Well. Deep breath.
Last week I was all over the sacred cows, and several went up in flames… with this one, the site just linked offers downloads of two books, Should the Church Teach Tithing and Eating Sacred Cows. Ahem.
Rather then delve into the specifics of the issue, like what Malachi really meant and if it’s really supposed to hold through the New Testament (whatever), I’ll just offer some of my own thoughts. I do have some, as this was a bit of a hot-button issue in my CLB. Over the years I was there, there was some teaching on tithing — not an excessive amount, but it was unequivocal, and it was one of the measures of whether or not someone was “committed” to the church. Leaders were expected to tithe, and it was taught as a proper minimum. Mostly it was based on Old Testament passages… the New Testament doesn’t really mention it, or does so very sparingly. There was one passage where the subject came up and Jesus didn’t say it was bad, so this was used as an indication that the practice should remain for believers today. Not only that, but it was further taught that not tithing hinders God’s blessing in your life, particularly in the financial department. This wasn’t a word/faith prosperity-teaching crowd, they just thought that if you didn’t tithe you would somehow invite a financial curse upon yourself or at least hinder God from blessing you.
Poor God, who is barred from blessing people because their account is overdue. Remember, according to the argument from silence (did you catch that one?) Jesus figured this whole tithing thing was all okay with him. In the context of the teaching that was given on this subject, one question might be asked, but would be anticipated and answered anyway. Should one tithe based on your gross or on your net income? The consistent answer from the leaders there was to respond with a question. “Do you want to be blessed gross or net?” Clearly, the gift and the blessing of God are linked, and evidently the amount of the gift reflects the return. Really, in this worldview it’s an investment. Or a spiritual slot machine, I could never tell which.
Over the time I was in this church, I had financial struggles. Not the whole time, but at times. I remember asking pastors to pray for me concerning this issue, and being asked in direct response if I was tithing. The connection seemed pretty clear that if I wasn’t tithing, it wasn’t worth praying. After all, God couldn’t and wouldn’t bless me or answer the prayer unless I repented and paid up. If I was tithing, perhaps it was just faith that I lacked… but at least they were more willing to pray for that.
The more I looked at it, the more absurd the whole thing seemed to me. Jesus didn’t ban or amend the practice of tithing — he didn’t say much of anything at all. It’s certainly not a bad idea to give to the church and support the work… this clearly happened in Acts, and references of this type are found in Paul’s letters as well. But it seemed to me that in my reading the New Testament, the principle seemed to be that all your money belongs to God, not just the tithe. Expanding one’s view to the entire corpus of Scripture, one can see that God has a lot to say about money. Overall, he does talk about the tithe, but he doesn’t say a whole lot about it… the thing he says a whole lot about in connection with money is care for the poor.
As I thought this through, it seemed to me that a question loomed… rather than justifying the money one gives away, such as a tithe, what if one tried to justify the money one kept? That might be a lot harder. Ultimately, the whole matter for me boiled down to one simple rule: honour God with your money. In some ways this makes it harder, but in every way it frees me from legalism.
As for my CLB, about six months or so after I left, they decided to accept tithes by debit card, preauthorized debit, and credit card. They circulated a letter explaining how people wishing to avail themselves of these conveniences should give a little extra to cover the transaction fees for each type of automated processing method. In the letter, specific examples were given to illustrate how much one would have to give so that the net amount received by the church after transaction fees and service charges would still be 10%. The gift would of course be receipted as tax deductible — less the cost of the transaction fee itself.