4/07/2014

Honest observations about tithing


As a disclaimer, let me say it up front: I am in no way whatsoever against anybody tithing. If you feel compelled to do so for any reason, do so with the abundance of the generosity and joy in your heart, do it with all of your might, and do it as unto the Lord. If you are already tithing, by all means possible, keep tithing. Let nothing I say persuade you to do differently other than what you are currently doing. Let nothing I say rob you from the joy you currently receive out of this ancient and even Biblical practice. The purpose of this short essay is only to question and critique much modern day teaching on the topic.

I went to a small Bible college at the Lee University Charlotte Center. At the time, there were about 100 students who attended the campus. I was a rather popular student there. More often than not, students who did not have class with me in the first semester or two of my attendance already knew something about me by the time they did actually get to meet me, and have class with me. My reputation went before me. They knew me as "King Jimmy... the guy who didn't believe in tithing."

Which is pretty remarkable considering most of our studies focused on a survey of the New Testament, of which there is scant mention of tithing, and there is absolutely no teaching whatsoever that Jesus or the apostles expected the church to tithe. The only mention of it in the New Testament comes from an acknowledgement by Jesus that it was a part of the Law that the Jews practiced, and was mingled with a great deal of hypocrisy (Matthew 23:23 & Luke 11:42), and the fact that once upon a time, Abraham gave a tithe from the spoils of war to an obscure priest known as Melchizedek (Hebrews 7).

So how or why I was known as the guy who didn't believe in tithing (other than admitting to it at least once or twice I didn't believe in it during lunch some day), I'm not exactly sure. I was a bit argumentative and combative in those days. So perhaps that info was known simply because I had a loud mouth. My stance on tithing has been something I've always been truthful about, but isn't exactly something I hoped to be known for. Especially since my views on tithing gave me something of a negative reputation amongst fellow ministers, which, as a young minister looking to preach in the church, it is not the attention I wanted to attract.

Unfortunately, it was the attention I was given. In part, I owed such attention to a very contentious attitude and ego that I regularly carried with me while in Bible college. But part of the attention that's been given to me before then and since, the most opposition I've seen regarding the issue has come from pastors active in professional ordained ministry. I've since learned that I could spout some of the most ignorant and backwards things about a number of theological issues and be ignored by ministers, but dare I genuinely raise the issue as to whether or not if the New Testament teaches that Christians should tithe, I am met with quite a bit of opposition.

Some pastors I know have objected to my opinion on the issue of tithing, because they are genuinely concerned that it might steer Christians away for obeying God, and personally enjoying the benefits and blessings they associate with tithing. They believe it is a Biblical doctrine and practice, which they have enjoyed doing, and feel they have derived some benefit from, and they only want others to enjoy what they've enjoyed in their own walk with the Lord. To such ministers, I have little objection.

But others have been a bit more frank with me, and admitted that whether or not Christians are required to tithe, they believe if they failed to preach such, then the churches they pastored would get little to no donations if Christians didn't feel some sort of mandatory obligation to tithe. Even though it is common knowledge that only a very small percentage of active church goers systematically tithe 10 percent of their income, some pastors know without those people, they would close the doors on their churches within a very short period of time. Being that some ministers manage to make a living off the tithes that people pay, it is not hard to see why they object to any teaching that teaches tithing is not necessary. Many ministers need to teach that people should tithe because they know without doing some moral arm twisting, few people would give any substantial portion of their income to the church, and they would be without a job.

Since those days in Bible college, I have largely tried to walk a narrow tight rope around the issue of tithing, as I simply wanted to preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Whenever possible, I've always tried to avoid mentioning the topic of tithing altogether, and prefer to talk more broadly about stewardship and giving. When other believers in the church have asked me of my opinion about the issue, I've always been truthful, however, being that so many pastors (many who are good and godly men) have taught an opinion contrary to what I believe to be the truth, I have been charitable to my elder brothers in the faith, and have pointed people to the "official" teaching of the church on the topic in helping make up their own minds as to whether or not they should tithe.

Indeed, if you go to a church where you truly know your pastors are godly men and you trust their spiritual oversight, and you have the means to, I would encourage you to strongly consider tithing. I could be very wrong on the topic, and I wish to do nothing whatsoever that would hurt your relationship with God, or keep you from enjoying whatever blessings you associate with the financial practice of tithing.

There have been times in my life where I have systematically tithed, and have even given well above and beyond 10 percent of my income to the church. But there are other times, such as right now, where I am not. I may again do so one day, however, I don't look at myself as in anyway obligated to do so. Here are some things to consider, and why I don't believe we as Christians are obligated to tithe today:

1. NOWHERE in the New Testament is tithing a practice that is taught as being an obligatory practice: Look hard and long all you want, but Jesus and the apostles did not teach the early church to tithe. The only teaching Jesus made in reference to tithing, such in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, was in reference to the Old Testament practice of tithing. The Pharisees were very exacting in their tithing practices. So much so that they tithed 10 percent of the smallest seeds that grew in their own gardens (think pollen). Jesus simply told them they should do such, while making sure they obey all the matters of the Law of Moses, without neglecting the most important commandments that centered around justice and faithfulness. Many appeal to this verse to support tithing as a practice for today, but do so by totally ignoring what the verse actually says and in the context of which Jesus said it. Jesus encouraged the observation of tithing, but He was also encouraging people to practice the entire Law of Moses as was prescribed, which would have been inclusive of the entire sacrificial, civic, and dietary restrictions under that Law. The Law of Moses was still in effect at this time, as the New Covenant was not inaugurated until Christ shed His blood on the cross. After the cross, we see many references to money. However, the church only engaged in spontaneous charitable giving and took up random offerings for missions and the poor. Nowhere is it taught that anybody was tithing, expected to tithe, or in anyway encouraged to tithe. The practice of tithing was strictly an Old Testament phenomenon.

2. Tithing under the Law of Moses consisted of multiple "tithes" (plural): Even if by the most twisted interpretation of Scripture you manage to conclude that Jesus was teaching that Christians should tithe, then you must do so according to the Law of Moses. Contrary to probably every sermon you've ever heard on tithing in your entire life, under the Law of Moses, there were several tithes, which makes for giving much more than 10 percent of your income! There was the annual tithe that was supposed to be given to the tribe of Levi at the various cities they lived in, for compensation for their priestly duties in the temple and the fact that they were given no tribal land. There was also the annual tithe that was part of the festivities in Jerusalem. There was also the tithe that you gave every three years, that was dedicated to the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the Gentile strangers who sojourned in the land (please see Numbers 18:20-21, Deuteronomy 12:1-19, Deuteronomy 14:22-26, and Deuteronomy 26:12-13). Do the math yourself. This amounts to giving much more than 10 percent. And historically, we know from Josephus, the Talmud, and other historical documents, that the Jews gave 3 tithes in practice during the days of Jesus. So when Jesus encouraged the Jews of His day to tithe, that would've been inclusive of all 3 tithes.

3. There is nothing in the New Testament that equates your local church and your local pastors as the "storehouse" into which you are to bring your tithes: Even if one still wanted to insist that we are supposed to tithe today, there is nothing whatsoever in the pages of the New Testament that equates the local church as the storehouse to which you are to bring your tithes, and there is nothing whatsoever that says that pastors can receive tithes for God, nor is there anything that says we are to give pastors our tithes. So, even if you wanted to avoid being cursed by God, you couldn't, because there are no storehouses or temple to which we can bring our tithes. Your pastor is no more obligated or designated to receive your tithe than your Sunday school teacher or some other random person sitting next to you in the pew. It is obvious, however, why pastors have put themselves in the place to be the official recipients of the tithe, although, they are entirely without Biblical justification to do so.

4. Nobody ever eats the tithe anymore: If you look up the previous Biblical references to tithing I mentioned in point 2, you will notice that the Scriptures call for you, the priests, and the poor to "eat" the tithe. That's because tithing was always with food. You never tithed one red cent under the Law of Moses. All money you had that was used in tithing was to be converted to something somebody could eat. And then when you brought your tithes to the designated locations, you were to sit down and enjoy a greater communal meal. The tithe existed to literally feed people. It did not exist to provide anybody income, transportation, or a roof over their head. It was literally for food. So, if you are going to tithe today, then you should bring a shopping cart full of groceries to church next time, and your local church needs to be refitted with giant pantries, fridges, meat lockers, stoves, and ovens. Your church shouldn't have a single tithe envelope. It should contain giant rooms for food storage, preparation, and eating.

5. But tithing was before the Law, as Abraham tithed so should we... right?: Some pastors will acknowledge that tithing under the Old Testament Law of Moses is no longer obligatory for Christians. They will say yes, the Law was indeed fulfilled by Christ, and has been replaced by the New Covenant. Such will free you from having multiple tithes. But they will still point out the story referenced to in Hebrews 7 and in Genesis 14, about Abraham tithing to the priest, Melchizedek (who serves as a type of Christ). So there you have it... tithing pre-dates the Law of Moses, therefore we should tithe even as Abraham tithed to the one who foreshadowed Jesus Christ! Of course, such ignores the fact that circumcision was a practice that originated with Abraham, and pre-dated the Law of Moses too. But we know Christians are no longer obligated to circumcise their male child on the 8th day anymore. In fact, if one wishes to appeal to Abraham's tithing practice to make tithing obligatory for today, then one must also acknowledge that Abraham and many of the patriarchs offered up numerous types of other sacrifices, which all pre-dated the Law of Moses too. Yet I never see pastors being that theologically consistant, and also circumcising their male child on the 8th day, and offering burnt offerings on top of altars. Indeed, being that tithing was a type of ritual and part of the sacrificial system, to say somehow that this practice was the only one that Christ did not take the place of from the Old Testament simply because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and that this serves somehow as a pattern for us, is some seriously twisted theology. It shows a lack of critical thinking on the part of many ministers, and blatantly ignores the significance of what Christ did on the cross in reference to the entire sacrificial system, whether it was before or after Moses. And again, even if this one-time practice of Abraham somehow obligated us to tithe today, see point 3 above, and how the New Testament never tells us who we are supposed to tithe to. So if we are supposed to tithe to Jesus today, the New Testament never makes it clear how we are supposed to do so. And for good reason, because Jesus and the apostles never taught the church to tithe.

More essays on tithing to come... please feel free to write back. I value your input.

2 comments:

  1. Why do you choose to go to elevation a church you clearly hate? You live in a city with a multitude of churches. If I dont like something or agree with something then I choose a different option. It seems you just like to seek attention and cant help but be negative. Why attend a church you clearly dislike? Do you think God enjoys you worshiping at a church you dont even believe or enjoy.

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  2. I am afraid your comment is misplaced. I have disagreements with Elevation, but I do enjoy the church. It's not required that you agree with everything that happens at a church to go there.

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