Worship and Ritual
What was the typical church service like? Is it like being in a Baptist service or Greek Orthodox? Assembly of God or Church of Christ? In the following text, Justin Martyr describes for Emperor Marcus Aurelius what the habit of his church is regarding worship. Let me stress here that the early church never demanded complete conformity in outward manners of expression, lest we think that it is necessary to follow Justin's format or another liturgical style. In the early second century, during the days of Polycarp and Anicetus, there was already a variance in the east and west as to when to celebrate the paschal ("easter") season. Even though this was the primary season of the church, both East and West kept communion with one another despite the differences. This tells us that such matters of discipline were not considered part of the apostolic rule of faith .
Justin Martyr (First Apology, 155 A.D.)
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then, we all rise together and pray, and before our prayer is ended, bread and wine, and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgiving according to his ability, and the people assent, and say "Amen"; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation over that for which thanks has been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent over by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks is fit; and what is collected and is deposited with the president, gives aid to the widows and orphans, and those, who through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all in need...and afterwards we continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy, and we always keep together. (First Apology LXVII)
Using Justin's description, there are some elements of the church which we can further elaborate on. In the order that each appears in his text:
a) Sunday Worship: There are several sects today which claim that the command for observance of the Sabbath (Saturday) is binding on Christians. They commonly say that the Sabbath was observed by the apostolic church until Constantine declared Sunday a day of rest in 321 A.D., apparently motivated more by sun worshippers than anything else. However, we have no evidence that Christians, other than the ones who sought to maintain their Jewish heritage, kept the Sabbath. The Christians who did so, did so as a matter of choice, not obligation, perhaps to "become as one under the law, to win those under the law". ( I Cor. 9:21) In churches that were predominately Greek, meeting on the first day of the week, Sunday, would seem to be the norm, not the Sabbath (I Cor.16). Not only are there many biblical texts which state the believer's freedom from this obligation (See Col. 2:16,17), but from the very earliest times, the apostolic custom that was handed down was to meet on Sunday, otherwise known as the "Lord's Day". Following is some texts from the post-apostolic church to demonstrate the universality of Sunday worship:
Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 90 A.D.)
Observe how he speaks: Your present Sabbaths are unacceptable to Me, but that which I have made, namely this, when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Therefore, keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus also rose from the dead.
Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve, ca. 100 A.D.)
But every Lord's Day do ye gather yourselves together to break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.
The apostles further appointed "On the first day of the week let there be a service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation (Lord's Supper)." (ibid)
Ignatius (Epistle to the Magnesians, 105 A.D.)
If, therefore, those who have been brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day
Tertullian (Ad Nationes 200 A.D.)
It is a well known fact that we pray towards the east...(and) make Sunday a day of festivity.
I am omitting the numerous additional references, since the practice was universal, without dissent (accepting of course the previously mentioned heretical sect called Ebionites). It must be clarified, however, that the observance of Sunday is never presented as a change of the Sabbath, from the seventh to the first day, as many Christians mistakenly understand it, misapplying the sabbatical command of the Decalogue to Sunday. Instead, the Sabbath has been amended, to now encompassing everyday. The purpose of the Sabbath was for the reflection of the soul on spiritual matters, as well as emulating God in His rest from His works. We are told by the writer of Hebrews that God has, in lieu of the seventh day, declared a new day of rest, which is properly understood as "Today" (see Hebrews 3:7,13,15 compared with 4:7) or a perpetual Sabbath for spiritual reflection and a rest from our works of trying to please God. This is also supported in the early church, with Origen, in a commentary on the issue, says that
by these words he (the apostle Paul) indicates that a life in accordance with the divine word consists not in "a part of the feast"(observing certain days), but in one entire and never-ceasing festival. (Origen Against Celsus).
Clement of Alexandria, a number of years later shared the sentiment and was even more specific.
Clement, Stromata, Book7, chap. 7:
Now we are commanded to reverence and to honor the same one, being persuaded that He is Word, Savior, and Leader, and by Him, the Father, not on special days, as some others, but doing this continually our whole life. ...Whence, not in a special place, or selected temple, or at certain festival and on appointed days, but during his whole life, the Gnostic (Clement's word, in this case, meaning a knowledgeable Christian) in every place, even if he is alone by himself, and whenever he has any of those who have exercised the like faith, honors God. ...Holding festival then in our whole life, persuaded that God is altogether on every side present, we cultivate our field praising; we sail the sea, hymning, and in all of the rest of our conversations we live according to rule. ... Now some assign definite hour for prayer-as for example, the third, the sixth, and the ninth, yet the Gnostic prays his whole life, endeavoring to have fellowship with God...Consequently, those who render the most kingly and free service, which is the result of a pious mind and knowledge, are servants and attendants of the Divinity. Each place then, and time, in which we entertain the idea of God, is in reality sacred."
The earliest days of the gentile church, therefore understood that Christianity did not revolve around a "liturgical calendar" nor did it ascribe special sanctity to certain days. It did worship on Sunday, but did not attempt to redefine it as a "Christian Sabbath." Also many of them did keep Jewish feasts, but this is never commanded as a New Covenant custom. Later in the third and fourth centuries, certain individual's would celebrate the anniversaries of the deaths of the martyrs, and the liturgical calendar began to take form.
b. Bible Reading and Prayer:
Justin mentions that the memoirs of the apostles (New Testament) and the Prophets (Old Testament) are read as long as time permits. The president (overseer, pastor) exhorts the congregation to an imitation of these things. Justin's description is that of preaching. Not that of offering platitudes, or clichés, but a call to action and holiness. In the account of Pliny the Younger (see "Non-Christian Historians", pg. 15), it is mentioned that the believers "bound themselves to an oath, not for the commission of any crime"...etc. It is evident that the highest moral standards were invoked and expected of the first congregations.
With respect to the format of prayer, Justin says that the president prayed "according to his ability". This is an indictment against the rigid, repetitive prayers that grew out of the middle ages. We know from Irenaeus that the church was only "directing her prayers to the Lord... and calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." (Against Heresies XXXII). This rules out the possibility of prayers to intermediaries, like Mary, angels or the saints. There is no evidence that there was any veneration of such persons in the early church. As a matter of fact, the early church fathers are unanimous in their opinion that the presence of idols, statues, or any such image for veneration constitutes a grave departure from the apostolic faith. Following is the previously cited text from Irenaeus on images.
Irenaeus (Against Heresies XXV, 180 A.D.)
Marcellina, who came to Rome during the episcopate of Anicetus, and holding these doctrines, she led many astray...they possess images, some of them painted...while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at the time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images...and have other ways of honoring these images, after the same manner of the heathen.
Later in the same book, he widens the condemnation to include seasonal festivities.
Irenaeus (Against Heresies LXXVII)
But we assert that those who, by ignorance of God, give themselves to temples and images, and so-called sacred seasons, are blinded in their minds.
Definitive proof that the early church universally rejected the use of images is evidenced by the following :
Municius Felix (The Octavius 205 A.D.)
(The Christians) have neither altars, or temples, or consecrated images.
Origen (Against Celsus 240 A.D)
"It is not possible to know God and at the same time, to address prayers to images."
Lactantius (Divine Institutes I:19, 290 A.D.)
God is greater than man, therefore He is above. It is undoubted that there is no religion where there is an image."
Having such evidences, we can conclude that the worship of the early church was Christ-centered, and that the Bible played an integral part of the service. Despite the fact that the actual canon wasn't officially defined until the late 4th century, there is a significant amount of consensus as to which books constituted scripture from the very earliest stages of the church. The devotional life of each Christian was delineated by the written scripture, and by a vital union with Christ. Within this time period, there was no evidence of belief in intercession of saints, special beliefs in Mary, mediation of a priesthood, or allowances for images/idols. Any such things would have been unequivocally rejected by the Christian "catholic" church. .
c. The Lord's Supper:
Both Justin's and Pliny's description of early church worship make mention of the celebration of the Lord's Supper, frequently referred to as the "Eucharist" (from Greek "Eucharis"-thanksgiving). It was certainly given a place of preeminence in the post-apostolic church. The dominant myth today, however, is that the early church believed that the substance of bread was transformed into the flesh of Christ.(the current theological term is "transubstantiation") Two of the earliest mentions of the Eucharist, the Epistle to Barnabas (90 A.D.) and the Didache (100 A.D.) both mention the Lord's Supper, but either ignore or repudiate any insinuation that there is a change in substance. From these two documents, it would appear that the Lordís Supper was more a ritual of thanksgiving to God, and a memorial for what Christ had done. Justin is the first to make any reference to a change in substance of the elements. He, and many of the church fathers after him, believed in a "Real Presence" of Christ in the Eucharist, which paralleled the union of God and man in the Incarnation of Christ. One must keep in mind, however, that belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist which mirrored the Incarnation is far removed from the idea that the substance of bread is wholly transmuted, with no bread existing any longer in substantial form. That is exactly what the heretical group the Docetists said of Christ, that his physical appearance did not exist in essence or substance, but instead was of pure divine substance, only the "accidents" giving us the appearance that he possessed an earthly substance. The orthodox view of the Incarnation, as well as the model of the believer with Christ dwelling within, were consistently used as models of the Eucharist. Consider two of the earliest statements from Irenaeus and Justin Martyr. Justin Martyr in his Apology 1, lxvi, describes the Eucharist in this incarnational union.
This food we call Eucharist for we do not receive it as ordinary food or ordinary drink; but as the word of God, Jesus Christ our saviour took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also, we are taught, the food blessed by the prayer of the word which we received from him.
Irenaeus likewise in Against Heresies describes the Eucharist as being the commingling of two substances, just like the way that Christ in the incarnation had two substances.
But our belief is in accord with the Eucharist, while the Eucharist confirms our opinion. For we offer to Him the things that are His, proclaiming harmoniously the unity of flesh and spirit. For the bread which is of the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer ordinary bread but Eucharist, consisting of two things, and earthly and a heavenly; so also are bodies, partaking of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of eternal resurrection. (Book IV, xviii,5 )
This is diametrically opposed to the transubstantiation view that arose many centuries later with Paschius Radbertus (On the Body of the Lord 831 A.D.). The Transubstantiation view relies on the Aristotelian concept of "accidents" and "species" to describe how the substance of bread is wholly changed, and our senses are deceived to think otherwise. Radbertus was opposed in his theory by Ratramnus, John Scotus Eriugena, and Rabanus Maurus. Paschius Radbertus' contemporaries all knew that he was teaching something contrary to the catholic faith. Getting back to the ante-Nicene church, we can see Irenaeus state his opinion that elements in the eucharist are not changed in substance to flesh, but instead it is a spiritual offering. It is critical that the substance of the bread remain, in order to nourish the body, just as the indwelling Spirit nourishes the soul.
And therefore the oblation of the Eucharist is not a carnal one (one of flesh), but a spiritual; and in this respect it is pure. For we make an oblation to God of the bread and the cup of blessing, giving Him thanks in that He has commanded the earth to bring forth these fruits for our nourishment. And then, when we have perfected the oblation, we invoke the Holy Spirit, that He may exhibit this sacrifice, both the bread the body of Christ, and the cup the blood of Christ, in order that the receivers of these antitypes may obtain remission of sins and life eternal. Those persons, then, who perform these oblations in remembrance of the Lord, do not fall in with Jewish views, but, performing the service after a spiritual manner, they shall be called sons of wisdom.
Clement of Alexandria shows the universality of this belief in his exceptional work entitled The Instructor . In Book 2, he details the eucharistic sacrifice, in particular, the element of the wine in the eucharistic celebration. He likewise maintains that the Presence of Christ indwells the elements to become a mixture, with the substance of bread and wine remaining.
Accordingly, as wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man. And the one, the mixture of wine and water, nourishes to faith; while the other, the Spirit, conducts to immortality. And the mixture of both ó of the water and of the Word ó is called Eucharist, renowned and glorious grace; and they who by faith partake of it are sanctified both in body and soul. For the divine mixture, man, the Fatherís will has mystically compounded by the Spirit and the Word. For, in truth, the spirit is joined to the soul, which is inspired by it; and the flesh, by reason of which the Word became flesh, to the Word.
Even a century later with Athanasius, the belief that the Eucharist was a spiritual offering, not a corporeal- fleshly one, was still dominant. Athanasius, in Ad Serp. IV. 19, deals with the interpretation of the John 6 section on Christ's flesh being food. .
ĎFor here also He has used both terms of Himself, flesh and spirit; and He distinguished the spirit from what is of the flesh in order that they might believe not only in what was visible in Him, but in what was invisible, and so understand that what He says is not fleshly, but spiritual. For how many would the body suffice as food, for it to become meat even for the whole world? But this is why He mentioned the ascending of the Son of Man into heaven; namely, to draw them off from their corporeal idea, and that from thenceforth they might understand that the aforesaid flesh was heavenly from above, and spiritual meat, to be given at His hands. For Ďwhat I have said unto you,í says He, Ďis spirit and life;í as much as to say, Ďwhat is manifested, and to be given for the salvation of the world, is the flesh which I wear. But this, and the blood from it, shall be given to you spiritually at My hands as meat, so as to be imparted spiritually in each one, and to become for all a preservative to resurrection of life eternal.í
The consensus of the majority of the fathers was that the oblation of the Eucharist was a spiritual one, not one that is corporeal, in which the Presence of Christ enters the elements like the Word did the flesh of Christ at the incarnation, a mixture of two substances or essences. Unfortunately, in 1215 A.D., the Roman church declared that the Transubstantiation was the only acceptable view of the Eucharist. They compounded their error when they declared at the Council of Trent in 1564 that anyone who held the opinion that any bread was left after the consecration was condemned (Canon 1527). They further declared that anyone who thought Christ was spiritually present in the Eucharist, rather than physically and substantially was to be condemned also (Canon 1533). This is one of the clearest examples of the creation of novel doctrine, and then elevating it to the level of dogma. If we were to take the statements from the Roman church at face value, then we could safely say that they have undeniably anathematized (condemned) the majority of all of their own writers and historical writers.
The "Sacrifice " of the Mass
Closely akin to the question of the alleged "transubstantiation" is the idea of the "sacrifice" of the mass. It has been put forth by the some that the Eucharist, when consecrated by a priest, is actually a true sacrifice- a propitiatory offering with Christ as the victim, enacted right then. Besides the obvious biblical inconsistencies with this, such as the emphasis in Scripture that Christís sacrifice was once, for all (Hebrews 10:12), there is another contradiction in this idea with the historical position of the early church fathers. The word "eucharist" as mentioned earlier, means "thanksgiving". The Roman church has long equated the word not with itís association to blessing and thanksgiving, but to the actual elements of bread and wine. Since there is frequent mention of the "sacrifice" and with the "eucharist", the catholic church connected the elements as being the "sacrifice". The only problem with that is that the intention of the earliest of the fatherís writings did not intend on making the elements the object of the sacrifice. In using biblical analogy, the fathers were cognizant of the fact that the Bible frequently mentions a right heart attitude, directed towards God, as a "sacrifice". (Psalm 116:17; 141:2,3; Jeremiah 33:11; Amos 4:5). Praise, Prayer, and Thanksgiving are as an incense, or burnt offering, that becomes a sweet savor to God. We find in many of the eucharistic texts that are employed to demonstrate the sacrifice of the mass, that what is actually being put forth is the principle of prayer and thanksgiving being a "sacrifice". Hereis one of the better known ones from Justin Martyr.
Justin (Dialogue with Trypho CXVII, 165 AD)
Accordingly God, anticipating all of the sacrifices which we would offer through this name, and which Jesus the Christ enjoined us to offer, ie. in the Eucharist of the bread and the cup, and which are presented by Christians in all place though out the world, bear witness that they are well pleasing to Him...He is well pleased with the prayers of the individuals of that nation (Israel) then dispersed, and calls their prayers "sacrifices". Now that prayers and the giving of thanks, when offered by worthy men, are the only perfect and well pleasing sacrifices to God, I also admit. For such alone Christians have undertaken to offer, and in the remembrance effected by their solid and liquid food, whereby the suffering of the Son of God which he endured is brought to mind.
He mentions that "solid and liquid food" are brought forth, but the "sacrifice" are the prayers and giving of thanks. Irenaeus make virtually the same connection in Against Heresies.
Irenaeus (Against Heresies XVII:6)
Since therefore, the name of the Son belongs to the Father, and since in the omnipotent God the Church make offerings through Jesus Christ, He says well on both these grounds , "And in every place incense is offered to My name, a pure sacrifice" Now John, in the Apocalypse, declares that the "incense" is "the prayers for the saints"
Over one hundred years later, we see the same sentiment expressed by Lactantius.
Lactantius (Divine Institutes XXV)
Therefore in each case, that which is incorporeal must be offered to God, for He accepts this. His offering is innocence of the soul. His sacrifice is praise and a hymn. For is God is not seen, He ought therefore be worshipped with things that are not seen. Therefore no other religion is true but that which consists of virtue and justice...But let us give Him thanks, and adore Him. For His sacrifice consists only of blessing (see psalm 50:3)
The concept that the elements, bread and wine, are the "sacrifice", or that Christís body and blood are the sacrifice, are completely dispelled. After Christís sacrifice on the cross, the only remaining offering is our praise and thanksgiving. That is the "acceptable sacrifice" in Godís estimation.
d. The Collection:
Justin captures the essence of the post-apostolic churches teaching on the collection in just a few sentences. He says "Those who are well to do, and willing, gives what each thinks fit". Again, we find another element which is contradistinction to most contemporary churches. In contemporary American Evangelicalism, we have come to accept that we are obligated to pay a 10% tithe, and are free to keep the other 90% of our wealth, to spend as we would. This isn't quite accurate. There is a reason why the legal 10% tithe is never mentioned with regard to the New Covenant believer (Jesus mentions the obligation to tithe, but was specifically referring to Pharisees). I consider it a travesty that it should be taught that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law- except the Malachi 3 curse for those who only gave 9% of their gross income. Is this really apostolic teaching? I don't think so. Once again, a close examination of the Bible and apostolic tradition in the early church shows an interpretation more in harmony with the truths of the New Covenant.
In order to understand this issue, it is important that we parallel this practice to the many others beliefs and practices that we draw from the Old Testament. As a general principle, everything that God commanded in the Old Covenant was amended and upgraded by the New Covenant. They weren't abolished, but brought into closer congruity with what God's fullest intention was. To look at a few examples:
1) As mentioned before, the requirement to set aside one day a week (the Sabbath) for rest and spiritual reflection was upgraded to be everyday (as long as it is called "Today", Hebrews 4:7).
2) The commandment to be circumcised was upgraded to be not a mere ritualistic cutting of flesh, but a circumcision of the heart, a being set aside for God (Romans 2:28,29).
3) The Ten Commandments were upgraded to be not merely an outward observance of the letter, but a pure spiritual obedience that permeated even the thoughts and intents of each man, (ie. Matthew 5:21 cf.). It wasn't good enough just to not commit adultery. Now, one must not even look upon the opposite sex, with lustful intent. It is not good enough just to not murder. Now even calling someone a "fool" is considered a damning transgression.
Irenaeus says that all of the precepts that Christ laid down in the New Covenant "widened and extended the law among us." This issue is no different. In the Old Covenant, the faithful were required to give 10% of their wealth to God. They were left with 90%. The New Testament upgrade, however, doesn't say "you must give 10% of your wealth". Instead it says that 100% of all you have (including your very self!) is God's. You were bought with a price. God requires us to be a faithful steward (notice how often that word is used in the gospels with regard to finances) with everything that we have. That 90% isn't yours. It's all God's. In American culture, perhaps the only nation in the world that has perfected the religion of covetousness, we balk at such a threatening concept. Does the Bible support this? It certainly does! Annanias and Saphira were snuffed out because they lied to the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5) What was their crime? When they sold their property, they held back part of the money, instead of giving it all to the apostles. They thought they had a right to that money! The Apostle Paul talks a lot about giving (particularly in II Corinthians. chapters 8 and 9), but he never uses the word "tithe". The New Covenant upgrade has amended that. You see, a person can tithe regularly, and still be covetous. As a matter of fact, the way tithing is presented in many churches, promising a percentage dividend if you give to that church, it only feeds covetousness. One could also tithe regularly and be a poor steward of your resources. What good is it if you use 10% of your wealth to further God's Kingdom and squander the other 90% on the lusts of your flesh?
Instead, we are taught that all of our resources are possessed by God, to be utilized under our management for the maximum return for God. Perhaps that means giving 100% or 90% of what you have towards the Gospel. Or, perhaps that means in one particular instance giving only 5%, or 2%, or nothing. That has to be between you and God. No one can judge you on that. We are encouraged in II Corinthians 9:7 that each should
give what they have purposed in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion.
That text alone would rule out a legal 10% being a New Testament requirement. A covetous heart will hear this and say "Great! I don't have to give so much anymore!" Although it is true that the principle of grace is carried over even into this area, I believe that the proper heart attitude that God wants is the recognition that it is both fitting and right that we shouldn't limit our giving to the gospel to a mere 10%. Only an acknowledgment that none of this is truly ours can free us from a covetous spirit.
How did the early church view this issue? As witnessed with Justin's First Apology, the early church did not teach a legal 10% tithe. The best and most succinct expression comes from Irenaeus in Against Heresies:
For this reason the Jews had indeed the tithes of their goods consecrated to Him, but those who have received liberty set aside all of their possessions for the Lord's purposes, bestowing joyfully and freely not the less valuable portions of their property.
As we can clearly see, the New Covenant view of giving is expressed. Now this does not mean that it is wrong to tithe regularly, or that a church is wrong to expect regular support as a contingency of membership, but it must be properly represented as a requirement of that church, rather than a requirement to keep God from sending the "devourer". Giving to the Gospel is always a good thing and giving 10% is no exception. I believe, however, that the greatest fruit and motivation for good comes when we apply the principles of grace to whatever it is we do.
The fullest New Testament expression regarding giving then, is expressed by the principles of stewardship, rather than tithing. Tithing is only concerned about 10% percent of your income. Stewardship is concerned with all that God has entrusted to you. Tithing is only concerned about letting go of a fraction of your income. Stewardship is utilizing everything to bring the greatest return for God. With this comes the responsibility of wisely investing the resources that God has given us. Being a steward could actually mean using wisdom as to when not to tithe! To use a personal example, a number of years ago, I was in the process of receiving my ministerial credentials in a certain denomination. One of the requirements was that all ministers tithe to the regional headquarters. During the process, I discovered that the regional headquarters had, for nearly a decade, been illegally transferring all of the money allotted for starting new churches to a particular business investment. When this corporation declared bankruptcy, the Regional Headquarters went to court and assumed all of the debt and liability for the business, and guaranteed that the bond holders would get paid in full. What was not disclosed was that some of the people who made this decision for the Regional Headquarters had their own personal money invested in the bonds this corporation. The end result was that the Regional Headquarters was thrown into insolvency, was in need of a bail-out from the National Headquarters, all for the purpose of enriching the personal portfolios of those few unscrupulous people who had made a bad investment. There were actually churches who were losing their property to banks because all of the money allotted for them was now tied to this private corporation. The question is, could I, in good conscience, tithe to the regional headquarters, knowing that I would be complicit in helping underwrite this illegal and unethical fiasco? My answer was no. Instead, I was putting my money where it was used to advance the gospel. In a private meeting, I had asked the Regional leaders of the denomination to their faces if they knew why they had funneled what was now over a million dollars of church planting funds to a privately owned business. They answered that they didnít know why. A couple of weeks later I received a one paragraph letter saying that I would not be licensed by this denomination. That saved me the time in explaining why I would be returning my credentials.
The whole purpose of this illustration is this: The resources that you are given by God are to be used for the advancement of His Kingdom, not mindlessly buried in an organization just because it demands your money. In the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:11-27, Jesus told about a Nobleman who entrusted ten of his servants each with a mina. The ones who brought back a return were awarded possession of cities. One, however, buried his mina in a "linen" cloth. The fact that the text specifies "linen" is interesting, since linen is so frequently associated with Jewish ritual religious use in the Old Testament. That individual was rebuked for not getting some type of return on what was entrusted to him. Could it be that we find out on the Day of Judgment that we have deposited our resources in barren earth, having wrapped it in "religious" trappings? The only question is what type of return you get as a steward. One might call it a "Kingdom Return On Investment". (K.R.O.I).
The early church was very concerned with this "Kingdom Return On Investment", even to a fault. Witness how indignant the disciples were when a woman broke a jar of expensive perfume, in what they considered a display of useless waste! (Mark 14:3-8) . One of Paulís directions for Timothy was regarding guidelines for who should be a regular recipient of aid from the church, so that alms were not dispersed arbitrarily. (I Timothy 5:1-10). Paul makes frequent reference to the fact that he supplied his own needs so as not to be a burden (2 Cor. 11:7-9; 12:13; 1 Thess 2:9-10; 2 Thess 3:7-11). By watching their resources, they could maximize their return for the Kingdom of God. The early church provided a fantastic return. That being the case, selling properties and giving the proceeds to the apostles was not too exorbitant of a sacrifice. We see in the Didache a popular saying that expressed the idea that we should be discerning and prudent in giving. It says
Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know whom to give it to.
As believers, we should be examining all of our resources, and asking if we are getting a maximum return for God on them. As Americans, we need to constantly be evaluating how much of our spending is purely for fleshly, carnal reasons. We assume that if we have an abnormally large income, then we are entitled to a new German car, or a second home, or a lavish and ostentatious lifestyle. In such cases, I wonder if God is so pleased with that individualís 10% tithe, when the other 90% is expended on carnal whim. We also need to make sure our investments are performing. Is God working in the ministry you support? Are people coming to a saving knowledge of Christ? Is there spiritual growth? Is it impacting the culture? These questions ought to be held up with respect to our giving and all that we possess. If our church is fulfilling itís biblical mandate, and shows a high "K.R.O.I" then it should have as much support as we can put into it. It should have not only the first fruits of money, but our time, energies, and all that we have been entrusted with. The Didache expresses this under the context of supporting true prophets and teachers. After detailing the marks of a false prophet (one who prophesies that you should give him money) it says:
But every true prophet that is willing to abide among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman of his support. Every first fruit, therefore, of the products of the wine-press and the threshng floor, of the oxen and sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have not a prophet, give it to the poor. If thou makest a batch of dough, take the first-fruit and give according to the commandment. So also when thou openest a jar of wine or of oil, take the first-fruit and give it to the prophets; and of money (silver) and clothing and every possession, take the first-fruit, as it seems good to thee, and give according to the commandment.
(Didache XIII:1-6; 100 A.D.)
In summation, the Apostolic tradition regarding giving is unqualified and whole-hearted support for that which is genuine and true. Although there is no specific mention of a "percentage" one must give, we can clearly see that when one is dealing with a legitimate, genuine and effective church, our participation in sharing our resources is truly our gain. Sowing generously will mean reaping generously. For such churches, a number like 10% is probably selling ourselves short. For ministries however, that do not produce a return for the Kingdom of God, any support is probably too much. It is merely burying oneís mina in the ground.