Why Does Today’s Church Follow an Old Testament Model?
I think we’re doing church wrong. At first I assumed it was just me, but today’s church is stuck in a rut, an Old Testament rut.
When God gave Moses the Law, he established some key expectations for worship.
First, he set specific parameters for the tabernacle, which later became the temple. It housed various articles and activities of worship. With little exception, the people had to go to the temple to worship God. They understood the temple as God’s dwelling place here on earth.
But the people wouldn’t connect with God directly; they were afraid of him. They wanted an intermediary, someone to reveal the Almighty to them and to represent them to him. To address this, God established the priesthood. These priests would serve God in his temple and be his representatives to his people.
Of course, this religious structure required financial support to maintain, so God instituted a temple tax, the tithe, an obligation to pay 10 percent to provide for the needs of the building and to support the staff.
Today, we still follow this Old Testament model: we have a church building where we go to worship God, hire a minister who represents God to us, and take a collection to support this hungry and growing infrastructure.
This is not what Jesus had in mind. In one single action, he did away with the building, the staff, and the offering. We should do the same.
When Jesus overcame death, the veil in the temple ripped apart, exposing the inner sanctum of the most holy place and symbolically allowing everyone direct access to God. No longer was God distant and removed; he became approachable by everyone.
The New Temple: God ceased living in the temple and began living in us. Our bodies became the temple of God. No longer is a physical building needed; we became his temple.God ceased living in the temple and began living in us Click To Tweet
The New Priesthood: No longer did priests need to serve as a liaison between the creator and the created. Instead, all who follow Jesus became his priests. The laity, serving as priests to each other, should minister to one another, not hire someone else to do it for them. No longer is there a need for paid staff to be the link between God and his people. We can now all approach God directly, hearing from him and acting on his behalf. The Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to us sees to that—if we are but willing to listen, hear, and obey what he says.
The New Finances: Finally is that pesky temple tax, which we call a tithe. A church’s building and staff take up 90 to 100 percent of a typical church’s budget. But once we remove the facility and the paid staff, there is no longer a need to give 10 percent. Nowhere in the New Testament are we commanded to tithe, not to God, not to the local church—as many ministers insist—and not for ministry. The only time New Testament writers talk about tithing is in reference to Old Testament practices, which Jesus fulfilled.
Instead of tithing to church, we see a principle where everything we have belongs to God. We are to be good stewards of his blessings, in turn using them to bless others. We must use our resources to help those in need and advance God’s kingdom, not to support and perpetuate a religious institution.
Which Model to Follow?
So why do we persist in following the Old Testament model of going to church each Sunday to seek God, being served by a minister, and tithing when Jesus died to give us something new, something much better? Jesus turned us into his temple, promoted us to priests, and changed the 10 percent temple tax into a principle of generosity.
Yes, it’s easy to do what we have always done; it’s comfortable to cling to the status quo, but Jesus offers us so much more—and he yearns for us to take hold of it. There is a new way to worship God, to worship him in spirit and in truth—and it doesn’t involve attending church each Sunday.
So stop following the Old Testament model of church: going to a building to meet God, revering the clergy, and tithing out of guilt or obligation. Instead, be God’s temple, act like priests, and share generously. This is the new model that Jesus gave us.
[Read more about this in Peter’s upcoming book, Jesus’s Broken Church.]
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.