Tithing is not a practice that binds the believer today. Having said this, as in all times, we must recognize that 1) all we have comes from the Father, 2) God is generous and that character can be reflected in his people through their generosity, and 3) we are still to give joyfully as needs arise and as God leads.
Under the Old Covenant, the tithe was intended to support the priestly tribe – the Levites – and their work in the temple. When Jesus Christ was crucified, the veil in the temple was torn in half, exposing the Holy of Holies, the place where the presence of God dwelled. (Until then, only the High Priest could go there – and only once each year.) With that event, those priests were suddenly (and probably happily) out of a very grueling job. The significance of this is that, with Christ’s final sacrifice, we no longer have that system; we don’t need priests to make sacrifices on our behalf. Jesus is our sacrifice – and all believers are priests. Further, since we now have direct access to God apart from the Levitical priesthood, the tithe is no longer needed to support that model. Indeed some of the tithe also served as the equivalent of our social programs today, but that is already far outpaced by modern society’s provision in those areas.
We can also bear in mind Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain”: Believers today should make an effort to supply the needs of itinerant (traveling) apostolic workers, like the Apostle Paul. But even Paul had an occupation (a tent maker) and was merely subsidized by the support he received. On occasion he would not accept support if it would compromise the delivery of the Gospel. Further, as priests within the context of the city church, we are all collectively responsible for the work of spreading the Gospel: our primary work is to love God and love our neighbor, and to use our spiritual gifts for the building up of the church and the extending of the Kingdom. Our secular work is merely a support to those ends.
“You were bought with a price…” 1 Corinthians 6:20
When Jesus described the Church, he used metaphors that implied a living organism: “I am the Vine.” The carnal organizations that attempt to provide a structure for living Christianty are not, themselves, “living” whatsoever. They are largely government-sanctioned entities, 501c3s, ultimately accountable to government for their benefits, not God. By virtue of these benefits, the church can be (and has been) restricted in terms of what it can and can’t say and do.Further, what the government bestows, it can also take away.
Even when Jesus used the inanimate term “stones”, He applied the seemingly contradictory modifier, “living“. The organic Christian church of State College is not a 501c3. The benefits that it enjoys are bestowed through the Holy Spirit, solely by its head: Jesus Christ. It is with this peculiar departure from tradition, and full attribution of authority to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we embrace the term “organic”, and it is in this context that we seek to equip believers to operate in their spiritual gifts.
Small groups are a common form of fellowship even among mainstream denominations. What is much less common – at least in western Christianity – is for the small group to be the primary source of fellowship for the believer. We are the priesthood of the believers, and there is work for us to do. Even those things that are commonly thought as tasks for the “professionals” are done by ordinary believers – including baptism and communion. Authenticity and intimacy generally characterize these kinds of meetings. People who choose to make the small group meeting their primary source of fellowship often do so because they want to pursue the work of the ministry, rather than leave it to “professionals”. Consider this: Take a church of 1200 and a hundred churches of twelve. Which model can facilitate more people stepping out, building and relying on their spiritual gifts? And of those who aren’t quite ready for that, which model is better equipped to reach the marginal with God’s love in a personal way? Which model better fosters engaging in an interactive way with teaching? That’s how Jesus did it with his disciples. To be sure, large gatherings have some appealing benefits: it’s great to have that big worship service. And if you have small children, that nursery can provide a much needed break. Jesus, Paul, and the disciples preached and taught to large crowds as well. But it was in those smaller settings where you found the primary source of body life; where relationships were established; it’s there where the disciples got that spiritual traction. The faithful can be found in groups large and small alike. But that transformational work, the challenging “stuff” of real spiritual growth… that’s the stuff of small group meetings.
As an aside, today we have made a profession out of leading the organization. Biblically speaking, the term “pastor” was never intended to describe the occupation of a person who makes a career out of working in a church, as we understand it today. It was simply intended to describe the person who has been given the spiritual gift of “pastoring”. That person is to practice, use, or dispense that gift, alongside their chosen secular profession, not necessarily in place of it. The one exception that we see in scripture is that of itinerant workers, and even they often worked to support themselves. So denominations are carnal church institutions which do in fact need professionals to keep the “wheels turning”. The same can be said of all of the 5-fold gifts. The Apostle Paul, for example, was a tent-maker by trade, yet he was called to plant churches and refute false teaching. The Apostling wasn’t Paul’s job… it was his calling – alongside his job as a tent maker. Carnal churches seldom have room for that kind of gifting and calling. In John Chapter 17, Jesus prayed that his church would be ‘one’. God’s Church is a divine institution. Our division into denominations, while covered in his grace, no doubt grieves the Lord. In his words, Jesus prays:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
In Paul’s words
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
There is one church in State College, and to the extent that we begin to operate and look that way, that is the extent to which we will be a light to the lost.
You have probably heard Christians refer to Jesus as “Lord and Savior”, and do so as though it were a single descriptor. When pulled apart, however, we uncover a challenge to believers. The idea of Jesus as Savior is very appealing: he saves us. How lovely! For those who receive him, this is absolutely true, and it is wonderful, indeed! The challenge emerges when we understand this is actually a chronological phrase: Jesus isn’t savior until he is first Lord. Think of it instead as “Lord then Savior”. Once we have that understanding, there are two ways to apply it: 1) a sanctifying sense and 2) a living stones sense. The first has an implications for salvation, in an eternal sense, whereas the second has implications for believers living victoriously on this side of eternity.
Lordship is what Jesus was getting at when cried out to the Father, “Not my will but yours be done”. In sacrificing his will for that of God’s on the cross, Jesus set an example for us about what Lordship means and requires. It is dying to ourselves and letting Christ live in us. It is what is symbolized in our baptism. Dead to ourselves and our flesh, yet alive in Christ, through the Spirit.
This has significant implications to every aspect of the life of the believer – from the way we approach our interpretation of scripture, to the way we relate to others…
A sound Statement of Beliefs addresses the questions of “which faith?”, “which beliefs?”, and “what understanding of Jesus”, thus providing the basis for unity in the body of Christ. Read our Statement of Beliefs.
You may have heard the question raised, “Why bother with a Statement of Beliefs” in the first place?” Won’t God sort it all out in the end anyway? “Why create the potential for division? These are good questions, and deserve good answers. Jesus said, “not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 7:21). People who claim to be Christians understand themselves to be one in Jesus. But a question that emerged early on in the establishment of the church has been “which ‘Jesus’ are you following?” The Apostle Paul’s entire ministry was centered on the critical importance of understanding who Jesus was – and wasn’t. In Jesus’ own teachings, he asked his disciples first “who do other people say that I am”, and followed up by asking “who do you say that I am?” (Mat 16:13-20). A Statement of Beliefs defines the position of the body on this all-important question by looking at what is claimed about the authority of the Bible, the nature of man, the work of Jesus Christ, and the nature of God. To understand these things differently is to divide. While some differences can occur without division in the body, others cut at the core of who we claim to have unity in, and undermine the source of truth regarding these questions.
We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. To this day, there are so many notions of who Jesus is – a good teacher, a prophet, crucified, not crucified, resurrected, not resurrected, etc It isn’t faith in just any Jesus that saves; it’s faith in the true Jesus that saves.
If you are interested in having unity in Jesus, you first have to have a common understanding of who he is – and isn’t. It was important to Paul, it was important to Jesus, and it is of paramount importance to unity in the body of Christ today.
Doctrine isn’t something that we need to dwell on, but it should be in place to support our unity. By virtual of this fact, necessarily brings division; that is as it should be. Jesus himself said “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51). He also said. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30). While the invitation of the Gospel is open to all mankind, many do not receive Jesus as Christ. Bear in mind, Christ is a title – not a last name. That title alluded to the messiah, prophesied throughout the pages of the Old Testament scriptures. Whatever we may believe about Jesus, if some know him as the Messiah and some don’t, we don’t have a single body. If some believe him to be God incarnate and some don’t, we don’t have a single body. We have the body of Christ along with others who may or may not be on a path to discovering the true Jesus, may or may not be on a path to discovering spirit in truth, and thus may or may not be on a path to having unity with the body of Christ.
So it is sound doctrine, the importance of which Paul emphasizes so plainly, that points us to a saving faith and unity in Christ. The account of Jesus’ warning in Mark 13:5-6 suggests a careful examination of who we believe him to be. Jesus expands on this again with a caution about false prophets and false christs. (Mark 13:21-23 and Matthew 24:24). And they are everywhere today. A Statement of Beliefs is a truth claim in response to these warnings.
“Theology (“doctrine” or “dogma”) is like the foundation of a house. A good foundation doesn’t guarantee that what you build on it will be good or will last; but a bad foundation almost guarantees future problems with whatever you build upon it. Good theology doesn’t guarantee a successful house church any more than a good foundation guarantees a successful house. But bad theology jeopardizes everything you and your house church seek to build on that foundation. The success of your (or any) house church will be determined by what you & I build on the good foundation we lay. And most of what is built will be “non-theological” in any technical sense.” – Neil Cole
For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow… Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Cor 3:4-7; 1:13
The question of Authority in organic expressions of church fellowship gets to the heart of a common and sometimes stifling concern for Christians who are considering a more organic approach to church life. To address this question, we can observe the following in light of the passage cited above: Today we have, figuratively speaking, replaced Paul and Apollos with our denominational preferences for our authority. We are meant to be one in Christ, and submitted to Him by way of our submission to one another, in love. It’s not that true authority can’t be found in institutional churches, but you may have to look a little harder for it, and it most certainly can be found outside of that kind of structured environment.
What are we saying when we choose to take comfort under the authority of a denominational construct, and proclaim that it can’t be found in a small, humble gathering of authentic believers submitted to one another in love? To suggest this actually indicts the logic surrounding institutional authority: Are we not replacing God with man? On what basis would we claim that God’s authority only exists in a carnal 501c3 construct? What is it about that institution that so impresses us that so many only recognize God’s authority there? Is not all denominational authority ultimately passing through mere men? And if, in those cases, it ultimately rests with God anyway, what difference does it make when that authority takes an “organic”, non-501c3 path? In submitting ourselves to one another properly, we are ultimately submitted to our Lord. That kind of authority does not depend on carnal institutions. In fact, relying solely on institutional authority can very easily lead to a false sense of security. Can error and abuses of authority be found in organic churches? Absolutely. But those same errors and abuses are found in traditional churches as well, and believers must be prepared and equipped to discern this – wherever they occur. It may be safe to assume that more discerning and testing goes on in small, organic gatherings than in large, institutional churches… and that’s a good thing! How easy it is today to believe that what is spoken is true because it was spoken from behind a pulpit to a large crowd of hearers! In a small group setting, it is generally accepted behavior to discern and interact with what is said, discussing and challenging along the way, if necessary.
While elders and prophets are the prescribed biblical model for the administration and leadership of the church, that biblical model of leadership and guidance is meant to be applied at a city level – not a congregational level. If you search the pages of scripture you will find this to be the case. Moreover, we must not replace vital “one-anothering” and adminstration of the spirtual gifts, intended for all believers, with spoon-fed activities and programs, leaving the bulk of our spiritual sustenance up to a professional clergy. (If you were to ask most pastors today, most would say they’d like to see more people in their congregations taking personal responsibility for their spiritual growth.)
As believers, if we look to the top of a denominational structure to be spiritually authoritative, we make a significant error in biblical and doctrinal logic. We are instructed to submit ourselves one to another. In doing this, we make ourselves transparent before those who can most plainly see our need. Proper authority comes much more through the Holy Spirit, operating in horizontal relationships, than it does through hierarchical organizational ones. There is great danger associated with replacing organic, Spirit-based authority with organizational authority. It both 1) minimizes the identification of believers as priests and their responsibilities to one another, and 2) ascribes to carnal organizations a function which ultimately belongs to God, and is to be carried out by all believers. In fact, there are clear benefits to submitting to true spirit-based authority. With organic church, for example, reliance on spiritual gifts and taking personal responsibility for spiritual growth is a vital element of fellowship, regularly incorporated into the life of the believer. And it’s difficult to hide it if it’s not happening.
From the pages of scripture (and restored as a practice through the Reformation), there are three distinguishing characteristics of a church:
- The Gospel is preached, uncompromisingly. This is a Gospel that necessarily offends the flesh and our fallen nature. As was the case when Jesus preached the Gospel, some people are convicted by the truth of this message, repent, and are transformed, experiencing new life, others reject it categorically. Common in the post-modern world today is a pseudo-reception where the receiver picks and chooses those elements that are agreeable to them. If these people examine themselves carefully, they will discover that they are really not submitted to the message of the Gospel at all. Rather they subject the Gospel to their own interpretation and selective application, essentially maintaining their own place on the throne. This natural tendency is one of the primary reasons for the importance of regular meetings of believers.
- The sacraments are practiced, regularly. Baptism of new believers and communion are required practices of the church. These functions were prescribed by Christ, and practiced by the early church. The practice of these sacraments today marks our submission to Jesus Christ, our identification with His life, death, and resurrection, and demonstrates our anticipation of His future return in Glory.
- Discipline is carried out when necessary. While church discipline can be done very badly leaving a negative impact on a person, it is an imperative of the church to maintain a standard of righteousness and holiness among its adherents. Because this can be unpleasant, and can be done badly, many churches today are negligent in their willingness or ability to do it at all. The aim of this process is always restoration, but a proclaiming believer walking in sin ultimately puts others at risk. Furthermore, overseers who are lax on sin put others at risk, and the tolerance ultimately conveys acceptance. When there are departures from this standard, when self-proclaiming Christians are hardened to sin and unrepentant, the church has a mandate and a prescribed biblical model for attempting to restore that believer and, if there is no inclination in this regard, to separate from that person, considering them to be outside of the Church, regardless of what they themselves. Mt 18:15-17. While some people feel very safe in churches that ascribe to this practice, others fear the abuse that can result when it is carried out improperly. Believers must walk according to their conviction in this regard, but should be reminded that we are all ultimately accountable to God.Also see: