What is counter-cultural, charismatic giving: A Response to Poser or Prophet

Poser or Prophet, Dan Oudshorn, in response to made the following comments in response to my sermon on charismatic giving :

Okay, I read the sermon. You think that “counter-cultural generosity” is charismatic giving that is done cheerfully and is not performed based upon mandated compliance with any sort of law of tithing (BTW, I agree with a number of your criticisms about the supposed 10% local church tithe rule).

Still, that doesn’t get us much closer to providing any sort of concrete example of what “counter-cultural giving” looks like in our day. You do say this: “the generous giving of the early Christians, so that no needy person was found amongst them, was a response to the amazing reality of the Holy Spirit” (emphasis mine). So, I take it that the absence of any poor people within contemporary Christian communities would mean that “counter-cultural generosity” is being practiced appropriately. Is that correct? That seems to contradict things you have written elsewhere.

Well, not quite.  Certainly the local church is a start.  We must care for one another within our local assemblies.  But the mission of the church is global.  So the scope is much bigger than what happens in our local community.

You also write that this practice “sets us free also from the bondage of materialism, of trusting in material possessions instead of in the God who created all things.” Could you explain in more detail how exactly it does this? The only way I can imagine it doing so, is if we give so much that we are actually uncertain about our own stability not just in the distant future, but tomorrow as well (hence, “give us this day our daily bread” regains the urgency it had in Jesus’ day). However, I can’t imagine you agreeing with this interpretation, so clarification would be good.

We don’t need to live unwisely in order to demonstrate liberation from material possessions.  To a degree, all of us need food, shelter, and clothing.  And for most places in the world, the struggle to provide all of those things for oneself and one’s family is very consuming.  Your suggestion of giving so much that we become uncertain of the future is not a good way to approach the matter.  (By the way Greek behind the line, “Give us this day our daily bread,” probably means, “Give us this day the bread of the future kingdom”).  I think it is better to make giving a passion or a preoccupation rather than a road to personal poverty.

Here are some other suggestions:

(1) Charismatic Giving becomes a higher priority than consumption. Consumer debt in Canada is $25,000 per person at end of Q3 2010.  The Bible teaches the avoidance of debt (though I don’t hold that all debt is bad).  So those who can claim that they have no consumer debt  are on average counter-cultural.  It is counter-cultural in a Christian manner when one can say, “As a result of having no consumer debt, I am able to give more to charity and to respond to the needs of others.”

(2) Once one has made enough wealth to survive, then charismatic giving becomes the motivating factor for further work or investment.  The goal of many people in our culture is what Jonathan Chevreau has called “Findependence”, financial independence from the obligation to work.  Others are more ambitious and wish to have more power or be able to consume more.  The charismatic gift would lead the Christian to work beyond what is needed to comfortably survive in order to be even more charitable or to be able to maintain a constant revenue stream towards their charitable gifts.  Paul says work with your hands so that you have something to give (Eph 4.28).

(3) A charismatic investor whose hope is not in material possessions can become an investor par excellence. Why?  Because investing requires risk taking.  Those in bondage to riches may be the worst investors because they are afraid to lose what they have.  An investor has to be able to risk when market fear is palpable.  The Christian investor whose confidence is in the Lord instead of riches will be able to risk at the right moment.

(4) While some may be called by the Lord to sell all they have, most charismatic givers are called to use what they have in service to the Lord. It is far better in the long term vision of the Kingdom of God that donors provide a revenue stream to charitable projects than a one time gift which will be spent and then lost.

(5) Since death is the ultimate separator from wealth, the charismatic giver must have a will with designated charities and people they intend to help.  In this manner, the charismatic giving is not ended by temporal death of the person.

(6) Do not muzzle the ox that treads the corn (1 Tim 5.18).  Charismatic giving does not require that the giver wallow in mud eating pig crap.  Above all, those who have the gift of giving must be able to enjoy their wealth too.  Paul says (1 Tim 6:17): “As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy.”  It is ok for a Christian to drive a nice car, if that is how he enjoys his wealth, or have nice house, or go on an expensive vacation.  If it were not the case, then neither Abraham nor Job would have been lifted up as models in the Bible, for they were wealthy men who had many servants and lived in fairly opulent conditions compared to their contemporaries. Wealth is also a blessing of God according the Bible.  For those who have received from charismatic givers, it is also important not to criticize them for trivial matters such as their choice of foods or vehicle.  The person who receives has the duty to be grateful to God but not the right to criticize the trivial luxuries that help the giver to enjoy God’s creation.

(7) The charismatic giver should obtain wealth through righteous investments or honest work and business, not through exploitation, extortion, or gaming the system. I personally have a problem with the tobacco investments because it is a product which exploits its clients’ addiction to nicotine, though there may be some room here for other opinions.  Other businesses have less legitimacy.  But this principle does not mean becoming hostage to trendy ideas about the environment.  I am heavily invested in the Canadian oil industry because it is a righteous investment.

(8) Recipients of a gift have no right to expect support beyond what has been promised, for God’s riches are fungible. If a charismatic giver has made a pledge, then it is normally right to keep that pledge.  But the recipient has no right to say to the giver, “Because you are rich and I am poor you must give to me.” Or, “Because you have supported us in the past you must do so now.”  The charismatic giver is answerable to the Holy Spirit.  If God is behind the project, then those seeking funds must seek God’s face first and foremost, because ultimately it is God’s responsibility, not the responsibility of the charismatic giver.

(9) Socialism destroys the relationships that could otherwise be established through charismatic giving. Charismatic giving is an overflow of God’s love.  Socialism is forced redistribution voted on by the majority and enforced through threats of fines and imprisonment.  Christians therefore should avoid lobbying the government to spend more money on social systems, because the government goes into de facto competition against the Holy Spirit for the people’s money and time.

(10) The primary motivation of charismatic giving is the advancement of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. It is the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.”  Our motivations should be in line with this prayer.  Hence, it is not social justice or the alleviation of the poor that is the primary focus, but the advancement of the gospel and God’s Kingdom.  If this is our main focus, then God will take care of the rest (See Matt 6.7-34).

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