It seemed like such an innocuous pit stop. Busy day, blood sugars getting on the low end, so just pull into the nearest drive-thru, get a value sandwich, and the budget and schedule will survive intact, right? Until I pull up to the window to pay.
“Oh, the nice girl in front of you paid for you.”
And then the awkward begins. Because she’s waiting for me to respond. And, I’m mentally face-palming, because I’ve seen plenty of news articles about how these things are supposed to work. Someone in front pays for me, I’m now expected to pay for the vehicle after mine, and so on and so forth, until it reaches triple-digit pass-it-forward notoriety and becomes the next human interest story on the six o’clock news. And I’ll admit: it all seems very nice and loving and kind and giving…until you’re the person who had their dollar sandwich paid for and are now quietly being pressured into paying for whatever was ordered by the car with at least two adults and who knows how many children behind you. Which would wreck aforementioned budget for the remainder of the month. So how did I respond?
And I pulled ahead.
But it wasn’t, really—not nice in the least. Because the acute discomfort didn’t end there. I could see the eyes of the girl in the car in front of me watching me in the mirror, waiting for a reaction and no doubt noticing that I didn’t hand any form of payment out the window to fulfill my mandatory-per-extortion-via-societal-guilt role in the convenience food charity conga line. And my daughter in the back seat is asking why we didn’t pay. And I’m sure the lady handing out the order was been clued in on my Grinchy McStingy Pants ways, as the bag is launched into my hands with a terse, “Here.” Awkward upon awkward, driving me to vacillate between “should’ve just given in and taken the financial hit” and my well-practiced heel digging (my Stubborn is so strong; he’s ascended to capitalization status). But the fun bonus kicker comes while slowly pulling away from the scene of my crime against humanity only to notice the girl who paid for my order has pulled off to the side…and has her window down…and her head turned to watch for me. It would appear I am expected to pay for my sandwich, just not in cash. Perhaps Shylock’s pound of flesh, as she followed me up the two-lane exit ramp to glare me down for my non-affirmation of her so-called benevolence and non-involvement in their counterfeit charity scheme.
She wouldn’t be alone in her ire, either. No doubt, a majority hearing this story would chide me for not offering at least an obligatory thank-you, if not lambasting me for being a stonehearted wretch. What do I have to say for myself? Simple.
I do not offer up contributions to the campaigns of usurpers.
(Here is where you insert either spluttering or crickets, as suits your mood.)
The Divine Economy
The Divine Economy is a marvelous, multi-faceted wonder in the created order. It is an immensely intricate, finely tuned blueprint, established before time, through which all aspects and features of the created order are used intentionally, specifically, necessarily, and without waste to bring about God’s will on earth. Simplified, God uses all things to accomplish all things. It’s a reality we recognize in general, and we apply ourselves to specifically understanding and using when it comes to our time and our talents…but along the way, we lowered the bar when it came to our treasure. A robust doctrine of the material provision of Almighty God was swapped for a simplistic single command: just tithe. And even that simplistic, stripped-down command is proving too difficult for 95% of believers these days. To compound the problem, the humanists have done their darndest, mucking and muddying the waters so thoroughly that the God-ordained design of charity is all-but absent in our society. It has been replaced with a counterfeit charity, one specifically designed to overthrow God’s sovereignty and purposes with man’s. But we cannot see the counterfeit because we never took the time to learn the value of the real deal.
Ask the average evangelical about charity, and their minds and mouths will go immediately to food pantries, clothing donations and tax breaks. It’s not that they disavow the tithe altogether; it’s just that in their mind, the tithe pays for the pastor and the church building, and non or quasi-religious organizations like The Salvation Army, Goodwill, Shoebox Ministries and the like handle the “real work” of giving. Those few churches remaining who administer their own charitable ministries do so by the template of all the major donation organizations: collect, open your doors, offer an invitation, have volunteers hand out whatever was given to whoever shows up. But godly giving is more than recycling program for worldly goods, and the Church must give more than the use of her buildings.
True godly giving is a blessing to godly people and a godly instrument to the accomplishment of godly ends. It takes finances and “treasure on earth”, wrestles them from the grip of avaricious materialism, and re-routes them into a useful tool for the sanctification and preservation of the fellowship of the saints. It ensures that all genuine needs are met amongst the brethren, without undoing the specifically-apportioned provisions of the Divine Economy. It keeps both the haves and the have-nots humble: one through a faithful use of the means God has entrusted to them, the other through a faithful reliance that God’s provision often comes via others. It is a special glue within the fellowship of the saints, binding seemingly unequal entities toward a common purpose. It weaves compassion, consideration and community into the fabric of the Church—vital defenses against the atomistic, self-deification stain of original sin. We need every weapon we can lay hands on in that fight.
Counterfeit Charity at Play
The counterfeit charity at play that day—and indeed, throughout our humanistic society—seeks to undo all that is good in godly giving. It takes the rich, sanctifying nature of true charity and strips it down to a simple barter: I give you something for free, I get a positive feeling about myself, and everyone walks away a winner. It replaces a true “need” with a self-indulgent “nice”, and the reiteration of the process has led to damning societal effect. The haves are using their have-ishness to care for each other, petting and cooing over their mutual kind hearts, swapping their funds for reciprocal praise, training their eyes to blindness and their hearts to hardness against the needs of any outside their sphere. The have-nots are left stewing in their misery, watching the haves from the outside, bitterness and hatred festering in their hearts. Community rent asunder, class warfare reinforced, and hearts of stone for everyone and all.
Every time we as believers participate in this “giving”, every time we offer our finances towards this model of “benevolence”, we are making contributions to the campaign of usurpers. We are aligning ourselves with this moralism, this humanistic worldview. We are stating repeatedly, and very publicly, that THIS is the way it ought to be, that THIS is the definition of benevolence and goodwill to our fellow man, that THIS is what makes one a good, moral being. Where our treasure is, there our hearts are. It’s time we noticed our hearts are offering strange fire on stranger altars.
Moralism is counterfeit Christianity. It is spiritual pyrite. To the untrained eye, the shine and luster may look every bit as dazzling and precious as godliness. But having a façade of godliness is not the same as having the lasting, transformative power of godliness. Moralism is nothing more than a common, worthless rock, and those willing to trade in such hollow currencies are nothing more than fools.
God determined and established the parameters for charity and giving. It’s time we, as believers, started putting our money where our profession of faith is.