Another Example of How the Gospel Redeems Culture for the Sake of the Gospel

Friday, May 06, 2005

Another Example of How the Gospel Redeems Culture
for the Sake of the Gospel

Paul Schafer, commented on my first blog on this subject that tithing serves as an example of the point I'm after here. Paul deserves MOTG kudos. He gave me the seed thought for the rest of the blog below.

The issue of tithing is, in fact, an excellent example of the overall point I'm out to make here. Tithing was required under the Old Covenant. It was the practice of offering to God a tenth of the harvest of the land and livestock, as holy to the Lord. It also refers to the general practice of giving a tenth of one's income to the Lord. Consider these facts about tithing.

  • It was practiced before the Old Covenant was formally established: Gen. 14:18-20 (see also Gen. 28:22; Heb. 7:1-3).
  • In the Old Covenant it extended to all kinds of produce and livestock: Lev. 27:30-32 (see also 2 Chron. 31:5-6; Neh. 10:35-38; 13:12).
  • All tithes were to be paid to the Levites (lucky guys!): Num. 18:21-24; Neh. 10:37-38; Heb. 7:5).
  • But the Levites had to tithe what they themselves received: Num. 18:25-29; Neh. 10:39.
  • Tithes were to paid in a specifically designated place: Deut. 12:5-6; 14:22-29; 26:2.
  • HOWEVER! Contrary to popular opinion, freewill offerings were made in addition to the tithes. They were given freely (Ex. 36:3; Lev. 7:12-18; Num. 15:3; Ezr. 1:4; Psa. 54:6; Ezek. 46:12), and they were given according to one's ability (Deut. 16:10, 17 - pointing toward 1 Cor. 16:2 and Acts 11:29).

Now what happens when the gospel of the New Covenant enters the scene in history? Here's a multiple choice question: Circle the item(s) above that were carried over from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

If you circled any but the last, you do not receive MOTG kudos. Sorry. If you circled only the last, you do receive the kudos. Way to go.

The New Covenant nowhere repeats the command to give ten percent of one's livestock or harvest to the Lord in Jerusalem, or every three years in towns where the tithe feast was eaten. If the regulative principle were followed, believers would have to offer up ten percent of their morning Lucky Charms or Berry-Berry Kix (or Kashi Crunch, if you eat healthy like me). And they would have to find a suitable yet culturally equivalent alternative to the Levites, because there aren't any of them around in our churches to give our cereal tithes to. Further, they would have to travel to Jerusalem to offer this tithe and all the others, which would make for a heck of a surcharge on overweight luggage if you had to fly over there.

The glory of the New Covenant is that the gospel preaches to us that Christ has already fulfilled this part of the Old Covenant for us, forever. That is precisely the reason why the tithe is not repeated in the New Covenant. Instead, as we saw in the case with marriage, an element of the Old Covenant understanding of the giving was carried over into the New Covenant. That is, the principles of Deuteronomy 16:10, 17 were carried over into Acts 11:29 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 and 2 Corinthians 8:12. What this means is that the smallest element of Old Covenant giving was carried over into the New Covenant where it became the only element of New Covenant giving.

Once again, the New Covenant is not so much concerned with form as with function. It is not concerned so much with externals as internals. It is not so much concerned with how much we give as it is with the fact that we give like God gave to us. So God reconciles the finances of all cultures in heaven and on earth through His Son by introducing the gospel into that culture, repeating an Old Covenant element about giving, and utilizes whatever is in that culture for the furtherance of the gospel.

Two examples in two cultures show this point. First, in the Jewish culture, Acts 2 and 4 are clear that believers there sold their property and gave the money to those who needed it most. Second, in the Roman culture, 1 and 2 Corinthians are clear that believers there just gave money towards a collection effort used to meet the needs of the poor. Two different cultures, two different methods of giving (neither of which conformed to the Old Covenant system of tithing), but one and the same heart - give up whatever we can to help those who are needy.

A warning must be given to believers and pastors, preachers, teachers and church leaders who emphasize the necessity of the tithe for New Covenant believers. It is an important warning, for it surrounds an error to which so many unwittingly hold. It is the same error of Judaism which Paul combatted in Galatians as well as throughout his ministry. The Christian is not bound to the Old Covenant because Christ fulfilled it. The Christian is bound to the New Covenant which may or may not repeat various elements found in the Old Covenant. So if we say to New Covenant believers that they are bound to follow an Old Covenant element that is not repeated in the New, we are committing the same error that the Judaizers did in Paul's day - requiring Christians to follow Old Covenant practices in order to be more godly, more holy, more complete, or to be a better Christian.

The truth of the New Covenant is grounded in the doctrine that we are complete in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our new Master, not the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was a tutor to lead us to Him (Gal. 3:24)! Since He has come and made us complete in Him, let us be careful not to impose Old Covenant elements that are not repeated in the New Covenant, for in so doing we are taking away from the completion and fulfillment offered in Jesus Christ.

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