This, I suspect, will not be a popular post.
I’m going to talk about money.
I’m not going to talk about giving, so many of you will let out a small gasp of relief.
I am going to talk about the pursuit and accumulation of wealth.
I have a suspicion, which is probably well-founded, that when Y’shua (Jesus) returns it will be in somewhat similar circumstances (spiritually speaking) to when He began His ministry. Back then, in the late 20s AD, the practice of worshipping and following God had broken down from what Torah (the law of Moses) had prescribed. They had over-analysed every single word and built man-made religion from the interpretations of what they thought it all meant. For 400 years, the Hebrews had been without a prophet – a man who was standing in the gap between heaven and earth. It was the job of the prophet to give the people revelation of God. And, because there was no revelation from God, they focused upon dissecting everything they had and making new laws. This is natural. This is what happens in the absence of God – men revert to religion.
By the time John the Baptist arrived on the scene, Judaism was widely followed, even though it was divided. In Hebrew culture four sects had grown up out of the silence from God. With no prophet and no king, it had been left to the priests. The priests were corrupt. God’s last prophet before the 400 years of silence was Malachi. Read the book carefully, it is only short, but packed full of the true state that the Hebrews were in spiritually. It shows you exactly what God thought of the way they worshipped Him.
The four sects that rose up out of the silence were the Pharisees – a hard lined political party and self-appointed guardians of the old way of doing things; the Sadducees who represented the upper echelons of social and economic Hebrew society, and whom embraced more modern philosophies and ideas; the Essenes – a humble community based sect who had charged themselves with preserving and studying the written word of God (Tanakh), and from whom John the Baptist was likely a member; and the Zealots whom came into being during the 1st century AD in order to incite rebellion against Roman occupation.
It was primarily against the first two of these sects that Y’shua spoke against and challenged, particularly in the way they had burdened the people trying to follow God with the rules and customs of the oral Torah (the rules that man had added to God’s law). The Temple priesthood had been infiltrated by members of both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. There is some indication that even the Zealots had been within the priesthood. The Essenes remained remote, however, choosing a life unpolluted by the ways of the world.
I wrote in a recent post (Prophet Vs Profit) that in the person of Y’shua was God’s final revelation; that the role of the Holy Spirit was (partly) to help us who believe the message, gain a deeper understanding of who God truly is. I think that we don’t truly understand this today. In fact, I think it has been an awful long time since we did truly understand it. I suspect, that like the Hebrews in the four centuries that led up to the coming of Y’shua, that we once again started to over-analyse what we had. From the 2nd century AD, and the demise of the original disciples and apostles, there appears that we figured that God had stopped speaking again, and we started to created sects of our own.
Today, you could say, that we have four sects, all under the umbrella of Christianity, just as the Hebrews did with Judaism. There’s the Catholics; the Orthodox; the Protestants; and the rest who would include the Pentecostals, the Charismatics etc. There is, of course, a new movement – an organisation attempting to unite the rest under the banner of New Apostolic Reformation, but I suspect that God’s not into that either. God wants reconciliation, not division. The moment you start to write down what your sect believes and doesn’t believe, you start to exclude people. We, under the umbrella of Christianity, are divided by Mission Statements and Articles of Faith. We should be united at the foot of the Cross, not fighting about what one verse or another means. These sects, like those of the 1st century, are made by man and not by God.
Now, there are many fine scholars who, over the centuries, have produced definitive histories of the church. I am not going to attempt to challenge anything that they have written on the subject. I just want to give you a little potted church history, based upon a very small amount of research.
I look at the 1st generation church (body of people, not buildings) as being those whom Y’shua taught as disciples; the ones who spent all day, every day in His company, learning His ways. The 2nd generation started on what we refer to as the Day of Pentecost and ended with the death of John the apostle. The 1st generation were all Hebrews, who saw in Torah, the message of God concerning Y’shua. The 2nd generation was principally made up of Hebrews and Proselytes (those who had converted to Judaism), before Gentiles (everyone else) started also to believe.
We can see from the letters of Paul, Peter, and James that during this period there were clearly problems with old customs from Judaism and new customs from Hellenistic (Greek) philosophies, creeping into the church corrupting it. In fact, just about every single letter to the churches included warnings about such infiltration.
After the deaths of the original disciples and apostles, a split developed between those who believed that the customs of Judaism should be part of Christianity, and those who remain true to The Way. Those that believed in Judaism went their own way and the likes of Greek and Russian Orthodoxy grew up from there. What was left, instead of developing a reliance upon the Holy Spirit, started to allow ritual and a more legalistic approach church life. By the third century, and the rise of the emperor Constantine, those that stayed loyal to the teachings of Paul and the other apostles, found their faith-based practices consumed into Roman culture. Constantine, in order to keep the support of his pagan subjects, and to win support from the growing Christian movement, merged paganism and Christianity together, simply renaming old pagan gods with new Christian names. This is the birth of Catholicism. For more information on the history of Christianity, it is worth watching the Fuel Project’s excellent series, Know Your Enemy. It is free to watch on YouTube. You can find the playlist list here.
After 500 years or so, during which only the clergy could read the Bible because it was only available in Latin, the reformation began with the spilt in the church and, ultimately, the birth of Protestantism. Of course, Protestantism has done nothing but divide and divide, until we have the mess we do today with an estimated 40,000 different denominations across the globe all claiming to have it right!
And, you will see that my little potted history lacks any real substance. I simply wanted to paint a picture of how every easy it is for men to step in and start making new laws in the absence of revelation from God. But, let me be clear on this, God hasn’t stopped speaking. To those who are prepared to humble themselves before Him, the Holy Spirit is available for a deeper understanding of whom He truly is. It all points to Y’shua. How any of today’s sects believe that they are actually pointing towards Y’shua is beyond me. My post today is designed to show just how far from the reservation these sects (and, therefore all of us) have wandered.
Protestantism gave birth to much. Not only do we have a plethora of denominations, but it also spawned political and economic systems that are still in existence today. Whilst I agree entirely with its challenge on Catholicism, the children it birthed are not so agreeable. Possibly the most disagreeable of whom is the Protestant Work Ethic.
The Protestant Work Ethic linked prosperity to salvation with concepts like providence being a sign of divine favour. I am all for working hard – there is nothing quite so satisfying as a hard day’s work. However, once the link between prosperity and salvation was made, it gave rise to a social and political hierarchy. Clearly, what Y’shua taught was that all men are equal before God. What Protestantism taught was that if God loves you, He will show His love with providence and prosperity in your lives. Of course, by a natural (and fleshy)deduction, it follows that the pursuit and accumulation of wealth is further proof that God loves you, and should be encouraged. Sound familiar? It should do. It is at the very root of the teaching of the Word of Faith movement, who all promote the message that God intends for us all to prosper financially. God does intend for us all to prosper, but the word prosper (as seen in Jeremiah 29:11) is actually shalom. If you have time, you can read more on this subject in another post on this site entitled Take The Pain. But, just so you know and understand, shalom doesn’t mean to prosper financially. It means spiritual fullness, completeness and peace. It means the wholeness that comes from knowing Y’shua. After all, He alone is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6 – the same word is used here, shalom, as is used in Jeremiah 29:11).
The trouble is these roots, these strongholds of the mind, run deep. Most modern churches are cash-rich. That is to say that they have a considerable amount of money in reserve. They will tell you it is for unseen eventualities. But, it is, in reality, because they lack faith in God to provide for them, so they provide for themselves. They put their trust into worldly treasures, instead of the things of heaven. Let me give you an example of the sort of thing I mean. Churches have stopped relying upon God for provision – instead they rely upon people and man-made institutions.
During the process of setting up Cornerstone, we were told by several different church leaders that we need to get charitable status; that Cornerstone had to be a registered charity. And you listen to them, after all they know what they are talking about, right? Well, I’m not so sure these days, that they do. I think that their wisdom has its roots in the Protestant Work Ethic of providence being a sign of divine favour. But, when you examine what Y’shua had to say about wealth and the pursuit of it, there exists a dichotomy.
One way in which modern churches have gotten around this dichotomy is to set up their churches in a very business-like manner and use the charitable status to legitimise all that they do. Let me show you exactly what I mean.
In the UK the government allows charities to exist. Any charity that has a yearly of income of less than £5000 isn’t required to be registered with the Charities Commission. However, any charity that does have an income in excess of £5000 per annum must be registered. All good. The rules are there to protect the people who donate to charity. If the charity is registered, then it has to submit its accounts, and rules of its charity, to the Charities Commission. This is to create transparency. It is a good thing. The chances are, that if you attend a church that belongs to a major denomination or has a significant congregation, it will be a registered charity. You can go to the Charities Commission’s website and look up any charitable organisation in the UK and read their policies and their declared income.
Now with non-religious charities, all the work that they do is the reason for their existence. And because of this, the government has created a series of tax based incentives designed to encourage NGOs (Non Government Organisations) to do the work that the government doesn’t want to do. That might be child poverty or women’s refuges or, well there’s plenty of dirty jobs out there that the government are happy for others to raise their own money to finance doing. It is worth noting that only one hundred years ago nearly all such charitable work was carried out, almost exclusively, by churches, without any help from government. Churches ran schools, hospitals, orphanages, alms for the poor, and countless other tasks all now run by government or secular NGOs.
One of the tax incentives that you will, I am sure, be aware of is called Gift Aid. This means that if a UK taxpayer gives to your registered charity the government will give your charity back the tax which has already been paid on your income. This is 25% of what you gave. So, to be clear, if you gave £100 to your church last month and they are a registered charity, they will claim back from the government a very tidy additional £25 to swell their charity coffers. All good. Except, that you might want to ask yourself just how much charitable work your church is actually doing.
My experience is that many churches have this status exclusively for the Gift Aid facility. Few churches are like the NGOs whose work is 100% charitable. My guess is, at best, that only 25% of what most churches do could be truly deemed as charitable. The charitable work that many churches do is entirely evangelistic – they expect a harvest from it of more people to fill their seats. The financial function of most churches is merely to maintain the institution that they have built. I am not aware of any church with a charitable status of whose work is 100% charitable. I am probably wrong and happy to be proved wrong. Most happy, in fact. But my point is this:
If we claim to be a charity in order to reclaim Gift Aid, and we do not put at least that portion of our income to truly charitable purposes, then all we are doing is ultimately a tax avoidance scheme.
But, do you see just how subtle the money issue is? We dress ourselves up as charities in order to appease the world. We claim back the money that such a privilege allows. Then we do little in the way of real, genuine charity. That makes us frauds in my book; deceived by the money-god into thinking that because we have a healthy bank account, God must loves us. The truth is that God loves us all, regardless of our bank balances! It’s true!
We don’t need to toil to attain the favour of God, we just need to believe. That is our only requirement.
Today, we run churches like businesses. We have taken a model of a business from the world that has been tailored to appease the consciences of the Trustees of our registered charities, and the boards of our churches. One church that I was a part of had hundreds of thousands of pounds in the bank, which they called reserves. Reserves for what? They could defeat poverty in their town within a year if they gave it to other charities who are already doing the work that they should be doing.
Where in the Bible does it say that we should set up churches as businesses? Where does it say that we should try to avoid paying tax? Where does it say that it is ok to misrepresent ourselves to the public by claiming to be something we are not? Truth is, it doesn’t. We are called, all of us, to be holy, and beyond all reproach. Using gray areas of the law of the land to swell our coffers is neither holy, nor beyond reproach.
If the Charities Commission decided to do a intrusive audit of your churches finances, what would they find? Do you even know how much your church has in reserve? What would happen if the government decided to stop Gift Aid, or take back what your church had claimed if they couldn’t demonstrate true charitable works?
I believe that we are called to something a great deal higher than working the system for what we can get. I believe we are called, by God, to unlike anything in the world. The business model has no place in scripture. We have allowed man-made rules to take the place of revelation from the Holy Spirit. In the second chapter of the gospel of John, we see the example that Y’shua sets towards the ways of the world which pollute the ways of God. Y’shua sat and patiently made a whip of cords before driving out those who had made man-made rules that promoted the profit from acts of worship. We are doing exactly the same way. Be careful not to give God a reason to come and turn your tables over and drive out those who run churches like a business.
If you want to do good works then start a charity, but don’t call it a church. If you want to start a church, then do good works in line with your repentance. James says that works without faith are dead and so too are faith without works (James 2). God calls us all to trust in Him for provision. Those who tell themselves that God is providing through the Gift Aid system are deceived. He wants us to trust in Him, not in man-made schemes.
Y’shua gave away everything His Father gave Him. So should we. If we are not fulfilling that role and we are hoarding wealth, then how is that trusting in God?
When Y’shua came and challenged the sects of the day, He told them all to turn back to God; to trust in God, and to stop trusting in what man had built. Somewhere between then and now, we stopped trusting in God and His Holy Spirit for wisdom and revelation and turned to the false gods of religion and prosperity for their conventional wisdom.
We are in a very similar position today, as the Hebrews were during Y’shua’s earthly walk. We have made sects because we stopped seeking God. The disciples of the 2nd generation church only had the Holy Spirit to guide them in all things. These used scripture (the Old Testament) to see the person of Y’shua revealed. They didn’t have big Bibles under their arms or apps on their phones to help them. They learned how to trust in God, faithfully. It is time that we stopped being like the world – God doesn’t want you to follow a business plan for planting a new church. He wants you to follow Him. He doesn’t want you to set up a charity just to get the Gift Aid – that’s almost stealing.
He wants all of us, not just the leaders of the churches, to stop trusting in man-made institutions such as business models or political beliefs. Greed is running rife throughout the church. We welcome it in because it is dressed up in things like the Protestant Work Ethic or other politick ideas that were born from men who broke away from The Way. It is time to get back to The Way; to the Narrow Path.
Jeremiah says this:
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it.” [Jeremiah 6:16]
Shalom (that is spiritual peace, not financial prosperity).