Embezzling God….

One of the underlying assumptions is that money from the offering or tithe belongs to the church. But the Scriptures consistently teach that the offering is God’s instrument of redistribution and that it belongs to the poor. Giving to the poor should not make its way into the budget; it is the budget. One could argue that small portions of the Israelite offering (no more than 10 percent) was given to the Levitical priesthood (Neh. 12:47), and that in the early church an even smaller contribution could be given to the church’s itinerant evangelists, who, incidentally, were themselves poor (1 Cor. 4:11). But it is not a coincidence that the first major organizational structure in the early church was created to assure order in the redistribution of resources to widows and orphans (Acts 6:1 – 6).

So historically, church offerings were part of God’s economy of redistribution, and over 90 percent was to be given to the poor. We live in an age when we have nearly reversed what God set in place. An average of 85 percent of the church offering is used internally, primarily for staff and buildings and stuff to meet our own needs. And this borders on embezzlement, as theologian Ray Mayhew points out in his essay “Embezzlement of the Church: The Corporate Sin of Contemporary Christianity.” No wonder most churchgoing Christians give only less than 3 percent of their income to the church and find other ways of giving money to the poor.

Claiborne, Shane (2008-09-09). The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Kindle Locations 3015-3025). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I have made it known in the past that Shane Claiborne is one of my heroes. He lives out his faith in an inner-city church called “the Simple Way”.  The book from which the quote above came has a place on the back of my desk reserved for those I consult on a regular basis. As one of the reviews for the book mentions Shane is on a genuine search for the authentic church. That has basically been my goal that founded this blog more than four years ago.

One of the most embarrassing things to me when I was attending a small Lutheran church was to see so little of my weekly offerings actually going out into the community. As a matter of fact there really was practically none of it used for that purpose. The vast majority of the money collected by this small congregation of about forty families went to pay the clergyman’s salary. What was left was for the mortgage on the building and utilities. There was literally nothing left except the expected 10% tithing back to the  national bureaucracy.  When I pointed this out on more than one occasion there was for the most part a silence in the group.

I, like Shane mentioned above, reserved a good portion of my charitable giving to go to an organization that directly dealt with the poor.  It seemed shameful to spend almost all that tax-free money on ourselves. It almost seemed like we were embezzling  God.  It was not until after I left that congregation that I learned that this is more or less the norm for most churches today. Very little gets beyond the church’s doors.

On The Path….

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I got to thinking the other day about how I am different than I was ten years ago and especially twenty years ago.  Although much is the same a lot has also changed in my life in those years.  I have a friend at the soup kitchen where I volunteer who proudly wears a T-shirt that says “Thank God, I am not the man I used to be”.  He is a recovering drug addict and one of my dearest friends. I too should be wearing that shirt as I am not the man I used to be either. Thank the Lord I was never involved in drugs, other than a thirty-year addition to tobacco which was bad enough,  but I have changed a lot in other areas. Mostly for the good I think. Sometime, well really often times, I get impatient with others who call themselves Christians but don’t act like it.  I can’t understand why they don’t understand the words of Jesus like I do.  Why do they still stubbornly cling to words of man instead of their creator?

Recently I posted part of Rachel Held Evans who is fellow Christian blogger, much more famous than I am, that managed to get an interview with Shane Claiborne.  Here is part of what he had to say regarding how we all are, or at least should be, constantly growing into what it means to be a Christian:

I do think it’s important to keep in mind that conversion is not just about a moment; it’s about a movement, about continually changing into the people that God has made us to be. So we need to have the same sort of patience with one another that God has with us as we move through that process.  Sometimes, when I speak at a mega-church or something, someone will ask, “How do you come here, after being in Iraq or Calcutta? How do you speak into a culture like this with love?” And it’s because I see myself in the mirror!  We’re all in process and that should give us great patience and peace with one another.

….That and the fact that the Bible is full of really messed-up people! Saul of Tarsus was a terrorist, for example. David was a womanizer who pretty much broke every command there was in two chapters of the Bible. But that’s part of the story—that God uses not only our gifts, but also our brokenness and our history. Desmond Tutu says that the love of God is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. What a beautiful reminder that we should should never write anyone off.

Conversion is not as many seem to believe, just about a moment in time. It is really about a lifetime change. We all take baby steps in the beginning and then our stride increases as we grow in life. Some as Shane points out above start out more screwed up than others but we must all realize that each of us no matter what we think, are at various stages of growth.

Shane Claiborne is a young man, at least by my standards, who is a visionary leader of the Simple Way, a faith community in inner city Philadelphia and helps birth similar communities around the world. He is also a prolific author.  If you have yet to pick up one of his books I pray that you will do so soon.  His words just might change your life.