Letters to the Editor (November)

‘Losers,’ indeed

In reading Uwe Siemon-Netto’s October commentary, I am persuaded that it is Ted Turner who has it right in saying that Christianity is for losers — lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons, lost me. If I ever think that the world is “getting” our foolish message of the cross, I am going to start worrying about the quality of my preaching and teaching.

Rev. James E. Metcalf
Jenison, Mich.

More talk about tithing

I was perplexed by Phil Meinzen’s suggestion in his September commentary that more people might begin claiming the blessings of the tithe “if we began to define ‘tithing’ as a best practice that helps people to see God more clearly.”

My perplexity springs from Phil’s failure to mention the longest and clearest list of rules about the tithe, found in Deuteronomy 14.  Here God explicitly declares that two years out of three, the entire 10 percent is to be used for nothing but a big party! (” … and spend the money for whatever you desire – oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household” Deut. 14:27, ESV).

If you wonder about the purpose behind this crazy order to spend your offering to God on yourselves, God tells us, “that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always” (Deut. 14:23). 

It seems to me that our tithing will continue to fall short of the goal of “helping people to see God more clearly” until we begin seeing more clearly and following more exactly God’s hilariously wonderful prescription for its use, making our tithing an experience of delightfully consuming the prodigal son’s banquet and God’s amazing love and grace.

Sadly, many Lutherans appear to have become like anorexics, continually focusing intellectually on the food of God’s love, but failing to enjoy and digest it in their hearts.  Like the prodigal son they say, “Don’t hug me, hire me, for I must be worthy to be acceptable.” Or, like his brother, they work like slaves for their father, while becoming the most unfaithful of his children, unable to enjoy the banquet of their father’s love.

Happy tithing!

Rev. Paul Ihlenfeld

The September commentary misinterprets New Testament passages and mistakenly inserts the tithe in the New Testament approach to stewardship.

How can Matt. 23:23 mean that “Jesus points out that tithing is meant as a spiritual practice or witness,” a meaning found nowhere in the text? Nor does the passage place tithing of “mint, dill, and cumin,” hardly “on a par” with “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness … .”

To define tithing as “a best practice to see God more clearly” misinterprets the beatitude of Matt. 5:8. The pure in heart “shall see God” — not now — even with the help of tithing. “They shall see God,” Prof. Franzmann wrote in Follow Me, “face to face at the ends of days.”

Why should we engage in “more talking about tithing” when the New Testament does not? Jesus never directed his followers to tithe. Paul avoids any reference to the tithe in  I Cor. 16:1-3 and 2 Cor. 8-9, and advises the Corinthians, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper… .” The Macedonians “gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will.”

When the Christians at Antioch collected for the poor in Jerusalem, Luke writes, “And the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren” (Acts 11:29). Hebrews refers to Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek (Heb. 7:2), but the writer never taught his readers to follow his example.

It is planned, proportionate, sacrificial giving which the New Testament promotes, not the tithe.

Not that 10 percent is excessive. For some it is too little. Their sights are thereby set too low. Are they those of whom Jesus said, “gave out of their abundance?” (Mark 12:41-44). It’s not how much Christians give; it’s what they give from.

Not all Christians are left with 10 percent, or less, after subtracting  legitimate needs from their incomes. There is an inequality in what Christians possess, as Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 8:14. The tithe is not a key that fits everyone’s lock.

There is a better approach. Let someone diagnose what inhibits sacrificial giving in us. Then let someone apply the Gospel, like antiseptic on an open wound. Then let us trust the Gospel and the Spirit’s power to produce Christians giving “according to their means.”

Rev. Paul A.O. Boecler
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Posted Nov. 1, 2007

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