Monday, December 2, 2013

Joe Riddle and Revelation 5:12

One thing I've noticed about large churches or ministries is that, whenever they ask for money or try to inspire the people to give money, they almost always have to find a verse to do so - and most of the time, it's a verse that has little to anything to do with giving, tithing, or similar. For example, Wes Hall of the International House of Prayer, while speaking at OneThing VA Beach, took the story of Cornelius the Centurion from Acts 10, quoted how Cornelius "gave alms generously" in verse 2, and tried to inspire the people to likewise give their generously (despite the fact this wasn't what the passages were commanding).

Another example I heard the other night, while watching Wave Church's online broadcast of their six o'clock Sunday services. Joe Riddle, the young adults pastor of Wave Church, while the offering plate was being passed around, turned to a passage from the Revelation of John to substantiate the need to give to your church. He specifically quoted Revelation 5:12, which reads (I'm quoting here from the ESV):
saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
What Joe Riddle did was take the use of the word "wealth" and say, "See? God deserves even our finances!" Thus, people there were to take Revelation 5:12 as inspiration to give money to Wave Church. As many former members of Wave Church have told me, getting your money is something Steve Kelly and his leaders are rather adamant about.

The question for us, in any case, is whether or not Revelation 5:12 is truly teaching that we are supposed to give money to our church.

Let's first recognize some context of what is being spoken of here: the people speaking are the "myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands" (NASB) of angels on the scene (see v. 11) who are joining in with the previous praises said by the living creatures and elders in vv. 8-10. While many commentators view the living creatures and elders as a summary of creation and the church, the angels obviously represent the heavenly bodies. We see this as a gradual culmination of praise that reaches its climax in verse 13, where all created beings - heavenly and earthly - join together in praise of God.

This tells us that angels are singing this in the verse, not people. Are we therefore to expect that angels are singing that God deserves their finances? Do angels tithe? Does this mean angels have paying jobs with incomes from which they tithe? If not, what then do they tithe? From what financial account do angels give?

Some will probably contend here that the angels are singing about what man should do, to which we should move on to the second point: there are seven specific traits here mentioned of God being worthy to receive. They are:
  • Power
  • Wealth
  • Wisdom
  • Might
  • Honor
  • Glory
  • Blessing
If we are supposed to assume, from Joe Riddle's interpretation of "wealth," that these are things we give to God, then we must likewise presume, in order to be consistent, that all the other traits are things we likewise give to God. Do we therefore give God power? Do we give God wisdom? Do we give God might, honor, glory and blessing? Remember, these are all nouns, not verbs (we cannot say "glory" means "to give glory," as we would in prayer or thanksgiving). We would have to presume that God is somehow lacking in wisdom, or might, or honor, and so He would require this from us. I hope the reader will forgive me for what may be lazy Bible study, but permit me here to say that I am certain most Christians would recognize God is not lacking in any of those, and needs them from no one, therefore there is no need for me to present scriptural evidence for the positive case.

What, therefore, is the context of this passage? It would help to notice that the wording in this version is making reference to a common rabbinical way of describing God: that He has power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory and blessing. These are traits God possesses, and which He is worthy of possessing. It is worth noting that, as this verse is speaking of Christ (the "Lamb who was slain"), this passage is a good example to prove the divinity of Christ is taught in scripture.

In any case, what is the "wealth" spoken of in this verse? The root word for wealth (πλοῦτος) can also refer to "abundance," which can be used for earthly or spiritual things. In the context of that which God has, we know that God isn't like the dragon Smaug, sitting atop a mountain somewhere cuddling with a huge pile of gold. Rather, scripture always speaks of God's gifts in a spiritual context, either having an abundance of something or presenting something to humanity in abundance. We can clearly see this in other verse which speak of God's riches or gifts, such as Romans 2:4, Ephesians 1:7, 1:18, 2:7, 3:8 and 3:16, Colossians 1:27 and 2:2, Hebrews 11:26, or James 1:17. It is also worth noting that, in the New Testament, whenever πλοῦτος is used in regards to earthly riches, it is almost always in a negative context (see Mt 13:22; Mk 4:19; Lk 8:14; Jas 5:2, etc.), whereas when it is spoken of in regards to spiritual riches, it is always in a positive context (see especially 1 Tim 6:17). 

So is Revelation 5:12 about us giving money to Wave Church, let alone any church? No, it's not. The wealth spoken of here is God's wealth, and that which He lovingly bestows upon those who call upon His name. They are freely given, and they are given out of love and gracious providence. They do not require giving, tithing, or any other "if/then" statement. Keep in mind that I am not writing Christians shouldn't give or support their local church, only that this verse does not speak of such a thing, and to distract people from the context of this verse is to distract them from the love and beneficence of God. It turns something which God possesses in full to something that is required of us to do.

As usual, the leadership of Wave Church are not afraid to abuse the context of scripture to obtain money from their congregation and followers. They are the false teachers whom the apostle Peter warned would, out of greed, exploit their people with false words (cf. 2 Pe 2:3). Those attending Wave Church I would exhort to leave, and never look back. Flee from the wolves, and seek a Bible-honoring church in which you can grow and be edified.