Monday, May 14, 2012

FAMILY OF FAITH CHURCH, THE TITHE IS HOLY (SERMON ANALYSIS 4)

April 2011

This is the first sermon by a visiting pastor that we have chosen to examine. It was delivered in March or April of 2011, or maybe some time shortly before this. Says Mr. Huizing about it, “Ingrid and I have taken this message to heart and have created an opportunity for our congregation to have a holy—a set apart—time to present the tithe to the Lord as our High Priest.” We listened by CD.

Mr. Glen Johnson, Family of Faith, The Tithe is Holy.

Summary: (He begins by stating phrases to be repeated by the congregation and then follows up with anecdotes on the recession.) Our church needs to live above this recession. The tithe is holy. Turn to Genesis 26. (He reads from there.) In the midst of a famine God blessed Isaac. (Here he mentions a couple of Jesus’ miracles, including the one about the coin in the mouth of the fish that Peter caught.) Now to Leviticus 27 and to some of what was downloaded to me. The tithe is holy to the Lord. God showed me that certain conduct concerning the tithe is unholy. The first way we make the tithe unholy is by not tithing, or there are budgeting issues, doctrinal issues, or unwillingness. The second way is in how we receive our tithes. Turn now to Philippians 4. (He reads from there.) “May I die and spend eternity in hell if I have an ulterior motive to get money for myself.” If there’s an acceptable sacrifice, there is also an unacceptable sacrifice. Look at Genesis 14, which is the first recorded tithe. The tithe was before the law. I don’t believe you have to tithe. (He reads from the text.) The blessing of Abraham is that you get to switch families, you get prosperity of heaven and earth, and your enemies are delivered into your hand. The only reason Melchizedek shows up is to receive someone’s tithe. With that in mind, let’s turn to Hebrews 7. (He reads from there.) The only reason we have for his existence is to receive tithes. He was similar to Jesus. One of the main reasons why Jesus is at God’s right hand is to receive your tithe. How holy is that? Jesus intercedes and all that. But the reality is that he’s there to receive tithes. The tithe has always been holy to me and my wife. It’s always had a preciousness to it that we didn’t understand. (Digression on his buying a house.) Look at Malachi 3. (He reads from there.) The church usually sees not tithing as a curse. So we say that the one who gets saved but had no curse before comes under a curse at his conversion unless he tithes! But that’s not what it’s saying. God’s just stating there to try the tithe out in order to be financially blessed. (Digression on hunting.) The tithe is more about thanking God for what he has done. The offering is for what he’s going to do. That’s why you need to pay your tithe and give towards this building thing. What will return to you? It’s not about that. It’s a heart issue. Maybe I just had too much lazagna last nite, but I think I have a message for the whole body of Christ. (Anecdotes follow about people receiving money because of tithing.) I never push people to give. It’s not about giving 10%. It’s about keeping the tithe holy. If it’s a law to you, keep your money. But if you honor God with your tithe, watch God begin to work for you! (He calls the worship team up and gets the tithe going.) 2 Chronicles 31: This is what I’m believing for this church (meaning that the leaders be taken care of financially.) ‘Well, I’m not being fed at this church!’ Well maybe that’s your problem! not the pastor’s problem! Tithe, and you’ll get fed! Pastors should not have to be more concerned with meeting their budget than preparing their Sunday morning messages! Maybe it’s more about you than your pastor! You tithe, Jesus receives it, you receive back, the church prospers, God is honored. It’s a cool situation. There is virtually nothing in the New Testament on the tithe. But there is nothing in the New Testament about worship either. So where do we go to get our patterns? The Old Testament. I believe I’ve delivered a message that will rock your house personally.

Remarks: It is perhaps impossible to draw up a coherent summary of a scatterbrained message like this without being guilty of being too gracious. Our summary may feel disconnected in thought. But the sermon audio that our summary is based on is much worse. There is absolutely no boundary in this recording between what we might call a ‘message’ and the idle talk that runs right through it. The sermon never begins nor ends. It just drifts in and out like a mist. All we could do is to make the summary reflect what we have heard: a chitchat about money with some verses of Scripture crookedly dropped in to get the congregation to empty its pockets. Whoever listens to this recording will notice that we have been gracious, perhaps to a fault, in the summary. Our remarks will be an attempt to capture more of the fullness of this recording’s emptiness and sinister tone. There are just three things in it that we can find to commend the Speaker for. He has a manly voice. He has reproved his congregation in the States for high-fiving and texting during the service. And one of his observations on Scripture seems to impart light: the windows of heaven being opened is more impressive when we consider that ancient windows consisted of flaps of wood, not panes of glass. Ordinarily, no one who loves God and his word would bother commenting on a prattling, impious message like this. That some poor persons felt compelled by it to tithe their money and give their offering (both are required by this pastor) into profane hands might make it worthwhile to tackle. Preventing further hucksterism is a good work where tithing is solicited by an unholy freeloader. That pastor who makes a living preaching earthly, sensual, devilish garbage (James 3.15) instead of heavenly manna is not worth his wages: he is a freeloader. Maybe this visiting pastor should study instead of getting his message ‘downloaded’ from the spirit world! 

Mr. Johnson’s method is to jump quickly from Scripture verse to Scripture verse. By doing so he does in fact convince the shallow-thinking or prosperity-conditioned listener that he gathers a lot of support for deserving compliance to his appeals for money. But no Scripture is given enough attention and respect by this man to certify his authority to, and to yield any obedience from, the circumspect listener. The people we hear laughing at his lewd comments and chuckling at his insults are obviously too ignorant of truth to spot a sham or else too weak in grace to resist the swindler’s intimidating manner. We pity them for getting squeezed out of their money. Some of them, at least, must have given with a heavy heart of suspicion. It’s not easy to resist following the crowd and be left unwilling all by yourself. Peer pressure is one of the hottest pressure cookers the devil can use to melt the soul into a wicked conformity. Thankfully for us, we are not in the CD, only listening to it. Otherwise the heat of the moment might have melted our resolve against error too. You could wish, though, that people would get up and leave at the first sign of trouble in a meeting like this, before the atmosphere of deceit and force closes in. You could hope, also, that after leaving they would vow never to return to be tempted like this again. What do we say when people are tempted but do not escape? Was a way of escape made for them? Why did they stay? Why do they come back? Those who stayed to get harangued and fleeced did so out of ignorance or weakness, maybe both. Right near the beginning, Mr. Johnson commands the congregation to repeat statements like these: ‘It’s God’s will that I’m healed’ and ‘My marriage is great.’ Now, if cognizant of the error going on in this, then the conforming people must be weak. If they are strong enough to resist conformity, then they might just be ignorant of this being a fault. But whether weak or ignorant, their sin was extorted through trickery. And we’ll get to that. But first, notice the exact words they are told to repeat: ‘It’s God’s will that I’m healed.’ That would be bad enough to repeat an assertion of future healing. But it is the assertion of present healing that is repeated. Any sick person repeating this is lying. Any healthy person is complicit in that lie because he is moving his neighbor, by his own peer-pressure participation, to so speak. Stating your marriage is great when it’s falling apart is to speak a lie. Anyone repeating ‘I am prosperous’ when he can’t pay his bills is lying too. What’s going on in these repetitive affirmations is the ‘word of faith’ practice of calling your wishes into existence. This heresy is nothing different from, and no more effectual than, the lying affirmations that are done before the mirror by those who are desperate to overcome inferiority complexes. Such people are usually made fun of for speaking lying vanities to their mirror-image. But charismatics practicing the same inanities are the last ones who should laugh at a foolish, futile exercise like that. What they do by the ‘word of faith’ is the same thing. This lying is no small sin. “He that speaketh lies shall not escape” (Proverbs 19.5) and “he that speaketh lies shall perish” (Proverbs 19.9.) One of the seven things that are an abomination to the LORD is ‘a lying tongue’ (Proverbs 6.17.) The Bible is meant to be applied. And so “the leaders [Mr. Huizing and Mr. Johnson] of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed” (Isaiah 9.16.) The Psalmist prays against this very thing for the good of his soul: “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties” (Psalm 141.4.) How fitting is that? Hopefully, many persons whose pastors teach the practice of lying will read this. Suppose you are one of these persons who repeats things that are untrue. Do you think these verses just quoted mean what they say? Or is God a liar too? ‘I believe the Bible’ is one of the setup phrases Mr. Johnson gets the people to repeat. But if these repeaters truly believed the Bible, would they, in the very next breath, repeat an untruth? If you say or have said, that you believe the Bible, why do you so willingly participate in stating lies? What does your belief in the Bible amount to when you think so little of practicing what it condemns? These are valid questions, not hasty assumptions. Mr. Johnson is wily enough to begin with phrases he wants repeated that are readily assented to by churchgoers, like ‘I believe the Bible.’ Then right away he comes out with a phrase that will no doubt be untrue to many, and before the people know what they’re doing they’re repeating lies without thinking. They are tricked into lying. The pastor has the greater sin. But lying is a sin, even if you are tricked into it. Call it a thoughtless fib, call it what you will, but it’s still an ugly violation of the ninth commandment. In churches with pastors like this, the people “consider not that they do evil” (Ecclesiastes 5.1.) ‘Be more ready to hear’ (hear intelligently, perceive) before you obey. Then you may avoid giving ‘the sacrifice of fools.’ The sin of a rash mouth is ‘before God’ (verse 2.)

A man who beguiles others into lying is worse than a liar, being the instigator of it. Like Satan, he is the father of lies. Mr. Johnson is that kind of father. We don’t have to dig deep to uncover a lie done by him. Some of his lies are right on the surface for all to look at and be disgusted by. How anyone could be blind to such noticeable darkness is hard to get your mind around! You’d think that such a black sin would clash with the whiteness of the ministerial office so much as to be a revelation to everyone! He says that tithing is not about the return you hope to get from God. Soon after this he relates a series of short stories that are designed to generate hope in this very kind of consequence from tithing! To beguile in this way, or to state one thing in principle and then teach its opposite by narrative, is a lie. This is a surface lie—easy to spot. Surface lies like this are necessary in order to shore up support for the big, central lie. He states that the tithe is holy, which is true. But his whole fifty-minute talk is a defense, or apologetic, for greed. His interpretation of the tithe is a greedy one, not a holy one. From Malachi 3 it can be made to look like the LORD of hosts is urging people to give simply to receive a return. But if you look closely at that passage it should be obvious that what is being taught is a consequential blessing from giving, yes, but not a blessing on account of any mere sake of giving. The blessing is on account of the holy living and repentance that underlie the holy tithe. “Return unto me, and I will return to you” (Malachi 3.7.) This is the fundamental ‘return’ of that text. And it is exactly the kind of return that pastors like this and the people under their sway need most of all to hear and to put into effect, their present focus being on the earthly, monetary, moth corrupting things of our present, dying, transient world. They need to repent and get their eyes on God, Jesus, and eternity. And the blessing that accrues in the account of the saintly giver is now (for we are not Jews of the Old Testament) ‘treasures in heaven,’ not stuff on earth to satisfy our lower nature by. Mr. Johnson complains of pastors being criticized for preaching on finances, then responds, “But I say, ‘let it rock n’ roll’” That says it all, really. He is a greed-centered teacher, not grace-centered like a pastor should be. A grace-centered pastor would have preached repentance from that passage in Malachi, not financial reward. Early on in this vexatious monologue he makes a big deal about how the recession was threatening to oblige him to lay off some of his staff. He kind of leaves it at that except to say that his offerings increased on account of his tithing. Later, very quickly and abruptly, he admits that ‘we do this’ and then received, by which he means, either that the practice of the holy tithe increased the offerings, or that staff were indeed laid off and so the increase came about through money freed up. It’s really unclear what is being communicated in that spot. But we would not be surprised that this ‘increase’ he speaks of came from the staff no longer having to be paid. It’s a guess; we admit it. Our suspicions and the ambiguity of his communication justify our mentioning it. Nevertheless, we have plainly shown the man to be a liar and a money-oriented interpreter of Scripture. Since he is infinitely far beneath the standard of blamelessness that the Bible commands him to be at, he does not deserve the benefit of any doubt whatsoever.

The members of this congregation are far from guiltless victims in this visiting pastor’s ploy to get their money into ‘buckets’ at the front of the church. They laugh when the pastor admits that ‘what’s in it for me?’ is a key question for him in his approach to Scripture. They seem okay with him making a lewd comment about having wanted a certain woman in a carnal way. His imitations of how tithing should not be done in unholy ways are themselves unholy. But they’re okay with that too. As near as we can tell with a careful ear, his unholiness is never checked nor bemoaned by the people, except perhaps for a sprinkling of murmurs once. His irreverence toward God in the stories of himself they seem quite comfortable with. In fact, he praises them for receiving ‘politically incorrect’ stories more readily than his own congregation does. The people at Family of Faith have their own measure of unholiness (though we’re convinced that it can’t quite measure up to this visiting pastor’s.) And by their own desire for the wealth that this pastor boasts of in his air of pretended humility, they are drawn in to put both the tithe and the offering into unclean, money-grabbing hands. They want the tree-lined lane too; they want to be able to buy the big house over the phone; they want the fountain out in front, the acres out back, and the shop to put the Harley in; and so they try to believe that by giving they will get. By sowing like the big tither himself, they will reap what the big tither reaped—this is their deluded hope. If churchgoers could know for sure—I mean infallibly—that getting does not follow from greed-motivated giving, then snakish pastors like this would curl up in the most obscure corners and their ministries would begin to dry up and die for the good of all of us. A good indicator that his interpretation of the tithe is false is in how he came by his conviction to buy the house he brags about. He says that by keeping the tithe holy the windows of heaven were opened to show him what he should have. Just think about this in the large context of what’s in the Bible. Is God in the habit of opening his windows to show us that we should have stuff? Or does he open the windows to show heavenly truths? What did he show Peter? Creeping things that Peter should eat, not luxury items for Peter to enjoy; a message that abased him, not a message that puffed him up (Acts 10.) God did not show this proud pastor that he should have this house; much less did he show him this on account of his wonderful tithing! Mr. Johnson complains that pastors should not have to worry about meeting the bills so they can concentrate on their sermons instead. But the Bible forbids anxiety for necessities, doesn’t it? At the very least, the pastor could put the sermon first, then the worry. Or why doesn’t a pastor sell his million-dollar house to pay the bills? Or even better, why doesn’t he just speak ‘words of faith’ into the air to take care of it all? While the ‘word of faith’ takes care of the matter, he could speak on something more important than mammon! No, you see, he can’t do that because the only things that work for false prophets are deception and pressure. No matter how far Mr. Johnson’s offerings back home are up, who will believe that he preached for free on this occasion? Or who will believe that he came for any holier reason than getting money into Mr. Huizing’s coffers? ‘Maybe that’s your problem’ is his answer to anyone who might complain of not getting fed in church. He’s hoping the listeners will interpret this materially and then give money to get money back. But they should know that the pastor who does not feed the flock the deep things of God deserves to handle no tithe at all. If we ought to be on guard against the professing Christian who, like the hypocritical Pharisees did, attempts to ‘serve God and mammon’ (Luke 16.13), then how much more should we be wary of the pastor of a church who serves mammon alone? This ‘hired gun’ brought in by Mr. Huizing to force his people to hand over their money for some ‘building thing’ and whatnot seems even more of a false shepherd than the man who invited him! But we wouldn’t be too dogmatic about that, for who is guiltier, the one who fleeces, or the one who paves the way for his own people to be fleeced? What’s the difference, anyway, between fleecing by your own sly message, or through some other person’s devious rant? There is so little of God about these two men, if we take for our guide this message and the other three by Mr. Huizing that we have biblically scrutinized, that without a hum or a haw we can say that there is not a speck of grace detectable in both of them together! This is supposed to be a message ‘that will rock your house personally.’ For sure, it will rock your house in more ways than one: it’ll rock your wallet (in a bad way) if you believe it; but more ominously, if you believe it your faith will be rocked because this message is a sort of antichrist; it is unchristian. Jesus cannot and will not approve of mammon-centered religion; he is not receiving any tithe from givers who go about tithing through the dark prism of what they can gain materially from it, for the tithe of greed must be unholy. We have to wonder about the hearts of givers who give on the basis of greed because greedy behavior seems like the conduct of people who are, at bottom, irreligious. We’re not saying that every person taken in by flattery and bombast is unsaved. But the question must be raised. Those who cave in to pressure and intimidation and can give money to men like Mr. Johnson with nothing but a heavy heart, they might have grace. It’s possible. And those who give but not just to get back, they might be in a saved state. That too is possible. At best, in giving in to the appeals of a man like this, or in giving with an eye to receiving something back, the giver is acting, in the words of Paul, ‘as carnal.’ And he should be reproved by someone. Do not be persuaded by anecdotes that giving-to-get works. In our Western world, money eventually comes from somewhere at some time. The money in the mail is not because of how much money you gave in church to a man like this. In fact, had you not given to ministries like those governed by Mr. Huizing and Mr. Johnson, you would have both the money you gave and the money that followed after. You would be richer, not poorer. Now God is gracious. He might bail you out if you gave where you should not have given. But you are responsible to know better than to give to false prophets. If you continue, without scrutiny, to give to them, he may allow you, because of your irresponsibility, to lose your money and that’s that. When tithing begins to be an act of giving for the purpose of financial return, it ceases to be a holy act, for the motive is earthly instead of godly. Selfish giving, how can this be God-ward giving? This idea that you can’t out-give God is a dangerous precept to put into practice when giving is selfish and carnal, for carnal giving is not giving to God in the first place. Giving to get is just an attempt to give to yourself. Will God out-give that kind of giver? The concept that you can’t out-give God is not meant by godly givers to be taken in a mathematical, calculating way. The concept is that God will take care of those who, from a state of grace and a willing, cheerful heart, perform acts of mercy. Believe it, that is no act of mercy to trust your money to men like Mr. Huizing and Mr. Johnson!  

So focused on material riches is Mr. Johnson that sweeping statements most false, perhaps from the foundation of the first church, are uttered by him in order to fixate listeners to his carnal doctrine. There is virtually nothing on worship in the New Testament, he proudly claims. Isn’t that interesting? For starters, the word ‘worship’ in one grammatical form or other, occurs over 70 times there. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4.24.) There is a precept on worship (and a good one for charismatic folks, for they usually worship in spirit at the expense of truth, and what kind of spirit is that?) Furthermore, it is common knowledge even among babes that the Corinthian letters were written to instruct carnal-acting Christians how to worship properly. And here is a sweeping statement that you need not be afraid of believing: virtually every part of the whole Bible, either by direction, lamentation, genealogy, poetry, example, practical application, or narrative disobedience, is a manual for worship! Mr. Johnson knows, or knows his audience knows, that the New Testament does not enforce tithing in any legalistic fashion like he hopes to enforce. So he resorts to trying to sweep the New Testament away (except, of course, for the story of the coin in the mouth of the fish) while he keeps instead to distortions of the Old Testament to put his evil theories into effect. Like Mr. Huizing, he must worship that fish! or rather the coin that was found inside it! and so turn a lovely lesson-giving miracle into some sort of golden goose! Regarding worship, a fitting word for these men is, “Ye worship ye know not what” (John 4.22.) About what the Spirit supposedly showed Mr. Johnson, let’s show again, this time by another apostle, that it is at odds with the truth. We know that this vision (or whatever) is phony just by the spirit of it, or we should say, by the stuff inside it. The apostle Paul was shown something from heaven. And what did he tell us? “Of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities” (2 Corinthians 12.5.) What else besides?—: reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses for Christ’s sake (verse 10.) What did Mr. Johnson come out of his experience speaking of?—: his million dollar house, his fountain, his tree-lined drive, his five acres, and his Harley! Are these two spiritual experiences not just a little different in their effect? What Paul was shown humbled him. But what Mr. Johnson saw filled him with pride. Why the difference? The difference is between a real experience with God and a hoax, or between a vision from God and a carnal dream, or between the windows of heaven and Satan’s lair, and certainly between true religion and false. Mr. Huizing’s religion does not fair any better, what with his ‘7Ms of Ministry’ on that sheet of paper that came with the CD, which includes such exalted M’s as ‘marketing,’ ‘man power,’ and ‘money.’ What a mockery of ministry when such M’s as mantle, monuments, and mercies could have been lifted, even from just a mini concordance!      

Conclusion: The narrator for the CD’s promo states that the vision of Family of Faith is to ‘reach our region with quality teaching.’ But consider: God is only working for you when you get some monetary or material reward for your tithing. This is the thesis of Mr. Johnson’s selfish, financial, ungodly speech. Is this ‘quality teaching?’ Even the ministry of Christ (and therefore his person too) is reduced to servitude of ‘unrighteous mammon’ (Luke 16.11) by this pastor (who’s been the pastor of a church for 28 years!) Is this ‘quality teaching?’ Note where Mr. Johnson’s emphasis lies, “His [Jesus’] priesthood is the intercession for us. But the reality is, he’s compared to Melchizedek in a place where—he says I’m here to receive the tithe” (That’s his broken speech, not ours.) You see, it’s this ‘reality’ that really counts for Mr. Johnson. This interceding and all that, you know, the office of the High Priest that is done to secure and complete this matter of redemption, that’s nothing compared to this ‘reality’! And here is the ‘reality’ of Christ’s priesthood, according to Mr. Johnson: that he is bound to give an earthly reward for selfish giving. Is this the practice of tithing to Christ? of laying up treasures in heaven? This is no tithe at all. It’s just a poverty-resulting exercise on your part, and a profitable enterprise for the huckster who handles this kind of ‘tithe.’ Melchizedek, if this pastor would care to crack open his New Testament, did not just exist to receive tithes. And neither does Jesus exist for the likewise purpose. Melchizedek’s existence is to foreshadow the office of Jesus as High Priest outside the order of Aaron, which therefore means, a ministry for, and applicable to, any and all who believe in his name, no matter what their status or stripe. The way is open to anyone willing to believe. And never mind that bit by Mr. Johnson about sinners not bearing a curse prior to conversion. Until conversion, every sinner stands condemned (John 3.18.) We should have a right to hope, since this truth occurs so close to the universally known 3.16, that a pastor would have learned at least that!

Many critics outside the church, be they cynics, skeptics, or open unbelievers, are entirely correct about a certain churchgoing crowd being na├»ve and brainwashed into surrendering their hard-earned salaries to money-begging ministers. The scenario in the mammon-ministries of our day resembles a certain obscure, gloomy situation spoken of by Zechariah the prophet: “Thus saith the LORD my God; feed the flock of the slaughter; whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, blessed be the LORD; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not” (Zechariah 11.4, 5.) Even without exposition or meditation, there is just something about this passage that eerily mirrors the situation in churches where mammon-mongers rule. And hear Matthew Henry on this: “It is ill for a church when its pastors can look upon the ignorant, the foolish, the wicked, the weak, without pity. The sentence of God’s wrath passed upon them for their stupidity. And, as their shepherds pitied them not, so they did not bemoan themselves…Those who are willing to have their consciences oppressed by those who teach for doctrines the commandments of men are often punished by oppression in their civil interests, and justly, for those forfeit their own rights who tamely give up God’s rights.” How perfectly applicable this is! and not only to this congregation, but to so many others! As for false shepherds, they can be cut off by the LORD in one month, as it says further on in verse 8; and since the life of a man is no longer in the eyes of God than the length of time it takes for a flower to fade, this prophecy will hold true even if these counterfeit shepherds continue to deceive and dispossess for more than another actual month. It’s a pain to have them in pulpits now; but we pray for better in the midst of our pain. Preaching cannot become more materialistic or money-centered than what goes on in churches like this one. Hopefully, things can only get better. The shinier these pulpits may yet appear because of the dung that presently covers them.

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