first one was on Church Planting.  The second was on Church Building.

I wrote about the first presentation in a previous post.  You can read that here.  Today, I’m publishing the second.

One thing you’ll notice here in this second presentation is that it is intensely practical. Lost of “actionable” material.  Yes, like the first one — and frankly, like EVERY presentation that Dr. North gives — there is also a lot of history: interesting, vividly recounted, highly relevant history.  (What else would you expect from a B.A., an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History, who has a penchant for public speaking and has been lecturing on these subjects for the last half century!)

But, in addition to the historical backdrop, he also provides a very helpful doctrinal-theological overview of the church and its historical struggles in both beliefs and practices with regard to evangelism and missions.

Then, in keeping with good Pauline (and Puritan) fashion, he follows the doctrinal discussion with practical application.  It is a detailed discussion of “what to do” and “how to do it”.  Here is how I sum it up:

  • Problem: How to More Effectively Evangelize and Grow the Body of Christ.
  • Solution: Do What Jesus Said and What the Old and New Testaments Teach (as well as what history has taught us to do and not do).

After two thousand years, we’re still trying to figure that out!

So, do watch this video.  At the very least, listen to the audio first if you’re busy, then sit down and watch the whole presentation later.  It is extraordinarily insightful and incisive (Dr. North’s hallmark “attributes”).  It is, ultimately, a “call to action” with a comprehensive game plan and strategy that every local congregation and every church leader ought to follow and implement… IMMEDIATELY!

To supplement his talk, by the way, Dr. North mentions a web page on his site that is dedicated to this topic.  He calls it: Sustained Revival.

Here come ninety minutes very well spent…

 

*VIDEO* Update on World Evangelism: the Crisis and the Opportunity

This is probably Gary North’s most important slide presentation to date on the subject of church planting, evangelism and missions. It follows the back-to-back Skype presentations he did back in July for a regional evangelism conference. It is basically a consolidation of those two into one.

He produced it with the express purpose of offering it immediately to the public via YouTube, rather than offering it first to a small, privately held conference.

Well, that isn’t completely true. He offered it first to his subscribers (making it a publicly-available video on YouTube at the same time, as he did with his two Skype-recorded videos).  That is how I discovered it.

This newest presentation was featured in one of his free articles which he writes and posts daily, Monday through Saturday, along with the members-only articles on his site. So what does that mean?  It means that even if you are not a subscriber (shame on you!), you can still read this, for free, by clicking HERE.

Anyway, let me go ahead and boil the presentation down for you as follows.

  1. An “evangelism explosion” has begun.
  2. You haven’t heard about it because First-World Christian churches are not participating.
  3. Current conditions—a global “crisis of faith” coupled with the proliferation of cheap and free digital technologies—have created an unparalleled opportunity for the church to realize widely successful world missions as never before in history.
  4. Western Christians have a proven model for successful “church planting” (David Watson: India) and thus have an obligation to imitate and replicate it.
  5. The enemies of Christianity are losing ground.
  6. The friends of Christianity are not gaining ground fast enough.
  7. Time is running out for billions of souls.
  8. World evangelism: “No time like the present!”

It will be time well-spent to watch this completely through.  And listen to it, multiple times.  Lots of helpful statistics and facts, with lots of helpful historical background to give “flesh and blood” to the bone-jarring statistics and facts about the state of the world in 2017.

If you clicked through the link above, and read Gary’s article where this video was posted, you saw that he referenced a couple of resources by Catholic scholar Philip Jenkins: his article and his book, The Next Christendom. I recommend reading both.  (Note: the link below is an Amazon affiliate link.  If you make a purchase, I will get a small commission.)

The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Future of Christianity Trilogy)

You also saw the reference to David Watson’s book, co-authored with his son Paul Watson: Contagious Disciple Making. (Note: the link below is an Amazon affiliate link.  If you make a purchase, I will get a small commission.)

Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery

I have bought this myself and read it.  It is a terrific primer on How to Spread the Gospel Exactly the Way Christ Said To!

Several articles on the aging and demographic changes impacting the Roman Catholic Church in recent years were also referenced. I can relate to these since I was born and raised a Catholic (Mexican descent, native of the Southwest, so naturally!).

  • Priests are getting older.  They were old when I was in Catholic elementary school.
  • Nuns are getting older.  They were old when I was in Catholic elementary school.
  • Seminary grads are getting fewer.  I never saw any seminary grads either at our church or in our grade school.  Priests were pretty well-seasoned by the time they arrived in my parish.  Some were young, but this was not their first liturgical rodeo.
  • Catholics are confessing that they no longer go to Confession. My most unpleasant experience as a Catholic growing up was going to confession. Small, dark, cramped room. More like a large box with carpeting and a kneeler. And a disembodied voice speaking to you from behind a screen-like partition. Scary!

The world missions spoken of by Dr. North here are mainly Protestant. Most are Pentecostal and spreading like wildfire. The super-successful “church-planting movements” begun by Watson are non-Pentecostal (Watson is Baptist).  Catholics are too busy trying to stay alive.

Enjoy the presentation.  If you are wise (and you are: that’s why you’re reading this!) and you connect all the factual and statistical dots, you will be as encouraged as I was, and optimistic about the bright hope of the future of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in time and in history, and the conversion of the world to Him, to the glory of God!

VIDEO: Gary North on Church Planting and Evangelism

GaryNorthatMisesUsually, when you hear Dr. Gary North speaking to a group of attendees at a weekend seminar or conference, it is on the subject of economics.

Austrian economics. Mises. Rothbard. The Fed. Gold. Fiat money and central banking. Federal spending. The Great Default!

But on July 8th, 2017, in Reading, Pennsylvania at the Future of Christendom Conference, he gave two 90-minute lectures via live-stream video to a conference that was gathered to discuss a very different topic.  It, too, starts with the letter “e”.

Evangelism.

Yes, I know.  You don’t normally associate the name of Gary North with “evangelism”.

But, honestly, if you’ve ever read his book, Millennialism and Social Theory, you know that deep down, in his heart of hearts, beneath the stoic, staid, Calvinist exterior, this academic and intellectual giant and human-printing-press of a man really does have a genuine and long-held burden for the salvation of the billions of unconverted people living on planet earth.

Despite all appearances, Gary North has the heart and mind of an evangelist!

If you’ve read his many articles on the subject of evangelism and the church over the years, you already know this.  You also know that when he speaks on this subject, it is from decades of first-hand experience, knowledge and . . . historical research.

And let’s face it.  No one else breaks down a topic in black-and-white, no-nonsense, take-it-or-leave-it, take-no-prisoners fashion like Dr. North — with an extensive historical background provided before cogently and skillfully moving from stating the problem to offering the solution.

Which means the first part of his presentation is devoted to doing just that: providing an in-depth historical backdrop to understanding the problem at hand: billions of unconverted souls awaiting eternal damnation unless the church fulfills its role and mission in the world.  He states what “the challenge” is that confronts the church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century: a multi-faceted, “world-wide crisis of faith” that is unfolding–one which he says actually started in the late 19th century, particularly among the group of folks he calls “the elite”.

Once he is finished conveying the bleakness of the situation — with representative examples of the disintegration and decline — Dr. North then presents what he sees as a unique and golden “opportunity for evangelism” that now exists for the church to capitalize on.

But I don’t want to be a “spoiler”.  So, without further ado and spoilage on my part, here is the first of his two presentations.

He Who Makes the Rules Gets the Gold

No doubt you’ve heard the cynic’s version of the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

This is supposed to have come from a 1967 comic strip by Johnny Hart: The Wizard of Id. 

As a kid, I read The Wizard of Id religiously. The title of today’s post, I think, is a somewhat more biblically-correct rendition of Hart’s humorous turn-of-phrase.  He Who Makes the Rules Gets the Gold.

My version addresses two fundamental questions:

  1. Who makes the rules?
  2. Who owns the gold?

If you’ve read what the Bible says about private property and stewardship vs. ownership, you already know the answer.

For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.

I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.

Psalm 50:10-12

This leads us to installment #4 of my Tithing and the Church project.

Today’s chapter gets into the question of authority, namely, who has the authority to collect the tithe.  It also gets into the clash between authority and autonomy.  Here, too, a connection is made between the practice of mandatory tithing and Christians’ authority (and individual and corporate responsibility) to carry out the Great Commission — which, as Gary North describes it, offers a great “commission” plan to those who are employed in this long-term global enterprise.  (But I don’t want to be a spoiler.  You can read it for yourself. . . .)


2

AUTHORITY AND THE TITHE

          Moreover he [Hezekiah] commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the LORD (II Chron. 31:4).

          Hezekiah understood at least two things about the tithe.  First, as king, he possessed the God-delegated authority to command Israelites to pay their tithes.  Second, the Levites and priests had the God-delegated authority to collect these tithes.  There was not a trace of “moral voluntarism” anywhere in the arrangement.  The tithe in Israel was morally mandatory.

          Was the tithe also legally mandatory?  That is, did church and State possess the authority to impose negative sanctions against those who refused to tithe?  The Mosaic law does not list any.  The history of Israel does not provide cases where such sanctions were imposed.  My conclusion is that the command to tithe that was issued either by priest or king was moral and exemplary rather than judicial.

          The context also makes it clear that under the Mosaic Covenant, when covenant-keepers paid their tithes, God brought great wealth to them in a unique fashion (vv. 5-10).  There is no biblical reason to believe that this system of corporate sanctions has changed in the New Covenant.  Building wealth begins with tithing, and not just tithing as such – the whole tithe delivered to the local church: a single storehouse (Mal. 3:10).  Respect for God requires respect for God’s institutional church.  This means that we must pay our tithes to the local church as a duty.

          Without access to a growing quantity of economic resources, Christians will not be able to extend God’s dominion.  If a person cannot afford to buy or lease the tools of production, he will remain a salaried worker in someone else’s enterprise.  He will remain, economically speaking, a second-class citizen.  So, subordination to the institutional church, manifested by the payment of the tithe, brings the economic means of dominion.  He who is subordinate to God reigns in history.  This is a basic principle of biblical hierarchy: point two of the biblical covenant.1

Tithing and Dominion

          There was a time, over three centuries ago, when the Puritan merchants of London exercised national influence far out of proportion to their small numbers.  They were the English capitalists of the seventeenth century.  They were also the source of almost half of the charitable giving of the nation.  This gave them considerable political influence.  Cromwell’s militarily successful revolution against the crown added to their influence, 1650-1660, but they had not gained this influence militarily; they had gained it economically and charitably, beginning in the.late sixteenth century.2

          In this century, the State has replaced private charity as the primary source of money and support for the poor.  The State is perceived as the primary agency of healing.  For as long as its money holds out – and still buys something – the State will continue to be regarded as the healer of the nation. But this ability to heal rests on political coercion and bureaucratic control.  The State is now reaching the limits of its ability to confiscate the wealth of nations, all over the world.  If its ability to exercise dominion by creating dependence by means of continual grants of money is ever interrupted by economic or other social disruptions, there will be a temporary void in society.  That void will be filled by something.  Authority flows to those who exercise responsibility. Who will that be?

          Who should it be?  Christians.  But Christians are ill-prepared today to exercise such responsibility.  They are themselves dependents on the State. They, too, send their children to public schools, collect Social Security checks, and plan their lives on the assumption that the State will serve as an economic safety net.  The State’s wealth-redistribution system has steadily eliminated competition from private charitable and educational associations.  When the State’s safety net breaks, as it surely will, most Christians will find themselves as economically unprepared as everyone else.  They have been taught to trust that which is inherently untrustworthy: the modern messianic State.  When this trust is finally betrayed, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in churches, Christian college classrooms, and other supposedly sanctified places.

          In that day, there will be a shift in local and national leadership, as surely as there was during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  Regarding this coming shift in leadership, the question today is: Who will inherit authority?  The answer is: those who bear the greatest economic responsibility in the reconstruction of the economy.

          Will this be the church? If not, why not? If not, then who?

Redemption: Definitive, Yet Progressive

          The basis of biblical dominion in history is the redemption of the world.  To redeem something is to buy it back.  This process of long-term repurchase began at Calvary.

          At Calvary, Jesus paid God the full redemption price.  He did not pay it to Satan.  Satan had occupied the world only as a squatter occupies it: until the owner comes to evict him.  When Adam fell, he lost tide to everything, including his own life.  God, by grace, granted Adam an extension of his temporal life.  But by “having subordinated himself covenantally to Satan through his act of rebellion, Adam had brought whatever God had “granted to him under the temporary domain of Satan.

          Satan did not gain lawful title over the earth, since Adam had forfeited this title back to God.  Satan has gained administrative control for as long as Adam’s heirs remain alive and also remain under Satan’s covenantal authority.  Satan would have lost this administrative control had God executed Adam in the garden, for Satan’s legal claim was dependent on Adam’s legal claim.  Adam’s claim was null and void except through God’s common grace in history: life, knowledge, time, authority over nature, and capital.3

          Jesus definitively paid God the full redemption price.  This does not authorize His heirs the right to collect immediately on their inheritance.  The world-redemption process is a process.  It is progressive, although grounded legally in ]esus Christ’s definitive act of redemption.  In this sense, world redemption mirrors personal sanctification.  At the moment of his redemption in history, the redeemed person receives by God’s judicial declaration the moral perfection of Christ’s perfect humanity.  But this moral perfection, while definitive and judicially complete, must be developed over time.  Sanctification is progressive: a working out in history of the moral perfection of Christ.4  This is why Paul wrote of the Christian way of life as a race with a prize at the end:

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.  And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.  I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (I Cor. 9:24-27).

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you (Phil. 3:14-15).

The Greatest Commission System Structure

          God has given to the Church a Great Commission: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:18-20).  This commission is well known among Christians.  What is not recognized is the commission system by which the Great Commission is carried out.

          When a company establishes a commission payment system to reward its sales force, it designs it so that the individual salesman has a financial incentive to stay on the road or the phone for long hours.  He is expected to develop continually his powers of persuasion so as to produce more revenue for the company per contact.  The higher the commission, the greater the incentive.  The higher the commission, the more qualified the salesmen who will be attracted to join the sales force.

          The company must balance the rewards offered to salesmen with the rewards offered to other members of the operation: salaried personnel, investors, bankers, and suppliers.  But to maximize the number of sales, there is no doubt that a large commission paid to salesmen is the great motivator.  Some companies may pay as much as 20 percent of gross revenues to the sales force.

          God, the owner of the whole earth, has established the most generous commission structure in history: 90 percent after expenses is retained by the sales force.  Any business that would offer its sales force 90 percent after expenses would attract the most competent salesmen on earth.  The firm would be flooded with applicants for any sales position that might open up.  This is what God offers to His people.  They keep 90 percent; His church receives ten percent; the State is entitled to no more than ten percent (I Sam. 8:15, 17).  But men rebel.  They think this tithe burden is too onerous.  They have been deceived.

The Con Artist

          Satan appears,on the scene and makes a more attractive offer: “Keep it all!”  He can afford to make this offer: he does not own the company.  He is like the con artist who walks into a temporarily empty office and signs up salesmen as if he were the president of the company.  He makes his money on the back end of the transaction when he sends his goons to collect payments from the salesmen.

          The salesmen have kept all the money from their efforts.  The goons then make the salesmen an offer they cannot refuse.  The Mafia calls these goons “enforcers.” Civil government calls them “revenue agents.”  Their purpose in each case is the same: to extract far more than ten percent of net earnings from the naive but now-trapped salesmen.  He who refuses to pay faces unpleasant consequences: broken bones or a bullet in the head (Mafia); fines, tax liens, or jail sentences (civil government).

          The victims went into the deal thinking they could get something for nothing.  They firmly believed that someone would gladly provide them with productive capital and also allow them to keep everything they earned from their own labor.  Any wise man would have spotted the offer as fraudulent as soon as he heard it.  But there are not many wise men in history, at least not so far.  Wide is the gate that beckons the unwise, and they eagerly rush through it.

          So, Satan comes to men with a proposition: “Keep everything you earn.  I have no legal claim on your wealth.”  The second statement is true; he has no legal claim on anything.  The first statement involves making a verbal promise to transfer to man God’s lawful share in the business.  Satan is not in a position to deliver on this promise, but billions of people believe he is.  They believe that God has no legal claim on them.  They also believe that God has no economic claim on them.  They are incorrect on both points.  They will learn this on judgment day.  In the meantime, they bear the economic and civil consequences of having believed a lie.  They pay dearly.

The Wealth of My Hand!

          Men are not content with God’s grant of 90 percent after business expenses.  They see this as an infringement on their property.  They want to keep all of it.  They have not heeded God’s warning to the Israelites of the generation of the conquest of Canaan:

And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.  But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day (Deut. 8:17-18).

          Men resent God’s demand that they pay Him ten percent.  They do not see themselves as working on commission.  They see themselves as sole owners of the company.  They think the tools of production are the product of their own hands: a combination of land and labor over time.  Men insist on keeping all of the appropriate payments to each of these factors of production: rents, wages, and interest. Educated men today are asked to believe that land and labor arrived by way of eons of cosmic evolution.  Many of them do believe this.  They do not see themselves as indebted to God.  They do not see themselves as God’s sharecroppers.  So, they look at the 90-10 arrangement and do not conclude: “The greatest commission structure in history!”  Instead, they conclude: “God is trying to get into my wallet.”

Who Lawfully Collects the Tithe?

          The civil magistrate collects taxes.  Paul identifies him as God’s minister (Rom. 13:4).  He is collecting taxes in God’s name, whether he names God or not.  God has ordained him.  He is a subordinate to God.  In his capacity as the representative of God to men through the State, he lawfully collects taxes.  Men complain about today’s level of taxation, as well they should – it constitutes tyranny (I Sam. 8:15, 17) – but they rarely rebel.  They do not blame God.  They accept their burden as members of a democratic political order.  They fully understand that they do not possess the authority as individuals to determine where their tax money should go.  They dutifully pay the tax collector.

          Then who lawfully collects the tithe?  The minister of God.  But this minister is not a civil officer; he is an ecclesiastical officer.  He comes as God’s designated, ordained agent and insists on payment.  That is, he should do this.  In fact, he is too timid to do this in our day.  Why?  Because he has adopted – or at least acceded to – a modified view of Satan’s offer: “Pay whatever seems fair to you. God has no legal claim on ten percent after business expenses.”

          This outlook transfers authority over the distribution of the tithe to the tithe-payer.  This transfer of authority is illegitimate for two reasons.  First, the giver defines the tithe’s percentage as he sees fit, but somehow this figure is usually less than ten percent.  Second, he reserves to himself the authority to distribute this tithe to those organizations that he approves of.  This violates God’s system of hierarchical authority.  The tithe-payer assumes that not only does God not have a legal claim to a full ten percent, God has not identified any single organization as the sovereign agent of collection and distribution.  This leaves the tither in control over who should receive his tithe – an unlawful transfer of authority to the autonomous individual.5

A Hole in the Wallet

          Covenant-breaking man affirms his self-professed autonomy by controlling his wallet.  His control over the allocation of his money is the number-one manifestation of his faith.

          Money is the most marketable commodity, economist Ludwig von Mises argued.6  This means that money is the most representative form of wealth.  This is why Jesus warned that men cannot serve two gods, God and mammon (Matt. 6:24).  This is why Paul warned that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10).  What a man does with his money reveals his priorities.

          Covenant-breaking man’s number-one priority is to affirm his own autonomy without coming under God’s judgment in both history and eternity.  He believes that he has the right to decide what to do with his money.  God tells him he is wrong about this.  God has first claim through His institutional church.  Men in their rebellion do not accept this teaching.  They would prefer to keep 100 percent of a shrinking economic base, which is what God promises they will eventually experience.

          It is not surprising that we find Christians who deny that Haggai’s prophetic warning (Hag. 1:3-11) is still valid under the New Covenant.  Christians still seek to affirm theologies that defend man’s partial autonomy before God.  Anyone who affirms the mandatory tithe has to this extent broken with the covenant-breaking philosophies of his era.  Christians are still so impressed with covenant-breaking philosophies of human autonomy that they have not obeyed God in this area.  They ding to their wallets as tightly as the Israelites of Haggai’s day clung to theirs.

          But they have nevertheless felt guilty about this.  They have therefore sought to justify themselves theologically.  In doing so, they have abandoned the tool of dominion: God’s law.7

To Escape the Obligation

          There are many ways that Christian theologians have sought to escape the cause-and-effect relationship between tithing and wealth described by Malachi.  One way is to apply to the theology of tithing Meredith G. Kline’s theory of cause and effect in the New Covenant era.  Kline denies that in the New Covenant era there is any predictable relationship between covenantal law and economic sanctions.

And meanwhile it [the common grace order] must run its course within the uncertainties of the mutually conditioning principles of common grace and common curse, prosperity and adversity being experienced in a manner largely unpredictable because of the inscrutable sovereignty of the divine will that dispenses them in mysterious ways.8

          Kline self-consciously has abandoned the Mosaic Covenant’s doctrine of covenantal predictability in history.  He has substituted a theory of God’s common-grace inscrutability to mankind in New Covenant history.  Social cause and effect become mysterious from the point of view of biblical revelation.  This theology of mystery, if true, would make biblical social theory impossible.  Christians would then be forced to seek for reliable social theory – assuming that such a theory even exists – in the writings and speculations of covenant-breakers.9  This is exactly what Christians have been doing from the days that Christian apologists began to appeal to Greek philosophy as the foundation of common-ground truths.  It is this quest for common- ground principles of reasoning that Cornelius Van Til rejected as a compromise with the devil.10

          Another way to deny the moral necessity of tithing is to declare, with fundamentalism, “We’re under grace, not law!”  The result of such a universal affirmation is the self-conscious surrender of history to covenant-breakers.  Christians then find themselves under pagan laws and pagan lawyers.11

          A third way is to affirm that God’s Holy Spirit will inform each Christian how much to give.  This opens the Christian to feelings of guilt, either because he thinks he has to give more than the tithe – but exactly how much? – or because he gives less and worries about it.  Guilt produces doubt.  Guilt and doubt are not conducive to entrepreneurship and economic growth. 12

          A fourth approach is to affirm the mandatory tithe, but then deny that the institutional church has any legal claim on it.  This leaves the tither in control over the allocation of his tithe.  This is an affirmation of man’s autonomy, but in the name of covenantal faithfulness.13

          All four approaches deny God’s warning through Malachi.  All four seek to evade man’s responsibility to bring one-tenth of his increase to the single storehouse, the house of God.

Conclusion

          The leadership of Christians in society depends on their covenantal faithfulness.  The leadership of individual Christians within the institutional church also depends on their covenantal faithfulness.  If God still brings predictable corporate sanctions – both positive and negative – in history in terms of His law, as the Old Testament affirms repeatedly, then in order for men to prosper, they must obey God’s Bible-revealed laws.  The failure of Christians to exercise dominion in any era of history is closely associated with their unwillingness to preach God’s law and obey it.  To put it concretely, it is associated with their unwillingness to bring all of their tithes to God’s single storehouse: the local church.

          It is unlikely that individual Christians will be able to exercise leadership outside of the institutional churches if Christians remain economically second-class citizens, struggling to keep up economically with covenant-breakers.  It is time for pastors to start preaching the biblically mandatory nature of the tithe if they want the church to lead in society.  Unfortunately, not many pastors really want this added responsibility for themselves and their congregations.  So, they continue to nag members for “donations.”  But unlike the State’s appeal for larger “contributions,”14 churches threaten no negative sanctions against members who refuse to donate.  Preaching apart from institutional sanctions becomes either nagging or cheerleading. The Bible does not set forth a leadership program through either approach.

******************

Footnotes:

1. Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant (2nd ed.; Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), ch. 2.

2. W. K. Jordan has discussed the influence of Puritan businessmen in his book, Philanthropy in England, 1480-1660 (Russell Sage Foundation, 1959).

3. Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace: The Biblical Basis of Progress (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), ch. 1.

4. Gary North, Unconditional Surrender: God’s Program for Victory (3rd ed.; ‘lYler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1988), pp. 66-72.

5. See Part 2, below.

6. Ludwig von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, [1912] 1953), pp. 32-33.

7. Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990).

8. Meredith G. Kline, “Comments on the Old-New Error,” Westminster Theological Journal, XLI (Fall 1978), p. 184.

9. Gary North, Millennialism and Social Theory (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Chris- tian Economics, 1990), ch. 7.

10. Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1969).

11. GaryNorth, Political Polytheism:The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler,Texas:Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), Part 3.

12. David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider (5th ed.; Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990).

13. See Part 2, below.

14. In the U.S., the compulsory tax (FICA) on salaries that is used to pay those people who receive Federal pensions (Social Security benefits) is called a contribution.

The Buck Stops Here… Or, At Least It Should

This is Part 3 of my Tithing and the Church project.

Gary North’s 1994 book was a wake-up call to me on this all-important subject of tithing.  I had first read parts of it some 15-20 years ago when I saw the PDF edition he had posted online.

I will be honest, it was a jarring experience.  (Of course, reading almost anything Gary North writes can be a jarring experience!)

It was a major course correction.  Why?  Because, just a few years prior, I had bought into the very appealing idea of the “sovereignty of the tither.”  A lot of Christians have bought into this idea.  “I control the purse strings.”  I liked that.  What self-respecting Christian wouldn’t?  After all, as a born-again, Spirit-led, “covenant-keeping,” “Bible-believing” follower of Christ, I was therefore entitled to be the chief decision-maker as far as how to allocate “my” tithe money the way I saw fit.

What were the criteria?  Only one: wherever I thought (or felt) that God’s law-word was being most faithfully practiced (or preached)–according to my humble opinion and based on my finely-tuned and unimpeachable personal-experience-based perception–by whatever church, charity or non-profit organization that I felt was worthy of my money, that is where I would send my check.  (I wrote more checks in those days.)

Lo and behold, wonder of wonders, this resulted in only a fraction of my tithe going to a local church.  (From time to time, this might even be the one I was attending — assuming that the pastor and his ministry were up to my lofty biblical standards!)

But more often than not, the lion’s share of my “ten percent” — or whatever New Testament percentage I deemed appropriate — went to non-church and other organizational entities which I felt were doing “the Lord’s work.”  My definition of it.

However,… once I got a hold of Gary’s book — or, at least, once I got to reading the electronic, onscreen, non-physical version of the book — my tither’s sense of sovereign superiority quickly evaporated, along with the self-appointed, self-centered practice that went with it: Outcome-Based Tithe Administration.

Here, in this series, I am now giving you the same opportunity that I had 15-20 years ago: to come face to face with a digital, onscreen, non-physical version of Gary North’s trenchant and tenacious argument that, according to God’s covenant and the uniform teaching of Scripture, your tithe belongs in one storehouse: the institutional church.

Last time, I posted the Introduction to Part I of Tithing and the Church.

Today, I am posting Chapter 1: Sovereignty and the Tithe.

Here it is…


1

SOVEREIGNTY AND THE TITHE

       Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it (Mal. 3:10).

       One storehouse, one tithe: this is the heart of the matter.  The day that covenant-keeping men multiply storehouses for God’s tithe is the day they begin to lose the blessings of God in history.  Why?  Because the existence of many storehouses reveals that men no longer believe that there is a single, sovereign, God-authorized collector of the tithe: the institutional church.  Their tithes are broken up into a series of offerings; then these offerings are perceived as morally voluntary; then this moral voluntarism transfers visible sovereignty to the donor: he who pays the piper calls the tune.

       The sovereignty of the donor over his tithe is an illusion.  This form of sovereignty cannot remain with the individual.  Individuals possess delegated sovereignty, but they cannot retain it if they rebel against the ultimate Sovereign, God.  They refuse to tithe; then the State’s tax collector steps in and imposes compulsion.  The State increasingly calls the tunes.

Voluntarism vs. Sovereignty

       The modern church is consistent.  It does not preach its own lawful delegated sovereignty because it does not preach the absolute sovereignty of God.  It does not preach the economic mark of this delegated sovereignty – the morally mandatory tithe – because it does not preach the morally mandatory law of God.  By dismissing three-quarters of the Bible as “God’s Word, emeritus,” the church has cut its own purse strings.

       When the church teaches that God has no legal claims on modern man’s institutions – pluralism 1 – it places itself under another god with another law.  God is presented as if He had no legal claims on modern man.  “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life” has been substituted for “God claims you, and has placed you under an eternal bond, which you have broken.”  The doctrine of a claims-less God has financial consequences for the churches, just as it does for the people in them who refuse to pay: wallets with holes.

       Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, 0 ye, to dwell in your celled houses, and this house lie waste? Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes (Hag. 1:3-6).

          This warning is easily dismissed today as “Old Testament stuff.” Non-judicial preaching has presented the church as a strictly voluntary institution, contractual rather than covenantal: just one more voluntary institution among many. Such preaching regards the communion table as it regards biblical law: an occasional ritual for remembrance’s sake only.  The church is barely distinguished theologically from a non-profit social club.  It is not perceived as sovereign.

       There is very little sense of the judicial presence of God anywhere in modern church liturgy.  Men may sing, ”All hail the power of Jesus’ name; let angels prostrate fall,” but neither angels nor the power of Jesus’ name are taken seriously.  In liberal churches, such realities are seen, at best, as non-historical (Barthianism); at worst, as mythical (Bultmanism).

The institutional church manifests God’s moral and judicial standard for the world,2 just as Israel manifested His standard under the Mosaic covenant.  This, too, is not believed by the modern church.  We find that there is no sense of the judicial presence of God in the civil courtroom, the voting booth, and on inauguration day.  The following phrases are mere formalities: “So help me, God” (courtroom oath), “In God we trust” (slogan on u.s. money), and “God bless you all” (tagged onto the end of televised speeches by American Presidents).  Invoking God’s name has become a mere convention.

The Judicial Marks of Sovereignty: Oath and Sanction

       The presence of a self-maledictory oath is the judicial mark of covenantal sovereignty.  Only three institutions lawfully can require such an oath: church, State, and family.3  Such an oath implicitly or explicitly calls down God’s negative sanctions on the person who breaks the conditions of the oath.  These sanctions are historical, although few Christians believe this, despite Paul’s warning regarding the misuse of the church covenant’s oath-renewal ceremony: the Lord’s Supper.

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge our- selves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world (I Cor. 11:27-32).

          Self-judgment, institutional judgment, and God’s judgment: all take place in history.  But the modern church has doubts about God’s predictable sanctions in history.  Most Christians do not expect to experience God’s positive covenantal sanctions in history.  The next step is obvious: to lose faith in meaningful historical progress.  Here is the origin of pessimillennialism’s lack of confidence in the work of the church, the effects of the gospel, and the future of Christianity.4

Without the oath and its associated sanctions, the church is not legally distinguishable from any other oathless, voluntary institution.  This skepticism regarding the church’s lawfully delegated sovereignty has spread to another covenantal, oath-bound institution: the family.  Today, the oath that creates a new family is undermined by a judicial monstrosity: no-fault divorce.  Only one oath-bound institution is still taken seriously, because of the sanctions attached to the oath: the State.  The rise of modern statism has been accompanied by a decline of the institutional church and a decline of the family.

Which oath does God understand as central in society?  The church’s oath.  Why?  Because only the church survives the final judgment.  It alone extends into eternity (Rev. 21:1-2).  Only the church has been assigned the task of baptizing whole nations in Christ’s name (Matt. 28:18-20).  Baptism is a church monopoly.

Today, this view of the centrality of the church and its sacraments is not widely shared.  Liberals affirm the centrality of the State.  Conservatives affirm the centrality of the family.  Both views are at war against the plain teaching of Jesus.

       And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fallon the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are ofmore value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy ofme: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matt. 10:28-37).

Family Values and God’s Sanctions

          “Family values.”  Everywhere we turn, we hear American conservatives proclaiming family values.  Fund-raising mailing list empires have been built on family values.  Politicians are supposed to profess family values, and all of them do.

But a question arises: Which kind of family values?  How about Islam’s family values?  How about defending chastity the Islamic way?  The family gets together and executes the unmarried daughter after she has delivered the baby.  Not the right approach?  But these are surely family values.  Are you against family values?5

We are all for family values.  No doubt about it.  Show me the politician who stands up and says: “Basically, I’m all for adultery and abortion.”  Not many, right?  But how do they vote?  How do they live their lives?  As people who are unafraid of God’s negative sanctions in history.  And why shouldn’t they be unafraid?  The modern church teaches that there are no covenantally predictable corporate sanctions in history.6

          Christians have accepted this equation: original sin minus God’s historical sanctions plus God’s common grace = legitimate civil jurisprudence.  All the weeping and wailing and direct-mail solicitations concerning the breakdown of family values will change nothing until Christians at last admit that their view of God’s historical sanctions is essentially the same as covenant-breaking, late-twentieth-century humanist man’s.  The argument is over the degree to which the State’s negative sanctions should be allowed by modern democracies to deviate from the Old Testament’s negative sanctions.  Modern man has decided: there should be very few overlapping sanctions.  No-fault divorce, no-fault abortion, and no-fault adultery are basic tenets of belief on Wall Street, Main Street, and Capitol Hill: (1) “If it feels good, do it.” (2) “If it leads to morning sickness, kill it.”

Then there are the economic considerations: (1) “If it ever gets born, someone must pay for it.” (2) “If the parent can’t pay for it, the government will.”  Therefore, “Balance the family budget: kill the unborn” soon becomes: “Balance the government’s budget: kill the unborn.”

The covenant-breaking State and the covenant-breaking family are common allies against the church whenever the church preaches God’s law.  But the church no longer preaches God’s law.  So, the covenant-breaking State and the covenant-breaking family assume that society can safely. ignore the covenant-ignoring church.  Everyone ignores God’s warning:

          Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:19)

He Who Holds the Hammer

          Neither the morally mandatory tithe nor God’s negative sanctions in history: here is the message of the modern evangelical church.  No mandatory tithe, reduced positive sanctions in history: this conclusion is the result of such preaching.  Because the church will not impose negative sanctions.against members who refuse to tithe – the loss of voting membership7 – it finds itself less capable of bringing a crucial positive sanction in society: charity.  The local church buys a debt-encumbered piece of land, builds a debt- encumbered building, and pays a debt-encumbered pastor.  The moment it pays off one building, it builds another.  Fund-raising in American evangelical churches today is heavily dependent on building programs.  Modern churches have an edifice complex.  What most do not have are charitable ministries.

There is a legitimate division of labor in society.  There are many things that the church cannot do well – running a Christian school, grades K-12, comes to mind, or running a crisis pregnancy center, or running a drug-rehabilitation center (a basic need in any society where the State runs the schools).  The church should support Christian agencies that can do these things well.  These agencies, to the extent that they are dependent on the money provided by the churches, will then reflect the standards of the churches.  Why?  Because of the fear of negative sanctions: the churches’ refusal to write more checks.

Churches today write checks mainly to bankers.  The bankers have the negative sanction: no payment, no church building.  They, not the churches, “hold the hammer.”  Then the local government finds that it can disrupt the flow of funds by revoking a church’s property tax exemption.  There are now two hammers.  Then the Federal government threatens to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status.  There are now three hammers.

          Where is the churches’ hammer?  In heaven.  But churches insist that God does not bring predictable negative sanctions in history.  His hammer is exclusively post-historical, they preach.  In short, the church offers no threat of a hammer in the modern world, which does not acknowledge God or eternity.  Or, as a pair of famous political theorists have put it:

       And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go (Ex. 5:2).

Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? (Dan. 3:15).

          He who holds the largest hammer gets paid first.  The church preaches that it holds no earthly hammer at all.  The church therefore gets the leftovers: after personal and family taxes; after personal and family debt payments; and after food, clothing, college expenses, and entertainment.

If Not Tithes, Then Offerings

          The church, burdened with debt, denying its possession of meaningful sanctions, comes to its members and pleads: “Do what the Spirit leads you to do.”  But what the Spirit apparently leads them to do is less – far, far less – than He required from God’s Old Covenant people.  There is no denomination in the United States that collects anything approaching half a tithe from its members.

          Old Covenant people were spiritual children, we are assured.  This is why God gave them so many laws.  He told them exactly what not to do.  But we are adults.  No one tells us what to do or not to do (not counting the State, of course).  We must respond as adults do.  We must sacrifice.  That we sacrifice economically at less than half of the required rate of sacrifice of Old Covenant children is of course beside the point.  After all, they were a rural, tribal people.  We are urban globalists, about to enter a stupendous New World Order.  Should we expect the laws of such a primitive people to serve us well today?  Of course not.  We’re all adults here.  Taxpaying adults.  The church deserves ten percent of our income?  Primitive!  Childish!

What should we give the local church?  Not tithes and offerings, surely.  Just offerings.  The size of these offerings is exclusively our decision.  So is the recipient.  Sovereignty belongs to us.  We the people impose the sanctions around here (not counting the State, of course).  We the people giveth, and we also taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the people.  We administer the oath.  We baptize the church.  Shape up, church!

So, the church’s officers come before the people mainly as representatives of the people.  They beg in the name of God, but collect in the name of the. people.  They are then sent back to God, offerings in hand.  There is hierarchy here: the people tell the church, as God’s agent, what they are willing to pay.

Modern Christians come before God and remind Him: “Not a cent more, mind You!  You should be grateful for whatever You get.  Don’t pull any of that fire and brimstone rhetoric on us!  That’s Old Testament stuff.  We don’t take kindly to it.  We can walk across the street and join another church, You know.  It needs our money.  It will be glad to get us.  This is a buyers’ market, Old Fellow.  We can shop around.  This is a free market system.  We’re price sensitive.  We’ll take the best package deal offered by one of Your churches.  There are so few of us these days.  It’s a declining market.  This makes us valued customers.”

(People ask me: What does it matter which eschatology a person holds?  I will tell you.  Postmillennialists are not persuaded that the present “down market” in the number of converts is permanent; pessimiIIennialists are persuaded.  This means that their eschatology reinforces “buyers’ market” mentality.  It also affects their churches’ discipline: gutting it.)

          There was a time, three centuries ago, when Christians believed that there are only three ways out of the church: death, excommunication, and letter of transfer.  They no longer do. Excommunication is old fashioned.  Letters of transfer only carry weight when receiving churches sanction them, rejecting the visitors’ request for membership, if only for the sake of creating respect for their own letters of transfer.  But in a buyers’ market for voluntary donations, churches are rarely choosy.  They have become beggars. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Conclusion

          The churches no longer hold the hammer.  They dropped it over a century ago.  Why?  Because they applied the philosophy of nominalism to the church itself: a world of contracts, not binding covenants under God.  When Holy Communion became in most Protestants’ thinking a mere memorial, the church covenant became a contract in their thinking.

The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is no longer taken seriously.  While the following development may not be predictable in every instance, it is familiar enough to be considered highly probable.  When weekly communion goes to monthly communion, and monthly communion goes to quarterly communion, and grape juice is substituted for wine, tithes become offerings.  Nominalism undermines tithing because nominalism undermines men’s fear of church sanctions: faith in God’s predictable covenantal sanctions in history whenever church and State fail to enforce His law by means of the law’s mandated sanctions.

When the churches stopped preaching the mandatory tithe, the State adapted the idea and multiplied by four: taxes.

Endnotes:

1. Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989).

2. Gary North, Healer of the Nations: Biblical Blueprints for International Relations (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987), Introduction.

3. Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant (2nd ed.; Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), ch. 4.

4. Gary North, Millennialism and Social Theory (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Chris- tian Economics, 1990), chaps. 3, 4, 7, 8, 9.

5. In November, 1993, a new movie was released: Addams Family Values. The Addams family is a comedy family of bizarre sadists and masochists.

6. North, Millennialism and Social Theory, ch. 7.

7. See Chapter 3.



Next time: Chapter 2, Authority and the Tithe

The Authority of God’s Church… Over Your Checkbook

This is installment #2 of my Tithing and the Church project.

A few of you have read Gary’s book.  (I mean actually read it.)  I know the overwhelming majority of you haven’t.  Guess what?  YOU are my target audience.

That’s why I’m doing this series.  It is meant to serve as a literary reminder to ALL of us that God’s sovereignty is absolute and all-encompassing over the affairs of men, and this includes the economic affairs of men.

Christians like to compartmentalize the sovereignty of God.  They also like to spiritualize the Bible’s teaching on non-spiritual things.  This (they hope) gets them off the hook for being responsible to God for practically applying what they read in the physical, non-spiritual realm when dealing with physical, non-spiritual things.

Things like money. And what they can and can’t do with “their” money.

In this opening section of Gary’s book, Part I: Church Sovereignty and the Tithe, he makes the case that the ecclesiastical authority granted by God to His institutional church over the affairs of His people, flows not from the Mosaic covenant, but from the Abrahamic.

Here he quotes a familiar passage:

Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.  For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.  Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.  And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.  And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.  And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.  For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.

Heb. 6:20-7:10

He follows this immediately with another New Testament passage on the preeminence of the Abrahamic promise:

And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.  For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

Gal. 3:17-18

And with that, Dr. North launches into his argument for the authority and sovereignty of the church over the economic as well as spiritual affairs of God’s people being based squarely on this pre-Mosaic precedent — an important distinction for answering the opponents’ perennial objection that tithing is a relic of the Mosaic law.

According to Dr. North, it isn’t.


INTRODUCTION TO PART 1.

     Paul makes it plain that God’s covenant with Abraham established the promise that was fulfilled in a preliminary fashion by Moses, but in a culminating fashion by Jesus Christ, the promised Seed (Gal. 3:16). The New Covenant has a major part of its origin in this Old Covenant promise given to Abraham.1  The church’s judicial claim to this Abrahamic inheritance rests not on the Mosaic law but on the Abrahamic promise.

This is a familiar doctrine to Protestant commentators, from Luther to the present, but its implications for ecclesiology have not always been clearly recognized.  What God promised to Abraham was crucial for establishing the authority of the church and the gospel: a future Seed. But Abraham was not a lone ecclesiastical agent.  He was under ecclesiastical authority.  The mark of his subordination was his payment of a tithe to Melchizedek, the king-priest of Salem, a man without parents: ‘Without father, without mother, without descent, having nei-

1. The other major part is the promise in Genesis 3:15: the seed of the woman.


ther beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually’ (Heb. 7:3).  Furthermore, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews makes clear, the Mosaic priesthood in the tribe of Levi was representatively subordinate to a higher priesthood, one established apart from any family.  Jesus Christ, a son of Judah rather than Levi, traced His priestly office to Melchizedek, not to Levi or Aaron.  His is a higher priesthood than theirs, for Melchizedek’s was.

     When the Epistle to the Hebrews equates the priestly office of Jesus Christ with the priesthood of Melchizedek, it makes a very important ecclesiastical point.  The authority of the church in dispensing the sacraments of bread and wine, which Melchizedek gave to Abraham (Gen. 14:18), is not derived from the priestly office under the Mosaic Covenant.  The Melchizedekan priesthood is judicially superior to the Levitical.  “Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.  For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him” (Heb. 7:9b-l0).  The New Covenant’s communion meal is the restoration of the Old Covenant’s covenantal feast of Salem.  The Lord’s Supper is analogous judicially to the Passover, but the bread and wine of Melchizedek had greater authority than Passover.

     In our day, it is common to hear Christians dismiss as “Mosaic” the requirement that they tithe a tenth of their income to God.  They claim that as Christians, they are not under the Mosaic law, and so they are not under the Mosaic obligation to pay tithes.  But the New Testament does not ground the tithe on the Mosaic law.  On the contrary, Hebrews 7 establishes the authority of Jesus Christ’s high priestly office in terms of Melchizedek’s collection of the tithe from Abraham.  The superiority of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant is seen in Abraham’s payment of his tithe to Melchizedek – a representative judicial act of submission in the name of Israel and his son Levi.  Any attempt to escape the obligation of the tithe is an assault on the New Covenant’s High Priest, Jesus Christ.


The Authority of the Institutional Church

     To undercut the institutional church’s source of funding is to compromise the testimony of the church as the inheritor of the Abrahamic promises.  This weakens the church’s authority.  Anything that weakens the legitimate authority of the institutional church necessarily establishes one of the other two covenantal institutions as a rival, either the family or the State.2  The authority of the institutional church to collect the tithe is the most important economic mark of its God-delegated sovereignty.

     In the late twentieth century, the assault on the institutional church comes from all sides: right and left, inside and outside.  Christians have lost confidence in the church as an agency of national and international healing.3  Some Christians have relied on a rebirth of the family to replace the visibly faltering authority of the church in our day.  Others have passively – and sometimes actively – promoted the welfare State as the agency of healing.  These attempts to create an alternative to the church will fail.  The family is not the central institution of Christian society; the church is.  The family will not extend into eternity (Matt. 22:30); the church will (Rev. 21:1-2).  Meanwhile, the State has become an agency of plunder.  To rely on it to bring social peace is the grand illusion of our age – an illusion that is fading fast, but no widely acceptable replacement is yet in sight.  That replacement is under our noses: the church of Jesus Christ.

     This section of the book deals with the sovereignty, authority, and present-day weakness of the institutional church.  This weakness is manifested in the inability of churches to collect the tithes that its members owe to God through the local churches.  I have focused on the tithe as a visible mark of men’s attitudes

2. I capitalize State to distinguish it from the regional civil jurisdiction in the United States known as state, e.g., California, Arizona, Michigan, etc.

3. Gary North, Healer of the Nations: Biblical Blueprints for International Relations (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987).


toward the church.  I begin as Jesus did in several of His parables: with men’s pocketbooks, which they understand far better than they understand theology or social theory.

     As far as the Bible reveals, the tithe began with Abraham’s payment to Melchizedek, the priest of Salem (peace).  The tithe is an aspect of point two of the biblical covenant model: hierarchy-authority-representation.4  The tithe is owed to God through a representative agency: the institutional church.  The sacraments are an aspect of point four: oath-sanctions.5  They are dispensed by this same agency.  Tithing is unbreakably connected to the institutional church because the sacraments are unbreakably connected to the institutional church. This is why I have tided this book, Tithing and the Church.

     Part 1 is divided into five chapters.  They parallel the five points of the biblical covenant model.  The structure of Part 1 is: church sovereignty, church authority, church membership standards (boundaries), monetary sanctions, and the war over inheritance – church vs. State.

     Any attack on the God-delegated authority of the institutional church to collect the tithe is an attack on the God-delegated monopoly source of the sacraments in history.  Taking the sacraments in a local church without paying a tithe to that church is a form of theft.  Any refusal to take the sacraments because you are unwilling to pay your tithe to a local church is a form of excommunication: self-excommunication.  To create your own home-made church as a means of giving yourself the sacraments while paying yourself the tithe is not only self-excommunication, it is theft as well.  A word to the wise is sufficient.

4. Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant (2nd ed.; Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), ch. 2.

5. Ibid., ch. 4.


Next time, Sovereignty and the Church (Chapter 1).

Tithing and the Church: Preface

Tithing and the Church book coverSome time ago, in a previous post, I mentioned (threatened) that I would begin periodically sharing excerpts here from Dr. Gary North’s 1994 book, Tithing and the Church.

Well, sufficient time has passed that I need to at least make some effort to make good on that promise.

It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since that book was first published.  Here is my question: is the church any more faithful now in its keeping of this Bible-mandated financial-planning practice than it was in the mid-1990s?

Is Washington, D.C. any less powerful (or corrupt) now in its exercise of Bible-mandated civil authority than it was in the mid-1990s?

In other words, obviously, a rhetorical question.

And we all know the answer: “No, but, Real Soon Now we hope things will be different!”

I have an idea.  Rather than just hoping that the church will rediscover its historic task of financing the Kingdom of God through systematic tithing by its members,  let’s each one of us be intentional and — yes I’m going to use that word — pro-active in setting the example and being doers of God’s Word on this important matter and not just hearers (and readers) of it.

Needless to say, because of the (controversial!) nature of its content, the book has not been well-received, particularly by Bible-believing Christians (surprise!).

A Unique Book

Gary prefaces his book, literally, with the following words.  I post them here verbatim.

What you hold in your hands is unique: a book written by the head of a parachurch ministry published by that ministry which warns you not to send donations to that ministry unless you have already paid ten percent of your income to your local church.

My personal economic self-interest appears to be opposed to writing and publishing such a book. Because so few people tithe a full ten percent of their income to any church, this book seems to be economically suicidal. If this book does persuade people, they are presumably less likely to send money to any parachurch ministry including mine.

On the other hand, some readers may be willing to consider my thesis more readily when they recognize that someone whose personal self-interest seems opposed to such a thesis is nevertheless willing to go into print with it. If nothing else, readers will recognize that I take my thesis seriously. This book could bankrupt my ministry. It is still worth publishing.

There comes a time for someone in the Christian community to remind his fellow Christians of what God had Malachi say in His name, even if this costs his ministry some income:

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts (Mal. 3:8-12).

Most pastors today do not believe Malachi’s warning. Of those who do believe it, there are not many who will go into the pulpit and preach it. Of those who do preach it, they do not preach it often. Of those who preach it often, they find that most members pay no attention except to suggest that the minister preach on something “less worldly.”

No church or denomination today is willing to bring sanctions against members who refuse to tithe. Preaching God’s law for the church without the ability to enforce it ecclesiastically is an exercise in futility. It is not surprising that pastors refuse to tackle this topic.

Even if they did, tight-fisted members could comfort themselves with this thought: “Well, he’s not an impartial witness. If everyone started paying his tithe, the church’s income would rise, and the pastor might get a raise.” The grumblers see self- interest as primarily economic. It never occurs to them that a pastor might preach on tithing because he is afraid that God’s warning through Malachi is still in force.

Here is the problem today: most Christians agree with all humanists regarding God’s predictable, covenantal, corporate sanctions in history, namely, such sanctions do not exist. But they do exist, which is one reason why I wrote this book. I fear these sanctions. Even if I pay my tithe, I may come under God’s corporate negative sanctions. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were carried into captivity by the Babylonians, despite the fact that they had preached the truth to doomed people who paid no attention to the threat of God’s predictable, corporate, covenantal sanctions in history. My conclusion: better to persuade Christians to pay their see donations to this ministry decline, and avoid the sanctions. This is what I call enlightened self-interest. It is called fearing God.

It never ceases to amaze me how many Christians do not pursue such enlightened self-interest.

I hope this book encourages pastors to preach on tithing. I hope it encourages church officers to re-think their responsibilities before God and men. I hope it changes the minds of those who read it. I hope it silences those who deny God’s covenantal sanctions in history. Finally, I hope it silences anyone who believes in these historical sanctions but who has decided that the local church is not entitled to the tithes of its members. Preaching such a version of the tithe is an ideal way to call down God’s sanctions on one’s head. I recommend against it.

And he’s just getting started!

Next time, we’ll look at the opening chapters of Part I: Church Sovereignty and the Tithe.