Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Continuity of Giving Tithes and Offerings between the Old Testament and the New

Matthew 6:19-24 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money".

The teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ cuts right through external religious performance and hypocrisy. Men can be very religious, but they cannot sustain a performance of the duty of giving, private communion with God and secret giving as prescribed in Matthew 6:2, Matthew 6:6 and Matthew 6:17.

Fasting, giving and prayer all continue from the Old Testament, as does also the worship of the LORD in the prescribed manner that He requires. Ceremonies, sacrifices and other means, such as the ordained office of Levites do not continue exactly, because the OT was in Shadow, now the reality has come.

Colossians 2:16-17 “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ”.

Hebrews 10:1-2 “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near”.

Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”.

Did you notice that Jesus says “these you ought to have done” and by thus he endorses tithing, but not as a religious performance without the heart. Perhaps the key verse for us to emphasise is “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. This is searching and we must ask ourselves some searching questions? Does your giving to the church reflect biblical principles? Does your giving to the church reflect that your heart is really committed to obeying the Lord and that your giving is a matter of priority and of devotion to the Lord? Religious hypocrites do not like any duties, they only want vague guidance to allow them to do what they will.

As I set forth the binding principle of the tithe upon the new covenant church, you may or may not agree. What you cannot disagree with is Matthew 6:21. Where is your heart? Remember that in Hebrews 8:6 that we have promised a better covenant established on better promises. If a Christian rejects the tithe as binding upon their conscience, then we would expect them to give more than a tenth if they claim to be consistent as a disciple of Jesus Christ. However, this rarely happens in my experience.

The Continuity of Tithes and Offerings

I. Before the Law Came

Genesis 14:17 "After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!'. And Abram gave him a tenth of everything".

We know from the Book of Hebrews that Melchizedek is a type of Christ, but it is not Christ pre-incarnate. Christ Jesus, the eternal Son did not come in Person until his incarnation. Here, we have laid down the clear principle of giving a tenth of everything, as unto God Most High. This was continued through the Patriarchs and this principle was declared by Jacob at his conversion (most likely when it happened) in Genesis 28.

Genesis 28:18-22 “So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

Jacob’s heart was changed and his desire to give to the LORD changed, and the guiding principle is a tenth. This is something anybody can calculate anywhere in the world. If an orange farmer is told a tenth belongs to his owner, he may not be able to read or write but he knows what a tenth is!

II. After the Law Came
Malachi 3:6-12
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts".

This was binding upon the whole nation of Israel and there are several matters for us to consider briefly.

Departing from the LORD and ceasing to give to the LORD’s church in the OT and the new often go together.
How do we return? It is by giving the tenth and contributions, which the LORD says is robbing God, if we do not.
The full tithe is to be brought into the storehouse which was for the provision of the Levites and the temple worship. The tithe was to maintain true worship and this continues into the New Testament.
The Lord says “put me to the test” and he offers blessings. This is in shadow, but the Lord requires giving to his church (not para-church organisations) for the perpetuity of true worship.

In my experience the Christians who are most happy and holy are those who attend morning and evening worship services as the recognition that they delight in the Christian Sabbath and the ones who also tithe in season and out of season. There are times that tithing is a sacrifice, but we do not shrink back at such times.

III. After Jesus Christ Came
There is no biblical evidence that the tithe is discontinued. Some Christians want explicit proof texts before they will do anything, but oftentimes it is not so that they can obey the LORD, it is because they want to release themselves to a life of self-governed freedom. In short rebellion.

Hebrews 7:1-10: “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him".

Tithes/tenth is mentioned seven times here. Why? Jewish Christians were still giving their tithe to the temple worship and the writer is explaining that this should cease and instead it should be brought to the church and to our great high priest who is Jesus Christ.

The pattern continues, with changes.

We bring it primarily on the first day of the week: 1 Cor. 16:1-2, the Lord’s Day
It is brought for the church, not the temple
Jesus Christ is the king of peace and king of righteousness and we anticipate his blessings upon us: the inferior is blessed by the superior.
It must be given to support a true church. What is a true church? Where the word is purely preached and heard, and the sacraments are rightly administered and received.
Teaching elders need support in the NT. The pattern of ruling elders and teaching elders (Levites) in the OT. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The labourer deserves his wages”.
As elders we do not monitor people’s tithing and giving.

In conclusion, giving a tenth/paying tithes is found ten times in the NT (also Luke 11:42 and 18:12). May we remember two guiding principles:

First-fruits Proverbs 3:9-10. We attend to giving first to the LORD and then we must make sure this is done diligently.
I. A cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7)
II. Consistency
III. This is an example to our children and others
IV. This reveals your heart. Proverbs My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. Your giving reveals your heart and it is that which the LORD wants.
V. Tithing and contributions helps to guard us against lukewarmness, covetousness and self-centred living, besides many other sins.
VI. The Lord rewards us in heaven for our giving and we store up heavenly treasure. It takes faith to believe this, but it is true.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”, Matthew 6:21.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Continuity of Reverence in Public Worship between the Old Testament and the New

When we hold the biblical principle of continuity between the two testaments, this unlocks a whole new world of meaning. For example worship continues between the Old Testament and the new but the administration is different. Listen to Malachi 1:6-8:

"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised".

Reverence and the fear of the Lord in public worship is expected by the LORD in every time period. To imagine that reverence for the LORD can be dispensed with in the church is a fearful thing and such an unbiblical attitude is worthy of the LORD's chastisement. And yet how often I have sensed little idea of revering and honouring the LORD in Christian worship at times, in some church meetings over the years. Have you experienced that also? Listen to Hebrews 12:28-29 which demonstrates this continuity.

"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire".

The Westminster Confession makes this point in the chapter "Of God's Covenant with Man":

7:6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory; yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations [administrations].

We must pray for reverence and honouring of the LORD in public worship. This is an expected aspect of Christian public worship and it is one that is connected to our doctrine of God.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament

This is a very important blog post. It is interesting to me, as to which blog posts grab people's attention. However, my aim as a minister, one who is firmly and solidly committed to the teaching of the Westminster Standards, and as one who has taken vows to uphold this Reformed teaching, I am somewhat surprised how many flawed ideas exist on the understanding or practice of a continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament. The moral law continues, as does worship, God's unchanging character, giving to the LORD, and covenant loyalty is always expected of God's people.

I am preaching through the Book of Malachi in Sheffield Evangelical Presbyterian Church at the moment and I am struck by the continuity presented in this book between the Two Testaments . The administration may differ for example in worship, but the principles remain the same. Worship was regulated in the Old Testament but a reverent approach was demanded and the same is true in the New Testament. Worship is regulated as to how we are to approach the LORD and in the manner we are to do so. This idea is virtually never taught in the contemporary professing Evangelical church in the UK. It is as if people think they can approach the LORD in the way they please and with the aim to attract people. If it works, good, but is that the teaching of Scripture?

Let me highlight some verses in Malachi, then give a few citations from the Westminster Standards and then highlight five areas of continuity.

Malachi 1:6 "“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’".

Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger [this is John the Baptist], and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant [This is Jesus Christ our LORD] in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts".

Malachi 3:6 "“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed".
This refers to God's character and the requirements for those approaching Him.

Malachi 3:7-8 "From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions".

Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I will send you Elijah [Jesus states clearly in Matthew 11:13-15], that Elijah to come is John the Baptist] the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Here are some citations in the Westminster Confession of Faith which underline this vital continuity between the OT and the NT.

Chapter 7 on God's Covenant with Man:
7.5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal [Passover] lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foreshadowing Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.

7.6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory; yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace,differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations [administrations].

Chapter 11 on Justification:
11:6. The justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament.

Chapter 19 on The Law of God

19.5. The moral law does forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it: neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

Chapter 27, On the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper)

27:5. The sacraments of the Old Testament in regard to the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new.

There are many areas of continuity between the OT and the NT, though we have more light in the New Testament. Here are a few to mention.

1. Scripture regulates worship in the NT as it did in the OT.
2. Tithes and contributions are expected to be given by faith and faithfully and brought into the NT church.
3. The sacraments differ in the NT in their administration, but baptism and the Lord's Supper are foreshadowed in the OT. Children are included in God's covenants, hence the sign of baptism is to be applied to children but children in the new covenant are not to partake in the Lord's Supper, unless they have a credible profession of faith.
4. The ingredients of public worship are very similar in the NT, as in the OT: The reading and preaching of Scripture continue. The sacrifice in the NT is the finished work of Jesus upon the cross, instead of blood sacrifices in the Temple which pointed to Christ's sacrifice.

There will be more to discuss, but this has opened up a very important subject for all professing Christians to consider.

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Death of "Freedom of Speech" in the United Kingdom

In 2009 the British Government passed the law concerning the adoption rights of same-sex couples. In 2014 they passed further legislation to enforce same-sex marriage. Enshrined in British law currently is the promotion of a confused ethic, and not simply the protection of minority groups; they seek to actively promote their new form of post-modern ethics. Currently the British government refer to "British values" and it is a somewhat fluid term that few ever attempt to define. What is clear however is that "British values" now includes an intolerance to any one, especially Bible-believing Christians who disagree with the government's ethics on marriage, sexual relationships, abortion, medical IVF experiments and other such related topics.

However, as a Christian minister, I want to make it clear that the net result from several fronts in the United Kingdom is the death of "free speech". In recent weeks a committed Christian has been expelled from a Masters degree university course at the University of Sheffield because he holds different views on marriage to the British government. He simply holds to traditional values on marriage, but yet the media label him "anti-gay". This is quite a slur-term. I am not surprised by these events, but I am surprised with the rapidity of government crack-downs. A credible organisation called Christian Concern gives more information on their website including a clip of the heavily biased and anti-Christian BBC interview of the man expelled from the course. Here is the link:

If someone works in the public sphere in the United Kingdom, such as a school teacher, a university lecturer or in the health profession and much of the business world, one's religion must remain silent. It is permissible to promote atheistic evolution, the promotion of same-sex marriage, to rubbish the idea of the Christian gospel and the true message of Jesus Christ, but it is not a level-playing field. The majority of political parties of each of the four British nations are determined to re-model society and clamp down on freedom of speech. You can have free speech in your living room, but you are effectually muzzled from disagreeing with government ethical and religious policy outside of the home. It is remarkable that this shift has happened; in my lifetime it used to be clamp-downs from intolerant Russian communism that did such things. I note that such an anti-Christian philosophy fell with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Today, contemporary British governmental intrusions into public life are becoming increasingly common for those who hold to Christian values and a biblical view that marriage is only to be between a man and woman.

The Bible is very clear on several fronts. Jesus Christ "will build his church" (Matthew 16:18), no matter what opposition comes and also anti-Christian governments will not succeed in suppressing the gospel. The United Kingdom today is far from the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ and yet each oppressive attempt to clamp down gives fresh opportunity for the truth-claims of the Christian gospel. For those reading this blog-post from outside the UK, then do pray for this spiritually needy nation. For those Christians living here, may we be exhorted from 1 Peter 3:14-17:

"But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil".

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Finding, Joining and Supporting a True Church

John Calvin represents Reformed and indeed biblical thought concerning the nature of a true church in his writings. His concern as should be ours, was the nature of the church. The doctrine of the church seems to be too little discussed and it needs rejuvenating. Listen to John Calvin:

“Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists” (Institutes, 4:1:9).

There is a simplicity as to the nature of the church. Did you notice that this statement does not consider the importance of music and singing. Music and singing do not make a sign of orthodoxy and if we did not sing at all, we could still be a true church if we displayed these two marks.

1). The Word of God purely preached and heard. There is a stress on the hearing on the part of the church member. Do you seek out a church that preaches pure doctrine and then seek to listen and obey that Word as preached? Jesus said: "Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (Luke 8:18).

2). The sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper) administered according to Christ's institution. This second mark asks some searching questions. For example when a Baptist church insists on baptism by immersion only or in bringing into question infant baptism or baptism by pouring, are they still a true church? In England such questions are never asked because Baptists have not been challenged in such areas, but it is time they were. If someone holds to the truth of the Bible then it can stand up to the scrutiny of being tested.

It is interesting to me to observe the dress codes of professing preachers and also the layout of the room of the area that is used for worshipping God. Here are several revealing observations:

Which item of furniture is central in a church building?

Does the preacher's dress code indicate that he has a serious message to bring?

What item of furniture is used for preaching?

When the doctrine of the church is biblical, then the pulpit has the central place. It is not the band that is to be central (apparently there is a drum kit now in Westminster Chapel where Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to preach.How sad!), but the pulpit for the reading and preaching of sound doctrine. I cannot see how preaching can be serious minded, if it is delivered from a music stand. The use of a music stand is a down-grade of the office of Christian minister. Can you imagine the British Prime-minister delivering his speech from a music stand? How much less an ordained minister of the gospel!

Anyone who has something important to say in our society, they dress appropriately for the occasion. Alex Ferguson the former manager of Manchester Utd always dresses smart when he is on formal business. What about preachers of a true church? If a preacher is intending to be an "ambassador of Christ" (2 Cor 5:20 "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God".) and to be taken seriously, should his dress code not match the gravity of his message? I think the dress codes of professing preachers reveals very much.

Once you find a true church, then it is the responsibility of every Christian to join it and support the work. Furthermore, John Calvin believed that God will bless such a church, and I entirely agree. We do not resort to Arminian methods to make the church grow. Furthermore, Calvin believed, as do I, that the presence of the marks ensures fruit because the marks “can never exist without bringing forth fruit and prosperity by God’s blessing” (4:1:10).