(addendum12/8/11 – the thoughts below are directed more towards those who preach that the Christian or his or her finances are cursed if they do not give their church a tithe (Robert Morris, Perry Noble, sundry IFBers, etc). While I personally do not believe that tithing is required in the new covenant, I certainly do not disparage those who disagree and tithe out of love of God)
Let me offer as a prologue to this essay a bit of text from the Epistle to the Galatians.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Last Sunday, I made my third visit to a local church, one where I had previously enjoyed grace-centric preaching. However, what I heard on November 13 was not far removed from what I have heard so many times at the local mega-church. What I heard was proof-texting of Biblical text. What I am struck by is the massive lack of distinction between the Law and the Gospel offered freely to those not under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic Law. When I hear tithing positively preached, I hear an attempt, ultimately doomed to failure, to mix oil and water; I see Moses dressed in a Jesus suit.
Among the oft-repeated rebuttals to grace givers, one heard in the aforementioned sermon, is that you should look to ten percent of the gross income as a starting point in ones giving. Now, when I hear silly distinctions being made between giving off the net or gross, of using the Law as a starting point of obedience, my mind immediately connects such to the well-intentioned but damning attitude of the first century religious elite of 2nd temple Judaism putting up extra-Biblical barriers around the Law so as to protect people from breaking the Law. Jesus was harsh in His rhetoric to those people.
As said in previous articles, the topic of tithing is not so much about financial stewardship or generosity, but absolutely about Romans 8:1, ‘There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” If you are in Christ, neither you nor your finances are cursed by lack of adherence to the Law of Moses. To assert such is to preach, as Paul affirms in the book of Galatians, another gospel.
If not by the tithe, then how should the redeemed give? By grace, as the Spirit leads the regenerate. To whom should we give? First, to those in the church who are in need. Second, to the true teachers and preachers for they are worthy of double honor. Third, charitably to those in the world. How much should we give? We should give sacrificially. We should also be content with what we have, not coveting the newest, latest, biggest, and best, being on guard because our hearts are idol factories. Too, sacrificial giving for one may be two percent, while another may be able to give 90 percent without sacrifice. Jesus cares more about the attitude of your heart rather than the percent of income given.
You know what? Each and every one of us in the church will fail to live up to the aforementioned standards to some degree. Left to my own devices, I will covet the next digital hand-held device though I do not need it. You will covet a newer, better automobile even though what you own is serviceable. There is grace through Christ for us as we struggle, sometimes failing, against the competing gods in our hearts, for there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It is by grace that those idols will be torn down.
I will conclude with a short and far from exhaustive rebuttal to some common arguments regarding the tithe:
1. The tithe predates the Law. So does circumcision and animal sacrifice. Do you suggest a return to these types and shadows, also? Those who assert that the tithe is relevant for the church also mention Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20. Understand this is a tithe off the spoils of war, other peoples property. It was a unique event.
2. Jesus seems to affirm tithing in Matthew 23:23. Jesus is speaking prior to His crucifixion and resurrection to those still under the Law. Too, is this text more about the lack of mercy and justice on the part of the Pharisees?
3. The first ten percent is holy to the Lord. All that you think, do, give, earn, all that you are, should be holy and Christ-honoring. You were purchased at great price; you do not belong to yourself, but you are a bond-servant to Christ. You don’t get a pass for the remaining 90 percent. Also, there were three tithes in the Old Testament, not just one, totaling 23.3 percent. (One tithe was performed every third year). Too, in a culture that had and used money, tithing was rarely money. Some might find Deuteronomy 14:22-26 interesting as to how the tithe was sometimes used, especially those who think all should abstain from alcohol.
English Standard Version (ESV)
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.
Recall, too, the Jerusalem council in the Book of Acts, chapter 15 in which it was determined what parts of the Old Testament law converted Gentiles would be required to obey. Tithing is not mentioned.
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. ” – Gal 2:21
If you give ten percent out of love for God, God bless you. If you give 10 percent because you think the Law requires it of you, think carefully about the Gospel and your understanding of it. You may be placing yourself under a curse by adding to the Gospel.
(addendum 6/3/2012 – Also, remember that the poor did not tithe, that those who practiced certain occupations did not tithe, carpenters and fishermen, for example. Too, when someone desired to use money rather than bring the tithe to Jerusalem, God required a 20% penalty added. God discouraged the tithing of money (Lev. 27:30-34)
I sat on this post for awhile due to the issues described here, internally debating whether or not I should post it. After all, how could I authentically speak to issues of ecclesiology if I struggled with doubts of even belonging to the church militant? Without regards to such issues, I decided to unveil my thoughts, anyway.
If I ever were to pastor a church, which would only happen if God has a great sense of irony and loves to use the weak, the foolish, those prone to sin and despises it, and those with no leadership or interpersonal skills, these are some things I would insist upon:
- Sundays would not be a polished affair with state-of-the-art audio and visual accouterments. Musical instruments would probably be in the back of the church. Focus is to be on the Word unfolded so as to feed the sheep, not on a musical performance. I would refuse to play any music that was programmed to draw in people who would not otherwise go to church.
- I would never, never, never, ever lay the burden of the tithe, an unbiblical practice as taught by the contemporary church, upon the sheep. I will not pastor over the church of Galatia. There would be relatively few sermons or speeches on financial stewardship. Though important, you don’t need Jesus to teach you to balance your checkbook and save for a rainy day. Plus…I am not so good with money, myself. It just does not mean that much to me as it does others.
- I would probably be bi-vocational.
- There would be no sermons with seven steps to this or five keys to that. Legalism lite leads to Jesus lite. Legalism is a path that leads to Hell
- I would do my best to talk a lot about Christ using few if any personal anecdotes. I want you to learn about the Messiah, not about me. If I cannot teach redemptive Biblical history, the historical and true story of Christ alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, by the authority of the Bible alone, to the glory of God alone without telling stories about me and my life experience (boring thought it would be), I do not need to claim to be a pastor. If I ever become a pastor, which is highly unlikely, I will not be there to entertain you. When I die, I would just as soon be forgotten then be remembered as having been a charismatic leader.
- I would not ask for your personal testimonies, though you are certainly free to share – but, foremost, tell me Christ’s story in church, not yours. Your changed life, though I am happy for you, is not necessarily the Gospel. Paxil changes lives, AA changes lives, art changes lives, Mormonism has changed lives for the better. The Gospel story is what breaths life into rotten corpses. The apostle Peter probably had many interesting stories, but he told Christ’s story every time, all the time.
- There would never, never, ever be any altar call nor any other crass emotional manipulation of the flock. If Jesus and the apostles did not need them, then neither do I need that extra-biblical and rather recent and often detrimental appendage to the Gospel call. No. Sappy. Music. In. Church. Ever. Too, why do I need to close my eyes and bow my head during altar calls? Seriously….
- I would seek to heal you with the Gospel rather the Law. Too many preachers wield the Law like an anvil against the sheep when a salve of grace is called for.
- Preaching would be mostly expostional. Exceptions to expostional preaching might entail, for example, teaching about the lives and doctrines of the early church fathers and martyrs. I would also like to learn and teach on church history. Doing a class on systematic theology in the evenings would be cool, too. Theology is a fundamental part of the church. If I ever pastored a church, it would be lovingly doctrinal. Doctrine is the spine and immune system of the church.
- I would strongly discourage the turning of hobbies into ministries. You like to golf, hunt, and ride motorcycles. Such is fine with me; just don’t baptize them. Let me know when you want to go for a ride though. It would be fun to join with you.
- The crippled, the poor, the mentally ill and emotionally scarred, those not so articulate would welcomed and embraced. Along the same lines, introverts are welcome and loved. I understand because I am an introvert, too. If you are uncomfortable in certain social circumstances, we can fellowship, you and me, over a cup of coffee or can of beer where ever you are most comfortable. I personally like sweet tea. Occasionally, a shot or two of Evan Williams is fine. Church is not easy, sometimes, for introverts.
- I would insist that the elders and teachers hold the the Doctrines of Grace.
- No. Skits. Ever. No drama teams, either. You want drama, entertainment, go to a theater. The Word, being potent in and of itself, does not need our help. Drama merely adds extraneous layers. As an aside, it amazes me that people can feel comfortable playing the role of Christ in musical dramas and plays. I recall Peter requesting his body to be crucified upside down because he deemed himself to be unworthy to be crucified in the fashion of the Messiah.
- I would not make too big a deal about secondary issues such as eschatology, though they would not be ignored.
- Communion would be a real meal, I think, not a piece of bread or a plastic shot glass of grape juice. Wine would be available if desired. I also am not wed to the amount of water used in baptisms. Sprinkle or dunk, I can accommodate either. No major problems with either paedo and credo-baptism. I see valid Biblical arguments for either, though I lean towards credo-baptism.
- I would never say, as many do from the stage and pulpit, that I would not sacrifice my family for of the church, though I would hope I would never face such circumstances. Such statements, though common, seem strange and present a hopefully false dichotomy. I would die a thousand times for the church of the Christ. If my wife or children are not with me on this, then they turn their backs on the bride and body of Christ. I would not.
- I will not be a Christian culture warrior, ever. I will not try to dress unregenerate corpses up with the Law when they need the Gospel. You want a moral nation above all, have Utah succeed and move there. They are nice, family-friendly, moral people even without the Gospel delivered by the apostles. I would never preach pure moralism. It is the anti-thesis of grace.
- Children will not have to go to kids church when big people church starts if the family wants their children to be with them. Distractions are OK, to a degree, and a part of life, and a part of the body, a part of families. You hear me on this one Furtick and Noble? I will not force families to split up when the preaching starts. Shame on you, Furtick, for removing Christ from your service for being a distraction to your show…..as you do the the least of these……
- I would probably not let my church grow much beyond 200 people if I had such control. Should it do so, and this would be a great thing, we split into two sister churches, each with trained and approved elders and pastors. If a pastor cannot at least recognize his sheep, he needs to have others step up to help feed, lead and shelter the flock. Move half of them to another pasture. Keep growing the flock, and then splitting off to new pastures.
- Naive on my part, perhaps, but I would hope the hypothetical church I fed would not be success oriented with tangible metrics. Leave that for businesses. I would not count salivations. That is no ones job but the Holy Spirits; no one else is qualified to separate wheat from chaff. I would hope we would have an orientation of humility. If the seats are filled, fine. If not, fine. It will be Christ who grows His church, not me.
- I would literally die to protect my sheep from wolves, from bad theology. You will not see Wild At Heart or The Shack as recommended reading the churches library. I would never endorse heretics like TD Jakes as have many nominally orthodox pastors.
- I would never, ever have a fund raiser. If someone is in deep financial need, I would sell my possessions, give up vacations, and work overtime to help you. I hope the flock would do the same. Saddest thing I have seen in a long time is a large, evidently wealthy church holding a bake sale fund raiser for a child needing surgery.
- If you want to volunteer to help in the church, that is great. If not, that is fine with me, too. I know your probably work hard to support your family and need no extra burdens. Quite frankly, when you get rid of all the extraneous parking teams, media teams, creative teams, hospitality teams, volunteer coordination team volunteers, you find you do not need volunteers so much.
- Small groups, meh. I have seen them too often be pools of ignorance to which, not so long ago, I helped make even more deeply ignorant. If we do small groups, it will be elder led and Word focused. They are what you make of them.
- If you want a God of second chances, go to where the Gospel is light and cheap. I will give you a Gospel for dead men and women who float hopeless in the dark waters. They don’t need second chances. I, and they, would mess up the second chance, and the third, and the forth. I will point you to a Savior, to paraphrase Paul Capon, if memory serves, who dives into deep water to breath life into sin infused, rotten corpses, dies in the process, and later appears on the shore alive and waits for you having defeated death and sin.
Enough of my orthopraxic utopianism…
I have been going to a local gigachurch for the last few months, and they sure do preach quite a bit about tithing. Since I didn’t want God to curse me like the preacher said God would do if I did not tithe, I studied up on this tithe thing a little bit and decided to give it a go. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I wanted to see if God would bless me with stuff, overflowing and such, if I did tithe.
On a recent Sunday, during one of the afternoon services, me and my boys, Malachi, Jebediah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Ebenezer, and Bruce culled the best of our herd of cattle, and some of the other critters from the farm, too, and loaded them up into the cattle trailer. When we got to the church Sunday afternoon, we commenced to unload the cattle and sheep and chickens while sending young Obadiah off to find the churches’ preacher to check out our tithes for flaws like the priests did in the Old Testament. I sent out Ebenezer, the elder son, to look for the storehouse where they keep the tithes, but he could not find it. None of the volunteers that helped us park in the guest parking area knew anything about a storehouse for our tithes. Soon, church security showed up. I thought they were there to help us round up our tithe and help herd them to that hard to find storehouse as they, the cattle and such, were getting restless. I believe church security was a bit unsettled when they arrived at the scene of the tithe, too.
Given the amount of time that had passed since arriving at church and unloading our tithe, the parking lot was getting a bit messy, too, what with the 96°F temperature and the hot asphalt. ‘Nuff said about that, if you know what I mean. Needless to say and cutting to the chase, things did not go as well as I planned, and we still haven’t rounded up Helga, our best milk cow. What I do not understand is this, if some churches are so big on tithing, how come they are so inept?
Being a bit curmudgeonly at times, I allow some things to really get under my skin, one of which is trite expressions of faith and errant ‘Gospels’. Here is one example of an errant Gospel of which I have previously written:
Listened to a podcast a few weeks ago wherein a megachurch pastor named Robert Morris, guest speaker at the local multi-site gigachurch, make an absolute mess of the topic of tithing. The ‘sermon’ delivered was, quite frankly, a train wreak of epic proportions. He ends his confusion of Law and Gospel with a somewhat inverted invitation to salvation. Given that he just put Christians under the bondage and curse of the Law (the apostle Paul would have told Morris to emasculate himself) with his take on tithing, he then asks the non-Christians in the audience to give to God an even more epic and extravagant gift than the tithe to God, their hearts.
Now, we have some profound problems here. First, who does the giving in the true transaction of the Gospel, the Christ or the unregenerate? Second, biblically, how is the unregenerate heart described? Well, I can tell you extravagant is not one of the adjectives. Deceitful is perhaps a better description. Below is an excerpt from the aforementioned NewSpring podcast.
I know I am probably beating this subject to death and will be a bit repetitive with this post, but I am absolutely infuriated by the often errant implications and the scripture twisting that are fellow travelers with this doctrine. It is not an issue of money for me. It is not an issue of obedience for me. It is not an issue of stewardship. It is, ultimately, an issue of Law and Gospel, or more specifically, a confusion of the two. I am, again, talking about tithing.
Here is, verbatim, part of a sermon on money, on tithing, I recently watched. The sermon by Perry Noble is found here and the quoted section starts at approximately one hour and two minutes into the sermon.
In exodus 13, God says the firstborn is mine, and then the passover took place, and the people that did not put the blood over the door frame and said I’m not going to consecrate my son to you, what happened to the son in that house? He got killed. Your either gonna give your 10 percent to God or He’s gonna take it. The Bible says God will not be mocked. For some of you, there’s a reason your car keeps breaking down. There’s a reason you cant keep your kid out of the doctors office. There’s a reason you cant keep a job. You’re trying to mock god.
Such is, unfortunately, not a unique approach to the subject. I have heard similar sentiments from other pastors, and I spoke on it just recently here. My first and overarching thought on the above quote is thus: The pastor portrays a grievous and confused understanding of Law and Gospel.
Let me say it one more time just so that I am not misunderstood: He Does Not Really Understand Grace. And it’s not just him. Again, I have heard the same sentiment from other stages and pulpits, and I would say the same thing about others who infer that God acts like a mobster running a protecting racket on His own children. What we find in this sermon is essentially a quid pro quo Gospel. Christ did this, so you gotta do that.
What I see from the aforementioned sermon are verses ripped out of context and used as proof-text to prop up an errant pretext. But, as this pastor graciously and humbly mentions at one hour into the video, you must be stupid and Biblically illiterate if you disagree with him on this subject. Be that as it may…
Going off a bit tangentially, I think the overarching issues is one of methodology. Some preachers are topical teachers, speaking often to the felt needs of the audience. Others are expositional teachers. Topical preachers tend to hover over the Scripture and pick verses, often out of context, to communicate some point, often a favorite subject of the pastor. They, by their methodology, become lord over the text. Expositional preaching, where the pastor goes through a book of the Bible verse by verse, is bound to the Word and it forces the preacher to open the word, in context, to the congregation. The text is lord over the pastor.
I want to be clear that I am not so much anti-tithe, but more anti-how the tithe is often taught. I know of Christians who give their ten percent as a holy act of worship. Personally, I do not think the percentage is as important as the condition of one’s hearts.
Speaking of how the tithe is taught, here is a video that might be of interest:
Christian, you do not have to tithe to ‘earn’ God’s favor. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You are not blessed because of your obedience to the Law, you are justified by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone.
This is not healthy truth:
Radical Grace is Life!
Just uploaded the section of the sermon to which I refer to YouTube. So much error and mishandling of scripture. I honestly fear for Perry. Here is the video:
I Timothy 1:7 – “They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:10-14 ESV)
Addendum of 6-25-2012: More thoughts on tithing - Don’t Place Yourself Under A Curse
It truly and honestly grieves me the way some pastors approach giving. It breaks my heart to see Malachi 3 twisted, perverted, and used, out of context, by pastors to manipulate and beat the sheep of their flock into forking over 10 percent of their income to avoid being cursed by God.
I have heard pastors say that the reason your car breaks down, the reason your health is failing, the reason your marriage is suffering is because you have not tithed. God, they say, will get His ten percent one way or another.
Let me ask you this – if your adopted son or daughter whom you love very much and paid a great price to go through the adoption process, gets a job but does not pay you a certain percent of their paycheck, will you curse them?
The Temple Tax
24(A) When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of(B) the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, (C) “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or(D) tax? From their sons or from others?” 26And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.[a] Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
Galatians 4:7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
So many things are wrong with the idea that God will curse His redeemed for not following an Old Testament prescriptive that relates specifically to the Levites. So many things are wrong with the idea that your misfortunes are due to the fact that you do not tithe. Many non-Christians enjoy great health, great financial security, and have wonderful marriages and have never gave a dime to a church or charity. Many faithful Christians who dearly love the triune God and give sacrificially of their money, time, and talents to those in need, to the local church, to charities, suffer from illness, joblessness, and failed relationships. Even so, those who give out of a cheerful heart will be blessed in ways sometimes tangible and financial and sometimes in ways not so immediate and tangible.
To say, though, that the reason a Christian suffers in this world is because they do not tithe runs the risk of making God seem like a mobster who runs a protection racket, a monster. Further, the way tithing is often taught turns the theology of giving into an act that borders on the heretical, that turns the act of joyful giving into a ‘health, wealth, and prosperity‘ scheme that encourages giving to increase oneself.
What I do not want to do is encourage Christians not to give. For some, to give ten percent, be it from the gross or the net, would be an insurmountable difficulty and would be unwise. God expects you to take care of your family. For others, ten percent would not be a difficult commitment at all, and perhaps one could give even more.
Though I could give many valid reasons why I think the tithe is not for the church, and perhaps I may do so later, the bottom is line is this: Jesus is not so much into percentages as He is into the state of our heart. What we do with our money, much like the words that come out of our mouth or end up on our blogs, reveal the state of our heart, and if you and I are honest, we all need more than a bit of grace in that area.
2 Corinthians 9:7
English Standard Version (©2001)
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Cutting to the chase, when someone beats you up with Malachi 3, go to Romans 8:1 and then read the book of Galatians with tithing in mind. As I have said before, if redeemed by the Law, give by the Law. If redeemed by Grace, then give by grace.
Remember, too, that there were three tithes in the Old Testament that equaled 23.3 percent, so if you insist on being bound to the Law, do it right. Also, since money, personal income was rarely tithed by Israel, would not bringing your livestock and produce to church as an offering be an interesting spectacle?
As I was looking for some media to ‘spice up’ this post, I found the following video. While I did not have this man in mind, he is only turning the volume to 11 where your typical mega-church pastor may only leave the volume at 6, metaphorically speaking. Watch and weep over this video by the appropriately named Creflo Dollar: