Thursday, November 6, 2008

How I Left Fundamentalism-- Part 2

The stories continues...

It is true, I was an absolutist, but I never was a very good one. You see, I had both types of logic always going on in my mind. The logic of scientism made perfect sense to me (the reader will recall my struggles with evolution), and the logic of absolutism worked well too. I, like many absolutists, longed for order and a world that made sense. Both the logic of science and the logic of absolutism caused my world to appear more ordered and sensible. Always pulled from two directions, I became a bit of a “thorn in the flesh” to the absolutist leaders. I never could learn to stop “doubting my doubts,” as they so frequently recommended. Things worsened as the absolutist world began to seem more and more out of touch with my reality. Eventually, I reached the end of my rope. There were four events precipitating my leaving.

The issue of tithing

The first event concerned tithing. The Jesus Freak church, after Jesus Freak days ended, became an independent Charismatic (neo- Pentecostal) church, very loosely connected to other former Jesus Freak fellowships. After the constituency of the church began to settle down, finish college, acquire houses, and, in general, become more prosperous, the church began to teach quite frequently on tithing. Everyone was to give their ten percent, as required by the Bible, to support the ministers. You can imagine the effects of this. We had a church with several hundred members. Everyone was accountable to give an honest ten percent. The church leaders could investigate this any time they desired. Members’ finances were to be an open book in such an event. There were two or three or so paid leaders (It varied as the leaders desired. The members had no say in the choice of clergy, the setting of budgets, or the fixing of salaries). The tithe, so the teaching went, was only for the support of the ministers. The purpose of the tithe was not for covering general church expenses.

Indeed, I am sure you can imagine the results. On Sunday, the church parking lot accommodated two hundred different types of cars— Fords, Chevrolets, and VW Bugs, and so on. However, one row contained three Mercedes or BMWs or Audis, or, at least, very nice Volvos. These cars were, as you might imagine, the property of the church’s paid elders. A couple concerned with what the parking lot revealed became some of the first to defect from the absolutists church on principle. The couple that left told me, “You’re all a bunch of fools if you can’t see what’s happening. Just look in the parking lot, man. Can’t you see what the deal is?” However, it really did escape me. It was their tithe after all, and the elder’s tithe was none of my business—something over which I was to have no say. The church handled other expenses through additional offerings. Once I heard the official estimate of our personal giving: seventeen percent.

After leaving Kansas City and moving to a bedroom community, where Irene and I taught school, we attended a church that was an offshoot of the church with Jesus Freak roots in Kansas City. After a year or so, I came to the attention of the elders of this church as someone who possessed some research and writing skills. The leadership of the church drafted me and gave me an assignment. I was to write the church’s position paper on tithing, focusing on the teaching we received over the past few years. In this church, such an assignment was an honor and a duty. This was also an important document. I could not turn down an assignment like this one. I felt important.

I took to the task gingerly. I visited one of the seminary libraries in Kansas City and reviewed Biblical and historical foundations. I researched attitudes over the years. The longer I researched, the more I became convinced our leadership was wrong. Tithing was a strong principle in parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, that support seemed to vanish in the New Testament. It was a real stretch, both biblically and historically, to prove that early Christians followed the principle of tithing. Oh, you could prove the early Christians gave generously—often in ways that make a tithe look small. Nevertheless, no matter how I tried, I could prove tithing from the New Testament. Some of the historical documents considered such Old Testament laws as out of place in the Christian dispensation.

This resulted in basic doubt for me. Maybe it would be better to say it reinforced my already present doubts, since I tended to be a bit of a skeptic (as I have related). This was nearly thirty years ago. The experience initiated my first doubts concerning the principle of the “flat Bible.” Of course, this led to doubts concerning the verbal, plenary nature of textual inspiration. I had some serious questions.

I was to produce a document for use in the church. I did exactly that. It stated the position of our church, but it said more. It cited research concerning the differences between the New and Old Testament texts. It reviewed some of the views presented through the ages seeing tithing as a legalistic practice with no basis in early church history. It took issue with the notion that the first pastors received a salary from a tithe collected from congregants or that clergy were even paid in the early days of the Church. It suggested a discontinuity between parts of the Bible and hinted at the notion of progressive revelation, in which some commands of the Bible did not completely reflect the voice or will of God.

I submitted my report to the leadership. They received it; I was thanked for my work. The position paper did not “go to press;” no portion of it appeared in any church documents. Different methods proved more useful in enforcing the tithing principle. Never again did the honor of writing a position paper fall to me. Furthermore, the leadership began monitoring my actions and words with great care. They were not unfriendly, mind you. They simply made it clear that they viewed me as rather dangerous—someone who might “rock the boat.”

As for me, I began to peruse more seminary libraries and read more books about Biblical inspiration. The more I read, and the more I sat in church, the more confused I became. Something was definitely happening to me, something that scared me.


    by Russell Earl Kelly, Ph. D.
    (see web site for all texts)
    November 6, 2008

    1. Post-Calvary Christian giving principles in Second Corinthians are superior to tithing. (1) Giving is a "grace.” (2) Give yourself to God first. (3) Give yourself to knowing God’s will. (4) Give in response to Christ’s gift. (5) Give out of a sincere desire. (6) Do not give because of any commandment (8:8, 10; 9:7). (7) Give beyond your ability. (8) Give to produce equality. (9) Give joyfully (8:2). (10) Give because you are growing spiritually. (11) Give to continue growing spiritually. (12) Give because you are hearing the gospel preached.

    2. Abraham's tithed in Genesis 14 in obedience to pagan tradition. (1) He did not "freely" give. (2) His was NOT a holy tithe from God’s holy land by God’s holy people under God’s holy Covenant. (3) His was only from pagan spoils of war required in many nations. (4) In Num. 31, God required 1% of spoils. (5) His tithe to his priest-king was a one-time event. (6) Not from his personal property. (7) Kept nothing for himself. (8) Is not quoted to endorse tithing. (9) Most commentaries explain 14:21 as pagan Arab tradition, it is contradictory to explain the 90% of 14:21 as pagan, while insisting the 10% of 14:20 was obedience to God’s will. (10) If Abraham were an example for Christians to give 10%, he should also be an example for Christians to give the other 90% to Satan, or to the king of Sodom! (11) As priests, neither Abraham nor Jacob had a Levitical priesthood to support; they probably left food for the poor at their altars.

    3. Although money was common and essential for worship for over 1500 years, biblical tithes were always only food increased by God from inside Israel (Lev. 27:30, 32; see site for all 16 texts).

    4. Since only farmers and herdsmen tithed, there
    was no minimum standard requirement for most. Tradesmen such as carpenters (Jesus), Peter (fishermen) and Paul (tentmakers) did not qualify as tithe-payers. The poor and Gentiles did not tithe.

    5. Tithing was only commanded to national Israel under the terms of the Old Covenant. Tithing was never commanded to the Church after Calvary (Ex 19:5-6; Lev 27:34; Mal 4:4; Mt 23:23 matters of the law).

    6. Those who received the first whole tithe did not minister atonement (Num. 18:21-24; Neh10:37b). Priests only received 1% (a tenth of the tithe) (Num 18:25-28; Neh 10:38).

    7. In exchange for receiving tithes, both Levites and priests forfeited all rights to permanent land inheritance inside Israel (Num. 18:20-26).

    8. Firstfruits are not the same as tithes. Firstfruits were a very small token offering (Deu 26:1-4; Neh 10:35-37; Num 18:13-17). Tithes were the tenth and not the best; only 1% of the tithes included the best (Lev. 27:32, 33).

    9. There were 4 O.T. tithes: (1) Government taxes (1 Sam 8:14-17). (2) Levitical (Num. 18:21-28; Neh. 10:37-39). (3) Festival (Deu 12:1-19; 14:22-26). (3) Poor tithe every 3rd year (Deu 14:28-29; 26:12-13).

    10. Tithes were often taxes used to support Levite [politicians (1 Chron, chap 23 to 26; esp 23:2-5; 26:29-32; 27:5). Tithes never supported mission work (Ex 23:32; Heb 7:12-18).

    11. OT Levitical tithes were brought first to the Levitical cities and not to the Temple (Num 18; Neh 10:37-39; 2 Chron 31:15-19). Most Levites required tithes in their Levitical cities where 98% stayed (Num 35, Josh 20, 21).

    12. Malachi 3 is the most abused tithing text in the Bible. (1) Malachi is OT and is never quoted in the New Covenant to validate tithing. (2) Tithes are still only food. (3) His audience reaffirmed the OT curses (Neh.10:28-29). (4) The blessings and curses of tithing are identical to and inseparable from those of the entire Mosaic Law (Deu 28:12, 23-24; Gal 3:10/Deu 27:26). (5) “You” in Malachi refers to the dishonest priests and not the people (1:6-14; 2:1-10; 2:13 to 3:1-5). (6) The “whole” tithe never went to the Temple! (Neh 10:37b). (7) The Levitical cities must be included in a correct interpretation. (8) The 24 courses of Levites and priests must be included. (9) The “storehouse” in the Temple was only several rooms (Neh 13:5, 9). (9) “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” only makes contextual sense if it is only commanding dishonest priests to replace the tithes they had removed from it or had failed to bring to it.

    13. The OT Temple and priesthood have been replaced by the priesthood of every believer. NT elders and pastors more closely resemble OT prophets who were not supported by tithes.

    14. Tithing was not legalized as a church law until AD 777. If was not introduced as a local regional law until the 6th century. See any reputable encyclopedia.

    15. NT giving principles are: freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, not by commandment or percentage and motivated by love for God and lost souls.

    From the book, Should the Church Teach Tithing?

  2. Well, I'd say you certainly have strong feelings about it!