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.
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.
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).