A Second Opinion on that ‘Justification by Tithing’ Sermon

This is the final post in a series responding to a sermon given by a local Purpose Driven pastor. The first examined the astonishing claim that ‘Faith is giving when I don’t have it’. The second corrected a gross misinterpretation of Hebrews 11:4 that taught works righteousness and justification by tithing. The third highlighted from the Gen. 4 account of Cain and Abel’s offerings the contrast between works-righteousness and grace through faith.

Astute readers may have noticed that my previous three posts have all focused on one very small portion of a sermon preached at Living Hope Community Church, here in the sunny* Isle of Man. Could so many fundamental errors really have arisen in such a short segment? Have I been unfair in claiming that the 44 minutes of this alleged sermon on faith ‘achieved the remarkable feat of avoiding any mention of the proper object of Christian faith: Christ, and His life, death and resurrection for sinners’?

Well, my wife of 19 years and partner in crime suggested to me that this sermon was sufficiently notable that it might even be of interest to Chris Rosebrough of the Fighting for the Faith programme on Pirate Christian Radio. His on-air verdict? Well, you’ll have to listen to find out…

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Cain and Abel, Law and Gospel

This is the third post in a series responding to a sermon given by a local Purpose Driven pastor. The first examined the astonishing claim that ‘Faith is giving when I don’t have it’. The second corrected a gross misinterpretation of Hebrews 11:4 that taught works righteousness and justification by tithing.

With the understanding gained from the previous two posts, we now turn to the Genesis 4 account of Cain and Abel. We shall see so clearly there the contrast between faith and works.

First though, here is a longer extract from the Purpose Driven sermon we have been examining, showing the wider context of the errors previously refuted:

The fourth attribute of faith is this: faith is giving when I don’t have it.

Now you’re discovering why the pastors are so uptight.

‘Now by faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith, he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.’

Both offerings were acceptable. They were the first fruits of the land for Cain. And the first fruits of the flock for Abel. They were good offerings. But what made them acceptable to God was the way in which they were given: one man giving out of a sense of duty; one man giving out of a sense of the love that he had for his God.

[Anecdote about a boy with his hand stuck in a vase because he will not let go of the coin within.]

You see, all too often that is our attitude as well. We cling to the riches of the world. I’m sure that many of you tithe to the church. And that’s great. But when faith is exercised, our attitude shifts from being like the attitude of Cain, who gave out of a sense of duty – give 10%, it’s your tithe, forget it. We want to see faith giving, like Abel, that is generous, that is of the heart, because we want to invest in what God is doing. We want to be like the widow who gave when she had nothing. And sometimes when we hold the riches of the world in our hands, we are just like the little boy [of the previous anecdote]. We’re trapped. But when we let go, we can experience true freedom.

From time-to-time, you probably hear Jonathan [the lead pastor] – most of the time you’ll probably hear Jonathan – harping on about tithing. And that’s a good thing. So he should.

But Abel offered the first fruits. He gave the best of what he had to God. And it was credited to him as righteousness. You see, tithing is not about impressing your friends. It’s not about satisfying some form of guilt. Tithing is about giving the best of what you have to a God who sees that as righteous. As credible.

We can encourage faith giving. Let’s not even call it tithing. Let’s give from our faith. That is what generosity really is.

It is a wonderful thing for Christians to give willingly. ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor. 9:7). ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). But Christians are under no duty to tithe, let alone to give what they do not have. True Christian giving is voluntary, arising from a pure Gospel motivation: we love much because we have been loved so greatly. Yet there was no Gospel in this sermon. Nothing at all about Christ and His loving work for us.

My intent, though, is not to focus on the burdensome exhortations to giving evidenced here and sadly predominating throughout the last third of the sermon. (The seeker-sensitive mute the Law and veil the Gospel for fear of giving offence, yet they are nevertheless proud to solicit money through the most guileful of means. Those who cite the widow who gave all she had would do well also to recall Jesus’ immediately preceding words concerning those who devour widows’ houses.)

Rather, the purpose of this post is to see what we can learn from the account of Cain and Abel’s offerings. Is it true that Cain gave ‘out of a sense of duty’, whereas Abel ‘out of a sense of the love that he had for his God’? Is giving-out-of-duty versus giving-out-of-love really the distinction taught by Genesis 4?

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Christ, Our Exceedingly Great Reward

This is the second post in a series responding to a sermon by a local Purpose Driven pastor. The first part, Justified by Faith, Apart from Works, may be of interest to readers for establishing context.

It is not, I think, entirely unreasonable to be alarmed by a sermon that teaches justification by tithing, no matter how affable the preacher:

But Abel offered the first fruits. He gave the best of what he had to God. And it was credited to him as righteousness. You see, tithing is not about impressing your friends. It’s not about satisfying some form of guilt. Tithing is about giving the best of what you have to a God who sees that as righteous.

The primary claim in this allusion to Hebrews 11:4 is that Abel’s offering of his best to God was credited to him as righteousness. In other words, this is an assertion that Abel was justified (that is, declared righteous) by his works.

My previous post, Justified by Faith, Apart from Works, demonstrated the biblical impossibility of such an interpretation, and emphasized the necessity of distinguishing between faith and works. I plan for my next post to look more closely at the Genesis 4 account of Cain and Abel. First though, we must understand Hebrews 11:4:

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.

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Justified by Faith, Apart from Works

I recently listened to a train wreck of a sermon by a local Purpose Driven pastor. In his 44 minutes on the subject of faith, he achieved the remarkable feat of avoiding any mention of the proper object of Christian faith: Christ, and His life, death and resurrection for sinners.

The pastor defined faith by a number of its purported attributes. The fourth was this:

Faith is giving when I don’t have it.

Let’s leave aside the aspect of ‘giving when I don’t have it’, problematic though that is. There is a more fundamental error lurking in this statement.

Notice that the pastor does not say that faith results in my ‘giving when I don’t have it’. Neither does he state that ‘the kind of faith that justifies produces a desire to give’. Rather, he asserts that faith is giving. This is to confuse faith with the fruit of faith, namely the works that faith produces.

Though it might at first seem as if I am splitting hairs, maintaining the distinction between faith and works – especially with respect to justification – is foundational to a proper understanding of biblical Christianity (cf. the epistles to the Romans, Galatians, etc.). This distinction was a lynchpin of the Reformation. Against the Reformers’ emphasis on justification by grace alone (unmerited favour) through faith alone (apart from works), Rome erroneously insisted that justification is ‘not by faith alone, which some incorrectly teach, but faith that works through love’ (see the Pontifical Confutation of the Augsburg Confession).

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Enough! Scripture twisting is not ‘doctrinal and sound’

Much of modern evangelicalism seems to be fixated upon the idea that we can only progress as individual Christians and the church if we are pursing a dream or vision. This tendency is epitomized in these two claims:

Nothing happens till somebody starts dreaming. What we need today are great dreamers.

Those words occur not on the website of some ‘best-life-now’ life coach, but, rather surprisingly, in a post over at the Desiring God website:

There we are given the command to ‘Let God stretch your imagination’ and told that ‘Nothing happens till somebody starts dreaming. What we need today are great dreamers.’

Now, where exactly does the Bible teach any of this?

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The Purpose Driven Life’s 164 steps to sanctification

I’ve been reading a Lutheran Critique: Rick Warren’s The Purpose Drive Life (PDF, or see an HTML version), following Chris Rosebrough’s glowing recommendation. It really is an incisive review, even if I have yet to be persuaded from Scripture of the Lutheran view of infant Baptism that it espouses at one point. But it would be churlish to fault a Lutheran minister for proclaiming Lutheran doctrine.

The author, Steven R. J. Parks, contrasts the Biblical view of sanctification with that presented by the Purpose Driven Life. He writes:

Thus, man cooperates in his sanctification, but only insofar as he is involved in it. God begins, continues, and completes His work in the redeemed. We do not take the initiative, nor are we even equal partners in the endeavor. Instead, our cooperation is passive, inasmuch as “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

Pastor Bob DeWaay’s visit to ask Rick Warren to preach Christ

Bob DeWaay is pastor at Twin City Fellowship in Minnesota, and founder of Critical Issues Commentary. He is also the author of the superb book Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Life Movement.

In May of 2008, Pastor DeWaay went (at Rick Warren’s invitation) to Saddleback Church. In his account of this visit, Pastor DeWaay nails the only two things that the church offers that people cannot obtain elsewhere:

The final point that I made concerned building a ministry on general revelation (what can be observed in nature as opposed to specific revelation, which is only found in Scripture). I said, “You cannot have a new reformation grounded in general revelation.” His response was, “But Jesus told us to do good works.” My response back was that Christians doing good works do not appear any different than people of other religions doing good works. I then said that the only two things the church has to offer that people cannot get anywhere else are salvation and sanctification. Neither of those can be gained through general revelation.

Pastor DeWaay’s full report of the visit concisely summarises the main problems with Purpose Drivenism. You can read it here:

The Purpose Driven Life: introductory discernment resources

In this post: Rick Warren; The Gospel obscured; Drs. Sproul and Mohler on the errors of seeker-sensitivity; Hostile church takeovers

In his comment on my article, Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation, my father expressed unawareness of the Purpose Driven Life movement.

I know that my father’s claim might appear scarcely credible to some. Yet he lives in deepest darkest Dorsetshire, in a small rural village near the south coast of England. It seems that Rick Warren has yet to reach the local Anglican parish church that my father attends there.

Now, despite the impression that some might have from my postings, I am not especially interested in talking about Rick Warren, criticizing Purpose Drivenism, or even in lamenting the problems readily apparent in today’s evangelical church.

I should much rather be proclaiming the true Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners like me, and raised from the dead for our justification.

It’s just that the errors of modern evangelicalism keep intruding upon my ability to do that, and it turns out that addressing those errors can sometimes be a useful foil for talking about the wonderful riches that are ours in Christ.

Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation

In this post: The defective gospel of the Alpha Course; False assumption 1 – We can judge what is right by whether it ‘works’; False assumption 2 – Growth in church attendance proves God’s blessing; False assumption 3 – A transformed life is proof of salvation; The right way, and the wrong way, to view good works; Bonus comment thread: why the Purpose Driven Life movement is problematic

I was chatting with a good friend last week. He is on the leadership track of a self-described Purpose Driven church, and we have a history of (mostly) amicable sparring over the nature of the Gospel and how it should be proclaimed.

(For anyone unfamiliar with the dangers of the Purpose Driven church movement, I recommend Bob DeWaay’s eminently readable and definitive book on the subject, Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Life Movement.)

Entirely incidental to the topic of our conversation, my friend happened to mention that the home group he leads had been showing a Nicky Gumbel video. Without thinking, I blurted out the mildly disparaging quip ‘Never mind.’