“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and don’t not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
In the Christian life, the loss of freedom generally isn’t a spur of the moment thing. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of heated water, it is incremental in its demise, accomplished by stealth, and very difficult to recoup once the simmering starts. And the sad fact about Christian liberty is that, once lost, some don’t want it, finding it easier to have decisions made for them, and many others, who admit they loathe the bondage, are afraid to take the steps to get it back.
My entrance into the Charismatic world was a cause for great personal rejoicing. In a little Montana church seventeen years ago I went to the front of the makeshift sanctuary (it was a rented building on Main Street) and gladly received Jesus as my Savior and Lord. I jumped feet first into the realm of exuberant worship, lively praise-dancing, and hallelujah shouting. In many respects it was a beautiful time of my life. Though fraught with debilitating sickness and its subsequent marriage and financial problems, it was also a season of great inner peace, growing in the knowledge of God, fellowshipping with the saints, and rich personal study of the Scriptures. To this day, there has not been a greater joy in life than knowing the full forgiveness of sin and the steadfast love of the Father to which I was introduced by that enthusiastic little group.
The fact that the church I attended was also heavily involved with “deliverance” ministry, explosive shouting in tongues, slaying in the spirit, and personal prophecy did not negate my genuine salvation experience. However, these things certainly tended to set the stage for the acceptance of later beliefs, and having relocated to a small Alaska Bush community some three years down the road, I realized that my prior experience had been merely the tip of the iceberg. My subsequent involvement with a congregation perched on the edge of a geographical no-man’s land introduced me to doctrines that made those of my former connections look tame by comparison.
Twelve years in this Alaskan congregation, including two as worship leader and about five as elder, taught me some valuable lessons—one of the main ones being that everything that looks like freedom ain’t necessarily the real McCoy. About halfway through, I began to realize that, for all our self-proclaimed liberty, we were just as straightlaced and stodgy as some of the most fundamentalist, non-Charismatic groups out there. Cessassionist we most decidedly weren’t, but we had just as many rules and regs laid down, mostly unwritten though clearly understood. We had, in a sense, become Pharisaical, developing our own personal code of proper thought and behavior tacked onto the Scriptures, and backed up with consequences for willful noncompliance.
It is important to understand the Pharisaic system of Jesus’ day. These men were the keepers of God’s Law, making the study of the Scriptures a life’s work. They were active proselytizers and sought to incorporate the teaching of the books of Moses into home life, the workplace, and in their interactions with other people. But prior to the advent of our Lord, they had strayed from the basic principles of the Law, and sought to outdo even God in requirements for righteousness. To the hundreds of points of Old Testament Law handed down through Moses, the Pharisees added rituals and traditions that had developed over the years until the burden on the average man was nearly intolerable. These guardians of the Scriptures had actually subverted the Law. They added to the LORD’s commandments, and in doing so, nullified the very Word of God. Jesus addressed this abominable practice with straightforward condemnation.
“Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘he who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever shall say to his father or mother, “Anything of mine you might have been helped by has been given to God”, he is not to honor his father or his mother. And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:3-6).
The ritual washing of cups and plates (Mark 7:8), sabbath traveling restrictions, and incredibly, even the prohibition of miraculous healing (Mark 3:1-6) marked the practice of certain Pharisees. The principles of man had effectively voided the Law that God had given to His own chosen people.
Though individual Pharisees were good men, righteous before God and seeking Him with their hearts, the group as a whole had degenerated to a dry-as-dust moral and social police force that seemingly went out of its way to impose heavy “spiritual” burdens upon the Jewish people. These man-made statutes had become so onerous as to even crush the spiritual life out of the ones it was originally intended to nourish, and forbid them entrance into the very kingdom of God that the Pharisees claimed to preach (Matthew 23:4, 13). Sadly, they had forgotten the example of their great predecessor, Abraham, who was called “the friend of God”, and whose life was marked by a living relationship with a living LORD. Doing religion “the right way” had become the predominant factor in the office of the Pharisee.
While many in Church leadership cannot in all fairness be called Pharisees in the strictest sense of the word, much current practice and belief has robbed sincere Christians congregants of the freedom they first knew in coming to Christ. Especially in “Third Wave” church groups, a movement in which my former congregation is an active participant, a new set of “laws” has been instituted that, little by little, add invisible chains to a person’s relationship with Christ. Shackles, blinders, and a muzzle have replaced uplifted hands, open spiritual eyes, and lips that were meant to praise—and question—without fear.
The Spirit of Religion
If it was one thing we, in the hyper-Charismatic movement, were taught to loathe as a group, it was the “religious spirit”. This was explained to mean anything of man-made or demonic origin that supplanted the true worship and knowledge of God. While on the surface this sounds like a good thing, it actually translated into something along the order of beware of anything that actively resists the church leadership’s viewpoint. In our group, people undergoing “deliverance”, in which demons are supposedly cast out of Christians, almost invariably were said to have “religious spirits” of one form or another that prevented them from “entering in” to the fulness of Christ’s provision.
As an elder it was my responsibility to occasionally make a tour of the surrounding hallways of our building in order to round up stray children and herd them into their appropriate areas.—Sunday school, back to their parents, or whatever. Upon returning from one such foray I found one of our congregation sprawled out on the floor and my wife nearly livid. It seems that this member had stepped out into the aisle after worship and was “slain in the spirit” after some kind of manifestation. In addressing this, our pastor looked right at the congregation and said in a firm tone, “If you have a problem with what just happened, you’ve got a religious spirit and you need to get rid of it!”
No questioning or difference of opinion allowed. Just accept what goes on here, regardless of how bizarre, and if it bothers you, then it’s a demon or bondage of the heart and mind and it’s your problem. You deal with it.
My wife didn’t buy into this one. Years of participation in our congregation had begun to hone a measure of discernment, and she knew enough of the works of the flesh decked out in “spiritual” garb to know the source of what she’d just witnessed. She fumed about our pastor’s proclamation, “He just said I have a religious spirit!” By the time of this incident I had already gotten into a considerable amount of hot water asking the wrong kinds of questions, so I kept my mouth shut this time. But neither did we succumb anymore to this particular label the leadership often tried to pin on us.
The same kind of reasoning was used by Brownsville Revival pastor John Kilpatrick, who noted that one of his congregation began “manifesting demons” when she refused to acknowledge the revival’s supposed validity. It is undeniable that “Third Wave” churches, including those involved with or influenced by the Toronto Blessing and the Brownsville Revival, are notorious for demonizing godly Christians who cannot accept ungodly behavior in their church. The message from these church leadership is clear—be quiet, sit down, and don’t question. The leadership knows best.
For the believer in Christ, the bottom line is there’s nothing wrong with wanting an honest accounting of belief and practice. If someone falls writhing to the floor of the sanctuary, laughs uncontrollably for no apparent reason, falls into a trance, has a vision—whatever—it is the duty of those in the Church to discern, judge, and refute any and all doctrines or manifestations that do not line up with the written Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Any restrictions placed upon the sincere evaluations of these things is a contrived rule of man that becomes a burden too difficult to carry. A choice is placed before the believer at that point...either put a lid on it or dare to protest and receive the subsequent chastisement. This almost certainly will include exclusion from leadership positions, restrictions in what you are allowed to teach and in leading home Bible-study groups, and being thought spiritually immature. Or being forced to leave a church group you?ve served and loved.
Been there—done that.
Worship...and Worship...and Worship...
No one will deny that the true believer in Christ is called to worship, and that for a healthy, satisfying relationship with our Lord, expressive worship is a must. There is in each of us a desire that cannot be fully shut out, a heart’s cry that must reach out to God and recognize Him as the Lord of glory, to give speech to the feelings that well up within us when contemplating His goodness and power, to respond with our spirit to the wooing of His Spirit.
But for those in hyper-Charismatic churches worship takes on a different meaning altogether. While ostensibly the purpose of the worship part of the church service is to focus on Christ and glorify Him, what actually happens and in fact is promoted is that praise and worship becomes a catalyst to propel the believer into “God’s presence”. It is assumed that it requires an indefinite time to “enter in” to where we can shed our worldly cares and meet with God, and almost invariably that time is lengthy and drawn out. It is not uncommon to hear of church services lasting several hours, with two or three of those devoted entirely to singing praise and worship songs. This mode presupposes that it is a struggle to come into the presence of God, manifold Scriptures to the contrary. One of the most easily remembered of these is the beautiful promise of Jesus in Matthew 11:28:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
All Jesus said to do is “Come.” And He’ll be there.
It is also assumed that once a congregation has finally “entered in”, that it’s good to stay there. So the songs or musical interludes continue, sometimes nearly interminably.
During my stint as worship leader, I often prolonged the time, listening for the voice of the Lord and many times “feeling” the proper moment for the laying on of hands ministry while the music played. Many fell under my hands, slain in the spirit when I touched them. I loved this part of the ministry, and felt it pivotal to the entire service. The preaching of the Word took second place in my heart, and I wasn’t disappointed if the entire service was thenceforth overtaken by manifestations without our Bibles ever being opened. Demonstrations of power not only awed the congregation, but also had the effect of making me feel I was approved by God. In fact, and this is common in the extreme, when the power displays seemed to stop, we would question ourselves and wonder if we had done anything to displease God. While the salvation of souls was certainly of primary importance, we considered it only half the gospel if signs and wonders did not also occupy our meetings.
Another facet of extended corporate worship is the expressing of the spiritual gifts of the congregation, which would be Biblical and necessary if so much of what passed for spiritual gifts was actually that. It is a sad and frightening thing that many times just the opposite occurs. I cannot tell how often, during a worship interlude, someone broke out in loud tongues, often questionably interpreted by the very person who spoke them. How do we judge if the person gives and interprets the same tongues expression? This on top of the fact that much of what is called tongues is merely carnal chattering with a spiritual veneer.
Contrary to every Scriptural occurrence, we were also “coached” into the initial experience of speaking in tongues, told to just “speak what you’re hearing in your mind”, or to simply speak unintelligible syllables and the Holy Spirit would take over. This is completely contrary to every recorded instance of tongues-speaking, which occurred spontaneously and unexpectedly to those who received it. That is another issue in itself. Others during the worship part of the service prophesied spontaneously or quoted a Scripture verse with a convoluted interpretation with little of no Biblical judgement from the leadership. So much of the time in my former congregation the words supposedly from God were dry or manipulative, not validated by the circumstances in the person’s life to whom they were directed, and even countering the Scriptural record in several points.
Visions are also a highlight of intense, prolonged Charismatic worship times. Angels, demons, the Lord Jesus Himself were the subject of many reported visions in my ex-church. While the book of Acts records only about thirty visions or heavenly appearances over a period of about three decades, and then by only a handful of mostly the same people that were proven pillars of the early Church, these days we far outdo our Christian predecessors numerically. And in peculiarity. Where both New and Old Testament angelic visitations were marked by messages directed at individuals or intervention in human lives for either rescue or judgement, our modern-day angels often appear just standing around enjoying the worship service with no other preoccupation than simply being there. As it is commonplace for some of the most spiritually immature to have the most impressive and frequent visions, one wonders why the bother about progressing to maturity in the Lord.
Interestingly, some of these same people graced with multiple visions or “words of the Lord” would characteristically come late to church, as if time was unimportant. About a third of the forty or so people who came to one of our Sunday services would show up late, including some of our resident prophets. One woman in particular, a very nice lady who, due to frequent visions was convinced by our leadership that she had a prophetic calling, often appeared some time after the service had started, entering the sanctuary with a cup of coffee in hand. Sitting up front, she would worship awhile, sit down, sip a bit of the brew, and then worship some more. This casual approach to God was encouraged by the congregation’s leadership.
Of course, a lengthy worship time would be rather discouraging without the manifestations. While it is rarely stated, this is one of the main purposes to long worship. We did it all the time with the manifestations in mind. The more power present, the better, as it was interpreted as God working among His people. Jerking, slain in the spirit, crying out under “the anointing”, shaking violently, uncontrollable laughter or crying, “drunk in the spirit”...all these and more I have personally witnessed, taken part in, and for years promoted as normal occurrences during the service’s worship segment.
Finally, there is the nearly universal trait among Charismatics of song repetition. Over and over and over, ad infinitum. Some people really enjoy that, and that’s fine, when all in the meeting are agreed. But for the others, whose number I eventually joined after stepping down as worship leader, it is an experience in prolonged frustration. It would reach the point where I would get so edgy at the same repeated verses I needed to simply get up and out of there before I went crazy. Using my leverage as elder, I could tend to official church business, like searching the hallways for errant children, while in reality the reason was to escape the sanctuary and its endless songs. That is a shameful thing to say, I suppose, but repeating a verse or chorus over and over is spiritually draining and really serves no purpose other than to showcase the worship leader and the music team. I’ve known my share of visitors who would not come back to our services because they couldn’t stand (or understand) this method.
While some effort was eventually made in our former group to blocking out a firm time for worship, it was quickly given up. The reason—”We don’t want to hinder the Holy Spirit”. It was noted in one of our leadership meetings, jokingly, that we could spend an hour on four songs. An hour! While said in jest, it was true to form. We were afraid of putting God “in a box”, and forcing Him to meet with us on our own set schedule. If we cut the worship short, it was stated, God might pass us by for not giving Him enough of our time.
If we would only read our Bibles, we’d see no reason to drag the worship on indefinitely. “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).
Simply gathering in the name of Jesus, with a heart willing to seek Him and listen to His voice, is forum enough for Him to join us. It doesn’t take an hour or two to get His attention. We are already the apple of His eye and He rejoices to be with us when we assemble corporately.
That’s not to say we should rush the church service or treat God as one who is at our beck and call. And there are certainly times when the Church is moved upon by the Spirit of God to tarry in repentance, wonder, and fear of the Lord. But a bit of godly reflection and humbling of ourselves beforetime would go a long way to shortening a meeting whose routine duration and repetition has proven to many to be too weighty to bear and an obstacle to genuine, heartfelt worship.
A Heavy Covering
The idea of “covering” creates one of the most remarkable distinctions in the life of the believer. The premise is that we should all be under the authority of a church leadership structure, for our benefit and protection. It is actually a command and exhortation found in the Scriptures.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
If carried out Biblically, this indeed protects the flock of God and nourishes those in its care. Leadership is placed in the body for the purpose of raising up those whom Christ has saved from the world and set apart for Himself. But it is to be accomplished in His way, in gentleness as He is gentle (Matthew 11:29, 1 Peter 5:1-3), with an eye toward the other’s welfare.
But what takes place in many groups, my own former one included, is an unwarranted intrusion into the lives and consciences of the average Christian. The sincerity of most church leadership notwithstanding, the idea of “covering” has been one of the greatest areas of abuse and manipulation that has burdened the believer in Christ. It is another one of our “unwritten laws” that must be obeyed, if one wants the favor of those at the helm. And one of the most effective methods of indoctrinating your people with the validity of this rule is to have them attend multiple meetings.
It was always a sore spot between my former pastor and I. While the congregation weathered constant announcements of a variety of church or home meetings accompanied by the pulpit admonition of “You need to be there!”, my wife and I chose a rather different course. Faithful in Sunday attendance, in later years we rarely attended midweek meetings. We believed very strongly that family time together was more important than dragging the kids to another service, where they would be separated from their parents after the worship ended and handed over to a nursery worker for the duration. Plus having been at work all that day and faced with an early rising the next morning, the prospect of one more meeting became more like a chore than a spiritual uplift. Many of the meetings were questionable at best anyway, and many involved the works of Charismatic superstars whose track record of spiritual understanding was appallingly anti-Biblical. Among other things, these meetings showcased “holy laughter” and all kinds of extra-Biblical manifestations, “prophetic” teachers like Rick Joyner (whose books “The Final Quest” and “The Call” are as false a vision in print as any I’ve ever seen), heretical Word of Faith ministers like Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin, and bizarre religious movements like the Toronto Blessing and the Brownsville Revival with their animal, “birthing”, and screaming manifestations. It was to be expected that our reluctance to spread ourselves too thin made my wife and I the object of leadership head-shaking and tongue-clicking.
It had even reached the point where our pastor’s wife, a very sweet and loving lady, cautioned us about our intimate involvement with the local Christian school (where my two daughters were enrolled). She apparently thought we spent too much time there, as we both helped out the teachers and spent a half day once a week with our kids in their learning process. She intimated that our commitment to the church was being replaced by commitment to a “para-church” organization, despite the fact that in that little school our children heard the gospel every day and were systematically taught the Bible by devoted Christians.
James Dager, in his excellent critique of the Dominion Movement called “Vengeance Is Ours”, astutely noted that pastors have a blind spot when it comes to their congregation’s hesitance to embrace every meeting promoted from the pulpit. While the members of his flock normally work daily for a living, the pastor’s job is the church. Sure, he may put in a lot of time, but his expenses are covered by the congregation’s tithes and offerings, or by his parent mission sending the appropriate funds. With a five-day work week out of the way, he may devote himself fully to the church structure. Since the programs instituted have been sanctioned by him, he sees them as necessary for “raising up” his people into maturity, and becomes angry or grieved when they can’t or won’t conform to the schedule he has decided upon.
When people are constantly berated or cajoled to attend this conference, that special meeting, or the home group where all the “good stuff” is supposedly happening, and they are unable or unwilling to make that mandatory sacrifice, the guilt forced upon them makes them shy away from church altogether. What was supposed to be a blessing or method of discipleship turns out to be a reef waiting for a shipwreck.
Midweek meetings can be good, if based upon the Scriptures and not esoteric experiences, but multiple, mandated gatherings can easily crush the life out of those who are forced to attend. It is one more brick they’ve got to carry in an already heavy load.
The bottom line is—leadership must lead with love.
“And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
“Covering” also encompassed the reading of choice materials doled out or approved by our congregation’s leadership. The works of Toronto Blessing’s John Arnott, Brownville Revival’s John Kilpatrick, Morningstar Publication’s Rick Joyner, Tabernacle of David leader Mike Bickle, and “spiritual warfare’s” leading “apostle”, C. Peter Wagner, all rated top billing in our congregation’s library. But men like Dave Hunt, T.A McMahon, and D.R. McConnell were reviled as “divisive” or “church splitters”, and their well-researched works (“The Seduction of Christianity” and “A Different Gospel”, respectively) placed on the Charismatic version of the Pope’s Index of Forbidden Books. The quickest way to get the pastor’s dander up was to show up at a home meeting with one of these books and a few of the wrong kind of questions. Never mind that New Age techniques have settled comfortably into the Church, nor that Word of Faith teaching is rank heresy that has destroyed the faith of many. Just don’t speak against brothers Wimber or Hagin, or sisters Copeland or Meyers.
And the burden of trying to be an honest Christian gets a whole lot heavier.
Perhaps no single issue affects the Charismatic Church of today more than that of its prophets and their prophecies. And my former group was no exception. Flowing “in the River”, we were a church with a strong “prophetic flavor” and many prophetic personalities, and it was the most natural thing in the world to seek a “word” from those who seemed to hear most intimately the voice of the Lord.
It is absolutely imperative to understand the tremendous sway a supposedly prophetic utterance has over a Christian. Especially if he is desperate to hear from God, any prophecy, genuine or false, can chart the course of the person’s life from that point on. And the evidence is overwhelming that the majority of what passes for prophecy in our churches is so far off the mark
it is pathetic.
I was there when a good friend of mine was prophesied over. The atmosphere in our congregation was charged as the visiting minister prayed over first one person then another. When my friend’s turn came, he was told that he would have a great healing ministry and he was thrilled. Two years later he died suddenly of a heart attack, with no fulfillment of the prophecy. His wife, also a Christian, came to church only a time or two after his death, then stopped coming altogether. Although our pastor mentioned the prophecy’s failure, he never called it by its true name—false. To the best of my knowledge, we never once used the word in my twelve years of attendance, and that despite the repeated thud of one prophecy after another hitting the sanctuary floor unfulfilled.
Some pretty inventive excuses have been made by the so-called “prophetic community” to cover up the failure of their “divinely received” inspirations. Bob Jones of Kansas City Prophet fame and his mentored Rick Joyner both agree that the prophetic word is only about 30-60% pure at this juncture of history, meaning you can prophesy falsely up to 70% of the time and still be considered a true prophet of God! There’s also the one about prophecy being conditional, based upon the fulfillment of certain conditions. Funny—they never mention to the one being prophesied over the exact conditions that God requires for the prophecy’s fulfillment. Just leave him stumbling around in the dark and hope he doesn’t short circuit the “word” given to him. And, of course, there’s the time-honored favorite of “Just chew the meat and spit out the bones”, a reference to the fleshly content of a prophecy mixed in with the genuine word from the Spirit. My former pastor repeatedly urged us to accept this criteria, noting that “there is always a mixture. That’s just the way it is.”
Really? It seems God has a slightly different standard.
“And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’
When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptiously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
It is absolutely mind-boggling that the self-professed leaders of Charismatic Christianity, who claim face-to-face conversations with Christ and to hear His unalterable Word, cannot recognize the validity of the very Scripture that warns of their own practices!
The above excuses are merely nonsense, a verbal dance trotted out in choreographed form to draw attention away from the issue at hand. The bottom line for any prophecy is: is it true or false? Does the person speaking it hold to Biblical Christianity or have they conveniently reinvented the Scriptures to authenticate their doctrinal positions? This, not incidentally, is the cornerstone of cult leadership, from the worldwide groups like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses to littler-known sects like the Two-By-Twos. The majority of today’s prophetic community fit nicely into this category. I’ve personally seen it happen more times than I can remember, and I’ve followed my share of human idols whose self-proclaimed “inspired word” has dissolved into embarrassing nothingness with monotonous regularity.
Once a false prophecy is spoken over a sincere but undiscerning believer, this supposed divine “word” becomes a chain about his neck. For when it does not come to pass, the condemnation will wear him down, cause him to question his relationship to God or his very salvation, or may turn him bitter toward the Lord whom he believes promised it in the first place. Wherever he goes, he will hear the clink and drag of those formidable links, ever reminded that he must have done something wrong, or that God really doesn’t care.
How many Christians, battered by guilt and despair, have fallen away because of false prophecy we can only guess at. Ezekiel 34 speaks of a terrible reckoning for those shepherds who have driven their sheep into dark canyons of error.
Can I mention that the most fantastic and utterly unchangeable prophecy can be found in the form of the Bible. In it there is everything to speak to the problems, joys, disappointments and fears of the believer. It is the sure word of God, and its power to transform, heal, and instill with faith the weakest believer is undiminished in the thousands of years since its first inscribed sentence.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple”(Psalm 19:7).
With all the “unsure” prophetic words flying around these days and making shipwreck of believers’ lives, it is good and satisfying to know that God’s true word never changes. In a Church eaten up with false prophecies, the certainty of the Scriptures make for an anchor that will hold us fast till the storm is over and Christ returns for His own.
The Widow’s Mite
It is arguably the most pervasive doctrine of the Church, so well-received that even those who ardently decry any other form of abusive ministry will just as fervently defend this doctrine.
“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed Thee?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground, nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:8-11).
This one passage, very familiar to anyone who has attended church faithfully for a period of time, has done much to burden the Christian with something that doesn’t even apply to him. Used manipulatively by a wide range of prophetic, Dominion, Word of Faith, and televangelist ministries, the misuse of the Old Testament law of tithes and offerings has ground untold billions out of Christians in this past century alone. And it has been used to line the pockets of superstar ministers whose shameless merchandising of the gospel has brought reproach upon the name of Christ and derision toward the life-saving message of the cross.
Without going into a great amount of detail, the comparisons between the Old Testament law of tithes and offerings and the New Testament principles of giving contrast so sharply that it is virtually impossible to ignore the differences.
For one thing, the O.T. tithes were directed toward the nation of Israel. The above verse indicates that quite clearly. It was a physical demonstration of the Jewish people in covenant relationship with the LORD. It was both the individual Jew’s and the entire nation of Israel’s duty to tithe on order to fulfill the Law. If he/they didn’t tithe, they were cursed.
There is no such thing as a nation of Christians. Our covenant is one of the heart. Christ has already fulfilled the Law in us (Romans 8:3-4). The mandated, outward observance of religious statutes (such as circumcision and tithes) have been done away. When Paul heard that Judaizers were attempting to bring circumcision into the Christian community, he placed anathema on them for subverting the law of grace (Galatians 1:6-9). The whole point of the book of Galatians was to show that we are no longer under the Law, nor could the Law make us righteous (Galatians 3:10-11). Since it says in verse 10 that everyone who practices the Law must abide by every point, or he is cursed, it is clear that circumcision is also implied, as were the temple practices, the priesthood, etc. Since these things are no longer in practice for the Christian, tithing falls right into the same area. Also, since Malachi curses those who do not tithe, and we are told in Galatians 3:13 that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, it is evident that both cannot apply.
Also, it is obvious that the Old Testament tithe was a requirement—no exceptions. But we are told in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that we are not to give under compulsion (or requirement), but to give as we ourselves purpose to give from our heart.
The tithes were used to support the Levitical priesthood for service at the Temple (Numbers 18:21-30). In the New Testament, all believers make up the priesthood (Revelation 1:6), and believers themselves are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), the only temple where God dwells.
Although we could go on and on, one more critical point should bring the argument in favor of a tithe to a screeching halt. The tithes were assessed only the increase of the crops and cattle of the Jews, and was paid in crops and cattle (Deuteronomy 14:22-23). Only if a person lived too far from the temple to make the yearly trip with a caravan of goods could he convert the tithe into money, and add one-fifth to the price (Leviticus 27:30-33, Deuteronomy 14: 24-25).
Now, it is a great leap to say that the local church building now represents the Temple where the tithes were stored, and since it is too far to bring our cattle, produce, new wine, etc., then we are permitted to bring our money instead. But then, remember that we must add one-fifth to the price, thereby giving more than the traditional 10% tithe. And all this to support the Levitical priesthood, which, symbolically is now the local pastor...
You can see where this is all going. The argument falls apart when taken in context. Now, certainly we should give, and that generously, for we own nothing. We are only stewards of what belongs to God anyway. But twisting the financial arm of the average church-goer or laying a heavy burden of guilt on him for failure to fulfill an unwarranted expectation is Pharisaical. Switch on TBN and a who’s who of televangelism and hear the ceaseless wailing for money—while Paul and Jan live in millionaire luxury, Benny Hinn’s upscale mansion and suits costing several hundred dollars each mocks the poor who follow Christ, and Morris Cerullo’s lavish home and oozing wealth breeds contempt of the gospel from the world and avariciousness and envy from many Word of Faith adherents.
Next time you get one of their “seed-faith” donation envelopes in the mail, think about the one person in the New Testament that impressed Jesus most with her giving.
“And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the multitude were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. And calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty put in all she owned, all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:41-44).
When the religious upper crust come begging for your help in supporting their opulent lifestyle, and you’re down to your last cent, try sending it to them and see what response you get. Who knows, you might just get taken off their mailing list.
There’s more, of course. The practice of casting evil spirits out of Christians, which causes unwarranted fear of demonic oppression and inhabitation, or conversely provides a handy scapegoat for those who secretly love their sin, has become another brick in the load of the believer who is already languishing beneath the crush of hyper-Charismatic tradition. Slain in the spirit, where the Christian is encouraged to hit the floor and “soak” in “the anointing” creates an atmosphere of anxiety whereby a person is not willing to be left out of the experience or thought of as “hard to receive”. The peer pressure to conform is tremendous. I’ve seen people in my own group fake it, as if lying on the floor would produce the sought-after visions or presence of the Lord.
Whereas the gathering of the saints should be the place for freedom in Christ, healing, restoration and a renewal of commitment, it has often been restructured by the hand of man into an arena of tremendous discontent, brought on by burdensome requirements or displays of wild unrestraint. True liberty in the Spirit of God was purchased at the cost of Christ’s precious blood. This wonderful portion of our birthright ought not to be surrendered for a mess of pottage.
There is a Biblical escape from all these rules and rituals. But it will take a determination to live for Christ alone, and not for the favor or approval of man. It is important to remember that the door to every church building swings both ways. Attendance there is not required by law. If, after a period of time in which you choose to publicly address these issues (and you cannot remain silent after knowing the truth), and the church leadership show no inclination to alter their agenda, then it is incumbent upon you to leave. It is a good idea to write a formal letter to the pastor and elders, explaining your position. They already know anyway, but as a matter of church record your reasons should be clearly stated. Keep a dated copy for yourself to have in case the leadership attempt to deny being informed of your concerns (which often happens). Also, copies of the same letter could be sent to several members of the congregation, to eliminate the possibility (likelihood?) of the pastor/elders contriving a pat story about you and feeding it to the group as a fact. No one in the rank and file of my former congregation, to the best of my knowledge, was precisely informed as to my reasons for leaving. The leadership merely noted the departure of my family due to some vague doctrinal differences, without ever mentioning the deluge of Latter Rain, Toronto, Brownsville, or Word of Faith aberrations and heresies that had shotgunned our group throughout the twelve years my family attended. A subsequent letter to a dozen congregation members settled the issue, at least as far as enumerating our reasons for leaving. None of the group bothered doing any Biblical inquiry of their own, and mostly avoided us after that, but at least they knew where we stood.
After having been weighed down with man-made rules for any length of time, freedom is exhilarating, but it can also be a bit scary at first. It’s easy to get used to people telling you what to do, even if you don’t particularly like the commands. But following Christ with our whole hearts is an experience that, once savored, can never be duplicated by a cardboard imitation. Meet with like-minded others, find a church that preaches the unadulterated Word of God, and keep your discernment sharp. And give glory to God for being set free to worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
“If, therefore, the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
(Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New American Standard, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, by The Lockman Foundation.)