The topic of tithing has been percolating in my mind for quite some time. Before I continue, I must make one or two things absolutely clear. First, what I am absolutely not advocating is an excuse to discontinue giving ten percent of one’s income as an act of worship if one is presently doing so. Second, I also submit that I could be wrong about my conclusions so I am not dogmatic on this subject. It is something Christians can agreeably disagree about. Third, I acknowledge that the majority of pastors who teach tithing do so in such a way that that grace is not invalidated. I also understand the vast majority of people who faithfully tithe (and sadly, there are not many) do so out of a pure and righteous motivation. The only reason I spend the time to put a few my less than stellar thoughts on this subject to the written word is because I have been deeply grieved by first-hand knowledge of egregious examples of a misunderstanding of the tithe, the result of which is a legalism that is absolutely counter to the grace of the new covenant. Following are some of the aforementioned examples of the damage caused by an errant teaching of the tithe.
I have heard more than once, from well-meaning Christians, the proposal that because one tithes, God prevents bad things from happening in one’s life. Perhaps because one tithes, one’s car does not break down or perhaps some illness does not befall them. The unintended implication is that if one does not tithe, God’s providential protection is removed and fate may have it’s way with you; God is unintentionally reduced to something akin to a cosmic protection racket.
I have spoken to people who seem to use the tithe as a means to gain divine favor in their business and personal financial life. The thought is that because one meets this obligation to give ten percent, God will bestow His favor upon one’s business and personal finances. God is essentially being used as a means to a selfish end. God does indeed bless His children, those who give from a generous heart, but He will not be used.
I have heard advice given to one about to enter bankruptcy that, before all other financial obligations, one must give ten percent to God. Perhaps rather than extracting the tithe from this individual, maybe this is the person to whom the church, under the covenant of grace, should give and minister.
I have heard church leaders state from their stage/pulpit that they will, if hiring from within the church, look at a prospective employees tithing record before they can be considered for employment. What about Christ’s call in the Sermon on the Mount on not letting the left hand know what the right hand does in relation to giving?
I know of at least one person who has quit attending church out of guilt, a church that is often quite manipulative in how it teaches the tithe, because they simply could not afford to consistently give ten percent of their income due to financial setbacks.
The bottom line and perhaps unintended implication of the errant presentation of tithing by some in the clergy is that our status with God is a result of our performance with all the attendant pride and attendant guilt that comes from attempting gain God’s favor by works. At the root of the misapplication of the tithe is, I believe, a failure to understand the demarcation between the old and new covenant, the divide between Law and Grace. It is, at the root, a misunderstanding of context. Often Malachi 3:8-10 is given as a proof text for tithing. “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”
Much could be said about how some pastors manipulate their flock with the misapplication of the Malachi 3:8-10. That being said, I read in Romans 8:1 the following: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
We must understand who God is speaking to in our exegesis of Old Testament text. God is speaking of the Levitical priesthood in Malachi. He is not speaking to the church of the new covenant. If we insist that the tithe is to be pulled into the covenant of grace, then we should, for example, also refrain from eating bacon, from wearing clothing made of two different materials.
If we insist that the tithe is applicable to the covenant of grace, then we must bring the rest of the Law with it. We do not have the liberty to pick and chose which parts of the Law we wish to adhere to and which parts of the Law we can reject. It is all or nothing. The same arguments given to the continuation of the tithe under the new covenant can be equally applied to circumcision for believers in Christ. I have also heard pastors, in defending the obligatory tithe for the church, state that the tithe predates the law. So does circumcision. I believe the subject of the circumcision was well attended to by the Apostle Paul.
If not the obligatory tithe as the model for giving, then by what measure do we give? I believe it is this:
If you are redeemed by the law, give by the law. If you are redeemed by grace, give by grace!
- Matthew 17:24-26
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” and when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.
- 2 Corinthians 9:7-8
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
Quite a while back, I posted the following article on giving to this blog. In fact, it was my second post to this WordPress blog, though I originally posted it on another blog. In closure:
December 15, 2007
I passed by a church recently. They were having a public fund raiser for an infant in need of medical care. This was not, judging from the size and architecture of the sanctuary and the selection of cars in the parking lot, a financially poor church.
These are my thoughts that revolve around this scene. First, with the best of intentions, why does the church offer trinkets, services (car washes, for example), tickets for chances at winning things, or baked goods in order prompt others to give, to raise money for someone in need? Is this not the antithesis of giving as taught in the New Testament canon? Are we, as the body of Christ, so petty that we must be given to, even on a symbolic level, before we give?
How are we to live and give in relationship to our risen Savior? Perhaps if one or two or a few people in that church quietly and anonymously cashed in some of their stock portfolio, the medical needs of the child’s family would be met. Perhaps instead of buying a $30,000 dollar bass boat, the money could be spent to help a family that finds themselves unemployed. Perhaps the money for that vacation fund for the family getaway to Cancun could be sent to a team of missionaries to aid Sierra Leone in building medical facilities, churches and schools. My own words are not merely a hollow, self-righteous polemic against others; they absolutely condemn me in my own self-absorption.
- Acts 2:44-47 All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.