Steve Sensenig takes A Closer Look at Tithing, in which he cites Jollyblogger’s question, Can we ever spend the Lord’s tithe on ourselves?
Coincidentally, last weekend we were discussing tithing in our small gathering. This one issue seems such a a hot one. Not now, but back then, when I was in the church and being told I had to tithe. Now that I’ve exited the
matrix institutional church system, the whole tithing thing looks far from innocent. Let’s review:
- The Bible doesn’t say a lot about tithing, and where it does talk about money the majority of instances refer to care for the poor. Interestingly, the first and last mentions of tithing in the Bible both talk about Melchizedek.
- The New Testament talks about giving rather than tithing… and while there’s no mention of an appropriate sum or percentage, the indication is that it would have commonly been more than a tithe.
- The granddaddy tithing passage in Malachi is near the end of a long address to the priests. Maybe they were skimming off the top and not bringing in the whole tithe. God wasn’t happy about it anyway. The passage is typically used as an injunction to tithe.
- Despite the Malachi passage being addressed to the priests, it is now preached to individuals as a “promise” that tithing will bring blessing, but failing to do so will bring a curse. It always seemed to me that this was all too formulaic and promoted a form of selfish giving. In contrast, we looked at a passage in Amos that talked about how the people faithfully gave their tithes, but God still wasn’t happy because he didn’t have their hearts, so they were under a curse. Apparently the tithe doesn’t work for curse-aversion after all.
- There is but a single New Testament passage that can be construed as an instruction to tithe, and to get there requires some pretty big gymnastics. Basically you have to reverse the logic in Jesus’ words, but not directly. I’ve heard this one explained that because Jesus didn’t condemn the practice, he therefore was giving it an endorsement. Uh, no.
- Considering the collection of New Testament mentions of tithing, it would appear that almost all of them are in the context of judgment, condemning legalism, or a return to the ways of the law when the believers should in fact live under grace. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that in the New Testament, the practice of the tithe becomes almost the epitome of legalism.
We talked about how the continued instruction to tithe and the teaching that it was an obligation removed all the joy of giving. We were continually encouraged to “have faith” to live on 90% and give 10%. Not doing so was evidence of a lack of faith. (I fail to see how it’s not a lack of faith to require topping up the tithe to cover transaction fees, but I digress. Yes, I’ve covered this before!) I have to say, the thermometer always bugged me… the one that said “God’s tithes and our offerings.”
Obviously I’m not saying that giving is bad, but the force with which the congregation has been instructed to tithe and the carrot-and-stick reasoning that it has been given is just plain wrong.
One question that we didn’t have an answer to is where this forceful teaching of tithing began, and how the motivation of blessing/cursing became attached to it. I wonder if at some point the church needed to increase the draw in order to meet expenses, and went to the Bible in search of proof-texts for the practice of regular giving. The practice of the tithe would clearly fill that objective, even if it needed a bit of twisting and pushing to make it fit. I don’t really know, but it seems plausible to me. After years of teaching it a certain way without questioning it, we kept teaching it and actually diverged even further from the truth in our thinking.
Some of the reading I’ve done recently suggests that the practice of tithing may have come in with a lot of other things (like the structure and government of the church) from early Christendom’s heavy borrowing from governmental practices. I’m interested in other people’s thoughts on the matter, particularly history but also personal views and experiences.
So as someone who lives off of a church’s tithes (and not too consistently at that) I don’t know if I’m allowed to comment… In the way we talk about it – theres doing stuff to help the poor and then there’s supporting the church (salaries, rent, equipment, outreach…) But when we talk about it for the church we say it is like a road trip we are all taking together. We all pitch in to share the cost of the experience. It does then put the expectation on people to do their part, but leaves the guilt of your not a good christian if you don’t do this out of it. Does it always work? – goodness no. Just like we can have a potluck and most of the people don’t bring food expecting everyone else to do the work (leading to a great leadership team dinner of rice, brownies, and banana pudding last week…) most people don’t think that they personally need to support the church.
I can’t find any instances in the NT of believers giving to support themselves. Instead, I see believers giving to support those in need, and to support those travelling away from home to proclaim the gospel. Does that mean that giving to support the “local church” is wrong? No. But, it does mean that we should be very careful about taking Scripture out of context to support it. It also means that we should not stop giving to those in need or those travelling to proclaim the gospel because we are already giving to support the “local church”.
Didn’t the need for a tithe come from the Priests and Levites not having a means to support themselves (they had no inheritance in the Promised Land because the Lord Himself was their inheritance)?
Likewise, the tenet behind tithing in the IC rests on the idea that those who serve as pastors and leaders have to devote all of their time to prayer and the ministry of the Word and thus cannot support themselves through other means.
Certainly there was and is abuse of this tithe. But I wonder how many of those who are supported by the church take the use of the offerings seriously and/or view them as a gift rather than payment for services rendered. Likewise, I wonder how many of the tithers view their pastors as a hireling who needs to answer to their standards since they pay their salary (rather than viewing their tithe as a gift to support one who cannot support him/herself).
There are so many good reasons to tithe–so many in my opinion, that the lifestyle of the tithe and the promotion of the tithe as a good practice for followers of Christ requires no law. Its fascinating to me to consider Abram’s tithe in Genesis 13–before The Law. The victorious rescue of Lot from the spoils of Sodom and Gomorrah presented Abram with an integrity moment between greed and generosity. Abram choose to honour God by tithing “a tenth of everything” to God through the service of Melchizedek, King of Salem, and by returning both the goods and people of the King of Sodom to the King of Sodom. Giving to God preceeded Abram’s generosity to people.
Throughout the OT Law, there are serveral designations for God’s people when they give the tithe to God. Perhaps this one answers the concern of the “spending the tithe on ourselves.” In Deuteronomy 14:23-29 God’s people were instructed to “eat the tithe… in the presence of the LORD.” Sounds like a party to me. So in response to this at Cityview we seek to “eat the tithe” on occasion by throwing a banquet party and inviting all in our community to enjoy.
“Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. Deut. 14:23-29
1 Corinthians 9:14 says:
â€œIn the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.â€?
This seems to indicate that at least part of the money given, or “tithes”, were meant to pay a “salary” to the full time ministers in the early church. I agree that tithing was not explicitly talked about by the early church fathers, but giving generously certainly was. If you are attending a good church that is led by Godly people, then giving to that church should be a joy for us. Our giving is one way that ministry gets done. Its a terrible shame that we live in such a materialistic world. We’ve got millions of Christians who say they would like to give, but just can’t afford it. Maybe we ought to scale back our lifestyle and spend a little more of our money on eternal things. I mean, in the end what’s more important, that we had a nice big TV, or that more ministry got done through our gifts.
Tithing is certainly a hot-button issue.
I’m glad you jumped in first. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a church using some of the budget to pay a salary — I would separate that completely from the question of whether or not the tithe should be taught or instructed.
I think there are instances of NT believers supporting themselves, but one could equally cast those as simply looking after one another’s needs. I do agree that giving should continue as you describe. Giving freely.
Ouch. I think you’re right with the question you ask. In a general way, money complicates everything, doesn’t it? We just can’t handle it well, nor separate it from feelings of entitlement.
Even though giving should require no law, tithing is never separated from it… both in scripture and in practice. We never understood the tithe, I think, and that’s why God chastises the priests in Malachi for robbing him. And hey, if it’s God’s money and he wants to spend it on a party, who am I to argue? ;^) I think the practice of regular feasting out of the tithes/gifts to the church is a great one — and people will want to be generous to a cause that is generous toward others. Sadly, I find church budgets are more often about miserly behaviour.
Aren’t we all supposed to preach the gospel? It seems to me that this somewhere got connected to the church hierarchy… if God calls me but the church doesn’t want to pick up the tab, what then? The pre-Constantinian church met home-to-home and it seems there were no local churches that received administrated tithes — rather there was just situational giving, and people gave generously without the need for a rule to make it so. I think it’s true that a lot of people are too absorbed with materialism, but when the church prattles on and on about tithing, I suggest that they too are too concerned with money. I agree wholeheartedly about spending on eternal things, but I can’t equate that to the local church in any way. Include or involve perhaps, but not equate, which the teachings on tithing all seem to do.
These ideas are some of the significant ones that lead me toward missional church focus and structure. Nobody needs to get paid for people to live their faith and share their lives… and the gospel spreads in just this way. Far more economically viable and sustainable, I think. I find that in the Old Testament, the tithe is discussed as part of the Law, and in the New Testament, it’s discussed as part of the law which has been replaced by grace. In fact, I would say it’s given as an example of legalistic thinking that fails to bring life. Now under grace we give freely, not under demand or threat of censure or even obligation. And if we don’t give freely, why bother at all? I’m all for giving, but the mere mention of the word “tithe” is starting to get my hackles up now.
Would you believe the error being corrected in Malachi 3 is making money the tithe? The correction is to bring the tithes of the corn, oil, and wine to eat. Proverbs gives the answer to the ‘curse, Prov. 28:27” and to ‘rob, Prov. 22:22-23’. Both come as a result of taking from the poor. After the bringing of the tithe into the storehouse you will find this, ‘there is no profit (gain) in serving God’. The tithe is in the storehouse, the money is gone.
The mate to Mal. 3 is Genesis 31. After God says ‘vow (tithe)’, they say, ‘lets go, our father only wants our money’. The command to return gives them the encouragement to leave the one who was extorting money from them.
Read Amos chapters 2 and 8. You will find the mates to Abraham’s oath to not ‘take to a shoe’. There again God rebukes the taking of silver from the poor.