Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Elevation Church in Clearfield, Utah is another one that’s been sitting in our backlog for a while. We had to delay this one initially because I couldn’t get the pastor to agree to an email interaction, but now it’s time to get it done, one way or another. We’ve waited long enough.
Let’s check this church!
Church Website: https://www.elevation.cc/#welcome
There is one red flag on the Homepage, and only one. The slogan/vision/mission statement at the very top of the page.
Red Flag: Experience, Empower, Engage
Here we have yet another church that puts emphasis on your experience and the experience specifically being empowering. I don’t like this language because it comes off as very self serving.
Church isn’t about empowering people. It’s about worshiping and serving God. Teaching His Word and learning about it. Trying to entice people with words like “experience,” and “empowering,” come off as very People-serving and Money-serving, not God-serving.
The second red flag we find on this church’s website is the Give page.
At first, many of the statements made about giving on this church’s website seem very true, and are legitimate reasons for giving. Things get hairy for me when I get to this sentence on the Give page:
“When we give of our “firsts” or as some say, “first fruits,” we are keeping God number one in our life.”
This is a reference to an Old Testament command to the Israelites regarding tithing. Without actually referencing the Old Law itself here and quoting the Scripture that uses these terms, Elevation is invoking the law of tithing here.
Things get worse with the statement that immediately follows:
“Those that have said Elevation is their home church community have agreed to give as a sacrifice of joy.”
This makes me wonder if Elevation Church does in fact have members of its church sign an agreement to give to the church. If that’s the case, it’s red flag of legalism and money serving. Not good.
Scroll down further and they have a FAQ’s section on the topic of tithing itself. Things only get worse from here. I’m going to answer each of this church’s answers to these questions to hopefully refute and correct any confusion regarding this subject.
“Should giving vary by income?
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 is being taken out of context here to try and apply a specific suggestion made by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth to all Christians of all churches for all times. It’s not a universal law or command for all Christian churches of all times. Paul was advising the churches of the time in order to put together a gift for the Christians suffering at the time.
So while churches today certainly have the right, and the good example here, to take collections, this passage is not a command for all Christian churches. Additionally, it only makes sense to give according to what you have, but the use of this Scripture as law for all Christians and all churches just doesn’t work.
“Should a broke college student tithe?
2 Corinthians 8:1-4 And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.”
This Scripture says nothing about tithing. The word tithing keeps getting thrown around and used as if it’s relevant to Christians. It’s not. These Scriptures are speaking solely of giving, not tithing.
Just because some Christians give beyond their ability and through severe trial, that doesn’t mean you have to. If God leads you to give and you can do it cheerfully out of love for God and others, by all means, give, but it’s between you and God, not you and your church or anyone else. Don’t let your church guilt you into giving more by referencing the giving of others. Giving out of guilt is not the heart that God wants of us. (2 Cor. 9:7)
“What should I do if I cannot afford to tithe?
You may need to begin by reorganizing your spending habits with a wise budget. If you are someone with an unusual need (i.e. traumatic injury, impoverished elderly, struggling single mom) then we the church should aid you. We also believe so much in the blessings of God when we give through the grace of God, that we as a church will always challenge others to give to God no matter what. If at any time someone feels that Elevation is simply hungry for money, we would recommend that the giving be done to another God-focused church.”
There are some things I like about this answer, and some that I don’t.
For some people, no matter how well they organize their “spending habits,” they’re still poor, and they simply can’t afford to give. Just as this answer says, those people should be helped by the church, not devoured by the church as the widows Jesus referenced (Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47).
Once again, tithe is being used as if it’s required of Christians. It’s not. We should be using the word “giving,” not “tithe.”
This answer subtly suggests that if you give even in extremely difficult circumstances, God will bless you. This is a message of selfish giving with the ulterior motive to receive blessings from God. We should only give out of love for God and others, not out of selfish desires to be blessed. And don't forget, God isn't the tooth fairy. This idea that God will bless us if we give money to our church is wrong for so many reasons.
Any giving that a Christian does with a heart for God is giving to God. It doesn’t need to be a church. It can be to anyone that is in need out of love for them. Period. This idea that we have to give to a local church or it’s not really giving to God is ridiculous. God is not confined to the building walls of the local church, and neither are the people in need that He told us to give to.
“Should I tithe from my gross or net income? (Should I tithe from all total income or only what I take home?)
Proverbs 3:9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops… In our society the government takes a piece of our income before we ever see it (in most cases). The Bible teaches the concept of first fruits, meaning that of all we are given or earn, we should give the first portion back to God. “
This is taken from the Old Testament references to the Law, and does not apply to Christian giving, but to the Old Covenant Law of tithing.
Christian giving is not about amounts or where it comes from (gross or net income). It’s all about the heart with which we give. Again, 2 Corinthians 9:7. We decide how much, when, and to whom we will give. We are not bound to the law of tithing.
“How much should I tithe?
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
Tithe means ten percent. The fact that they’re referencing 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 contradicts the law of tithing itself. They’re correct in their reference, and if this is what they truly believe about giving, they should stop using the word tithing, because it’s not the same thing.
The rest of the statements made on Elevation’s Give page are all over the map.
Sometimes they preach the true Biblical concept of giving in the New Testament, but then reinforce the Law by referencing Old Covenant Law and expectations. This church’s view on giving is very ambiguous and unclear to me, but what is clear is that they pressure giving using the word tithing quite a bit.
All in all, the language on the Home Page and the preaching of tithes on the Give Page are red flags worth being concerned about. Not looking good so far.
At first, Pastor Matt seemed willing to answer our questions, but as is sometimes typical of church pastors, he wanted to avoid giving any answers in written form and insisted on speaking on the phone.
In the end, my schedule and circumstances (two little boys and three big dogs) prevented me from a phone conversation, and he still refuses to send his answers to our Questionnaire in writing. So, until he does, we’ll have to find the answers ourselves. Let’s see what we can muster up for you, church checkers.
1. What is your church's official position on tithing?
As we observed on the Give page of the Website Review, this church’s views on tithing are a little confusing. While on the one hand they seem to acknowledge that the law of tithing is an Old Testament Law that no longer applies to Christians, on the other they continually invoke the term on Christians as if it does, suggesting that even struggling, poor Christians who can’t afford to tithe should still give, even beyond their ability.
2. Does your church have a particular set of rules or requirements that members must follow or abide by in order to retain their membership status with the church?
While we couldn’t find any kind of church membership agreement on this church’s website, there was one statement that seemed to suggest that they do in fact have one. We saw it on their Give Page (emphasis mine):
“Those that have said Elevation is their home church community have agreed to give as a sacrifice of joy.”
We’ll have to do further research to find out what this means for sure.
3. Are you transparent with your church's financial information? How much does your church bring in through donations and tithing, and how is that money distributed?
While some information regarding the church’s financial information is in fact given on their Give Page, this is still a far cry from true financial transparency. We need to know if the church provides its members, or even better, the public, with a report or information on how the church money is spent and distributed. Also, where they get their money if there are additional incomes besides “tithing.”
Here is the statement on their Give Page that does provide us with a little bit of information, however:
“Does Elevation have controls for ensuring my contributions are handled safely?
Yes. Not only are the monies counted by two people, but a record of giving is kept in two different digital formats and databases. Our workers who count the offerings are not the ones who balance or determine spending. A budget team allocates the monies, while a separate volunteer balances the books, and an independent accountant reviews our records every month.”
4. Which denomination does your church align with the most, if any?
A Google search result tells us that Elevation is an “interdenominational” church, while their Facebook Page says they are Evangelical.
5. Is your church's pastor available for other questions or comments regarding the church, its doctrines, etc.?
Pastor Matt provides an email address to contact him through on the church’s website, but besides this information, how available he makes himself for answering questions or comments, I’m not sure. He seemed willing to speak with me on the phone initially, but refused to answer questions in writing. How open he is to the questions of other Christians, I can’t say for sure.
6. How is your church's doctrinal flexibility and tolerance regarding non-essential doctrines? If a member has a disagreement with the pastor or leadership on a certain doctrine, how is it handled? Does the church change its position on non-essential doctrines fairly often, if at all?
We don’t know this either. Further research will need to be done to find out more on this question.
7. Does your church require that its members be baptized? What is your church's official position on baptism?
You can read all about Elevation Church’s positions regarding baptism on their website here. It doesn’t appear that they require members to be baptized, as their general attitude seems fairly laid back and gracious on this topic.
8. Please describe what a typical service and/or meeting looks like in your church.
On the church’s I’m New Page, you can read this about their Sunday services:
“We are a community of multi-generational, multi-cultural Christ followers that gather together each week to welcome the presence of God and to live out the calling He has placed on our lives. We strive to provide an atmosphere that is welcoming, easy-going, and family friendly. When you join us on a Sunday morning you can expect a Bible-based message that will grow your faith and help you in your walk with God. We pray that you will be changed as you encounter His presence.”
9. How many people do you have on staff at your church, both paid and volunteer?
Elevation Church’s website has a Team Page that lists their main staff at the church, but who is paid and who is strictly volunteer is not shared.
10. What is the pastor's educational history?
There is no educational information on Pastor Matt Miller on the website or the church’s Facebook Page.
11. How does the church discipline its members with their sin?
Another question that will require further research to answer. There is nothing on the website that answers this question, but perhaps with an in-person check or a visit to their Newcomers Lunch, we’ll find out the answer to this one.
12. How is the pastor compensated (income, benefits, bonuses, etc.)?
As usual, this information is nowhere on the website and since the Questionnaire was stonewalled by Pastor Matt, we will probably never know. We may be able to ask this question if we are to attend their Newcomers Lunch when the time comes, however.
13. What is the size of your church and any other space the church owns for meetings and church services?
Elevation Church has over 1,000 likes and follows on their Facebook Page, so they probably have a regular attendance or membership of 200-300 people. As for their building, they are at 375 S. State Street in Clearfield, Utah in what looks like a section of a strip mall building.
We weren’t able to find any video or audio recording of this church’s worship services, so we will have to hold off on this portion of the Check until we can visit the church service in person.
And now for the sermon!
Speaker: Pastor Matt Miller
Date: October 3rd, 2019
Is the sermon topical or a verse by verse study through the Bible?
It appears that while each sermon does have a topical reference, in this case “Rooted in Compassion,” each sermon is actually a verse by verse study in the Bible. Right now Elevation Church is going through the book of Jonah.
Is it Biblical? How frequently is the Bible used? Is it interpreted in context or twisted to fit the narrative of the sermon?
It’s definitely Biblical, both in its message and its usage of Jonah Chapter 4. All of Chapter 4 of Jonah is read and explained contextually, and Pastor Matt even cross references the Gospels in order to explain God’s compassion in the face of the “Pharisee-ism” of people.
What’s at the heart of the sermon? The Bible, the gospel, God, Jesus, or something else?
God’s compassion, the legalism and spiritual pride of men, and ultimately, the Gospel of Jesus through the grace and compassion of God. This was truly a sermon rooted in compassion, grace, and the Gospel.
Were you fed the Word of God, or the words of men?
This sermon was very straightforward and easy to understand. Unlike a lot of sermons we’ve been hearing these days, the pastor doesn’t get sidetracked into other topics often, leading the listeners into confusion and a vague understanding of what he’s actually talking about.
He’s focused on the message he’s putting forth, and he keeps it rooted in the Word. While it was a pretty short sermon, it was absolutely in the Word and while it was still a little milky for my personal liking, it was the Word nonetheless.
A good sermon overall.
While the sermon left us satisfied, the red flags of legalism remain at this church. The preaching of tithes on their Give Page and the hints at church membership left Elevation closer to the middle of the Grace Scale, but we’re hoping we can lean more onto the Grace side of things once we’re able to find out more about this church.
We don’t see any signs of political preference or bias at this church, so we put them right in the middle of the political scale.
Scandals & Controversies
The clear preaching of tithing on the church website in addition to the few other red flags we found, as well as the stonewalling we received for our questions, are all controversies that need resolving. Besides these issues, however, we couldn’t find any other controversies related to this church.
Although the sermon was good and the church’s views on baptism seem gracious, there were also some signs of legalism at this church. While the opposing signs of both grace and law seem to balance out in the end, the stonewalling of our Questionnaire and the clear preaching of tithing on the church website were too much for us to sit on the fence with this one.