On Tithing: Some nuance we all can use

Two of the things that contribute to faulty interpretation of the bible are; quoting it out of context, and ignoring the Spirit of the letter. These two have influenced a great deal of the conclusions reached in the most recent episode of the perennial debate about tithing.

On one end of the argument, the position often taken is that tithing is an Old Testament injunction, which has no place under the new covenant. On the other end, the conspicuous absence of any reference to the practice in the early church is discounted by emphasizing the fact that it predates the law (since Abraham gave a tithe), and referencing some tangential remarks Jesus made about tithing.

In reality, there is more we can glean from scripture to give a more liberating view of the subject.

Fundamentally, it is necessary to point out that there are important differences between the terms of the old and new covenant, which to a large extent correspond to the old and New Testament respectively. Nevertheless, it is critical to acknowledge that the old testament/covenant provides the context in which the new covenant/testament can be understood. So, while the believer does not live under the old covenant, it is useful that he understands it in other to appreciate and fully grasp the new covenant into which he was saved.

It is how for instance the 1979 constitution (and previous ones) provides a rich context for understanding the 1999 version. It should be pointed out though that, while you can use the latter for adjudication of life in the present, the former is only useful for instruction.

The next question that might then arise is, “are there any overlaps between the old and new covenant?” The answer is yes. Primarily, it is the same God who issues the two. Critically, while the letter (provisions) of the two varies significantly, the Spirit (ultimate objective) of the two covenants is the same i.e. to reconcile man to God.

When believers keep their eyes on the Spirit of the provisions in the old covenant, we are better able to identify the provisions in the new covenant with which God aims to achieve His unchanging objectives.

Which brings us to the issue of what God’s objective was in instituting tithing under the old covenant and how he aims to achieve the same objective under the new.

There is little if any disagreement about what the purpose of the tithe was under the old covenant. It was a provision made primarily to pay the wages of those who were mandated to be fully dedicated to religious duties, and also to cater for the needs of those who were unable to adequately fend for themselves.

In both cases, the Spirit of the provision was, to put it in one word, Reciprocity. The clergy were focused exclusively on providing spiritual service to the people, and so the people were in turn saddled with the responsibility for meeting the material needs of the clergy. For the other group (strangers, orphans etc.), who had none or limited access to land, and so limited opportunity to earn, God reminds the Israelites that they were themselves strangers in Egypt at some point and ought therefore to treat strangers as they themselves would have wanted to be treated. i.e. with accommodation.

What believers ought to focus on therefore under the new covenant is not the Letter (the word tithe) but the Spirit i.e. the unchanging objective of God; in this case, the idea of reciprocity.

The appropriate question to ask therefore is, “how does God expect us to reciprocate the sacrifice of those who are chiefly employed in providing us spiritual service today.

 

Old Wine in New Wineskins?

It is important to say that we cannot look to the old testament/covenant to provide a definitive answer to this. That would be like trying to adjudicate a matter in a Nigerian court today by relying primarily on the 1954 constitution. That can only result in miscarriage of justice. Consequently, We must look to the New Testament (and specifically portions related to the new covenant) for how God pursues his unchanging objective on this matter.

While you won’t find any reference to tithing in the early church, the new covenant is not exactly silent on the principle as may appear at first. A simple reading of 1 Cor 9, will illustrate that God still provides for those whose chief employment is spiritual in nature, by requiring those who benefit from such work to support their brethren.

1 Cor 9:

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”[b] Is it about oxen that God is concerned?10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

 

It is fundamental to note that Paul the Apostle asserts that church leaders have a RIGHT to be supported by the congregations they serve. In addition, consistent with the well established principle of referencing God’s unchanging objective that transcends covenants, he arcs back to the law or the old covenant to reinforce the point.

Additional evidence that the principle of reciprocity is a trans-covenant objective of God can be found Romans 15:27.

 

Billionaire Soldiers?

“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?” In raising this question, Paul the Apostle provides us a relatable comparative for understanding the issue. In functional societies, soldiers are generally catered for using the taxes of the citizenry that they serve. This however presupposes that these are full time professional soldiers, not mercenaries for whom soldiering is a business. 

It is this sort of soldier that the apostle refers to when writing to Timothy he said, No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” ( 2 Tim 2:4). The meaning of this is that, the pastors who are entitled to support are those who like soldiers refrain from getting entangled in civilian affairs.

Again, it has to be said that in functional societies where you have professional soldiers, they typically don’t turn up as billionaires. Reading the portion in 1 Cor 9 again makes clear that the sort of support the Apostle was writing about was a living wage not a fortune.

He underscores this point, again with Timothy. Describing people who equate godliness with making a fortune as being of corrupt minds, he then says to Timothy that, as A MAN OF GOD, he ought to flee such ideas.

1 Tim 6:

people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

 

In essence, the right that church leaders have to support was designed to be enjoyed in moderation. They were to consider themselves as soldiers and to flee from the entanglement that worldly goods invariably become.

The proper disposition to the enjoyment of this right is as Paul wrote to Timothy; “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

 

A right waived

Knowing what the Lord describes in the aptly numbered Mark 4:19 as “the deceitfulness of riches”, Paul the Apostle, while not condemning those who relied on the church for support, chose rather to waive the right.

1 Cor 9:

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 15 But I have not used any of these rights.And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

 

The Lord thus provides for pastors and missionaries who serve exclusively in the vineyard to be supported by the church. There should be no ambiguity left about this.

This provision is indeed a right, albeit one that is not to be enforced: this is a key point. As the sons of Eli grossly abused this right under the law, we see similar abuses today. The giving underpinned by the principle of reciprocity was not designed to turn soldiers to billionaires – those are mercenaries. That giving was designed to ensure that there is food in the house of God: Food for those who serve in the house and those who have nowhere else to turn.

When the sons of Eli abused that which was brought to the temple  by enriching themselves and gorging on it, God called them Sons of Belial (1 Sam 2:12). There is a warning in there somewhere for all those who wish to enjoy the right of support from the church today. Do not become  sons of Belial by placing demands on the people as the sons of Eli did.

 

A serious responsibility 

It is not only pastors who can run afoul of God’s principle on this matter. Giving to support church leadership, and the needy is a sign of the maturing of a believer. For the immature, the Lord has this parable…

Luke 12:

 “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

 

In closing, do not get into the rabbit hole of arguing about the meaning of words. It will only produce strife: only a lot of heat and no light. Settle on the trans-covenant, and unchanging objective of God to supply the needs of those who are employed to serve the church by those who are served by them.

 

 

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Pastoring Like a Danfo Driver

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The danfo driver is a menace on Lagos roads. He has only one consideration on the road: pick as many passengers as possible before the end of the day. He drives like he cares nothing for his own life, much less those of his passengers and certainly not for other road users. He will do 0-100 in the twinkle of an eye and do 100-0 in one jerking, shuddering stop. For the danfo driver, there is only one rule for the road, get the passenger first and at any cost.

A lot of pastors do ministry exactly like the danfo driver. Every other church is viewed as competition for ‘passengers’ (members), and all rules can be, and are broken to get them into his own ‘bus’.

But why do danfo drivers compete so recklessly for passengers? They do it because they are actually independent operators concerned only about their personal bottom line.

You will notice that organized transportation systems like you find in developed cities don’t have buses competing for passengers. This is because all the bus drivers are working for the same employer, and only need to show up at their assigned stop to pick the passengers who are there at that point. They don’t try to out-maneuver other drivers to pick up passengers. They actually rather work as a team.

If indeed your church is a vehicle for people to get to heaven, why are you in such a fierce contest with other vehicles here to serve the exact same purpose? Why, if you work for the same employer are you not able to just do your part like timed bus service drivers in organized cities?

Apostle Paul responding to this danfo driver mindset that was rife in the church at Corinth wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” I Cor 3:6. Pastors with the danfo driver mindset aren’t happy to just plant and move on. They will fight every Apollos who God has sent to water your life, even if all God sent them to do is plant.

The question to answer is, why do some pastors want exclusive rights to the fellowship/followership of a believer? For many, it is simply that, like the danfo driver, they are working for their personal bottom line. If such a believer completes his journey to heaven in another bus, they perceive it as a personal loss; a double loss actually in the form of reduced income, and diminished bragging rights about how many services they pack every Sunday in their record sized auditorium.

Pastors with the danfo driver mindset view ministry as a franchise they have purchased, and which they can mine, deploying shenanigans that even ponzi schemers will envy. Of course, many are not even aware that this is what they are doing because “the deceitfulness of riches” that the Lord spoke about is a very real thing.

But if a man really is labouring for the reward that the Lord gives, then such a “servant of the Lord must not strive”(2 Tim 2:24 ) for Paul the Apostle left us this word through the Corinthian church,

Now, he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labour. 1 Cor 3:8

 

The Church and Political Endorsements

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When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!” But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” ~ 1 Sam 16:6-7

During the 2015 election in Nigeria and more recently the American election that returned Donald Trump as president-elect, discussions have inevitably risen around which candidate the ‘church’ should support.

When the Church crosses the line into open partisanship as it did, whether in the case of CAN which was clearly in support of Goodluck Jonathan, or the White Evangelical church in America which supported Trump, it appears to me that we make an error of judgement based on some misunderstanding of the principles God applies in dealing with this sort of issue.

I think we may be wrong to conclude that a particular candidate is God’s choice simply because he is  a nominal christian or represents the platform that agrees more with our values.

Fundamentally, it is important to realize that the rulership that God calls us to in this age is not primarily political. A reading of the gospels, and Acts makes it clear that the followers of Jesus at that time mistook his kingdom for a partisan one as much as his followers today do.

In a burst of political fervor, John 6:14-15 records that in a particular place, when they saw the miracles that Jesus was performing, they wanted to take him by force, and make him king. Some of his disciples also mistook the kingdom he spoke of as an earthly one, and lobbied for positions in that kingdom (Luke 9). They were so taken by this idea that when he told them to go wait for the power of the Holy Ghost to come upon them, they could only think of it in the context of assuming political power in Jerusalem.

In one of these meetings he told them not to leave Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them in fulfillment of the Father’s promise, a matter he had previously discussed with them. “John baptized you with water,”[b] he reminded them, “but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit* in just a few days.”And another time when he appeared to them, they asked him, “Lord, are you going to free Israel from Rome[c] now and restore us as an independent nation?”“The Father sets those dates,” he replied, “and they are not for you to know.But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection.” ~ Acts 1:4-7

I find that just as the early disciples literally thought Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government and assume leadership of the Throne of David, and appoint them into high offices, the Church today often assumes that our call to kingship (Ye are kings and priests) literally translates into political authority.

The reality is that, then and now, Christ speaks of a different kingdom. One that is rather informal but irresistibly viral. He said,  “ …The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” Matt 13:33.

Does this mean that Christians are not to participate in governance? No. Not at all. We are called to permeate society. We are to enter into every sphere of human endeavour that is redeemable, and shine as light therein to banish darkness, and bring glory to our God. This does not however translate into this frequent search for the Christian candidate, as though the kingdom of God is some helpless, and pitiable offshoot needing the protection of a benevolent state.

Nooooo. The church marches on, says the bible and even all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.

 You are Peter, a stone; and upon this rock I will build my church; and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever doors you lock on earth shall be locked in heaven; and whatever doors you open on earth shall be open in heaven!” ~ Matt 16: 18-19

Jesus talks of building his church on truth and people. He promises to hand the keys of the kingdom to those people, and permits them to lock and unlock ‘doors’ as they choose. This doesn’t sound like some weak movement of people looking for some benevolent leader, even if they have to risk their entire reputation on account of such a leader’s very questionable life.

While God has never told me which political candidate he wanted in power, I do  know that his schedule for history proceeds without let. Truth is, God raises and deposes rulers to fit his agenda. When Jesus’ parents were returning from Egypt after going on exile to escape Herod’s mass murder, they realized that the new king was Herod’s son and in fear decided to settle in Nazareth. In reality, Herod’s son was only king because God had previously ordained that Jesus was going to be a citizen of Nazareth. In essence, one significant reason Archelaus got to be king after Herod was because Jesus had to be called a Nazarene.

So he returned immediately to Israel with Jesus and his mother. But on the way he was frightened to learn that the new king was Herod’s son, Archelaus. Then, in another dream, he was warned not to go to Judea, so they went to Galilee instead and lived in Nazareth. This fulfilled the prediction of the prophets concerning the Messiah,

“He shall be called a Nazarene.” Matt 2:21-23

Truth is, at the critical junctions in History when God acts directly to sway the choice of leaders for a nation, his considerations are typically not the same as we would make. Believers must therefore be careful to not fall into the error of judgement that a renowned prophet like Samuel made in assuming that Eliab would be God’s anointed when he was not.

Unless God specifically instructs the choice of a candidate, it is safe for believers to vote the candidate of indisputable character. Where neither of the leading candidates offers this opportunity, avoid the pressure that others will mount on you to just pick the lesser of the two evils. We may withhold our endorsement of either, trusting God to work out his will rather than working out ours.

When asked whether the dead bones can rise again, Ezekiel said, only you can say Lord. In other words, I defer to you. Where we have no clarity,  I suppose it is best to defer to God.

Twitter: @woleolabanji

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Social Media ‘Rules’ of Engagement for Christians

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Fiery storms break out on Nigerian twitter without notice. The most virulent tend to be those involving social issues with the hot button topics being identity, gender, sexuality, marriage and pastors.

While some pastors find themselves in the eye of a twitter storm for their personal conduct; whether they are buying another private jet (why do we put private before it by the way) or they are plumbing new “levels of grace”, others inadvertently find themselves in the path of the storm for conveying their teachings in ways considered outrightly ignorant, or merely inelegant.

From Pastor Sarah Omaku’s teaching on Oral sex, to Pastor Adeboye’s advice for singles, and more recently Reverend Sam Adeyemi’s tweets on mental health, Nigerian social media space often erupts into a melee fuelled by what sometimes appears like pent up animosity.

For many Christians who retain some measure of respect for these church leaders, there is often considerable confusion, and squirming as they watch the latest public lynching by what is sometimes a hapless mob with no real redemptive agenda beyond earning badges as the most irreverent heckler in the latest episode of hold their feet to the flames.

These storms often do more than just hold this particular pastor to account on their teaching. Too often, the not so obvious sub-script in the sweeping, nuanceless, and quite often ignorant generalizations, is to question the entire idea of faith.

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So I have put together a few rules (principles in reality) to guide Christians who want to engage more effectively on social media without feeling the need to be defensive about their faith or the conduct of their brethren.

 

1.Overcome the need for validation by metrics.

As with all that a believer does, the primary goal for engaging on social media should always remain to honour God and not to build our ‘personal brands’. John the baptist left us a very useful mindset to bring to social media. When told that Jesus was getting more followers than he was, his response was… “He must increase and I must decrease.” John 3:30.

If we are too focused on building our numbers, we may fall into the temptation of pandering to the crowd. If we become too afraid to take a stand because we will lose our ‘friends’ then we are valuing the friendship of the world too highly and that’s courting enmity with God.

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Besides, big numbers are not always a definitive proof that we are on the right track. In fact, there is a  possibility that big numbers mean that we are on the wrong track. Be wary of the popular ideas and don’t follow the herd.

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2. Learn to quickly spot the fake, neo-liberal Jesus

Look out for Team-Jesus-would-have-been-cool-with-that. The people in this team usually profess to be followers of Jesus. The problem is that they often misrepresent him, and misapply his teachings.

By all means, Jesus is the embodiment of love and grace. He will embrace the ‘worst’ of mankind because in reality, we are all needing of redemption. As Apostle Paul once wrote, “Jesus came to die for sinners of which I am the chiefest.”

These often well-meaning people however misunderstand the grace of God. Grace does not pat us on the back for sinning. In fact, the reason grace came was to teach us to reject sin.

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These people have been seduced by this new neo-liberal Jesus who only says “Go” to the adulterous instead of “Go, and sin no more.”

The reality is that believers are not the morality police, nevertheless, they are called to be the salt of the earth, and its light. They are called to take a stand against ungodliness by their personal conduct, and in their public utterances. The key is to do it with humility, realizing as it is written in Titus that…

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3.  Beware of the snare of keeping double standards

I see many believers who are offended when their pastor’s are being publicly chastized on twitter. That’s only natural. But it is also hypocritical for those same Christians to have no qualms in rudely excoriating other people (whether other pastors or even politicians)  on the same platform.

Believers are given a standard for our communication, whether we are talking to revered men of God or ‘mere’ public servants.

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we are commanded to always be gracious in speech, irrespective of who we are talking to. Even to those who are outrightly rude to us. In this, Jesus leaves us his personal example of not retaliating.

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4. Understand that science is not the enemy

Believers can sometimes be uneasy around science, especially when it appears that the findings of science contradict scripture. I think there are two issues that are lumped together in this problem that we need to unpack.

The first is that we think science is conclusive and infallible. That’s wrong. Science is in reality unfolding. With new information, science will update its conclusions. The biggest challenge for the scientific approach is that it currently has no methods for accessing/assessing information of a non tangible nature. For things like emotion for instance, science only measures their impact on tangible and observable matter. Will science overcome this limitation? I don’t know. My take is that, if it ever does gain the ability to, it will happen on a trove of new information of a spiritual nature that will radically alter our understanding of the world.

The second thing is that we think we fully understand the Bible, and what it says about everything. The reality is that

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What this implies is that both science and my understanding of the bible only add up to a fragment of all the information there is out there. Given this reality, it is useful to be humble in our summations, acknowledge that we and our Pastors are fallible and to suspend judgement on matters that are not entirely clear until we receive more clarity.

Rather than get into pointless arguments, It is helpful to focus on what really counts. That sin is a reality, and science cannot solve that problem. Only the saving grace of Jesus can solve the problem of sin, and that is what really counts.

 

5.  Avoid Jumping into every fray

Savvy users of social media have learnt that jumping on trending topics can be quite useful in garnering a following. But as Rule ! says, believers should not make garnering a personal following  a primary goal for being on social media.

It is important to be discerning enough to know when it is appropriate to weigh in, for Scripture says that “in the multitude of words, sin is not lacking. We must therefore be sparing in our words.

 

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Believers need to learn to not meddle in every matter. Indeed if we are as busy as we ought to be, we will have little time to be such busy bodies.

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Final words

Social media offers believers a great platform to live out their faith, and share the love of Jesus. We are not to shrink from the world; we are to engage so that we can salt and give light to the world.

 

 

This is Christianity? Thanks, I’ll Pass.

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You boast about having God’s law-but do you bring shame on God by breaking his law? [24] The scripture says, “Because of you Jews, the Gentiles speak evil of God.” Romans 2:23-24 GNT

So earlier today, I chanced on an altercation on the Internet between some Lagos socialites. Of course it was all quite distasteful stuff as you can see from the snippet (one of the milder, less expletive ones) I have posted in the screengrab above.

I however chuckled when I got to the underlined portion where one of the parties makes references to his proud Christian heritage. The way he throws in his Christian credentials, like it was some prestigious country club membership that had been passed down the family tree for generations would have been hilarious, were it not just tragic. My chuckle was more rueful than delightful: thing is, Christianity is the last word one would expect to find in such a tirade.

While a Christian may come from very illustrious forebears, they, like the Apostle Paul would rather say…

I was circumcised when I was a week old. I am an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew. As far as keeping the Jewish Law is concerned, I was a Pharisee, [7] But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ’s sake. [8] Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:5, 7-8 GNT)

The idea of what it means to be a Christian has become so misshapen that, the people who were first called Christians  (Little Christs) and the many who strive to follow in their steps, and emulate the life of Christ should be rightly scandalized by a lot that is passed off as Christianity today.

Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and many people were brought to the Lord. [25] Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul. [26] When he found him, he took him to Antioch, and for a whole year the two met with the people of the church and taught a large group. It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians. (Acts 11:24-26 GNT)

It was in recognition of the exemplary life of Barnabas and his group of disciples that was so identical to Christ’s that made the people of Antioch name the group Christians.

Their conduct is quite different from those, who like the Pharisees claim righteousness as a heirloom. Or those whose argument that #ChristianityIsNotBoring is made by taking literal flights of fancy buoyed by #AnotherLevelOfGrace to exotic destinations to revel, and carouse.

For those who mistake their Hedonism for the Joy of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter points out that a Christian is one who is so enraptured in Christ…

So that he can no longer spend the rest of his natural life living by his human appetites and desires, but he lives for what God wills. [3] For the time that is past already suffices for doing what the Gentiles like to do–living as you have done in shameless, insolent wantonness, in lustful desires, drunkenness, reveling, drinking bouts and abominable, lawless idolatries. (1 Peter 4:2-3 AMP)

But as you would imagine, many of these folks are so far gone that you will do well to bear in mind what the Apostle says next…

They are astonished and think it very queer that you do not now run hand in hand with them in the same excesses of dissipation, and they abuse you. (1 Peter 4:4 AMP)

@woleolabanji

If I Have No Job, Is Prayer All I Should Expect From The Church?

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We are in a tough economy, and while I am firm in my belief that God will continue to meet my every need, I also realize that Jesus said “the poor you will always have among you”.

Poverty is often transient. A brother in church may have just lost his job, and the family is thrown into jeopardy; a single mum’s business may have suffered a momentary set back; a new convert who happens to be a recovering addict may just be trying to find their financial feet while overcoming an expensive addiction; in short life happens.

I serve in a small church which location in the middle of a very affluent neighbourhood belies the deep poverty of many of the parishioners. For our church, living this reality means that we are daily confronted with the question of whether we believe that the church is strictly a spiritual, and not a social safety net.

My unequivocal answer is that we must be both. I arrive at this answer not merely by looking at the example of Jesus  (which is adequate), but by looking through all of Scripture to understand the intent of God through the ages.

What I find as I do this is that God’s clear intent in spiritual, and social redemption is, to borrow a relatable phrase, “that none should be left behind”.

In settling the children of Israel in the promised land for instance, Moses insisted that the children of Reuben, and Gad who got their own inheritance before Jordan must cross over, and help the rest of the tribes get theirs, before returning to settle with their families. He extracted this promise from them.

We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance. (Numbers 32:18 KJV

And as Moses taught the congregation of the children about holiness in Leviticus 19, we find that this concept of ‘the church’ being a social safety net is intertwined with the idea of holiness.

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very corners, neither shall you gather the fallen ears or gleanings of your harvest. [10] And you shall not glean your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather its fallen grapes; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:9-10 AMP

Holiness as was taught in this chapter included a deliberate effort to make provision for the poor and the stranger. By the way, because land in Israel was passed down by inheritance, non citizens did not have access to land, and were largely excluded from the agrarian economy. They were left little option but to be servants, and share croppers, and more likely to be poor.

To contemporise this, people in our churches who have no access to participate effectively in the economy are the equivalent of the strangers, and we are mandated to leave a remnant of our harvest for them. In simple terms, don’t appropriate all of your income; deliberately leave some of it for the poor, and the stranger.

In fact, and your pastor may not like this, under the law the unemployed and the poor had as much right to the tithe (in this case a triennial collection) as the clergy.

And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee. [28] At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: [29] And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest. Deuteronomy 14:27-29 KJV

So this idea of not leaving any behind was a pretty well developed concept for how God wanted his people to live. By the time Jesus came, he lived it out in full. On one occasion,  his disciples were trying to send away a large crowd to go find food after a crusade, but Jesus insisted otherwise.

And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. [15] And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. [16] But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. (Matthew 14:14-16 KJV)

This disciples acted in much the same way as the church acts today. We are happy to do healings, and deliverances, but people have to at least feed themselves we think. Jesus though won’t have any of that. Even in “desert places”; when the economy is bad and the church is broke, he says, feeding is still a priority.

Of course, it should be noted that there are career applicants who have no real intention to work and earn their own living. The church is not obligated, or even encouraged to continue to support such people. The bible teaches that; “…If anyone will not work, neither let him eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10): the condition being that if he will not, rather than can not.

For those who are willing to work but have no opportunity,  there is a responsibility on the church (individual and collective) to share their provision with them. As we see in the early days of the church.

Now the company of believers was of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything which he possessed was exclusively his own, but everything they had was in common and for the use of all. (Acts 4:32)

CREDITS:
image: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/notes-towards-day-12-thurs-oct-11-am-i-my-brothers-keeper

Christian Nightclubs and Other Not So Helpful Ideas

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Most of the pagan practices that have become entrenched in mainstream Christianity today gained their foothold among believers who believed erroneously that, adopting ideas and practices from the sorrounding culture is an effective way to propagate the gospel.

In reality, what is often propagated in those scenarios is a dangerous heresy that requires courageous saints to tackle headlong in order to pass on the truth of the gospel to the next generation. Sadly, this efforts at revival never seem to succeed at fully rolling back error; ask Martin Luther.

This sad and seemingly inevitable (inevitable because Jesus implied  this adulteration when he asked, “will I find faith on earth when I return?”)  history of the church, and the Word of God form the background against which we must view some of the efforts by the church to adopt popular culture in these times.

The idea of a Christian Nightclub is one that has been around for a while, but the plan by Julius Agwu to launch one, ostensibly on the orders of God compels us to examine these matters once again.

Adoption of ideas from the culture around us is not inherently wrong or sinful. In reality, many cultural practices are neutral or even morally right. The idea of a nightclub will however not fit either of these bills. It is entirely permissible to have things like Christian Schools, Christian hospitals etc. A nightclub is however a different matter.

Believers already have adequate terms for describing their gatherings, and including a nightclub is certainly not going to produce the edification that all our activities are to be geared towards.

Actually to better understand the superfluity and repulsiveness of the idea, we only need realize that it is the same thing being done in reverse when people talk of Gay Marriage and Church of Satan. Just as it is obvious to the believer that both the church and marriage have inflexible definitions, the idea of a nightclub does not lend itself to easy adoption by the church.

In short, the whole concept of starting a Christian nightclub is misguided. It is just as misguided as some of the Christian reality shows, and the new hogging of the limelight, and ostentatious display of our designer cloths on the red carpet as we attend church events.

Do we not even realize that there is “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) who have walked this path before us? Those folks weren’t preening on the dusty steps of the temple and granting interviews to the Jerusalem paparazzi as they went in. To be sure, here’s an account of what it was like in their time.

Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour . [2] And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; [3] Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. [4] And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. [5] And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. [6] Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. [7] And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. [8] And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. [9] And all the people saw him walking and praising God: (Acts 3:1-9)

Seeing the sort of legacy that has been left us, one is forced to ask “from whom did we inherit this mindlessness that leaves us destitute of any original ideas, and compels us to ape the world?” For a people of whom it is testified, “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ”. (1 Corinthians 2:16), how is it that our only thought for how to win the world is by being worldly?

In the end, this false gospel that you can eat your cake and have it will not stand the test of fire. The Christian race requires sacrifice. Jesus says …

…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. [25] For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

If you mean to be a Christian, you can’t keep your old life or merge it with the new. You can’t put new wine in old wine skin,  you will ruin both.