Wednesday, July 24, 2013

J. P. Holding's Used Car Cavalcade

From the April 2010 E-Block. This one may be comic relief.

Ministries are used to hearing from atheists who say they shouldn't raise funds by certain means, but every once in a while, a professing Christian will come up with the same idea. On the occasion of this issue, when it so happens Tekton is beginning its annual fundraiser, which includes donations in exchange for what the tax folks call "gratuities" (e.g., the E-Block, the site on CD-ROM), it also happened that I got an email from one such who objected. (Of course, many other ministries use similar processes; John Ankerberg is probably the other example I know best.) Given that we strive to aid in the pursuit of competent Biblical exegesis, it seemed worthwhile as well as timely to make this email into an article. 

The email started with the rather ominous questions:

Isn't it forbidden for a christian to buy christian products, sell christian products?

Isn't it forbidden for a christian to buy christian products, sell christian products, support a ' church building ' financially and attend the ' church building ' daily without telling your fellow christian brothers and christian sisters that it is wrong to support the ' church building ' financially ?

As you might expect, since they wrote me in the first place, the answer to this, they say, is "no". But on what basis, Biblically, is this determined?

The Bible says =
Do not peddle the word of God for profit. 2 Corinthians 2:17.
Peddle means = to go from place to place selling

Applicable? Let's look at that:

Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

Applicable? Not exactly. As Witherington notes in his Corinthians commentary, the contextualizing of this reference indicates a comparison to pagan philosophers who shared their knowledge for a fee (e.g., "Pay up and I'll tell you the secret of living well"). It has no possible connection to solicitation of freewill gifts. At the same time, while my work and that of other apologists may receive good reviews, I would hardly esteem it to be "the word of God". Paul refers here exclusively to the Gospel message -- in other words, it would be as though I were charging people for a copy of something like "The Four Spiritual Laws".

Unortunately, after this, the roster of applications goes steadily downhill:

Men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed from the truth who think that Godliness is a means to financial gain. But Godliness with contentment is great gain. But we have food and clothing we will be content with that. 1 Timothy 6:5 - 6:9.

Hmm, is that what it says? Let's look, and expand that to 1 Timothy 6:3-10:

If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

So there are particulars that don't match here: 1) Those who "think that godliness is a means to financial gain" are, in fact, also false teachers. 2) Reference is specifically made to persons looking to get rich -- not persons looking to simply earn a living. Indeed, a more contextually aware person might realize that the reference to "food and clothing" indicates a way in which Paul was perfectly willing to accept graces from supporters, as opposed to what we might call liquid assets. (As I've stated once somewhere else, if someone wanted to send groceries rather than a donation, I wouldn't complain -- but the reality is that the vast majority of people today just don't do that as a way to support any sort of charity; as close as we come now is to those that donate cars, boats, and other tangibles, which the charity then sells.)

We can skip over a few more citations, which are warnings against "wealth" and its abuses (Mark 4:18-19, Luke 16:9-11, 1 Timothy 6:17). Once again, while such warnings might apply to someone like a Jim Bakker, they say nothing to a person merely seeking to earn a living without gaining wealth. Then things get even odder:

When you give a Luncheon or Dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Luke 14:12 - 14:14

It is hard to see what the point of this one was meant to be. The situation described indicates one in which invitations were extended in order to get invitations back, as a way of climbing the social ladder. This has no bearing on the performance of ministry.

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Luke 12:33

We hardly need comment on the irony of this being cited, as is, by someone who just sent me an email using their own personal computer. Beyond that it is hard to see any application to persons seeking a basic living from ministry. It certainly does not mean "sell ALL your possessions, right now, and give to the poor" because Jesus and his disciples evidently wore clothes.

Given the context of achieving treasure in heaven, and the practice of the early church in Acts, the meaning is more clearly one of sharing resources as needed to meet needs. (Perhaps the irony would also not occur to our friend that a person who immediately sold ALL they had would then become "poor" and require someone to give to them -- and that the poor, once they received whatever it was, would themselves no longer be "poor" and then would be required to give it all right back! It reminds me rather of the Monty Python "Dennis Moore" parody of Robin Hood.)

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8

This might have some application if a person in ministry failed to provide for their family, but our friend didn't send me any objections to my personal practices in this regard, and I daresay I have received no complaints from my beloved Mrs. H nor anyone else related to me.

Jesus answered, " If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. Matthew 20:21

Like some atheists, our friend fails to appreciate that Jesus said this to one person and one person only -- the rich young ruler. While we might guess from other teachings that he might have similar messages for other rich people who wanted to follow him, the fact that other disciples who were wealthy were not told to do the same (Nicodemus, Zaccheus, Mary Magdalene) doesn't speak well for this as a universally applicable stricture.

Thereafter, it becomes harder yet to see any applications, and in some cases, even a purpose:

Do not put the Lord you God to the test. Matthew 4:7

How is soliciting support for charitable works "testing" God? Unfortunately, our friend did not explain.

Let us not give up meeting together.... Hebrews 10:25

This has to be the first time anyone has suggested that accepting donations can lead to people no longer attending church.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. Matthew 23:23

Latter means = a) later , b) nearer the end

The entire tithe of the herd and flock-every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd's rod-will be holy to the Lord. Leviticus 27:32

The point of these in context is also hard to discern; it is not even clear whether our friend is advocating tithing, or denouncing it, or what. However, we discussed the relevance of tithing to the NT covenant here.

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, " Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins " Matthew 26:27 - 26:28.

Try as I might, I cannot discern what point is being attempted in this context through this citation. I can only suppose I lack sufficient imagination.

Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6 - 9:7

Somehow it seems counterintuitive to cite a passage in favor of giving against those for whom the gifts are generally intended. (So likewise is used Matthew 25:37-40.) However, we have by now seen that exegetical consistency is not one of our friend's hallmarks.

Thus it is that our emailer provided only one verse that even came close to addressing the issue, and that at least half were not even remotely about the issue. Yet we are told in summary:

Answer= yes, it is forbidden for a christian to buy christian products, sell christian products, support a ' church building ' financially and attend the ' church building ' daily without telling your fellow christian brothers and christian sisters that it is wrong to support the ' church building ' financially.

Truly, the words "non sequitur" fail to do justice to this performance. However, our friend does close with a reassurance for us that speaks volumes concerning his nature as a source of sound teaching:

However, I think it is still ok to manually print out the the Holy Bible. Just manually print out the New Testament ( starting on line= 23146 40 1 1 ) if you want to make lots of manually print copies in order to save paper, World English Bible Version WEB is available for download here = . Once you are done downloading the file, you may then copy and paste the Bible into word document, I use font= ' Arial ', font style= ' Regular ' and size= ' 12 '. You can buy ' 5000 blank simply paper ' at Staples and you can buy ' black ink ' at = . The printer I use is a ' HP Officejet J5700 Series '. The ink cartridge I use is a ' HP black ink cartridge 74XL '.

So apparently, our friend would consider it wrong to even sell printed Bibles based on his exegesis.

Well, it's good to know that I'm far from being alone in spreading around these evils!

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