Should Parachurch Organizations be Supported?

Discussion in 'Ecclesiology' started by BLM, Aug 24, 2019.

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  1. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Hello friends,

    I am curious to learn what other PBers think about parachurch organizations. Specifically, do you think Christians, either individually or as a local church, should be supporting them with their time and/or finances?

    I don't doubt that many do great work supporting the work of the Church; however, I've grown concerned about the legitimacy of them and fear they siphon off resources that should be given to local churches instead. I'm also concerned they compete and rival the Church instead of being subordinate and under the authority of it.

    Does anyone know how parachurch organizations first started? I will likely irk some by saying this, but I often wonder whether baptist ecclesiology contributed to the proliferation of them in the U.S. I haven't thought this idea through fully, so please poke holes in it if you disagree.

    I'd also like to hear how you might define what a parachurch ministry is. Would you consider Christian book/magazine publishers, like Banner of Truth, to be a parachurch ministry? How about something like Ligonier Ministries, White Horse Inn, or The Gospel Coalition?

    Lastly, do you think the explosion of parachurch organizations has contributed to the Christian celebrity cult culture (C4) that exists today?

    There are a lot of questions shot-gunned in this thread, but I'd appreciate hearing what others think about this topic. Opinions for, against, or indifferent are welcomed.

    Thanks and have a joyful day in the Lord.
  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    If you support other Christians then you are supporting The Church. The Body of Christ does many things, both privately, as non-formal voluntary associations, and as groups.

    Yes, many parachurch orgs do good work. Ligonier's anyone? Bible translators? MAF pilots? Youth camps.

    Para means beside. Just make sure para-church orgs are truly beside the church and not over the church or in place of the church.

    There have ALWAYS been religious orders and orgs outside of local parishes. We see nunneries and convents and hermitages even in the times of the ancient church. In NT times we see missionary bands that are semi-autonomous and field-led. There were so many itinerants that the Didache put some stipulations on them and we see III John teach on these itinerants as well.

    Support your local church well. But by all means, don't stop there. Support many Christian endeavors.
  3. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Perg, thanks for your response brother!

    What are your thoughts on accountability? Specifically, do you feel parachurch organizations should operate without any ecclesiastical oversight? If the parachurch ministry operates beside the Church and not under it what are the means for holding that parachurch group accountable if the actions of an individual or the group as a whole needs to be corrected?
  4. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    This has always been my concern as well.
  5. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I have grown suspicious of the term "accountability" as some people utilize it; it often just means people want to control you. And it is applied unequally. Yes, we need accountability, but those churches that are so frequently talking about accountability are often those churches that you most want NOT to be authorities over you. I have seen many churches lord their authority over missionaries or their members. If a church is always talking about the need for accountability, I have learned that you should probably run far away because they are very interested into reeling all areas of your life under their control.

    For instance, I am Reformed Baptist and I am supported mostly by Reformed Baptist Churches. Among these churches many speak about accountability, and yet there is now a huge scandal where pastors were letting a child abuser move and get to pastor another church. Sharing internet news was called "gossip" and "slander." But these same churches often stress the "accountability" of its members and some level of authoritarian elder-rule exists among many of these same churches who let the pedophile pastor off the hook.

    At other churches if a member wanted to pass out tracts in their own spare time they had to have each tract approved by the elders before they had permission. For the sake of accountability, of course. I left a church like that when they began to push for membership and have the members sign a church covenant (to keep us accountable, of course).

    I know Reformed Baptist churches that have asked for the paystubs of their members to make sure that they were tithing (for accountability's sake, of course). I can name them if I have to.

    So let me turn the question back on you: you are a particular baptist who believes that each local church is an autonomous entity unto itself alone. So what about accountability of that one local church? Who are they accountable to?

    In general parachurches are 501c3 and often registered with ECFA (The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability). In general there is often a trained CPA on staff doing the taxes and finances instead of an older volunteer elder like in many small baptist churches. Most parachurch orgs have child protection policies in place whereas most small baptist churches are often clueless on these issues. It could be argued that if you take 50 parachurch orgs and compare them with 50 local baptist churches that you will find that parachurches display a greater level of accountability than local churches.
  6. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    I appreciate your question. Jesus Christ is the head of the church. The local church, being gathered and organized according to the mind of Christ, is accountable to Him. It has officers chosen and set apart to oversee and shepherd the members who have voluntarily joined themselves to it.

    The parachurch might be comprised of individual Christians, but the institution or organization as a collective whole shouldn't be confused for the local church or held in such regard that it is sitting beside it as an equal authority. I think this is an area of confusion for many today and one reason why church membership is held in such low regard.
  7. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Is Jesus Christ the head of the local church or the universal Church? Or both?
    Most parachurches do not confuse themselves with local churches. Christians join together in voluntary associations all the time in addition to their local churches. Christians being simply Christians can form teams and do good things.

    Most mission boards are governed by a board of directors drawn from the churches which supply them missionaries. Some orgs do this better and some worse. For instance, the Promise Keepers sort of became a replacement church. Other parachurches exist to help the church. I mean, do we count Mission Aviation Fellowship as a parachurch? They do good work. You don't need to be an elder to fly a plane, but missionaries need flight services, so MAF fillls a gap. How exactly should a local church oversee an aviation org? How does that work practically? You need pilots to lead pilots. Local non-pilot pastors of a US church are incapable for this sort of specialization.

    So. Thank God for all structures which Christians form to do good things. The local church is supreme. And all Christians should belong to one. But Christians may also join with others to do specialized tasks as well.
  8. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    An interesting little tidbit from Dr. Morton Smith:

    The New Testament nowhere envisions any such thing as the modern "parachurch" agencies carrying out the work of the Church. The Great Commission was given to the Church and not to individual Christians. The rise of parachurch organizations has been stimulated by the modern-day phenomenon of denominations and the failure of many of these denominations to carry out the Great Commission. With the multiplicity of denominations, one could argue for the use of parachurch service organizations, such as, translation societies, or aviation agencies, that assist all denominations in carrying out the commission, but these organizations ought not to be performing the mission of the Church itself.

    —Morton H. Smith, Systematic Theology, 2 vols. (Greenville, SC: Greenville Seminary Press, 1994), 573.​
  9. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for posting this Taylor!

    Coincidentally, I picked up Morton Smith's Systematic Theology earlier this month and though I have only read bits and pieces so far what I've read I've really liked. I'll have to look up the section you quoted later this evening.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2019
  10. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    It really is a great treatise. Did you drive to Greenville to get it? That's what I had to do.

    It's at the very end of ch. 40 (vol. 2). It's just a short addendum on parachurch organizations.
  11. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    So, do you think that Morton Smith would say that since churches need the services of aviation and translation societies as they carry out the Great Commission into the world, that we should support or not support such societies?
  12. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    I'm not sure, honestly. That's mainly why I presented the quote as an "interesting" bit from Smith. I'm not even sure if the quote is relevant, although someone might be able to make connections. I just thought it was funny how I just happened to see this quote by Smith maybe a day or two before this thread was started. Figured I would share it.
  13. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    If Christians presently need these services to finish the Great Commission, then these services need to be sustainable in some way. Sounds like they need support.

    If a person from your church wanted to leave your congregation to go fly as a pilot for MAF, would you support them or not? As a congregation or as individuals? I believe it would be good as a congregation to support that pilot. Sure, they are not directly church-planting, but they are helping church-planters from a variety of other churches.

    Mission orgs often pool resources for a central office to help do taxes/receipting for missionaries and to help with visas into different countries. Rather than each church duplicating these services, it makes better sense for the worldwide body of Christ (the Church) to make sure these services are supported. We can do much more together.

    Good ecclesiology should not makes us ineffective. We are reminded of our place in the Global body of Christ when these services are supported.
  14. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    In my experience it was the other way around. A number of people in the early '70s first heard the notion that they should be "full-time Christian workers." Some went on staff with the organizations promulgating this viewpoint. Others went to school, became pastors, and tried to build churches to look, sound, and feel like these groups.
  15. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Missionary societies have a long tradition:

    I used to think that parachurch orgs arose from bad ecclesiology in the 19th-20th Century. Roland Allen and others have said this, that missionary societies exist because churches are failing to do their jobs.

    But, then I realized that there was a long tradition of this sort of structure, originating in the New Testament - the missionary bands that we see in the book of Acts. These missionary bands came from several churches (not under 1 local church only), and they made field-based decisions (i.e. decisions were not made from 1,000 miles away), they were not economically dependent on one church (they were not church staff of one congregation) and they specialized in the outward push of Christianity. These are all traits of modern missionary societies.

    The ancient church had these, then hermitic bands. This morphed into the monks/nuns and medieval wandering preacher-monks.

    When the Reformation happened, many of these structures were disbanded. While Catholics were able to go as far as Japan hundreds of years ago, the Protestant missionary activity was geographically limited to Europe. When Carey reached India, the Catholics has already traversed the whole world. Calvinists make much of the failed effort in Brasil, and their focus on this lone example is a proof of the bad showing by the Protestants at this time. Of course, the Reformation WAS a missionary effort and they had to reclaim Europe.

    Jesus seemed to focus on function of the church and not form. Really, our data for ecclesiology is not at all too clear from the New Testament. It is like the NT writers did not consider ecclesiology as important as other things that were more central, or something like that. That is why I am suspicious of Reformed folks who major on ecclesiology, they have got their priorities wrong.

    During NT times the Jews had their synagogue structure (a stationary unit) and they also had traveling prosyletizers as well who traveled land and sea to make converts (Jesus speaks of these and in Acts we here of the Jews being in most cities), a mobile unit that functioned in teams. This model was known to the first Christians who adapted it to their own use.

    We see these structures all throughout church history. They are not a new invention. I hear all the time, "Christianity in the New Testament does not exist outside the Church." But that is simply not true is we are only talking about the local church. In the universal sense, Christianity IS the Church's activity (the worldwide body of Christ).

    The local church is not all there is. The Body of Christ has worked for years, the Holy Spirit guiding Christians as they move out and associate voluntarily with other Christians to do God's work.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2019
  16. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Come on, Perg. We are talking about the way things are supposed to be--not picking apart the defects of what is. Especially in our day when the "what is," is pretty bad in perhaps most cases.
  17. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    This topic probably deserves its own separate thread.

    But if a thing happens enough you've got to see it, not as a bug or a glitch, but part of the program. In Reformed Baptist circles that stress the high place of the elders and often use the term "churchmanship" and "authority" and "accountability" there are enough similar traits of authoritarianism that it must be seen as a tendency or a particular tendency to be guarded against.

    It's the same with some missionary orgs. For instance, for years in some mission orgs, once a family were sent to a field, the parents were obligated to put their kids into a boarding school. The families really did not have a choice in the matter. The org decided for you. Parents that balked at this were called insubmissive or "not team players", etc. It was a blind spot perhaps because that was just how things were done. Now we look back on it after the homeschooling movement has grown and online courses have become a possibility, and now we realize that other options should have been given to these families and we cringe at the separation of parents and children as a written mission policy.

    Similar with some elder-ruled churches. There is a blindspot. I've heard several pastors with 9 Marks talking and bemoaning how one was finally let go from his church. In his efforts to "reform" the church, he appointed elders who would agree with him, then he changed the churches by-laws, then instituted a church covenant, and then used said church covenant to discipline "disobedient members" (his words). The church finally tired of this and fired him. And he was somehow the victim. He just kept pushing an agenda and the congregation was never at peace, but always given a new hoop to jump through. I've heard similar tales from both Montville-related Reformed Baptist churches and ARBCA churches. They will contest it and say it doesn't exist, because they are part of the woodwork and cannot see it themselves. I have given examples above.
  18. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    That's interesting Perg. Could I have a few chapter and verses examples of how this was acutally God's better idea? Are you claiming that what you said in your post is an actual doctrine of God to be believed and obeyed? I know most about Reformed Confessions, and I don't remember seeing this. I also know I have read the Bible well over--and I mean well over--a hundred times, and I still see Paul appointing elders in every church. What did I miss?
  19. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    I appreciate all who have taken the time to comment and especially thank Perg for his perspective. I'd like to again reiterate what I hope is beyond dispute that there are parachurch groups that have done and continue to do much good supporting the Church. Whether the genesis of them (born out of necessity) and the continued growth and proliferation of them is a good thing I'm less sure of.

    The local church should be the Christian's priority when giving of their time and resources. Other good and godly endeavors outside the walls of the local church should be secondary. I don't think anyone here disputes this. (Perhaps I've just answered my own question in the OP.)

    However, my concerns, which are open to further critique, is that the popularity and proliferation of parachurch type functions have cast a shadow over the local church and many parachurch organizations exist today as an entity unto themselves.

    I was thinking about the broad umbrella of what is considered "parachurch" and found the below wikipedia list. The emphasis on this thread so far has been missions, which I appreciate given the worthy work that Perg is engaged in. But I wanted to widen the aperture some and bring these other parachurch functions into the discussion.

    I understand the "better together" concept of pooling resources across denominational lines to do good in our local communities and abroad. Depending on how the above functions are defined and the scope of them perhaps there is nothing on the list I'm overly against; however, everything on this list is secondary (some perhaps tertiary, quaternary, teniary) to the local church and perhaps more than a few, while "good", might not even be part of the primary mission of the church.

    I know I keep harping on the importance of the local church. We're all in agreement with that. Perhaps it's my frustration with seeing the local church downplayed around me that has bubbled up and I'm trying to make parachurch groups a scapegoat. I've been thinking through this issue quite a bit, which is why I posted the questions yesterday...hoping to have my thoughts sharpened by the comments of others here.

    Have a blessed Lord's Day my friends!
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2019
  20. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I see them more as inevitable, and I say that as someone who really doesn't care too much for them. The earlier ones like Ligonier were good, but then the Gospel Coalition came along.

    You are always going to have Christians networking outside of the church.
  21. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    In the very least it is descriptive in the New Testament practice. I would see it as an example; there is no indication that the early church was straying from God's design when they did this. They received no rebuke.

    I often meet Reformed Baptists who say that a missionary must be an ordained elder-qualified man sent from one church and even maybe supported by that one church and reporting back to that one church. He must only be involved in direct local-church planting. Sometimes major decisions are sent back to the sending church so that this church may help the missionary decide upon an issue. And that church then sometimes sends an elder to visit the missionary on the field.

    How this often plays out is that the sending church then becomes the boss of the missionary in an unhealthy way that exceeds normal "accountability" - and when elders visit the missionary the missionary is often "checked up on" sort of like a superior checks up on an inferior. This is particularly true when a Reformed Baptist church in America supports a poor Indian or Filipino pastor and an American elder goes to visit that pastor. The visited pastor cannot exert himself as the authority at his post contrary to his visitors because he is, in essence, under review by American elders who decide upon his financial support. He who holds the money holds the power. The pastor on the field then supports the narrow agenda of the sending church and sometimes is not even free to associate with others who are not of his particular denominational stripe.

    But we see in Acts that, yes, the local church at Antioch was very important. Even though the Apostle Paul was an Apostle, the church laid hands upon them. This was not ordination to the ministry but commissioning to the missionary task. Then he was sent out from Antioch on the first missionary journey.

    But we see that once on the field Paul made his own plans and set his own particular strategy (although the goals of the first missionary trip seem to have been laid out beforehand and Paul returned "home" to Antioch once his mission was completed, which was to explore the possibility of God calling the gentiles to like precious faith). The decisions were field-led.

    Many churches financed Paul, and Paul even financed himself. He was never dependent upon a single church, and he seemed to handle his own funds rather than Antioch handling it for him.

    Paul chose to recruit and work with many people. These people did not go through Antioch for approval, "On his second missionary journey Paul set out with Silas (15:40) and recruited Timothy in Lystra to join their team (16:3). In Troas, Paul and his companions were joined by Luke..." Paul always worked as a team (Acts 9:28-30; 13:1- 5, 13–16, 44–46; 14:1, 7, 20–21, 25; 17:1–15; 18:5–8). Not all of these fellow-workers, or Sunergois were elder-ordained men. And their tasks were broader than merely direct church-planting. Mark came in a support role. And women also traveled with the band and "co-labored" in the task and accomplished things for Paul (chapter 16 of Romans, for example, gives some of their names). Paul returned to Antioch and reported, but it was not an inferior reporting to his boss, but like a family member coming home to report on the news of his travels.

    It was a semi-autonomous mobile missionary band, after the manner of the the bands of mendicant monks and missionary societies of today.

    A lesson from William Carey:
    William Carey taught me that I should have a vigorous theology regarding the use of means.

    In Carey’s “Introduction” to his Enquiry, he urges readers to “use every lawful method to spread the knowledge of his Name.” Carey was no pragmatist, but he was a practical innovator within the limits of Scripture. Carey was not merely academic but activistic. He did not merely theorize and defend missions with his pen, he initiated new efforts. He urged “fervent and united prayer” and encouraged the continuation of the Concert of Prayer. He tabulated all the known people-groups of the world and their state of existence in “Section Three” of his Enquiry, so that he could both pray for them, and so that others might become aware of these teeming masses of unevangelized humanity and efforts could be made to reach them. This extraordinary effort in “people-group mapping” predated modern missiological efforts like the Joshua Project and Operation World by 200 years. He wrote extensively in an effort to promote missions and also advocated “penny subscriptions” to fund the work of mission societies.

    In “Section Five” of his Enquiry, Carey proposes that Christians band together into voluntary associations for the advancement of the Gospel:

    "Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers and private persons, were to form themselves into a society, and make a number of rules respecting the regulation of the plan, and the persons who are to be employed as missionaries, the means of defraying the expense, &c.&c. This society must consist of persons whose hearts are in the work, men of serious religion, and possessing a spirit of perseverance; there must be a determination not to admit any person who is not of this description, or to retain him longer than he answers to it.

    "From such a society a committee might be appointed, whose business it should be to procure all the information they could upon the subject, to receive contributions, to enquire into the characters, tempers, abilities and religious views of the missionaries, and also to provide them with necessaries for their undertakings."

    And then he concludes:

    "I would therefore propose that such a society and committee should be formed amongst the particular baptist [sic] denomination."

    In 1792, The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen was formed, and within the lifetime of Carey, dozens of missionary societies sprang into being, giving legs to local churches. If trading companies could organize travel to far flung shores, surely our charter is much greater. An explosion of missionary sending resulted.

    CONCLUSION: In essence, William Carey rediscovered the voluntary associations of Christians that we see from New Testament times. He was not only the Father of Modern Missions because he went first (there were missionaries already in India when he landed). But he stressed the "MEANS" of going (his very book speaking of those means, i.e., voluntary assocations of Christians committed to the missionary task. Missionary societies in other words). In the decades following Carey missionary societies sprang up like mushrooms. Reformed Baptists LOVE William Carey, but they reject his methodology and reject the means of accomplishing the task so very often.

    Later in life after Andrew Fuller died, William Carey and Marshman, and Ward began to have conflict with the board at home. The home office folks began to lord it over these long-time vets on the mission field. The letters back and forth grow more and more in conflict with one another. Finally, the Serampore guys broke with the home office because the home office kept trying to lead from the rear. Theirs is an example that we can learn from, even the Father of Modern missions ran into conflict with the home office.

    So, there is a direct line from the Jewish prosyletizer bands to the NT missionary bands to the orders of monks and Jesuits....with a pause at the Reformation when those structures were disbanded in Protestant Carey and the re-launch of missionary bands, to the Greatest Century of Christian missions, to the present day.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2019
  22. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I gotta run. Maybe I can get back later. Man, how do you write so much so fast? You're amazing, brother. It takes me time to think about things.

  23. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I'll wait for your response.

    I've had to defend my missionary decisions to several Reformed Baptist churches of sort of a "Landmark" persuasion who were very opposed to any cooperation with missionary organizations and also opposed any sort of broad cross-denominational mission work. Others do not believe any woman should be called a missionary. So, I've had to think through a lot of this and defend it.
  24. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    While there is an obvious parachurch nexus to mission work that is pertinent to the thread here, perhaps a new discussion narrowly focused on missions might be worth considering. I'm really enjoying the dialogue between Perg and Ed and don't want to discourage the interaction.
  25. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    It is extremely hard to discuss parachurches without discussing missionary work because missions is the main reason they came about.
  26. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks for your lengthy reply. I remember reading somewhere that in Cary's time, few churches were missionary-minded. Correct me if I am wrong. Know also that I am not a hardnosed control freak--far from it. But I am very afraid of pragmatism when it comes to everything related to God, His Church, and His Word. I will say little more on this subject now. You are so sold on all things parachurch that I would consider is foolish to try to dissuade you. Here are a few ideas and maybe a question or two.

    Even the Westminster Confession allows for the unconventional in what it calls "extraordinary times." In the very last section of their meticulously detailed, The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government, They have a chapter titled, "Thus far of ordinary Rules, and course of Ordination in the ordinary way; that which concerns the extraordinary way, requisite to be now practised, followeth," where they deal with a type of "pragmatism" that is simply the best things to do when, "these present exigencies, while we cannot have any presbyteries formed up to their whole power and work, and that many ministers are to be ordained." To which I add with an understatement that the Church is not now in the best of tmes.

    Q. I do have a question about how you know that "Not all of these fellow-workers, or Sunergois were elder-ordained men?"

    Mark may have come in a support role, and I have no problem with that. But the PB has some excellent resources that demonstrate that ordination is necessary for the teaching, preaching, and perhaps more so for theological writing. No less than eleven times, the Apostle John was commanded to write by the Lord Jesus. You should search some of these PB threads.


  27. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    "Specifically, do you think Christians, either individually or as a local church, should be supporting them with their time and/or finances?"

    I believe Christians should support their churches, and their churches should support missions.
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  28. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Just in Romans 16 we see that the Apostle Paul greeted 10 women and commended their various works.

    These early missionaries included men like Paul, but also included women who are included as "sunergois" or fellow-workers as well; and women also "co-laboured" with Paul, designating Gospel labor.

    (Romans 16:6,12...Prisca, Eudia, Syntyche, Mary who "has worked hard for you" and Tryphaena and Tryphosa who are "workers in the Lord" and the beloved Persis.....working hard for the Lord in these contexts means evangelistic labor.)

    These women were counted as fellow-labourers or sunergois.

    Only one ordained man need to be the head of a church-planting team; there being a number of tasks on any team that women or unordained men can fill. In tribal and Muslim societies (and in ancient Near East society, like in Paul's day, too) the men and women were highly segregated and women can reach women in a way that I cannot. This doesn't mean they are ordained or elder-qualified or that they are preaching, but they are sharing the Good News to their own gender. Ordination is not needed for these things.

    These things are not "pragmatism," but follow the pattern of the Book of Acts, and there is nothing commendable about being impractical when souls are at stake.
  29. Nomos

    Nomos Puritan Board Freshman

    I too am no fan of ministry that operates independently from the church and its God-ordained oversight. However, I am curious about those that support such groups financially. Is the financial support given to these agencies considered part of your tithes and offerings?

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