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Advanced Tentmaking


We may have been guilty of exaggerating a bit in the article "The Tentmaking Myth". In it, we said that "tentmakers" say that everyone must work for money. But some people who make reference to Paul's tentmaking are not saying that it is wrong for others (e.g. ourselves or the first disciples) to live by faith. All they are saying is that, if Paul could get away with making tents, then why can't they do the same?

These people are taking an eternal gamble (a) that Paul actually did serve Jesus only on a part-time basis; (b) that God approved of this behaviour; and (c) that God's approval constitutes a blanket approval for anyone else to do the same, even though it is in direct contravention of all that Jesus taught.

A further problem arises when someone like ourselves publicly admits to suspicions about the validity of such an argument. Sure, we are allowed by the tentmakers to live by faith (and even commended for our super-human faith in doing so), but only so long as we do not say that others should be doing the same. So our claim that tentmakers condemn anyone who tries to live by faith may come across as a more significant error than it really is. For even in its softer form, the tentmaking myth condemns as heretical any teaching that criticises those who are tentmakers.

While it is conceivable that missionaries and others within the church system might be genuinely living by faith without a thought about whether or not others in the church should be doing the same, we personally have found that great pressure is applied to those in the full-time ministry to justify tentmaking on the part of others. Threats are made (or implied) to cut off material support if tentmakers are criticised. The tentmakers, after all (and not God) pay the salaries of all these "faith" ministries. Or so they say.

And at that point, we become suspicious even about the faith ministries. Are they really living by faith in a God who can take care of them with or without donors? If so, then they should speak the truth without fear of the consequences? But if they are living by faith in the donors, then you can expect that they will be quick to justify the materialism of their supporters. They must do that (in their thinking) if the donations are to continue to roll in.

Now, let's back up to the compliments that we receive about having great faith. When a rich young leader called Jesus "Good Master" Jesus pulled him up for it. It wasn't that Jesus did not deserve the compliment, but rather that it was a form of flattery that put Jesus up on a pedestal that (supposedly) could never be reached by anyone else.

It's nice to be complimented, and we appreciate compliments as much as the next person. But compliments which suggest that what Jesus has laid down as fundamental requirements for his followers (e.g. Luke 14:33) are an impossibility for most of the human race, must be recognised as blasphemous insults to God. God has not asked you to do anything that you cannot do. And he has not cursed some people with insufficient faith to obey him.

Jesus said that, if you have even the tiniest speck of faith, you will be able to "move mountains" with it. (Matthew 17:20) Having a little bit of faith is like being a little bit pregnant; you either have it or you don't. And if you are not obeying Jesus, it's not because you cannot; it's because you will not.

(See also The Donor.)

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