Communion means Communion

Every Sunday (ideally) we who believe in Jesus Christ gather together to take His Supper. This meal we often call “Communion.” Yet it seems personally that too often we forget the significance of that name. There is a reason that we call Communion “Communion.” In this post I want to briefly explore that reason and offer some suggestions about how we can better honor it.

The word “Communion” reflects two aspects of the Lord’s Supper. On the one hand, it refers to the way that we commune with Christ by taking His body and blood. When we eat the bread and drink the wine through faith, the Holy Spirit ushers us into the presence of God in heaven through Jesus Christ, whose body and blood given for us gain us entrance into the divine glory. On the flip side of that, you could say that when we take the bread and wine the Holy Spirit brings Jesus Himself, His atoning body and blood, to us in a supernatural way. In Communion then we commune with Jesus, having sweet fellowship with God in Christ by the death which reconciles us to Him, represented in the real-symbol of bread and wine. On the Cross Jesus gave Himself for us, and we when recall that sacrifice in Communion He gives Himself to us.

That said, the aspect of communion with Christ the Supper is not my main focus in this post. For the most part, we are quick to pick up on at least something along these lines, and the way that we tend to do Communion shows that. But most of the time it seems to me that this is the only dimension of Communion we adequately capture. There is another, often neglected side, too. In Communion, we don’t just commune with Christ. We also commune with each other as His body. As we eat of Christ’s body in the Supper, we as the Church are formed into His one body ourselves.

Biblically, the Lord’s Supper is a meal which we share with each other in Christ. This meaning is the whole point of Paul’s criticisms of the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 11. He starts off by referring to their taking Communion as when they “come together” (something I also think supports weekly Communion). Then he immediately starts condemning their internal divisions. When he says that they aren’t truly eating the Lord’s Supper, he says it is because “each one eats his own supper ahead of others.” And when he tells them what to do about it, he says they must “wait for one another.” The running theme is that the way the Corinthians were celebrating Communion was divided and individualistic, but it was supposed to be a unified meal of a single body. Communion is meant to be something the members of the church do together as one people.

This dimension is also seen later in the same letter, when in chapter 10 Paul warns against participating in meals for worshipping idols. He draws this view idea of double communion—communing with the god in question and with the other people present—as applying in those cases. Here is what he says:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I am speaking as to wise people. Judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we give thanks for, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all of us share that one bread. Look at the people of Israel. Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in what is offered on the altar? 

1 Corinthians 10:14-18

Pay close attention to what Paul says here. On one hand, he tells us that eating a meal in the context of idol worship is a participation in that idol worship itself, just as Communion is a participation in the body and blood of Christ. This reflects the vertical aspect of the Supper, our Communion with God in Jesus Christ. Yet he also adds that “we who are many are one body, for all of us share that one bread.” This is the horizontal dimension I am highlighting. When we partake of a meal in worship of Jesus together, we are united as His one body. We are His one body because we share the one bread of His body.

This is something that the early Christians understood well. The Didache, one of the earliest Christian writings after the New Testament, contains this Communion prayer:

We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be the glory forever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. To you is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.

They got it. Communion is communion, both with Jesus and with each other. Our shared identity as those “in Christ” is bound up with our shared reception of His gift of Himself in His body and blood offered for us on the Cross and to us in Communion. We are people-who-receive-Jesus-together.

Now, this is all well and good to know, but I want to add something. It is not enough just to think of Communion as involving the unity of God’s people. We must also be sure to do Communion that way. So often in so many churches Communion is done otherwise. The focus in on individuals as they introspectively examine themselves and their personal relationship with Jesus before taking the bread and wine on their own. In some cases the focus is on families as they partake one group at a time. Yet this is a shared experience for all the Church, not just the local but the universal. We must be sure to remember that, and so when we do Communion, however the details, we should do it in a way that we can tell, feel, and know that we are in this together. One body receiving one body from one Lord. Amen.

Communion means Communion

Church Is for the Church

What is a Sunday morning church service for? As Christians, we meet together on the first day of every week, the day of Christ’s resurrection. We sing songs, hear preaching, and (hopefully) take Communion. But why? What is the purpose and goal of this meeting?

To many people, our gathering together as the Church on Sunday is about evangelism, about reaching the lost. Contemporary, upbeat songs attract them, relevant preaching helps them see the usefulness of Christianity to their lives, and finally we invite them to make their professions of faith and perhaps join our church.

Let me be entirely clear from the outset: trying to reach the lost, or doing the things I just mentioned, is not at all bad. I could never say they are. Nonetheless, I believe that the outreach focus is not the right focus for our weekly meetings. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time and a place for everything, and, Biblically, our weekly gatherings as the Church are not, I am convinced, for evangelistic purposes, but for, well, the Church itself.

Scripturally, church (the weekly service) is for the Church (the people). It is not about reaching unbelievers, but about building up the Body of Christ. Honestly, it would be difficult to point to a particular proof text for this point, but that’s not because it’s unbiblical, but because it is the basic assumption of all the New Testament letters to the churches. Reading any of the letters makes this clear enough if you’re paying attention, but some passages that draw it into sharper focus might be 1 Corinthians 14, large portions of Ephesians, or the latter chapters of Hebrews.

Acts also shows this pattern. There are two parallel ministries in Acts: the evangelistic ministries which occurred out and about in society, and the gatherings of believers by themselves. There was public preaching to the crowds, and after and apart from that the believers gathered together devoting themselves “to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

In fact, this verse I believe sums up how Church is meant to work. In order to become the people we need to be to reach the world for Christ from Monday to Saturday, we must participate in the right Body-building, sanctifying activities together on Sunday. We learn from the apostles’ teaching how to live the Christian life rightly, so that we please God and win people to the beauty of the Gospel life. In fellowship we encourage and assist one another as fellow believers to spur each other on to good works, to reassure doubts, to share burdens and joys, and to share insights and experiences with our common Savior. By the breaking of bread in Communion, we recall the sacrifice of Christ in the past, enjoy His sustaining power for us in the present, and train ourselves to live in anticipation of the resurrection life which we will share with Him in the future. Finally, our collective prayers invite God’s supernatural power and presence into our life together as the Body of Christ. 

These means of sanctification—preaching, fellowship, sacraments, and prayer—are the essential elements of our weekly gatherings as the Church, in addition to worship, and yet are explicitly believer-oriented. Only believers can “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching” in a productive and transformative way. Only believers can encourage one another with the Gospel, share burdens in Christ, and build each other up with their spiritual gifts. Only believers are permitted to take Communion and so feed on the nourishment of Christ’s body and blood given for us. Only believers have unfettered access to God’s throne of grace for prayer. And only believers know to worship God in spirit and in truth.

The point is fairly simple, then. Our meetings as the Church are meant to be by the Church for the Church. Unbelievers are, of course, welcome. They can come to hear the Gospel, which is always a good thing. We can love them and show them the life of Christ in its beauty. Yet the presence of unbelievers in our meetings is assumed in the New Testament to be occasional and potential rather than normal and intentional (see 1 Cor. 14:23). The basic and important pattern is the gathering of Christians to be Christians.

I again emphasize, though, that this is not at all to say anything against evangelistic outreach towards unbelievers. In fact, I would instead say that the church-for-Church model is an essential part of reaching unbelievers. By concentrating on the strengthening and renewing of our life in Christ together when we meet on Sundays, we can become more and more able to reach the world around us the rest of the week. This is, in fact, exactly what the earliest Christians historically did. They met together early Sunday morning before going to work (as Sunday was a workday for them) for the benefits I mentioned above, and then they set out on their weeks to be the best followers of Christ they could be in the sight of unbelievers. The Lord’s Day was a time to recharge together in the presence of the one Lord, so that by His Spirit they would be empowered to fulfill the Great Commission when they went their separate ways.

I believe we could do well to relearn this approach in modern times. It seems to be more Biblical, and have been more historically effective at producing active Christians, than seeker-sensitive or evangelistic approaches. And in fact, it stands as a challenge to us all specifically in evangelism. It’s harder to be a witness for Christ in our actual, daily lives and reach unbelievers there than to round them up for a Sunday preacher, after all. Maybe if we try we’ll find that the hard way is, as usual, the better.

Church Is for the Church

Does Anyone Really Believe in the Church Family?

A few weeks ago, I ran across a question on Reddit about Christians giving preference to helping Christians. Someone, who if I recall consider herself a Christian, had heard Christians wishing to especially help Christian refugees moreso than others. She was horrified by this, and asked if anyone agreed and how they could.

Does that thought make you uncomfortable at all? Are you alright with giving special treatment to Christians, at least in your personal life? Some of you probably feel fine about that, while I’m sure at least some of you find this a bit disconcerting, at least in some corner of your mind or heart. 

I’ve thought about this lately, and realized that this must stem in part from one Biblical belief which has largely forgotten (at least at a practical level) in the modern American church. What is this basic belief? The family nature of the Church.

In most evangelical churches, there is a sentiment about the Church as a family, but that is usually all it is: a sentiment, a feeling. People in close churches “feel” like a family. That’s not the point of the Biblical teaching, though. Here’s what Jesus said about family:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:26

The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Matthew 10:37

But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12:48-50

The Old Testament also demonstrates the primacy of covenant and worship over natural family:

“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’—which neither you nor your fathers have known, any of the gods of the peoples around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other—you must not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity, and do not spare him or shield him. Instead, you must kill him. Your hand is to be the first against him to put him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.”

Deuteronomy 13:6-10

Romans 9 also makes a point about the primacy of grace over natural family relations, but it is somewhat tangential, so I will not look much at it for now. Feel free to peruse it later.

All of this in mind, the Biblical teaching should be clear. Natural family is superseded by the Church family. We are now not, firstly, sons of our fathers, daughters of our mothers, brothers of brothers or sisters of sisters. Rather, the first and most fundamental relationship we have is the new birth from one Father, which makes us children of God and siblings of Christ and each other1 This displaces all of our other relationships. When we become a Christian and enter the Church through baptism, we are re-related. All our previous relationships of family and friends become secondary to our new true family in Christ. We are to, in comparison to Christ and His family, hate them all.

These words, alas, make many people uncomfortable in this day and age, probably because of the liberal (in the classical sense) underpinnings of American society. Embedded in our Constitution and culture is the sense of the individual as the fundamental unit. Every person is his own person and thing, defined by himself apart from all other people. What matters is your own self-determination and preferences.

Most people think this way, even Christians, to some extent and on some level. It is reinforced by the wider culture and legal structures which surround us, embedding itself into our hearts and minds. This has particularly poisoned people’s view of religion. In most people’s minds, religion is a preference, a personal interest. It is no more or less substantial than your interests, careers, or passions. Those are important to you, but are freely chosen and no objective standard really matters. What is sacred is not the religion, but your choice of religion.

If this is the framework, then your religion can’t be a new and superseding family. Religion is a preference! It can’t create obligations to other people, or override any relationships you already had. More importantly, it can’t be used to treat some individuals any differently than others, because it’s all a matter of personal preference, and you can’t discriminate among people based on personal preferences.

We must drop this nonsense. God has recreated us, given us a new birth and identity in Christ. Our old persons and identities are passing away, and only those which join with us in the new life of Christ will last. All of our families and friends outside the Church are not family in the same way that even strangers in the Church are. Our foremost obligations are to the new family, not the old which exists by the flesh.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we are to neglect or not love the others. Rather, if we love them, we must seek by all means to bring them into the Church, to make them a part of the new family. Our children, parents, cousins, friends, and acquaintances outside the faith need us to love them into it, that they might in fact receive the high place we wish them to have.

So basically, let us remember that the Church is our true family, over and (when necessary) against all other relationships. This isn’t just a negative fact against the rest of the world. It is a positive one, the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that His followers would receive more than enough to replace all they gave us for Him. In fact, I had something else to say, but I think I’ll let Jesus finish for me:

“I assure you,” Jesus said, “there is no one who has left house, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children, or fields because of Me and the gospel,
who will not receive 100 times more, now at this time — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and eternal life in the age to come.

Mark 10:29-30

Does Anyone Really Believe in the Church Family?

“Christianity Isn’t a Religion” Is a Liberal Thing to Say

“Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship!” How many times have you heard that before? If you’ve moved in many of the same circles that I have, then you’re probably pretty familiar with it. I’ve argued against this line before, pointing out that a religion is simply a set of beliefs in some kind of higher power, and of course Christianity is that (though also far more). But there is another danger of this way of thinking that has come to mind, and I would to point it out briefly.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there began the rise of German liberal theology. With science exploding, standards of living rising like the tide, and the world all around seeming to swing towards progress, humanity came to think pretty highly of itself. A belief in unaided human reason as the final arbiter of truth and falsehood, combined with a skepticism about the authority of traditions in such an age of novelty, led many people to question the truth of Christianity’s basic claims. Was Jesus real? Was He actually like the Bible says He was? Can we trust the Gospels? Do we really know anything about Jesus?

These problems led certain pastors, theologians, and churches to turn away from traditional beliefs about the truthfulness of Christian doctrine. Instead of a Jesus who really lived, died, and rose, and a real authoritative body of teaching about Him in the Scriptures, the focus became all about the individual experience of faith. Who knew who Jesus really was, what He really did, and whether He is truly God in some way? What mattered was how people felt about Him. Faith was something which happened inside, changing the person and their relationship to the world around them in positive ways, ways which were expressed in religious terms about Jesus. Ultimately, the religious experience of faith was supposed to be the point of Christianity.

Now, all of my evangelical Protestant friends out there who use the slogan “relationship not religion” wouldn’t agree with this. They wouldn’t do like the German liberals and deny Jesus’ deity, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc. all in favor of a faith experience. But, there is one crucial similarity. The say that Christianity is a relationship instead of a religion betrays the same basic concern: what really matters is the individual experience of faith.

This is a serious problem. The “relationship not religion” attitude often pushes doctrine, the Church, sacrament, and other “religious” things to the side, instead making “experiencing God” in some subjective way the focus. It sounds, and often acts, as though your relationship with Christ doesn’t really need to involve right knowledge of Him, or fellowship and cooperative ministry with His people, or regular, tangible reminders of our union with Him. All it really needs is the right worship music, devotionals, and preaching to make you feel the love of Jesus in your heart. 

Essentially, this is the same goal as theological liberalism. Experience faith and love, which will help make you a better person, too. Good theology, a community of believers, and regular reenactments of what Jesus has done for us in fellowship are all nice things, but what really counts? Faith itself. Believing in something better, something divine, that changes you for the better.

The real danger of all this is taking the focus away from God to self. Instead of focusing on who Jesus is, what He has done for me, and what He is calling me to do in response, the “relationship not religion” line necessarily moves the focus to how I feel about Jesus, how authentic my faith is, and what about my life is being changed by it. These things matter, but not as the focus. My feelings, faith, and transformed life must be the free flowing result of letting Jesus be my all-in-all, not the all-in-all on their own.

Remembering that Christianity is a religion helps guard against this. Christianity as a religion is decidedly not about myself, but about the One whom this religion worships and follows. Being part of a religion with a Church means not doing it alone and for myself, but only as part of a larger community under the same Lord with the same mission. Having religious doctrine says that I can’t just make Jesus into my own image, but instead must allow myself to be corrected by the truth He has revealed. The religious sacraments mean that I am forced as often as I partake to face the reality to which they point, unable to continually put it all on the back burner without condemning myself.

So please, let’s bury the whole “Christianity isn’t a religion” thing. We’re not German liberals, and don’t need to be like them. There is more to Jesus than personal faith. We must recognize the larger picture and live it out.

“Christianity Isn’t a Religion” Is a Liberal Thing to Say

Brother Bill Is Gay. Now What?

Brother Bill has always been a pretty cool guy. He just celebrated 10 years as a deacon, and taught the youth Sunday school class for the past year after the last teacher moved away. You’ve had dinner at his house many times, and everyone loves his Christmas parties. Just last week he brought his friend to church and his friend repented of his sins and believed in Jesus. So today makes no sense. Today he came out and admitted that he was gay, and plans on pursuing a relationship with someone he met at work. Now you’re all wondering: what do we do?

The recent increased controversy over gay marriage has got me thinking again about what I suspect will be an important issue in the near future for conservative American churches. I specifically don’t include the so-called “mainline” denominations because they went the liberal route of making every essential Christian doctrine optional years ago and have no real opposition to homosexuality in general. Not so for the many evangelical denominations (and non-denominations) in the country. For the most part, we’ve stood against the tide towards accepting gay relationships the whole time.

Brother Bill came out and admitted that he was gay. What do we do?

Now we are slowly facing a new challenge, one that’s accelerating. This challenge is that of Christian progressivism. Unlike the liberalism which barely (if at all) deserves the name “Christian” due to it abandoning historic doctrines like Jesus’ deity, historical resurrection, etc., progressives continue to affirm the core Christian teachings outlined in, for example, the Nicene Creed. Many even affirm the five solas of the Protestant Reformation. But they do make very untraditional moves on social issues, including gay marriage. For the growing Christian progressive movement, there’s nothing wrong with LGBT relationships, and indeed for many progressives these are beautiful things to be protected and cherished.

This brings me back to the story about Brother Bill. With the growth of Christian progressivism, and with the increasing voice progressive bloggers and authors have even in the conservative Christian world, more and more Christians are coming to believe that Scripture does not actually condemn homosexuality. With arguments about the Old Covenant in Leviticus, pagan cult prostitution in Romans 1, and the difficulty of translating arsenokoitai, among others, they persuade many lay Christians beyond sympathy to moral acceptance of gay relationships. The arguments become especially appealing when you, like many people these days, know or have contact with people who are gay and don’t want to condemn them. So for a growing number of apparent believers, what was once a clear cut matter has become at strongest debatable.

Such a movement will likely only increase in steam in the near future, so now those of us in conservative evangelical churches will have to face a new issue: what do we do about people within our churches who think that homosexuality is not a sin, and still believe their position is completely faithful to Scripture? What do we do especially with those who, based on that belief, actually engage in such relationships?

For a growing number of believers, what was once a clear cut matter has become debateable.

Unfortunately, for many of us the first instinct will be to start making judgments about who is saved and who isn’t. They’re wrong on homosexuality? Probably not a real Christian. He’s an activist? Definitely not a real Christian. Honestly, I don’t believe this is within our calling or rights. Scripture records so much sin in the lives of believers, from Abraham’s deceptions to David’s adultery/murder to Peter’s denial, that it is hard to say any sin is outside the realm of a believer to fall. Moreover, justifying and accommodating sin has its own very visible history among God’s people, as seen frequently in the Old Testament, though also in the New. And while Scripture does frequently give us guidelines for discerning false teachers, there are no real rules or commands given to figure out which lay church members are “true” believers.

What then? Are we to ignore sin, perhaps aiding and abetting, and go with some kind of interpretive pluralism or moral relativism where we can’t make any definite statements about right and wrong? Can we make no stand in our churches? As Paul would say, by no means! But what I want to suggest is that we move the “gay issue” from the sphere of individual salvation—who is saved and who isn’t—to the sphere of church membership and discipline, from the sphere of soteriology to ecclesiology.

There are no real rules or commands given in the Bible to figure out which lay church members are “true” believers.

What do I mean? I think instead of trying to figure out who is saved and who isn’t, or what a Christian “can” do or “can’t” do, we should ask instead, “What should the church permit, what should the church discipline, and what should the church excommunicate for?” If we take this approach, instead of thinking, “I think Bill isn’t saved, but I think Jackson is,” then we can simply assume that the people who are in the church match up basically with the people who are saved. How do I think this can work? I’m basing this mostly on Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Thessalonians 3, and some similar passages. So imagine this situation as an example:

You see Brother Dan getting drunk with his co-workers and visiting some less-than-appropriate entertainment. Following Jesus and Paul on this, you talk to him privately about the matter and encourage him to do what is right. Next week, you spot him again. He hasn’t repented, so you take him before another trusted believer, perhaps your pastor or a deacon, and confront him. He has another chance. But he continues his behavior anyway, so you bring him before the entire church and as a church you initiate church discipline, possibly ending with excommunicating him. Once he is removed from the church, you assume that he is not a believer, but hope for his restoration.

“What should the church permit, what should the church discipline, and what should the church excommunicate for?”

This, I believe, is how we ought to handle matters of badly behaving Christians. While we as the church can recognize the ongoing struggle of the Christian with the flesh, we can also recognize and discipline flagrant sin, rebellion, or crossing lines on Christian morality. When people live with their everyday pride and gossip, we might rebuke them as a church but know not to kick them out of fellowship and treat them as an unbeliever. But when people refuse to repent of straight immorality, such as the greed, idolatry, and sexual immorality that Paul often treats like the trio of death, we are commanded to remove the evil person from among us.

So how should we apply this to the current gay debates? First, I don’t think we should bother trying to judge who individually is, in the depths of his heart, a true or false believer. Instead, we look at their church membership initiated in baptism and a confession of faith. Those who are within the church we should treat as fellow believers, and those outside we treat as lost people in need of Jesus. But as a church we must make the following decisions:

  1. Will we discipline (up to and including excommunication) members in gay relationships?
  2. If not, will we allow them in positions of authority? Teaching? Service?
  3. Will we discipline members who are not in gay relationships but believe that such relationships are okay?
  4. If not, will we allow them in positions of authority? Teaching? Service?
  5. Will we discipline members who actively promote and teach that gay relationships are Biblically acceptable?
  6. If not, will we allow them in positions of authority? Teaching? Service?
  7. Will we recognize and/or cooperate with other churches or denominations who disagree on these questions? If so, which ones?

I think the entire debate should take place within these seven questions. On that basis, we can simply assume that people within the church are believers, and assume that people outside are not. Those who refuse to repent of what we have agreed as a church is Biblically prohibited can be disciplined up to and including excommunication if necessary.

Those who are within the church we should treat as fellow believers, and those outside we treat as lost people in need of Jesus.

How would I personally answer these questions? I’m not 100% sure, but I tend to think this: (1) yes, (2) none, (3) no, (4) service only, (5) yes, (6) none, and (7) I don’t know yet. What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my overall argument? How would you answer these seven questions? Comment with your thoughts if you don’t mind.

Brother Bill Is Gay. Now What?

Francis Chan: Is Your Church Like Elijah or Baal’s Prophets?

I was just reading last night Francis Chan’s book Forgotten God. At one point he comments on the ease of doing church in our own strength to draw a crowd as opposed to a truly Spirit-filled gathering of believers. He questions how many of our churches are actually like the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 instead of like Elijah, a prophet of the true God? Here’s what he says:

Sometimes I leave Christian events wondering if we resemble the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 more than Elijah, the prophet of God. If you’ve forgotten the story, it may be good to stop here and read that chapter, or else the rest of what I write in this section will make very little sense to you. The prophets of Baal had a loud, passionate worship gathering that lasted from morning till evening. When they were done, they had a great time of fellowship (I think you can call it that). But “no one answered; no one paid attention.” (18:29). After all of that, Elijah prayed. God heard his prayer, and fire came down from heaven.

My favorite part of that story comes when it is all over and the prophets of Baal are saying, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (18:39 NIV). They didn’t say, “Elijah is a great speaker” or “Elijah sure knows how to connect with God!” They were stunned by God. They were in awe of His power. They knew that what they experienced could not have been manipulated by Elijah. They experienced the power of God.

Is that what happens at the Christian gatherings you attend? Or does it feel more like what the prophets of Baal experienced before Elijah prayed? We can have a great time singing and dancing ourselves into a frenzy. But at the end of it, fire doesn’t come down from heaven. People leave talking about the people who led rather than the power of God.

Francis Chan, Forgotten God, Chapter 7 “Supernatural Church”

What do you think? Is the way our churches work basically a Jesus-themed concert of excitability, caused all by human energy, or a demonstration of the Spirit and of power? Do you have a concert or worship, a speech or a prophecy?

Francis Chan: Is Your Church Like Elijah or Baal’s Prophets?

Quit Tithing. Give!

Fact check: is tithing ever commanded for New Testament believers? The answer is “no.” Does that mean tithing is bad? No, it just means we are not morally obligated to give 10% of our income to church. 

Now some of you are thinking, “Darn heretic doesn’t want people to give to God.” Others may be thinking, “Thank goodness, now I can keep that 10% for myself.” Well, if you are thinking either of those things (which you may very well not be), you’re wrong. See, tithing is easy. Almost anyone can survive on 90% of their normal income, and for most people that 10% will not impact much of anything. God, though, never goes the no-impact route. Jesus’ callings always change lives.

See, consider that whenever Jesus spoke on the Old Testament law, He didn’t simply set it aside. Instead, He exposed the true meaning and raised the bar even higher than the letter of the law, while at the same time preventing the legalistic abuse of the law. This is what He does with tithing. No longer are you (merely) required to give precisely 10% of your income to God, for that is far too simplistic, but you are commanded to give radically, generously, and self-sacrificially. The law said, “Give this percent.” Grace says, “Give until you can’t give anymore.” 

Need proof? Let’s look at the New Testament on giving.

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:42

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 13:33-34

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Acts 20:33

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.

2 Corinthians 8:1-5

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:7

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13:16

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

James 2:14-16

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

These texts, combined with other teachings such as not “looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:4), show us that Jesus intends for us to be radically generous. As believers, we ought to sacrifice our goods and money for three things (as I find in the texts):

  • The functioning of the church
  • The welfare of fellow believers
  • Ministry to unbelievers

In most cases, we give 10% which mostly accomplishes the first purpose. Yet our call is much higher. Give, give, give, so that no fellow believers will be in need, and so that the needs of those outside can be met towards their salvation and the glory of the transforming Kingdom of God. It takes more than 10% to do that, so just give. Don’t worry about the numbers. Give all that you can. If you can’t live without every last 10%, give whatever you can afford, and if you really can’t afford to give anything, seek the aid of your church so that they can be blessed by ministering to you through giving. After all, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Oh, and does all this mean you should never spend money on your own desires? Far from it! Money is like all other blessings in life: to be enjoyed gratefully by you, used in ministry for others, and dedicated to glorify and serve God. So glorify God!

Quit Tithing. Give!