The Person of the Covenant

Karl Doege, July 2012

Dr. Walter Brueggemann strongly supports the concept of tithing. He describes the “person of the covenant” as someone who understands tithing as a means of returning to God something that is owed to God for God’s many blessings. He cites Malachi 3:8ff in support of this position: “Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me – the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.”
            How’s that for a biblical text that supports the concept of the tithe?

Yet, surprisingly, the scripture quoted above does not substantiate a biblical command to tithe. Rather, this scripture refers to a “tithe of a tithe.” The biblical text is critical of the Levites for not tithing from the tithes they receive from the other tribes ofJudah. The Levites, it seems, should be giving a tithe of all they receive, from the other eleven tribes, tithes they receive for their own sustenance. This “tithe of a tithe” is given in support of the members of the priesthood who are descended from Aaron and have no other income. So, in fact, it is the Levites, not the common Israelites, of whom the Lord is being critical.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs by thinking such thoughts. But maybe not.

I am not learned enough to critique Dr. Brueggemann – a preeminent biblical scholar – on this subject of tithing. He supports the concept of tithing, and so doI.But Dr. Brueggemann does not, in his address to the 2010 plenary session of TENS, (see previous post), cite a scriptural text mandating the tithe from all Israelites, (which subject will be discussed in a following post).

(Tithing is generally regarded as a biblical mandate. But it seems that there is some debate about whether tithing is scripturally mandated and, in the Stewardship page entitled “Resources,” you can learn of books, by (reportedly) biblical scholars, who argue that a mandate to tithe is not supported by scripture. I have not read any of the books, though I obviously must read one or more of them to become better informed about this issue. Indeed, the very idea that tithing may not be supported scripturally comes as a complete surprise to me.)

But here’s a way of seeing what a “person of the covenant” is all about, and how the “person of the covenant” responds to the terms of the covenant. The following comments support, at least, the concept of fighting against the forces of evil while following and obeying Jesus as Lord. How might such principles, found in the baptismal covenant, be translated into terms related to liberal giving and good stewardship practices?

Here’s how:

All baptized persons are “persons of the covenant,” – the Baptismal Covenant – which poses the question, “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?” (BOCP, p. 302).

There are lots of “spiritual forces of wickedness” out there, and most of them encourage us to pay attention to our own needs. They encourage idolatry of self. Something of these spiritual forces can be seen in just about every advertisement that pops up on your cell phone, iPod, or computer: “Buy one of these,” “you need this.” On every billboard you will find something that encourages you to spend money on yourself or your family, that suggests that you can buy your happiness. On the other hand, I challenge you to find an ad that encourages you to give liberally in support of those who have so little that they cannot function, the homeless, the destitute, the hungry. A “person of the covenant” fights against spiritual forces that promote idolatry of self or anything else that does not contribute to God’s work in the world. The “person of the covenant” fights mightily against the tyranny of consumerism.

Also: “Do you promise to follow and obey Jesus as your Lord?” Jesus is the unchallenged human example, for Christians, of what it means to lead a “covenantal life.” He’s the author of the “Parable of the Sheep and the Goats,” (Mt. 25:31ff). He’s the one who demands not just our money, but also our selves, our souls, 100% of all we are – at any time and anywhere. (See “The Widow’s Mite,” (Lk 21:1-4), the “Story of the Rich Young Ruler,” (Lk 18:18-23)) Accordingly, if we are not fighting against “spiritual forces of wickedness,” – spiritual forces that encourage each of us to idolize our own wants and put them ahead of God’s agenda – we are not following and obeying our Lord.

That’s part of what it means to be a “person of the covenant.”

The other part will be the subject of the next post – the “person of the covenant” as set forth in Eucharist. Indeed, it is Baptism and Eucharist that mark all Christians as being “of the covenant.”

(I guess it might be appropriate to say that Christians are a subset of “People of the Book,” and that these two sacraments mark the major difference between Christians and the other religions of the Book – namely Jews and Muslims.)

I hope you didn’t finding reading this post too burdensome.

Ta ta for now.