Anglican, but with a difference

Confused about what it means for someone to be an Anglican? Sometimes I am, and I have been one for more than 50 years! Tim Chesterton introduced himself in a comment on my Sorry to disappoint… posting as an Essex man who has long lived in Canada (but is still an England football supporter, apparently, even now in “the worst of times” I hope). Tim has written a wonderful tongue in cheek Welcome to the Anglican World, which tries to explain for example that despite appearances the Primates who are in charge are not monkeys!

Tim has also featured in his latest chapter of fiction an Anglican church here in Chelmsford, at which

the service was lively, with contemporary music, spirited preaching from [the vicar], and a warm sense of fellowship in the congregation.

Could this have been my Anglican church in Chelmsford, Meadgate? We certainly fit this description. We advertise ourselves (or will do on our new website which is due to go live soon – in fact I should probably be working on content for it this evening instead of blogging!) as “The Church of England with a Difference”. So we try to be different from much of the Anglican world as described by Tim. But hopefully we are not too different from his idea of a Chelmsford Anglican church.

Casper's Reprieve: a Model of the Atonement

The idea that God as a just judge sentences sinners to eternal death is a difficult one for us who live in countries which have abolished the death penalty for even the most serious crimes. But a recent case in my home town, Chelmsford, has reminded me that here in Britain we still have the death penalty – for animals! And we probably need it – for, despite this posting, I am not an animal lover.

The story, reported in the local newspaper Chelmsford Weekly News (29th June), is about Casper, a beautiful Weimaraner German hunting dog. Casper had bitten boys on three occasions, and his owner had failed to muzzle him after the first incident. The owner was fined and banned from keeping a dog. But, because there was no other home for Casper, his sentence was to be death – until at the last minute a court officer personally offered him a home, and the judge accepted this.

This is perhaps a model of the Atonement, or at least a picture of how it works. We, all humans, had a bad master or owner, Satan, as Casper had, and are guilty of wrongdoing, as Casper was. The penalty which the Law prescribes for us, as for Casper, is death, and our Judge would be just to apply this penalty. Casper was saved by a last minute personal intervention by a court officer; we are saved by the personal intervention of the Judge himself, not at the last minute but as part of his eternal plan. Casper was taken from his old owner and given to a new master, the court officer; we have been set free from slavery to Satan by our Judge, who has himself become our new master or Lord. Casper received a new home with his new owner; we have been promised a new home where God himself will care for us for ever.

Of course this model is not complete; there is no sign that Casper repented (although the problem may have been more with his old owner), and the court officer did not have to die (let’s hope Casper doesn’t draw his blood!), whereas Jesus had to die for us to be saved, and we are expected to repent. Nevertheless, this is an interesting case as a real example of how a life was saved by a personal intervention in a court, in a parallel with how we have been saved through Jesus Christ.

Tithing: a law for Christians?

Last Sunday my vicar (pastor), Rev Mones Farah, preached on generosity, including giving and tithing; his sermon notes are online. This is a subject which he touches on rather rarely, because he doesn’t want anyone to think that he is money-grabbing. Unusually, this sermon was somewhat controversial among church members – or perhaps just among the people I talked to this week. The controversial points were that he implied that Christians are required to tithe, and to give that tithe to the local church.

Any suggestion that Christians are obliged to tithe is rightly controversial. Every mention in the Bible of tithing, as a specific amount, is in the context of the old covenant. The detailed laws on tithing (in fact multiple tithes, but only on agricultural produce) relate to providing for the Levites and for the temple in Jerusalem. Thus tithing, like sacrifices, must be understood as part of the ceremonial law which is no longer binding on Christians. I won’t go now into the complex issue about whether any part of Old Testament law is binding on Christians. The implication of this is that tithing is not a law for Christians. But I don’t think my vicar actually said that it was.

This view of tithing is supported by Justin Taylor, who refers to excellent articles by Köstenberger and Croteau. These articles, unlike some others I have seen on the Internet on this subject, are based on top quality scholarship. I have serious disagreements with Taylor and Köstenberger on some other issues, but not on this one.

My vicar rightly said that God instituted the tithe. He did so as a law for the people of Israel. But the law, while not binding on Christians, is part of the Christian Bible and shows us the general principles by which Christians are expected to live. The details of tithing to Levites and to the Jerusalem temple are not binding on us, and cannot be because the temple no longer exists. But the general principle remains, that God’s people should give a portion of their income, depending on how much they earn, to support their fellow believers who are in need, either from poverty or because they are engaged full time in God’s work. This principle is reaffirmed in the New Testament:

 

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.

1 Corinthians 9:13-14 (TNIV©, my emphasis)

1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

1 Corinthians 16:1-2 (TNIV©, my emphasis)

 

The New Testament does not specify a proportion, as the Old Testament does, but (as my vicar quoted) specifies that:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:7 (TNIV©, my emphasis)

 

But the Old Testament law, and the examples of Abraham (Genesis 14:18-20) and Jacob (Genesis 28:20-22), suggest 10% as a suitable starting point for our giving, as a basic minimum to be expected of any Christian – although not as a law to be imposed on everyone. But many of us will be able to give more than this, as God provides for us and calls us to give. For example, God has provided so abundantly for Rick Warren, through sales of his Purpose Driven books, that he is able to give away 90% of his income and live on 10%.

As for who we should give to, surely our first responsibility is to ensure that the local church fellowship of which we are a part, and those who serve there, are not in need. For the principle is clear: “those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel”. Some preachers, like Paul and Rick Warren, are able to dispense with this support, but most of them depend on it.

While I appreciate the dangers of appealing to Malachi, the Old Testament prophet, in this matter, surely the general principle he put forward still applies to Christians. I am not sure in what translation my vicar found “So that my house might be full.” (The word טֶרֶף teref which he seems to render “full” in fact normally means “prey”, but here and in a few other places is usually understood as “food”.) A better translation seems to be:

“…Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. …”

Malachi 3:10 (TNIV©, my emphasis)

The principle here is that we should give the whole of what God tells us to give so that his house is abundantly provided for. In Malachi’s time God’s house was the temple. For us, his house is the church, not so much a building although that also needs to be provided for, more the community whose every need should be met abundantly from its members’ giving. As for God’s promise of abundant blessing for those who give generously, this is reaffirmed in the New Testament:

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

2 Corinthians 9:10-11 (TNIV©, my emphasis)

I will close with some words from my vicar’s sermon:

There is no greater insult to God than to keep his house in poverty. I wholeheartedly believe that if we keep God’s house well supplied and well stocked up great things will be achieved not only in the individual church but all over the world.

Update (2nd July): My vicar’s sermon from last Sunday is now available for download. While he and I don’t entirely agree on this matter, we agree that we must not throw away the principle of tithing because the details of the Old Testament laws cannot be applied in our society today.