With each year I live, and with each annual round through the scriptures, I either gain new insight or struggle more with religion. Some of that may be the tainting experience of working within the “industry” of church. I use the word industry, in that ministry has for many become solely a means to a wage.
Keep in mind however, that wage must be achieved by sustaining a micro-economy sufficient to support one or more of the edifices that dot nearly every corner of America.
Perhaps all clergy are truly the best of people, for who else would step into a situation as demanding as a group of people struggling with their own brokenness. The majority of these “called of God” are constantly looking for a better way to help others, through a means convenient and gratifying enough to inspire financial support from within.
Now saddle that same leader with the responsibility to personally redistribute their own income stream, for that is where true Christianity will take you, while assuring that those served by your congregation’s outreach will be left in a better position spiritually and socially. Otherwise, the most well-meaning only propagate religious “do-gooders” with no intent to change culture. Now, throw in managing a perfect family raised in a glass house! Perhaps this is a good spot to insert God’s caution (Hebrews 5:4): “No one takes this honor (the Call) upon himself; he must be called of God, just as Aaron was.”
Deciding to “go into ministry” too often is the default route for those perceived by others to be more righteous, morally grounded or “overly” mindful of their fellow man. I wonder how our world would look if those same were more often ushered into the secular marketplace. Meanwhile, seminaries resisted easy market share, opening their doors only to those with convincing evidence that God had clearly “spoken” (the Call)?
Such was clearly the case with our role model, Christ himself (vs. 6): “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Hebrews (vs. 7 & 18) better defines the priesthood as being above that of Aaron, one that demonstrates more than regulation by ancestry “but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.” The former priesthood (before Christ) was “set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect) and a better hope is introduced….”
Calling comes with higher standards than one might wish to take on, much more than a college degree and some former evidence of leadership. Could this be the root of the challenge within the American church?
What took me here this early on a Sunday morn? Perhaps the conversation with Abram in Genesis 14:18-24? Abram is just returning from a battle enjoined solely for the purposes of rescuing his fatherless nephew Lot; already creating problems for this early “pastor”.
Surely Abram suffered regrets for the emotional allowances made for Lot in Chapter 12:1-4, having been told by the Lord to “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go…and Lot went with him.” It seems that most calls come with life challenging instructions, well beyond “go plant a church”!
To avoid this growing sense of cynicism, I will get back to the conversation that “inspired” this entry. It began with the appearance of this King of Salem, who brought bread and wine as a priest of the God Most High. Here we see the early ground work being laid for the Messiah, the Christ. Melchizedek appears on the scene seemingly without need for explanation of credentials, with the only detail of origin, of all places, today’s Jerusalem. I love the scriptures, when read as the collective and inspired story of God. Where else can one find 66 different books by multiple authors from an array of continents, though canonized and interpreted at times perhaps with other than spiritual motives, yet the story always seem mysteriously protected by providence!
Abram, a model for the most well-meaning marketplace leader, honors Melchizedek, setting a standard for the Judeo-Christian tithe, though possibly unintended; yet, supported later by the prophet Malachi and many a preacher since! If I may interject, my intent is not to refute the tithe, but focus on the spirit behind God’s blessing to Abram. The tithe has been a standard for my wife and I all our church life; necessary in congregations not yet beyond the typical 80/20 benevolence ratios for humans!
The tipping point for my entry came from Melchizedek’s statement and his refusal of that offering from Abram: “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” This should be the benchmark for religion, and the ground floor principle for the church industry, people first!
In fact, Abrams pride, may have added uninspired substance to the fodder now overly used to capture funding for programs, when results among people and any evident change of culture have long since diminished. I don’t mistrust the scriptures, and as I said before, the tithe (10%) is a standard that might even work as a flat tax for the IRS? It’s God’s desire for “the least of these…that none perish”, that I want to emphasize.
Seldom is there any New Testament comment about edifices, beyond Jesus’ comment about the prized jewel of religion in his day, the Temple. It would be destroyed “in three days” and replaced by the reality that we are the temple of God! He pulled it off, yet we have built them back and on every corner.
My misgiving comes when we use Abram’s personal commitment to God, and his resistance to allowing anyone the ability to say “I made Abram rich” (vs.23) as reinforcement for an American prosperity gospel or the need for funding often unnecessary edifices. I am not against churches and in fact will attend mine shortly, but surely some exist with close enough doctrinal systems to consider mergers, for the sake of economies of scale, and a growing need for funding ministry in a failing American culture?
Worship is critical to discipleship, but it is more than a song or a ceremony. It is an offering; more than a tithe, it’s a life style!