April 17, 2009

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.”

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shermancox

Vanderbilt Trained Minister (MDiv), Univ. of Alabama Trained Software Developer (MS), Author, Blogger (http://soulpreaching.com ), Husband, Son, Brother, Father.

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