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A trumpet call for human dignity - A trumpet call for church liberty

Dott. Raffaele Battista, Librarian and Teacher at Facoltà Avventista di Teologia

Claudio Coppini is a good and honest 50-year-old man who had a hard life with his inevitable financial difficulties. Ten years ago I was visiting him in his office-turned-to home. We had been studying the Bible together for some time, when one evening he blurted out nervously, “I’m really upset, my friend, the money I’m getting isn’t enough to cover basic expenses”
“Yes I know, with such a small sum of money you’ll never make it!” I said, and after taking a breath, I continued: “What you need is to return tithes to God.”
Well, Claudio has been a friend of mine for 11 years now, and he has publicly told this story several times since that night, but each time we remember that dialogue, he tells me with a big grin:
“Man, that evening I had two options: a) to kick you and throw you down the stairs and b) to understand what you were trying to say ”. (Lucky for all, I chose the second one!)

That next week when we met again, he told me that following our conversation he had a sleepless night. He told me that a window was opened that could not be shut.
He thought: “after all, what have I got to lose!? Try God, you never know…”
As you are reading this, even now I can see what you are thinking: “He is going to tell us that something miraculous happened shortly thereafter.”
As a matter of fact, I must confess that a little later my friend received the long-awaited payment, but believe me, this is not the point. Well, this helped Claudio out a lot, no question about it, but still this is not the point.
The point is that after a long period of wrong decisions and failures, a have-not man found the courage to stand up and go for a new life, in which he might still be poor, but with a new vision.

The vision is, first of all, a strong plea to God. A shock, a cry, addressed to God:
I do not know how to tell you that I need help, God, and this is my cry.
I could be angry because of my poverty, but I chose to pray instead, not just with my lips, but with a tenth of the little money I can earn in my miserable life.
But, I see now that my life is not miserable anymore. I found my Manager, I found My financial Advisor, I found my President, I vote for Him! He is my new politician. I now see the big picture.

This is the trumpet call, inherent in the biblical law of tithing, for the poor, the weak, the unsuccessful, by their own fault or not. By cutting off the tenth part of his little income, an irrational decision by mere logic of survival, Claudio (photo) started claiming his belonging to God: the first step on a long-short road. His new life in stewardship began that day and it is still continuing today. By his act he moved from a child’s faith to a new resurrected manly faith.

In some countries, including Italy, state law requires that a portion of the revenue (8x1000 in Italy) must go to the churches that have signed agreements with the state. The proceeds of this money must be invested in social work, or face penalty and suspension of entitlement.
In principle, I have nothing against it. This is money which is due to the state, it decides to allocate to social work, passing through church institutions. The 8X1000 flow is not intended to pay clergy salaries or rentals, this approach avoids church ties of mutual dependency with the state.
That being said, I believe that certain number of problems still exist between authorities and faith communities. Following this line of thinking I believe we discover in the following passage, a richness of meaning and solutions, expertly intertwined by the Biblical author.

Let me shed light onto this episode reported in Genesis 14: 18-23.

In the text, Abraham meets two characters, clearly antithetical: on one hand the mysterious figure of the priest-king Melchizedek, the king of Salem, on the other hand the equally unknown king of Sodom.
The fact that the two figures are antithetical, emerges from the patriarch’s attitude towards both of them.
Abraham, after paying Melchizedek his tithes, (And he gave him a tithe of all) he refuses any kind of financial support from the king of Sodom. (I will not take anything that is yours).

Unlike the previous case, with people who have certain political and economic power, Abraham does not want to base his life on the earthly dynamics of political and economic activity. Abraham was, of course, interested in economic growth, but not in profit at any cost. He is the prototype of the ethical entrepreneur. This shows the possible coexistence of profit with freedom from the powers that strongly oppose God.

The explicit act: political, economic, religious and liturgical, made by the patriarch, was to return the tithe. The act is also of a spiritual nature, and connects to the worship of Yahweh (Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand).

The tithe that Abram handed Melchizedek implements an ideal situation that has not been repeated in the history of Israel and Christianity. Melchizedek was priest-king, and in handing him the Tithe, Abraham recognized his dual spiritual and political authority. The perfect superposition of these roles can no longer be legitimately found in human history. So much so that Melchizedek is seen as a type of Christ.

For this reason, we wanted to dedicate this reflection only to the founding texts of the institution of tithing.
Setting aside the historical development of the institution, the service of the Jewish temple and the New Testament, we should well consider the relationship between law and spontaneous, non-coded donations.
Focusing on this text, undoubtedly inter-national and inter-religious, allows us to capture the essence of this principle (even before the law) and applies it to the religious and political-economic context including personal and individual dynamics.
In the text we find a third crucial element that we could rarely find in other, even notable, ethical financial theories.

It is the spiritual dimension in economic activities. And this spiritual dimension is found in that particular act of worship, the preliminary consecration of money and assets used in running our businesses. Of course, by this, we do not want to suggest a superstitious or magical concept of the institution of tithing.
Tithing is an act, private and public at the same time, in which we ask God to become our business partner. Of course, He is much more than that, but as a loving Father He loves to discuss all aspects of life, in order to constantly find new ways, new paths of success and ultimately, liberation from poverty.

Raffaele Battista

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Stewardship
We are God’s stewards, entrusted by Him with time and opportunities,
Abilities, possessions, and the blessings of the earth and its resources. We
are responsible to Him for their proper use. We acknowledge God’s ownership
by faithful service to Him and our fellow men, and by returning tithes
and giving offerings for the proclamation of His gospel and the support and
growth of His church. Stewardship is a privilege given to us by God to nurture
in love and to have the victory over selfishness and covetousness. The steward
rejoices in the blessings that come to others as a result of his faithfulness.
(Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; 1 Chron. 29:14; Haggai 1:3-11; Mal. 3:8-12;
1 Cor. 9:9-14; Matt. 23:23; 2 Cor. 8:1-15; Rom. 15:26, 27.
(Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 21st believe)

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. Malachi 3:10

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself." But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, "that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich'. Genesis 14:18-23.

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