This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Assimilation. Click here to see the entire series.
Blessing Seen in Biblical Literacy
The Church under the covenantal blessing of God would be characterized by a high level of biblical literacy among all its members. Not only would the pastors and teachers be well versed in the Bible, but laymen would also be able to consult the Scriptures to determine God’s opinion for all of the decisions in their lives. A biblically literate congregation would have spirited debates on theological topics. In addition, there would be much fervent study of the Bible by all members of the congregation for the sheer joy of obtaining a greater knowledge of God. Church members would bring their Bibles to the services on Sunday and it would be obvious that their Bibles were well used.
Acts 17:11 records a historical situation where a particular church was under the blessing of God. Paul and Silas were visiting cities in Greece, preaching the Gospel as they went along. In Thessalonica they had not received a warm welcome. In fact, the response to their preaching was one of hatred. The local authorities had to be bribed in order to spare their lives and they were spirited away under the cover of darkness to Berea. In Berea they encountered a very different situation. Luke describes the situation as follows, “Now these were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.”
Luke’s description of the Bereans has come to be known among evangelicals as the “berean spirit”. That colloquial reference means that individual believers consider the Word of God to be their inerrant source of truth about God and they consult the Bible on a regular basis. That is precisely what the Bereans did. As a result, Luke tells us “many of them therefore believed.” Biblical literacy is both a sign of and a cause of the blessing of God.
Now, does anybody really believe that what I have been describing with respect to biblical literacy is in any way related to the state of the Church in America today? One of the most common statements that I hear coming out of the mouths of preachers and teachers in the church, as well as the members, is “I am not a biblical scholar”. That statement is invariably used in an attempt to shut me up as I am pressing the person for a response to some point that I am making. It is a statement that is actually made with some degree of pride. It is as if the person is saying, “My relationship with God is personal, private, and mystical. I don’t need the Bible to know anything about Him. The hard work of Bible study is unnecessary for a person of my high stature. If only you were as spiritual as me, you would realize what I am saying is true.” I have actually had people use the fact that I know the Bible fairly well as an argument against me! They intimate that I have too much “Bible knowledge” and not enough “personal knowledge”.
Hebrews 5: 12 describes the state of the Church quite well when it says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for some one to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” This actually seems to be too generous in light of the situation we find ourselves in today. I fear that even milk would end up choking in the infantile throats of most of today’s believers.
How many people study the Bible daily? How many people understand systematic theology? How many people understand biblical theology? How many people know the main themes of each of the books of the Bible? How many people understand the basic rules of biblical interpretation? In a time of blessing the answer would be, “Just about everybody.” In a time of cursing the answer would be, “Not even the preachers.” The Bible has become the best selling unread book in the world. When we consider the state of the Church with respect to biblical literacy we must come to the conclusion that we are under judgment.
Blessing Seen in Stewardship
The tithe is a biblical requirement (others have written good books proving this fact and I make no attempt to reinvent the wheel here). God demands that the tithe be brought to the elders of the local church. To not bring the tithe to the local church is an act of stealing from God (Malachi 3). The tithe, despite the ravings of the Marcionites, is not some practice relegated to god of the Old Testament who either no longer exists or has changed his opinion on stewardship. The tithe is ten percent of each individual believers income and it is expected to be given to the work of God by way of the elders in the local church. Not bringing the tithe should be a matter of church discipline as the refusal to tithe constitutes a weekly, public case of theft and the church must exercise discipline to stop it. Those who continue to refuse to tithe should be excommunicated. The tithe is the absolute minimum that is required with respect to biblical giving.
II Corinthians 8 and 9 is a passage that is frequently used by preachers to try and manipulate their flocks into greater giving. The passage speaks about giving but it is crucial to understand that it is giving above and beyond the tithe. God demands that we tithe and the church should punish us if we do not. God exhorts us to give above and beyond the tithe but the church has no right to discipline us for not doing so. God will reward going above and beyond the call of duty. Just doing our duty receives no reward, but is also not subject to punishment. It is with that understanding that Paul says, “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord (vs 8:3)” and “he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully (9:6)” and “for God loves a cheerful giver (9:7)”. The fact that the Church has made the decision to ignore the tithe and use these verses as the biblical teaching on required giving only serves of additional proof of both biblical illiteracy and the practice of robbing God.
During a time of blessing we would see all the members of the church tithing and a good percentage of them would be giving well beyond the tithe. The church would never be lacking funds for any of its ministries. Preachers would not have to resort to gimmicks, begging, and cheerleading in order to solicit funds. Generosity would rule the day.
What do we see? The average rate of giving in evangelical churches in the United States is 2.5%. Even in the best of churches the rate of tithers rarely rises above 20%. Those who do tithe see it as a great sacrifice that they should get tremendous rewards for. Almost nobody even considers going beyond the tithe. As a result (notwithstanding the foolish stewardship decisions made by the church leaders on what the church funds will be spent on), churches are left in permanent budget shortfalls. Hours and hours of meeting time are consumed trying to figure out new ways to fleece the flock for additional funds without making them mad enough to go to the church down the street. There can be no doubt when we examine the rate and quality of the giving to the Church that we are under the judgment of God.