15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. 16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.”
So they brought Him a denarius.
20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.
Steve and I used to attend a church in Brisbane called Crossbearers Fellowship. It was based in Fortitude Valley, an area of ill-repute containing as it did a great many brothels, night clubs and bars. Originally, it was set up by the founders for church meetings for those people who had been led to the Lord through street witnessing. Many were the hours Steve spent handing out tracts and talking to strangers about Jesus on the streets of that part of town.
Crossbearers did not own any property. In this it was unique for a church of its era. The 80s were populated with the newly instituted mega-church, which built architect designed warehouses to serve congregations of thousands. Crossbearers never had more than about a hundred members. It used a senior citizens hall backroom for meetings. It was not uncommon for churches to begin in school classrooms and then to acquire property after their membership offerings had increased to the point that they could obtain a loan from the bank to buy land or a building. Crossbearers didn’t have any real money of that kind however, it used its tithe to fund trips overseas to spread the gospel. All well and good one might think, except that the concept of tithing, the means by which any good church funds its operations in post-modern society, is not biblical. The church which insists that its members give 10% of their income to the church they attend is not based on scripture, either Old or New Testament. Tithes in the Old Testament were of different types and consisted of food and raw materials, grains and greens etc. Often these tithes were used to feed the poor, but they were never actual money. (further reading)
I would like to point out a pertinent verse (above) whose meaning has heretofore always eluded me. When Jesus told the Pharisees to render to Caesar what was Caesars, often I have simply assumed that He was telling them to pay their taxes as was required. But I believe God has revealed to me a much deeper meaning. The ‘tribute penny’ which Jesus asked them to show Him is considered to be a denarius. The denarius had the face of the son of Caesar on it and the coin proclaimed Caesar to be divine.
The inscription reads:
“Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”
What Jesus was saying was that the coin of the realm actually belonged to Caesar. In fact, all money everywhere belongs to Caesar, the god of that age and of that realm. Money, in its entirety, the economic system, is owned by Satan himself.
God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He owns all the resources on the planet. Tithe was made on that which was grown for food (Deuteronomy 14;22-26), it was not made on coins which were owned by either Pharoah or Caesar or whichever King the Israelites were subject to at the time. It is also why God wanted to rule over them himself. If they were ruled by a King, they had to obey the King who would set up his own economy (mammon), tax them, and send them off to fight the nations enemies and demand a tithe not only of their land and produce but of themselves. They would therefore be owned by the King, (1 Samuel 8)
10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. 11 And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. 12 He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. 14 And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. 16 And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men,[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. 18 And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”
We, who live in this modern age, still use money with the head of our King or Queen upon it. Our coins still bear the image of Elizabeth the 11, the Queen of the Commonwealth of Australia. Commonwealth is actually a misnomer, because while the people live here, we do not own this nation. We must purchase land in order to build a house, the land does not automatically belong to us because we were born here, or because we became citizens of this country. The land, the money to buy the land, and everything in the land, is owned by the government, or private enterprise. If we want to have money in order to buy the land from either the government or private enterprise, we must work to obtain the money. Money is given in exchange for services or products.
Everything owned by ‘Caesar’ is of this world. God is telling us in this passage to recognise that our money, is nor our money, despite the fact that we have sold our services in order to obtain it. Our money actually belongs to Caesar (or the government). In fact, once we belong to God, we are no longer of this world. This is why it is so important for us to understand that God’s provision of food and clothing is not only a blessing but a promise. God always provides for His own, in the same way that Caesar provides for his own, but in a different way of course. Caesar causes human beings to go into slavery to him in order to procure wages and those wages are in the form of cash, not goods. God has paid every debt we owe in order to purchase us so that we may then recognise God’s total provision which comes in the form of fulfilment of all our physical, and non-physical needs one way or another, but He does not literally give us cash, like some kind of tooth fairy. If He does indeed own the cattle on a thousand hills (all the resources contained in the world, the land, the animals, the fruits of the field and the forest and of course the water which is so vital to life), then we should not be concerned about what Caesar owns.
For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine
Money is in effect only a symbol of wealth. It is a symbol of the gold deposits which every nation has. Money is in essence simply a mark, not a real form of wealth. As the citizens of Greece are currently discovering, money can be made worthless overnight however much you may have in your bank account.
Some preachers have suggested that since God owns all the money we have, we should actually be giving more than 10% of our money to Him or ‘the church’, but in my opinion this too is false theology. Scripture does not tell us that all the money we have is owned by Him. Jesus specifically told us that what belongs to Caesar should be given to Caesar, and although this text refers ostensibly to tax, which is a form of tithe, in fact, everything with Caesar’s image and inscription (that Caesar is god – of this world) upon it therefore belongs to him. If this is the case, then no cash belonging to us is in fact ours. This would also suggest that anyone owing Caesar anything (in the form of financial debt) is in a double bind.
The Israelites were expected to forgive debt on a regular basis. They were told to give back all that belonged to the owner every 7 years.
“At the end of every seven years, you shall celebrate the remission year. The idea of the remission year is that every creditor shall remit any debt owed by his neighbor and brother when God’s remission year comes around. You may collect from the alien, but if you have any claim against your brother for a debt, you must relinquish it. …” (Deuteronomy 15:1–6)[
Every debt that was owed to them they were expected to clear on the 7th year if it was not paid back. God did not want His people owing anybody, including each other. Interestingly, the land and all agricultural work was also expected to cease during the seventh year. This was apparently meant to test the Israelites and help them understand that their provision was from God, not their own hard work.
Debts are paid in the New Testament Kingdom of God by God himself. Interestingly there are a number of parables relating to coins and money in the New Testament spoken by Jesus. The widow who gave all she had when she paid the temple tax, the woman who lost a coin, and found it again much to the delight of herself and her friends, the wicked servant who owed his master a great amount which could only be paid back by his wife and children being sold into slavery, the servants who buried their talents etc. These coins, I am assuming were not the Roman tax coins. They were different coins, and some coins were in fact weights. The talent for example was a weight of measurement used in the Old Testament.
Ancient coins used in the Old Testament always contained the images or inscriptions of those who issued them, either of the ruling authority, or of the High Priest of the Jews. They were, in effect, owned by those in authority, those who had rule over the people. What belongs to Caesar should be given back to him, we do not own what we have, nor does God, since His kingdom is not based on mammon, but on His great provision of our needs. Since Jesus told us we cannot serve both God and mammon, it would appear that God sees money, and the worldly system (including the economy), as a rival to what is due to Him. If we serve God, He will provide our needs, so we cannot both look to God for our needs and give ourselves to the worldly system to provide for ourselves. This in no way precludes the idea of working in order to ‘make a living’ since God himself says if a man doesn’t work he doesn’t eat. What it does do is recognise that working is not a means to provide for ourselves, it is a means to honour God, and reach out into the world as a witness to His glory. It is a subtle difference but a vital one.
We do not actually ‘need’ money. Money is a tool by which we can purchase those things which can provide our needs. If we owned our land and property outright having inherited them from our parents or having purchased them completely, we would be able to provide for ourselves. We could purchase cows, hens, sheep etc to provide food, we could plant crops, we could make our own clothes from the raw materials therein as societies like the Amish have done. All of this would be possible but not terribly practical, this is why the barter system was replaced by coins, or at least that is the ostensible reason. In fact, if we serve mammon, we are owned by mammon. If we serve mammon, remembering that the ruling authority of our world is Satan (Caesar was god, as was Pharoah and it is their images on our money) then we are serving money.
Those Pastors and church leaders who insist that their congregations should tithe, or give 10% of their income are not preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are preaching a false gospel, and they are teaching their congregations to become dependant upon them. The congregation must give their money ‘to God’ when in fact it is the church staff and the building funds which benefit. The congregation apparently benefits by being allowed to use those facilities and have access to the staff, but this was never the basis upon which ministry was brought to the body of Christ in the New Testament.
Money was always a means of helping those who had needs, it was not used to pay a wage to anyone. Money was used directly to finance food, clothing, shelter etc., those needs which were immediate. Money was not used to build churches, or make the church institution rich. The moment you look to start building churches and financing the homes and possessions of pastors, you are setting up a business in which the congregation are paying for services rendered. No, no, and again no! Tithes are not biblical, giving certainly is, but giving is sporadic and according to the need. We are not called to set up bank accounts specifically for drawing wages or servicing loans for church buildings.
Because Crossbearers did not have a permanent home, certain things had to be adjusted to suit. We therefore had a number of tithe boxes with slots at the front for cash and envelopes with cheques etc. There was one memorable occasion when one of the senior citizens had called one of our members to let them know that Mr. Tith-ee had left his letterbox behind and they should come and pick it up. Clearly, the individual concerned had never heard of the tithe and mispronounced it, assuming it was somebody’s name and that the box, which was shaped rather like a letterbox must have been for their garden, not their bank account.
Here is another point I would like to raise. In every church I have ever been part of there was always a cleaning roster. It was considered to be the duty of every member of the church to clean and tend the property and the gardens. But what are we doing here? If the church is wealthy enough to own property and pay staff why are they not paying for a cleaner and gardener? Surely this is the more ethical approach? The argument would probably come back that these are church members, they pay tithe, it is their church, it is in fact their money which bought and built the church. But hang on a minute there. Whose name is on the title deed? If the church is owned by a denomination, say Baptist, then it is more than likely that the name on the church deed is that of an organisation, say the Queensland Baptist Union. All well and good, until it comes time to sell the property. Who then has the right to sign the deed over to the new owner? It would be an officer of the Queensland Baptist Union surely. I am not a lawyer, but I would have thought that basic legal knowledge would tell us that it is not the members of the church, nor even the board of elders or the pastor who would sign the deed. In a smaller independent church, it is not the whole congregation which signs the deed, but whichever corporation owns the building. If the church is organised under a law which allows it to accept money for charitable needs, then it is a charity and under that law, it would have certain tax exemptions. Under those circumstances, it must incorporate as a charitable institution. It would therefore have to have an AGM, as most churches do, and then it would have to have a board of directors, and of course, a chairman of the board. Essentially, we are looking at the profit from this organisation (the sale of its assets) going back to the corporation, NOT the congregation, which simply expects all of this to carry on as they have been told for generations that tithing, serving the church by cleaning and gardening, and giving money for building new buildings is all the expected norm for the faithful Christian. But hold hard here. God did not tell us to give money to a building fund. He did not even tell us to give money to missionaries on missionary Sunday, nor did he tell us to give a tithe of our income (money) to the pastor in order to provide a salary for him and anyone else the church board sees fit to employ.
We need to stop mixing our metaphors here. Either we are a worldly corporation which hires staff (including cleaner and gardener) or we are an organisation which takes money and distributes it to others as the need arises without the need for tax exemption or the need for property which will inevitably drain our finances anyway. We do not need to have a building and many churches have done very well without them. If we do have the blessing of having our own property, do not expect the members of the church to clean it out of obligation to their duty as members. Either have a working bee where everyone digs in where they can, or hire a cleaner, but don’t set up some kind of ‘roster’ which in turn makes everyone on that roster somehow feel more ‘christ-like’ because they have served at church. Yet every chrsitian I have ever met will have been involved in some kind of service in their Christian building for their Christian institution without having actually benefitted themselves from being the co-owners of that building. Nobody is receiving anything from that building except slavish expectation to clean and fix it when it needs it. If this building were my home, or somebody else’s home which we were using, we would clean it because it belonged to us. But most of the time it belongs to the denominational organisation and we, the parishioners, who pay our tithes, are expected not just to be grateful for having the benefit of sitting in a church on Sunday mornings, rather than in a school building (which employs its own janitors). Not only is it not enough to simply own buildings any more, but it is expected that the church will increase its giving in order that the church organisation should purchase, with the congregations money, another building, bigger and better, for more people to come in so that the tithe can increase and giving can increase and the church then expands even more.
Ostensibly this seems to be a great thing. The church turns into a mega church and more needs get met. But do they? In my experience, mega churches tend to beget more needs. Its rather like buying a larger handbag. The more you can get in it, the more you put in it, and the problem which caused you to buy a larger handbag in the first place is not solved, it is simply displaced. You now have a larger, more unwieldy handbag and you still haven’t got enough space. The problem is not getting a larger handbag, or building, the problem is dealing with the issue you have. Cut the necessities down to fit the handbag, deal with the issues you have with the congregation you see in front of you, don’t assume that you simply have to have a larger church because this means you are a successful pastor and that the world will sit back and look at you and adjust its glasses and say “my but there goes a wonderful group of Christians, I think I will leave my whoring and drinking and drug-taking and spending and join them. Sorry, it doesn’t happen that way. People don’t get saved because your church is the most impressive one around. They get saved by hearing which comes from the gospel. If the gospel is being preached, people will get saved. If the gospel continues to be preached and people are challenged to continue on in the walk of the Spirit and they are being fed well and grow spiritually, you will have a small church of spiritual giants, instead of a giant church of spiritual pygmies. More pygmies, more money, more problems because nobody is growing. Since most mega-church pastors are not interested in actually serving their people, because they have a staff of junior and associate pastors to do that, you have a problem which is never going to be addressed.