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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tithing, the Law and the Gospel

Someone please tell me truly? Have we forgotten what the Protestant Reformation was about? Someone once said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. There was a time when the semi-pelagian view dominated the western church (read Roman Catholic), hence doing penance and good works earned merits for you in the heavenly treasury established by the saints. While Jesus died for your sins, you were only initially charged up with righteousness or infused with a state of righteousness. Justification was not a legal declaration made for you before the ultimate Judge. Therefore, when you sinned the infused righteousness was depleted and you were obligated to merit forgiveness by doing penance, restitution, and doing extra time in purgatory, a place where Christians were punished and cleansed by fire before entering into heaven. So obviously Jesus only died for your past sins and not your future ones--or at least that's the implication. Any future sins must be covered by doing penance. Purgatory could be shortened by buying certificates of indulgence from the pope, which funds were used to build Saint Peter's Basilica.

Today's Evangelicals and Protestants do not do penance nor do they sell certificates of indulgence or relics of dead saints or bits of the cross. Instead, the charismatic branch sells anointing oil, prayer cloths, and asks for exorbitant offerings with the promise of seed faith for a future harvest. Those who do not tithe are out of God's will and cannot be properous, healthy or blessed in this life. In fact, they are ignoring God's law, so the argument goes. All the curses from Deuteronomy 28:15ff and Malachi 3:6ff are upon those who do not tithe and give above and beyond the tithe.

It is oftened argued that tithing precedes the law of Moses and therefore cannot be dispensed with as a civil law of the theocratic nation of Israel, since the patriarch Abram tithed to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20. However, this ignores the Reformers' view of the Law and Gospel. Essentially, any demand or command that Holy Scripture makes upon us is Law whether that occurs in the Old Testament or the New Testament. In fact, one of the earliest examples of Law in the Bible is God's command to Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But not all examples of Law are negative or prohibitionary. Some examples are prescriptive as in the command to Adam to be fruitful and multiply. Often we see Law and Gospel interposed and in parallel throughout the Bible both Old Testament and New Testament.

To place overemphasis on the law of tithing is to discredit one of the abiding principles of the Bible as the Reformers interpreted the Scriptures. That principle is called sola gratia or grace alone. We cannot earn or merit God's blessings, not even by tithing or going to the temple regularly. God shows us mercy and unmerited favor based solely upon what Christ did for us on the cross. In fact, Jesus said that God provides daily sustenance to both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector who went into the temple to pray?

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14, NIV)


Those who are saved will want to attend church regularly and to support the Lord's work with tithes and offerings and their time. This is not to say that such good works obligate God to us in anyway. Our attitude as Christians at all times should be like that of the tax collector who cried out, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Also, we should remember that in applying the text we have to consider the original audience and the intended recipients of the text. Deuteronomy 28 and Malachi 3 are both directed at the nation of Israel as a community of faith and not specifically to individuals. The Reformers and Westminster divines held that the civil laws of the nation of Israel passed away with that nation and are no longer binding upon the church per se. That means that tithing laws expressed in the law of Moses are not binding today. Those who cannot tithe for financial reasons are not lost as some preachers today would imply. To say this is tantamount to making salvation bought and paid for. Maybe we need a new Reformation?

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