In its early
infancy, the church of Jesus Christ was mostly a Jewish
church, composed of people who had grown up under the Law of Moses. Even under the New Covenant, many, if not most of, these
Jewish believers continued to observe such Old Covenant ordinances as circumcision,
kosher food regulations, Sabbath restrictions, and many other laws which had to do with “taste not, touch not, handle
not” (Col.2:20-23). The Laws given to Moses by God were interpreted and re-interpreted by Scribes and Pharisees until
many hard-to-keep customs (commandments of men) were also imposed upon the faithful. Jesus denounced the doctors of the Law for adding extra rigid rules to the Word of
And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! For ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not
the burdens with one of your fingers.
The last section
of Acts Chapter 14 speaks of the success enjoyed by Paul and Barnabas in their
missionary journeys through Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. Many Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. But “certain men which came down
from Judaea” came on the scene and warned those Gentile converts that they’d
better be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses if they wanted to continue as believers in Christ. This created such a controversy
that Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to consult with Peter,
James and other apostles and elders of the church to settle the question.
men sought the Lord about this crucial matter, which was very wise, because imposing upon the Gentile converts the heavy burden
of the 613-ordinance Law of Moses would be no light matter. James himself asks the brethren in Acts 15:10: Now therefore WHY TEMPT (TEST) YE GOD, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither we nor
our fathers were able to bear? Legalists who hold the ignorant and the fearful
in bondage to manmade religious rules are testing God’s patience!
So were the
Gentile converts obligated to accept circumcision and submit to the laws and customs of the Jews? Here is the conclusion reached by this first apostolic council held at Jerusalem:
Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, SUBVERTING (DESTABILIZING) YOUR
SOULS, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: TO WHOM WE GAVE NO SUCH COMMANDMENT;
VERSE 25: It
seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul;
VERSE 26: Men
that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
VERSE 27: We
have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
VERSE 28: FOR
IT SEEMED GOOD TO THE HOLY GHOST, AND TO US, TO LAY UPON YOU NO GREATER BURDEN THAN THESE NECESSARY THINGS;
VERSE 29: That
ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye
keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
verses 28 and 29. The Holy Ghost Himself laid upon the new converts no greater
burden than those four necessary things: abstaining from foods offered to idols, from consumption of blood, from consumption
of strangled animals, and abstaining from fornication. And furthermore, the apostles’
letter declares that if a Christian observes just these four requirements, he does well.
Nothing is said about adding such common religious customs as tithing, seasons of fasting, rigid dress codes, banning
beards on men, pulpit paraphernalia, fancy liturgy, restricting activities on
the Sabbath (or any other day),“making vows of faith”, or “sowing a seed to meet your need.”
Some seem to
think that the Holy Ghost forgot to add a few “necessary things” to the list of four requirements sent by the
apostles to the new Gentile converts. This article will mainly address just two
religious practices often added BY MEN to the requirements of Acts 15 as being an essential part of Christian discipleship.
First, regular fasting.
the context of Acts Chapter 15 concerns Gentile converts who had formerly lived a lifestyle which did not include Jewish religious
practices. Some of those Gentiles were probably
intellectual types who had been interested in Greek philosophy but had nothing to do with religion or religious practices.
Others, who had worshipped licentious heathen gods, might not have fasted in service to them at any time. But the Jews, unlike
the pagans, often fasted and prayed in penitence for their sins and the sins of their forefathers as they awaited their Messianic
Deliverer. Fasting had become part of their way of life.
fasting was alien to Greek and Romans who often reveled at banquets and lived a more carefree life than the deeply serious
Jews. Some Gentiles of the Greco-Roman world did practice fasting, such as devotees of mystery cults like the Gnostics. They would fast to alter their consciousness.
Their goal was to detach themselves from the physical world so they could more easily connect with the spiritual world.
But many more Gentile converts would not have fasted before, unless illness or
poverty made them miss a few meals. If fasting were an essential part of discipleship
for heathens who turned to Christ, it seems like it would have been brought up at the council of Acts 15.
all things is important, but the only food restrictions given by the Holy Ghost in Acts Chapter 15 were to abstain from blood, strangled animals, and food offered to idols.
Some think that this isn’t enough, and more “sacrifice” must be made to earn God’s approval.
Food has nothing to do with commending us to God (Rom.14:17; I Cor.8:8). We are
at liberty to eat or not to eat, as we feel led. If you are busy ministering to the Lord, you are under no obligation to have
dinner at your regularly scheduled hour. It
might sometimes be necessary to delay eating until you feel deep in your spirit
that you have prevailed in prayer and the need is met. Or you might skip lunch
while you are making an intense effort to win someone to the Lord. Jesus was so deeply involved in satisfying the spiritual hunger of the woman at the well that His own physical
hunger was forgotten (John 4:31-34).
day the Pharisees and their disciples imposed fasting on themselves twice a week (Luke 18:12). God did not impose these twice-weekly
fasts upon those Pharisees, and their only reward was to appear more spiritual in the sight of others. But in this Age of
Grace there is no need to imitate the ritual fasting of the Pharisees. Our sins have already been dealt with at the Cross. Our Deliverer has already come. We do not need to fast in sorrow over the sins of
our ancestors. We are responsible for our own lives and for the choices we ourselves make.
Besides, I know virtually nothing about my ancestors who lived before
my grandparents! All I know is they were mostly Scotch-Irish-Pennsylvania Dutch, with a teaspoon of Native American. I know
I had blacksmiths in my family tree. But I don’t have to do research to
find out what sins my forbears committed ten generations back and bewail over them.
All we Christians need do is remain humble before God, keeping our accounts with Him clear through repentance when
it is needed, and trusting in the Blood of Jesus.
There is danger
of spiritual pride in religious observances. The woman who fasts twice a week
is tempted to look down on the one who fasts just once a week, etc. Actually, there is NO command given by the apostles to
the church to fast for any length of time! Even under the Old Covenant, only
one ritual fast was commanded by God: the Day of Atonement (Lev23:32). Other
regular fasts were added BY COMMANDMENT OF MEN, such as the annual fast held by Jews on the 9th of Av, to commemorate
a number of national tragedies which have occurred on that day, among them the destruction of both Jewish temples.
associated fasting with mourning (Matt.9:15). In the days following His crucifixion his disciples would mourn and fast for
sorrow of heart, but their sorrow would soon be turned to joy (John 16:20). In
John 2:42-47 fasting is missing from the list of things routinely done by the early church.
It does say they praised the Lord, fellowshipped, continued in the apostles’ doctrine, broke bread from house
to house and ate their food with gladness and singleness (Gr. Phellos, pure benevolence)
What about tithing? The early church did NOT practice tithing! If
tithing is such an important doctrine, then why is it nowhere commanded by Peter, Paul, or any of the other apostles? Jesus
does mention tithing, but in only two contexts, one where He is castigating some haughty Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy
and lack of mercy (Matt.23:23; Luke 11:42). The other example is where Christ describes a proud prayer offered up by an unrepentant
Pharisee who went home unjustified by God (Luke 18:12). Only those three verses contain any remarks from Jesus about tithing,
and they are all in an unfavorable context! Jesus okays the Pharisee’s tithing of mint,
anise and cumin, but He was speaking to someone who lived under the Law of Moses and before the Cross. Jesus said nothing about the Pharisee needing to tithe his money. Modern
tithe takers order their congregation to give TO THEM first dibs on their paycheck each week, but Scripture clearly specifies
what is to be tithed under the Law:
And all the tithe OF THE LAND (not of a paycheck!) whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S:
it is holy unto the LORD.
Leviticus 27:32 And concerning the tithe OF THE HERD, OR OF THE FLOCK, even of whatsoever passeth
under the rod, the tenth (not the first item counted) shall be holy unto the Lord.
specifies what items constitute a firstfruits (heave) offering unto the Lord. The firstfruits offering was collected from
whatever agricultural produce ripened first (Deut.26:2). It was presented by
the Israelite farmer (not the sandalmaker or fisherman!) to the officiating priest. The firstfruits offering was presented
early in the harvest season, some time before the tithe (every tenth item) was gathered
from the vast majority of the harvest which ripened later. What exactly
made up the firstfruits offering?
VERSE 35: And
to bring the firstfruits OF OUR GROUND (no mention of money), and the firstfruits of all manner of trees, year by year unto the house of the Lord:
VERSE 36: Also
the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstlings of our herds, and of our flocks,
to bring to the house of our God, unto the Priests that minister to the house of our God******The first part of this verse
helps to prove the distinction between tithes and firstfruits, which are often used interchangeably by pulpit preachers to
get more money from poor folks who buy groceries with what little is left after paying their bills. And, notice:
law applied to human sons, not just the firstfruits of cattle. But tithes were not paid on every tenth child borne by a woman!
The firstborn son was payable to the Lord as a firstfruits offering, and even
he was supposed to be redeemed (bought back) by the parents (Numbers 18:15-16). But
no one under the New Covenant needs to pay redemption money to some preacher. We are NOT redeemed with silver or gold, but
with the precious Blood of Jesus (I Peter 1:18-19). The Lord later accepted the
Tribe of Levi as belonging to Him instead of the firstborn of the Israelites (Numbers 3:45).
the firstfruits were brought “to the House of our God, unto the priests”.
Even if it were okay to transfer the Tithing Law from the Old Covenant
over to the New (which God forbids!), you’d also have to transfer ALL the components of that particular law, including
the priests and the House of God! Just what IS the New Covenant House of God, and who ARE the priests of the New Covenant?
Saints, WE are
the Temple of God!
Know ye not that YE are the Temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
And what agreement hath the Temple of God
with idols? For ye are the temple of the Living God; as God hath said, I will
dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Saints, WE are
the priests of God!
I Peter 2:5
YE also, as lively (living) stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices,
acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
VERSE 9: But
YE are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar (purchased) people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him
who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
In those verses
Peter made NO distinction between “pew Christians” and “pulpit ministers”!
What else, by
the way, was brought to the House of God under the Old Covenant?
verse 37 of Nehemiah Chapter 10: And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of
all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers (storerooms) of the House of our God; and the TITHES
OF OUR GROUND (again, tithes are distinguished from the firstfruits here!) unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have
the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.****The only possible loophole I see to include money in the firstfruits offering
is if you take that word “dough” and call it a King James word for money! And, notice that the tithes were brought to the Levites. Pulpit ministers often call themselves “spiritual Levites” but the actual priesthood outranked
them! The Levites did the menial tasks of the Tabernacle, such as setting up its props and transporting the Holy Things, ministering
at the Door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation, etc., while the actual priesthood drew near to the Presence of Almighty
God at the Altar! And here is something else you’ll seldom hear preached
by so-called Spiritual Levites: The Levites presented their own “tithe
of the tithe” to the Priesthood who did not have to pay any tithes at all (see Numbers 18:26-28)! THOSE WHO PAY TITHES
DENY THEIR OWN PRIESTHOOD IN CHRIST JESUS!
a lot of noise about tithing, but that doesn’t make them right. Some think that he who makes the most noise for the
longest time ends up winning the argument, just by wearing down the opposition. That’s just
what tithe enforcers do, they way they drill into you a sense of obligation to “give till it hurts”, and especially
the way they confuse you by reinterpreting Old Testament terminology to make up doctrines that aren’t really in the
Bible. Next time some religious tyrant hammers you over the head with the Law
of Tithing, ask him if he’d like some of the crispy lettuce out of your garden! And if he demands a “firstfruits”
offering, offer him the firstborn of your kitten litter!
Taking up offerings
to relieve GENUINE needs is a good thing, but no man or woman has the right to demand tithes or firstfruit offerings under
the New Covenant of Grace! Christ FULFILLED the Law of firstfruits and Paul says Christ IS the real Firstfruits (I Cor.15:23)!
For any preacher to demand a “firstfruits” offering, he must automatically place Himself in the position of Christ,
our only High Priest, because it was the serving High Priest who collected firstfruits offerings under the Old Covenant. Believers comprise the Royal Priesthood of the New Covenant but Christ is the ONLY
High Priest of our Covenant (Heb.4:14-16)!
I used to steer
dangerously close to idolizing human preachers, the way I’d hang onto their every word, but now it’s finally sunk
in: ONLY CHRIST STANDS BETWEEN US AND GOD (!!!) I have read that Scripture so
many times, but it takes the Holy Spirit to really drive it home to my deepest understanding.
Christ in His role as sole Mediator between us and God can’t be emphasized enough because this glorious revelation
is able to set folks free from feeling intimidated by preachers who try to stand between ordinary believers and God. Some
money-hungry preachers even resort to scaring people with the unpardonable sin and divine judgment if they don’t cough up the cash! Saints, God is opening up all the religious cages of fear which have imprisoned His people ever since this
ungodly, un-Christlike false clergy-laity system first crept into His church!
Shout it from
For there is
ONE God, and ONE MEDIATOR (Go-between) between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
The Old Mosaic
system was pretty complicated. Even the overall total tithe gathered from the Promised Land added up to much more than the
simple ten per cent latched onto by today’s preachers. There were several
types of tithe in ancient Israel, which
I won’t go into in this particular article. One of them, the “Ma’aser
Ani, or “poor tithe” was collected just once every three years, in a seven-year tithing cycle. This particular tithe was not brought to the House of the Lord at all, but stored “within the gates”
of cities for the consumption of poor Levites, fatherless children, foreigners and widows (Deut.14:28). Does any church you know of donate all its tithe to the poor every three years, and collect no tithe at
all every seventh (Sabbatical) year, as the Lord commanded the ancient Israelites? Tithing was NOT done during the seventh
year, and could not be done, since no crops were grown during that year (Lev.25:20). If preachers were consistent in “applying”
the tithing doctrine, they’d not only collect tithes just once a year as the ancient Israelites did, they’d also
give the poor tither a break every seventh year! Israelite farmers had to trust in God that He would feed them during those
sabbatical years when the land was required to lie fallow. God’s people out in the pews often have to live by faith
and trust in Him to restock their empty cupboards. But it’s doubtful whether
preachers would be able to “live by faith” without taking monetary tithes for a whole year! Just the idea would send those “faith preachers” into a panic, wouldn’t it?
supposed to be living under a far better covenant than Old Testament saints did,
but today an illicit tithe (money) is being extorted with threats of divine retribution
FROM THE POOR for the benefit of the spiritual elite. That’s religious
piracy, plain and simple. It’s the reverse of Robin Hood, robbing the poor
to bless the rich!
was first laid down as church law in the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. Various church councils held in the sixth
and eighth centuries A.D. imposed monetary tithing on pain of excommunication. In succeeding centuries, tithing was adopted
by some Protestant denominations. But the Word of God, correctly interpreted
and applied in correct context, must always be the final authority for deciding what is true or false. Even if ten thousand
men of the cloth preach a false doctrine as being true, it just don’t make it so.
has enriched a few and built great monuments to the pride of men, it has caused financial hardship for struggling families,
groundless guilt, and a disorderly mingling of the Old and New Covenants. Tithing
has exacerbated social divisions between rich and poor in the Body of Christ. Tithing
has weakened the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers by demoting the many and exalting the few. Tithing has helped build an unscriptural hierarchy called “clergy’ and “laity”
in the Body of Christ, although Jesus Himself said:
But be not ye called Rabbi (Gr. Rhabbi, my master): for one is your Master, even
Christ; AND YE ARE ALL BRETHREN.
VERSE 9 And
call no man your father upon earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven (Catholics address their priests as ‘father’,
while Protestants address their clergy as ‘Reverend’).
VERSE 10: Neither
be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
VERSE 11: But
he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
Instead of a
brotherhood of love in today’s church world, we see artificial divisions made by men.
Instead of walking in humility of heart with a servant’s attitude, religious rulers rip off poor pew saints who
serve them. Saints of God are being deceived by bad doctrines which rob them not only out of money they need for their own
families, but out of their spiritual inheritance as actually BEING the spiritual House of God and Priests of God! Laws imposed by Moses upon the Old Covenant Children of Israel are being “spiritualized” by
modern “doctors of the Law” to make them more profitable, then they are reimposed on saints of the Church Age. What is even more despicable is the sneaky way this
is being done, by snake-charming emotional Christians with “deeply moving” religious mysticism. Guilt is
laded onto the backs of sheep to make them bear burdens God never placed upon them. You’ll hear in so many mealy-mouthed
words: “Well…tithing (or whatever) may not be EXACTLY required by Scripture, but out of love for Jesus and gratitude
for all He has done for you, you really SHOULD do it…and besides, you’ll go to hell if you don’t submit
to OUR authority.”
So you don’t
truly love Jesus if you refuse to buy pulpit lies which strip you of your own priesthood under the New Covenant? Discernment must be made between religious tradition OF MEN and solid, sound doctrine practiced by the
early church. We must contend earnestly for the truth (Jude 3).
Those who impose
man-made legalism on the Body of Christ are only adding their own regulations to the Word of God. They’re really saying
that the Holy Ghost didn’t put enough of a burden on New Covenant believers in Acts
Chapter 15, so they’ll help Him do His job better.
shall not add unto the word that I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments
of the Lord your God which I command you.