God as The Bubble Gum Machine or The Fire Thrower – Tithe Rhetoric

bubblegum255This is the question asked by Steve Addision at his blog. In Australia, according to the article, more than 60% of Adventist and Pentecostal members tithe.

The question the article asks is why do they do it, While those on the mainline have much lower levels of tithe returners?” The writer gives two possibilities…one is that the Pentecostals and Adventists are closer to a movement than an institution. Another possibility given by the article is that the Adventists and Pentecostals are legalists seeking to earn heaven.

Is Returning Tithe a Guarantee?

This brings a couple of interesting questions. I remember one individual telling me that he kept a record of how far his money went while tithing and then did an experiment of not tithing and looking at his money. He said that his experiment demonstrated that his money went much further when he was tithing. Such evidence can paint a problematic picture. It doesn’t take into account the woman who tithes faithfully and still loses her home. What about the man who tithes to the penny and still dies of cancer. What about the mother who tithes and her child never comes back to the church? This idea only paints a limited picture, unless someone really does wish to stand next to Job’s friends and condemn those who are going through problems as sinners who are guilty of some sin.

When listening to some folks speak of the benefits of tithing, I sometimes wonder if folks are tithing because they want the “window of heaven opened up and a blessing poured out.” (Malachi 3:10) One Stewardship leader guaranteed that you will be financially better off after tithing. Is that why we tithe? He said, I guarantee you will look back and be able to say, “I don’t know how I made it, but God did it!” Is that even true? Can such a guarantee be made? Does the Bible saying “prove me now herewith” mean that you are gonna get that car you always wanted? Does it mean you are going to get that house? I sometimes wonder if this kind of thinking helped to set us up for this economic crash where many were getting too much house, cars, etc, based on “God’s blessing?”
Isn’t this nothing more than an Adventist version of the “name-it-claim-it-theology?”

God will Kill You

Another motivation that I have heard used is so that you will not have terrible consequences put on you if you do not tithe. It seems that our tithe rhetoric is either God will “hook you up” if you tithe, or God will “mess you up” if you don’t.

With this idea we put it all on you. You can guarantee happiness and economic prosperity, all you have to do is put 10%, and make sure that it ends up at the conference office. Or you can have disease, lost jobs, misery, and despair if you don’t.

But life seems to be more complex than this. Sometimes the one who never tithes does get hooked up. That one sometimes gets the job. That one seemingly goes further than the one who returns the tithe. Sometimes the “blessing” seems to appear when we spent that tithe instead of returned it.

Simplistic Rhetoric

Our rhetoric is too simplistic…it is a very Job’s friends type of rhetoric. You return tithe, and you will find the goodies coming from the bubble gum machine in the sky. If you do not, you will find fire and brimstone coming from the same place both now and in the future.

By no means does everyone use these approaches. There are different ones given here and there. I don’t wish to trivialize and minimize others as they struggle with these texts. But I just want us to be careful of the bubble gum machine or the fire from heaven. Because it makes us think we know exactly how the world works and how God will work. And in the end we have no such certainty. All we can do is trust in the God who has brought us where we are and follow that God as God leads, even if we sometimes feel like saying: “Though he Slay Me Yet Will I trust Him.”

What Bind Does the Sabbath Get You Out Of?

A while back I wrote a post on “E. J. Waggoner as a Practical Theologian.” In it I quoted Waggoner who stated that “Every doctrine of the Bible is for our practical benefit, and should be studied for that purpose.”

Practical and Doctrinal Opposites?

waggonerThis is a very interesting thought for much of our preaching and thinking. Often we think of “practical” and “doctrinal” as being on two sides with a chasm in between. We cannot go over the chasm. So sometimes we preach “practical” sermons, and sometimes we preach “doctrinal” sermons.

Members long for “practical” preaching that will help us live faithfully in our daily lives. However, there is also a call for us to know “doctrine.” We are to gain a deeper awareness and understanding of the truths that hold us up.

We Cannot Forget Doctrine

We cannot forget doctrine. When we do we lose something of who we are. The deity of Christ is a doctrine that is hotly debated in some circles today. However, the doctrine is an important one in our Christian heritage. The doctrine of the Sabbath also has a call on us as Seventh day Sabbatarians.

And for this reason, sometimes we teach and preach doctrines, while other times we teach and preach themes of practical living. E. J. Waggoner comes in and asks us why do we have this dichotomy? Why not preach doctrine by emphasizing its practical relevance? Why not preach doctrine by emphasizing its importance in our daily living? Why not preach and teach doctrine in such a way that we will immediately see its practical relevance just as we see the practical relevance of the traditional “practical” sermons?

Lowry’s Question

In short, we ask the same question that Eugene Lowry, the homilitician, wrote in his classic preaching text The Homiletical Plot. Lowry asks of any doctrine before he preaches it, “What bind does the doctrine get you out of?” In short, how does this doctrine help me overcome a problem?

Certainly there are times for more didactic teaching, but all of our doctrinal preaching need not be in lecture form. If we truly are to teach the Sabbath more fully, then we must find a way to live out the implications of the Sabbath in our daily lives. To do that, we must listen to both Lowry and Waggoner by asking about the practical benefit of the Sabbath. Then we will be in a position to be the witness to the Sabbath that God has called our movement to be.

The Hospice Mindset


The church is not a place for the righteous, it is a hospital for sinners.

So goes the popular saying that has taken on almost cliche-like proportions in many of our churches. The idea is that anyone who expects church members to live differently than those who are not members.

Is the Statement Helpful?

The statement is a helpful thing to keep in mind if it reminds us of our own hypocracy or even lack of understanding that the Christian life is one of growth and that we cannot expect new people to be as far along as some of our more seasoned members. It is helpful when it reminds us of these things.

However, too often the saying promotes a situation where there is no growth. It can hide the fact that often it is not the new members who are still falling to the sin that so easily besets them, but the old ones. Too often, it promotes the illogical and unchristian idea that we should not expect Christians to live any differently than those on the outside. Too often the saying promotes a mindset that is quick to call anyone a hypocrite who is calling the church to live better.

Do They Mean Hospice?

In short, too often the saying is used incorrectly. When the saying is used to support Christians who do not grow, then the speaker should say that “the church is not a hospital but a hospice.

A hospice is a place where the sick go to be comforted before dying. The sick go to have their pains masked by drugs while they wait for that same illness to overtake and kill them. Too often, we want to make the church a place where the sick can be confortable while they continue the dying process. A place where they will not be confronted by the realization that healing is possible in Jesus Christ. A place where those who do not wish to be bothered by any of the ethical implications of the gospel can go to have a good shout and go home to live unchanged lives.

Too often we want the church to be a hospice where we do not allow Jesus to take from us our most cherished sins. Too often we want the church to be a hospice where the same sin that elicited our need for Jesus ultimtaely kills us!

Reclaiming the Truth in the Statement

But the saying is right, the church is not a hospice, no, it is a hospital. It is a place where Jesus shows up. It is a place where sick folks are healed. Yes, people are broken in need of great help, but Jesus does something. Yes the church is a hospital.

To not expect that the sinner will get better is not a hospital mindset it is a hospice mindset. To not expect that Jesus is able to help me to overcome all of my weakness is a hospice mindset not a hospital mindset. Certainly the church is a place where the sick congregate, but are the sick expected to get better after a confrontation with the King of the Universe, or are the sick simply entertained while the ailment that brought them there ultimately kills them?

That is the question. Is it truly a hospital where the sick get well or a hospice where the sick are comforted and entertained before they die in their sins?