I[/dropcap] continue to receive lots of letters from readers. Here is a small collection of recent ones which offer comments on tithing, on Francis Chan’s new book about house churches, and on whether premarital pregnancy nullifies the “unequally yoked” principle. I hope you enjoy them.
Letters on Who Gives What: Should the Pastor Know?
Thank you for the thoughtful interaction with the question of whether or not pastors should know what people are or are not giving. I did have an objection to one thing you asserted. You said “I think most Christians agree the tithe is no longer in effect.” While it might be the case that a majority of T4G/TGC types would agree on that point, I think you are mistaken about “most Christians” agreeing with that proposition. But even if it is true, there is a case to be made from the New Testament on the obligation of tithing. Just this weekend you posted an excellent video by Pastor Conrad Mbewe where he makes that very argument. I would encourage you to watch it again and give it serious consideration. But if you end up not agreeing with it, know this, there are a sizeable number of evangelical Christians who believe that tithing to the local church is the moral obligation of all believers. Here is the link to Pastor Mbewe’s video.
—Christopher S, Rocky Mount, NC
Letters on Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church
I don’t know Chan and haven’t read the book, but his statements statements about the American church are largely true. As a nobody who gets “stoned” by the little popes that are ingrained into any institutional church, I have experienced the lack of love Chan describes. Here in the Bible Belt, God’s grace is rationed by leadership to those who have relational value to the church instead of God’s grace abounding contrary to the wisdom and tradition of men. Paul said that wolves will arise from among you. From my perspective as a sheep who has been savaged by wolves, the institution of a local church (building, administration etc) puts great pressure on leaders trying to manage sin in order to maintain relationships and the institution. These indulgences unwittingly enable abuse. I have found institutions willing to admit trouble as you did in your article, but ultimately deem bad leadership as worth working on with grace while expelling many sheep in the process. I don’t know what the answer is. House churches provide an even quicker path for wolves in leadership but since there is no institutional constraints they are inherently very fluid like the churches of the diaspora. I wonder if a small congregation without institutional restraints will actually put more resources toward the Kingdom as opposed to the kingdom that is the institutional church.
I know this is an unreasonable request, but I challenge you to take your wisdom and discernment and anonymously join a church in the Bible Belt as a nobody sheep with no local history and simply try to live a holy and private life working out your salvation in fear and trembling for six months and perhaps you may find grace for those who use a shotgun approach. Perhaps you will see how difficult it is to love others and minister to others biblically when it exposes the traditions of an institution that supersede God.
— Ralph B, Norman, Indiana
I appreciate your writing and the ways in which you expose your readers to many materials that are popular or becoming popular in the Christian world.
Regarding Chan’s new book, I completely agree with your concern that he is writing too soon. In fact, I would argue that he is writing without considering some of the push-back his model has already received among missionaries. One of my friends who served as a missionary in India has often commented on the danger of churches that try to plant and plant and plant. The lack of sustained discipleship in such cases is a deep concern.
Frankly, I suspect Chan should re-read the book of Acts and remember that Paul revisited his churches that were planted at a break-neck speed, and he sent Titus and Timothy to visit and strengthen them as well.
Anyway, all this to say I appreciate your comments and think Chan is trying to create a movement that has already met with significant difficulties and failures overseas. I have really appreciated his writings and preaching over the years, but I fear he likes to jump on his own new favorite bandwagon without allowing other mature and godly and pastoral men to ask him some good questions such as those that you raised.
—Nathan K, Louisville, KY
Tim, I appreciate your concerns about the book, but in a larger context of my observations having been a Christian for 40 years, having been in a megachurch for 20 and gathering some understanding about what is happening in other parts of the world through missionary reports, reading, etc., (and I think you expressed some level of agreement, though you might not refer to it as a consumerist mentality as Chan does), my sense is that in America we are not creating disciples with the current model. Is the house church the solution? It seems to be in China, it appears to be more closely aligned with what was occurring in the book of Acts and it seems to be taking off (albeit under the radar) in many other parts of the world.
The crux of my concern with the church, and I believe Chan’s, that I do not believe you have addressed is the American church’s satisfaction with allowing people to sit and be spectators week after week and not participate as described in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The house church appears to be a model that is much more participatory in nature with the ideas and truths of the Gospel than most churches operating on a spectator model. That raises I believe a more legit concern/question about the book. Can a church of any size incorporate small groups that have the qualities of a house church, that I believe likely grow disciples more effectively? This model has certainly been around since I became a Christian! I can only wonder if the mindset of the members in a small group which is a subset of “the official church” is a detriment to growth both as a disciple and as a community as opposed to a house church member who knows that this group of 20-30 people is it except possibly when there is a larger corporate gathering which I believe Chan’s church practices. Bottom line: Is Jesus Lord of the Church and how healthy is the American church? As a father of five and a long-time member of a megachurch, with solid Reformed teaching, I have seen too many of the young people grow up and not have a great deal of attraction for “the church”.
—Chris T, Frederick, MD
Dear Tim, I appreciated the wisdom and prayer you brought to the topic of unequally yolked marriage following pregnancy. I am a believer who has been married to an unbeliever for almost 24 years. I was not pregnant when I married my husband (our daughter came several years into the marriage), but I did sleep with my husband before marriage.
I recognize that unequally yoked unions and marriages may differ markedly one from the other. However, I do think there is one assumption we can make in all situations where an unmarried believer and unbeliever willingly sleep together: the believer is not walking with the Lord. The believer in this situation must be, by definition, someone struggling to trust God, to believe God, and to be patient and wait on God. If conviction from the Holy Spirit, and the shock of a premarital pregnancy, causes the believer to then seek God and choose to obey Him, that is wonderful.
However, even after the birth of the child, the believing partner is still relatively new to walking in daily obedience to God–nine months tops, correct? This believer may still be struggling in the areas of trusting God and waiting on God–this has already proven to be an issue. I would hope very strongly that any pastor counseling a believer in this situation would encourage him or her to proceed slowly and with great caution and patience. While I agree absolutely that the Bible mandates a very high view of family, I do not see anything to gain in holiness before God by rushing the decision to wed an unbeliever. (I do recognize there may be more of a burden on a male believer to marry his unbelieving, pregnant girlfriend, and I respect any believing man who feels this conviction.) Following marriage, there is no luxury to consider if it was a wise and Godly choice; the marriage cannot end in divorce. Therefore, there must be a very measured consideration before the marriage. I know you did not suggest this be a quick decision, but I think it is probably not possible to emphasize enough how carefully this decision should be made: an impatient, immature believer should not leap into marriage with an unbeliever who has already been able to pull that believer down into sin. I may be thinking incorrectly about this, and will continue to pray about it in the days ahead. Thank you for the links to the Piper and Carson posts, and thank you for the opportunity to interact on this topic.
John Piper is a man who speaks from the Bible and he is admired because of is Biblical approach to life. He is to be admired for his consistency. Your comments starting with the premise “The reality of the Western world today is that families exist where marriage does not,” sounds more like Joseph Fletcher in Situational Ethics. Just because we have made a mess in society by our sins does not negate God’s Word and His standards.
—Wayne M, Jackson, TN
I am afraid I am with Piper on this one. For you to advise an unequally yoked couple to get married is based on practicalities and not scripture-you would need to find an “exclusion clause” in scripture to allow it and there are none. For example there is an exclusion clause for “no divorce” in the bible if there is immorality. What you are proposing in this article in my estimation is highly dangerous. If sola sciptura is your principle then you have violated it with this article. Please read the scripture in full context concerning this very important current item. “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial?” Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? You are advocating light join with darkness! Yes it will be harder for the believer to have a broken “family unit” but these two things are true: sin has a cost-always, by encouraging the believer to marry the unbeliever you are eliminating the possibility for God providing wonderfully in this situation in three different ways. 1) waiting for the unbelieving spouse to get saved before agreeing to get married. 2) God providing another person to get married to that is believer. 3) God providing ongoing grace to stay single and care for them and their children similar to Him caring for the widow and the orphan. If you consider this scripturally, I expect a printed retraction to your well meaning but dead wrong advice.
—Bill L, Winnipeg, MB