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I will start this article/essay by making five opening statements:
1. The Apostle Paul NEVER ONCE appealed to tithing even though he obviously often suffered financial difficulties. However, he wrote rather a lot about FREELY giving financial support where one is able.
2. The early Church - prior to Constantine - DID NOT uphold tithing.
3. Tithing was a widespread practise in the ancient world - not something peculiar to Israel.
4. In our day, strongly tithing congregations often become very wealthy congregations with much to spend on various projects and with the minister enjoying an affluent lifestyle, even while many within that congregation might live in a financially very precarious world. Is this not at odds with the examples within the Book of Acts which show Christians within a congregation SHARING their substance so that none should suffer lack? Why do we ignore this clear NEW TESTAMENT example, while being quick to seize an Old Testament example which finds no real New Testament support?
5. 2 Corinthians 9:7 effectively bars tithing for the New Testament Church of God since it plainly states that Christians should not give (and the whole context is of financial giving) "under compulsion."
INTRODUCTION; A FEW EXPERIENCES
I once sat down to view a video recording which featured a sermon given by a noted American minister who has both a Television and a Radio ministry. It opened with some lovely singing from an elegantly attired choir. When the sermon commenced, however, I was in for a shock; I had expected a sermon on 'Giving,' but what soon followed genuinely astonished me. The pastor started loudly berating a section of his congregation for not paying their tithes regularly! I continued to sit and listen with some measure of incredulity. For a while, I thought that the preacher may have been purposely playing the role of some bad kind of example of what ministers/pastors really should not do! I wanted to believe the best about this preacher. I do know that this man is capable of good biblical preaching, he does not, for example, uphold the 'prosperity gospel.' But I eventually realised that no more excuses could be made for this man. There he was, striding the stage in an obviously highly expensive silk suit, as he loudly berated a few who did not pay their tithes regularly. Soon, he would tell this section of his congregation that they needed to "Repent!" Apparently, this gentleman lives in some opulence and prosperity and the whole 'set' which was apparently within the congregational meeting place (I try to avoid the word 'church' where it will be wrongly applied), betrayed a very prosperous and large congregation. Now I don't know who might need to repent within his congregation but - to be perfectly frank - THAT MINISTER MIGHT NEED TO!! I won't say why right now but will continue with one or two more examples.
I once encountered a young minister - straight out of Bible college - who somewhat rashly, and without receiving much wise counsel, decided that he was going to impose tithing upon his new congregation. I had a private meeting with this young man and advised caution, but he was not prepared to listen. Then I wrote out quite a long essay explaining why tithing should NOT be considered a REQUIREMENT for Christians today. This essay proved to be more a less an initial 'blueprint' for the article which you are now reading. I asked him to get back to me to show me where I was wrong, if he still thought so. Well, you have probably guessed it, 5 years later I am still waiting! But unfortunately, just 8 months later the young man was fired from the pastorate (absolutely nothing to do with me).
I also presented the same arguments to a much older - and wiser - minister to test his reaction. Again, I said, if I am wrong please get back to me and show me where since I value your judgement. Again, I heard nothing!
The final minister to whom I presented my case was an elderly, retired minister. His former congregation had indeed tithed, he told me. But upon hearing my argument, he stated,
"By jove! You are right. Why did I never see this point before?"
THE MAIN POINTS OF ARGUMENT
A. Why JUST Lift Tithing Out Of The Law?
Tithing is something which we certainly find in the Old Testament since the Israelites were plainly required to tithe. In fact, they were required to pay not one but three tithes! The tithing texts in the Old Testament are not always exactly clear but it appears that the first tithe was used to support the Levites since they received no inheritance as the priestly tribe. The second tithe was apparently set aside in order to pay for that family's attendance at the various feastdays (especially the Feast of Tabernacles). And the third tithe was used to help support the poor among the Israelites; this third tithe was payable every third and sixth year out of a cycle of seven years. This might seem to present an enormous burden during that particular year, but once we start to unravel the complexities of these tithes with the help of Josephus and other early Jewish writers, it starts to become clear that the first tithe (to the Levites) was dropped in the third tithe year.
We should notice something straightaway here:
These tithes were inextricably bound up with meeting the needs of the poor, by either:
a. Supporting the Levites (the Lord's chosen priestly tribe), who would have had no other income.
b. Supporting the other poor who wished to rejoice in the Levitical feast days.
Any concept that the tithe could be employed as a tax to make the wealthy even more wealthy would be total anathema to the true intention of the Levitical system! What too often happens today is that the 'tithe' is employed in societies in which the needs of the poor are already fully met and it is used entirely incorrectly.The expressed intention is usually "to support the spreading of the gospel" and it cannot be denied that it is partly used for evangelism, but too often the tithe is also used to make local churches wealthy and to ensure that a ministry team live in some luxury!
The original Levitical system was terribly legalistic of course, but a legalistic system is precisely what we are discussing here! If one starts to consider the complexities of the various kinds of animal sacrifices which were required under this system, one wonders how the whole Levitical system did not entirely break down under a sea of confusion! But the point is this:
Tithing was just ONE PART of an entire system. Therefore the question must be asked:
Why ONLY pick out the principle of tithing (I say 'principle' because, as we have already seen, the complete tithing system was quite complicated and the 'first tenth' was only part of it). As has been pointed out many times, the Old Covenant system really was ONE SYSTEM. Attempts to talk about the 'ceremonial law,' or the 'sacrificial law' and the 'civil law' must always recognise that these definitions are imposed upon the Old Testament; these definitions are not biblical. Rather, the Old Covenant presents one complete legal system and - within that - we notice these different aspects, including ceremonial, financial, civil and so on.
It also seems inescapable that much within this law was intended for a particular people at a particular time. The laws presume an agrarian and land-based society. The laws also presume a society which necessarily had to set its own laws: Capital punishment, for instance, formed part of this system; obviously we know that we can't just lift this out of the Old Covenant and claim that the Church should be practising it!! In like manner, tithing presumed a people essentially poor except for flocks, herds and crops.
So, again I ask, why just lift tithing out of this system which Hebrews 8: 13 plainly says is now obsolete??!!
Now a few will raise an objection to this. They will point out that we see tithing practised pre-Old Covenant in two Scriptures, one involving Abraham, the other involving Jacob. People who put this argument, often go on to say that this "proves" that God's system of law predates Mount Sinai and that He made all His laws known to the patriarchs and all Mount Sinai represents is the formal giving of the law to a people who had largely forgotten it. Such people might even go as far as to claim that tithing has always been God's way of financing His work upon earth. But by this time, they are, indeed, miles out on a limb with no scriptural support whatever!
This is not the place to debunk the concept that Old Covenant law was in existence prior to Mount Sinai. Of course, certain principles of law were certainly in existence and God made some of these known to Abraham, but even the very wording of the Mount Sinai package showed that this was a new thing in the world!
If we consider Abraham's tithe to the mysterious Melchisedec related in Genesis 14:17-20, this was not strictly speaking a tithe at all since it does not appear to refer to normal earned income!
Then in looking at Jacob's promise to tithe in Genesis 28:18-22, we may note further problems since we really do not know if Jacob actually fulfilled his promise. But - in both of these cases - these were not 'tithes' in the way that word is now used, they were freewill offerings which were a tenth.
But these texts in no way "prove" that the Lord had revealed His tithing laws to the patriarchs. Why do I say this?
Because we now know that the principle of the tithe was already around in the ancient world. What the Lord did in Leviticus and Numbers was to point at a principle which was sometimes practised in the ancient world, and show how this could be used to assist the Levites and all the poor!
It is not difficult to substantiate the great antiquity of tithing:
According to Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible:
'The institution of offering tithes of the fruits of the field and of the flocks is one which dates back to a period greatly anterior to Israelite history. A tenth of the flocks, fruits, and possessions of all kinds, as well as of the spoils of war, was given to their gods [referring to pagan tithing] by many peoples.'
(James Hastings, ed., Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, New York: Hendrickson, 1994, s.v. "Tithe," by W. O. E. Oesterley, 940).
'The widespread practice in the ancient world of tithing by giving a portion of one's profit or spoils of war extended from Greece to China. Donation of a tenth portion was common apparently because most people "counted in tens, based on ten fingers."'
(Walter A. Elwell, ed., Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996, s.v. "Tithe, Tithing," by Brian K. Morley).
'The custom is very ancient and widely practiced,...being known in Athens, Arabia, Rome, Carthage, Egypt, Syria, Babylon and China.'
(Tithes, Tithing by R.E.O. White, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 4, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997, page 2072).
B. A Brief Historical Overview
There is no doubt that it fell largely to the Apostle Paul to be the main theologian of the New Testament. He is the man who tells us that we are now all one in Christ, no matter what nationality. He is the one who carefully outlines the glorious doctrine of Justification By Faith. But Paul outlined much else too, even down to such matters as the pattern of a church service and whether women should speak in church. Paul later also passes on much information to Timothy when he realises that his own time is short, but nowhere does Paul ever mention tithing! This is especially important to notice in view of the fact that Paul does occasionally talk rather a lot about financial giving. In 2 Corinthians chapters eight and nine, Paul is continually writing on the subject of giving; mainly, its true, on the subject of the collection for the struggling congregation at Jerusalem. He finally expounds the principle of the 'cheerful giver' in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. These are two whole chapters on the subject of financial giving by members of the body of Christ. Tithing is not once mentioned. Elsewhere Paul occasionally mentions his determination not to expect funds to come his way, but to work whenever the opportunity was there. Of course, he also mentions that ministers of Jesus Christ should expect to be financially supported. It is vital to consider 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 here, because now Paul is talking about the right of ministers to receive financial support while preaching the gospel, although it seems clear from his comments that he tried hard not to take up this right wherever possible, in his own case. But here are a large slab of eighteen verses where Paul could have appealed to tithing but plainly refuses to do so! This must surely be significant, for Paul is exactly addressing the right of ministers to be supported by the brethren. But Paul's silence on tithing here must be significant!
It must be fair to say that the overwhelming majority of Bible scholars have concluded that Paul could only have made the comments which he did in a situation in which church members were not tithing. Moreover, Paul's own silence in these sections of Scripture must lead one to the inescapable conclusion that Paul did not wish to teach first century Christians to tithe! Surely it is simply impossible to come to any other conclusion!
When Jesus sent out the very first preachers of the Gospel, He appears to outline a financial approach based entirely on faith. Notice Luke 9:3, Luke 10:4-7 and especially Matthew 10:7-10. The Gospel was to go out entirely without charge. Jesus appears to be saying, 'What has been given to you freely, must never be charged for. Have faith in the Lord to supply the need.' This helps us to see why Paul refuses to go beyond that in laying down any particular financial approach for the people of God to adopt! (By the way, in the interests of space, I am not writing down the Scriptures which I quote for the most part, but I STRONGLY URGE THE READER TO LOOK THESE SCRIPTURES UP).
We can be quite sure that what Jesus and Paul refuse to do, i.e., set up a particular programme of financial regulation for the Church, the early 'Church Fathers' did not wish to do either. This is especially clear from the writings of such people as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian. In these writings we do indeed see 'tithes and offerings' occasionally mentioned but only as a type of the fact that the ministry is to be supported - certainly not as a system which was in operation in their own time. In Didascalia Apostolorum, 2.35, we read,
"No more be bound with sin offerings, holocausts,etc., nor yet with tithes and firstfruits, and part-offerings, and gifts and oblations. For it was laid upon them to give all these things as of necessity, but you are not bound by these things...thus shall your righteousness abound more than their tithes and firstfruits and part-offerings, when you shall do it as it is written: 'Sell all thou hast, and give it to the poor.'"
This is the approach which we now find. These early writers appeared to have had no doubts that a legalistic system of financial giving was now outmoded, replaced by something far better! Some of these writers do occasionally mention church finances but never appeal to tithing.
This approach continues for the first few centuries. It should not be entirely surprising that we discover that it is none other than Cyprian who first starts to wonder whether tithing might be employed by the church, although it does not happen during his lifetime. Cyprian wanted to re-introduce elements of the Levitical system into the Church. He was concerned that the ministry were not always getting the respect which he felt that they deserved. He wanted to lift the ministry above the level of the congregation. He was concerned about schism and heretics and felt the answer must be to place the ministry on a pedestal. Regarding tithing, Cyprian will, of course, have been very aware that tithing was widely practiced in the world of his day. Many of the ritualistic things which we now see in the Orthodox and Catholic churches can be traced to the influence of Cyprian, which influence others were to build upon.
But it is only with the arrival of Constantine the first 'Christian emperor' (many historians have suspected that he was never really converted), that we see much serious thought given to church finance. Soon people would want magnificent buildings to be constructed in honour of Christ. How was all this to be financed? Now Christianity was becoming respectable, Christians were no longer persecuted and, in fact, it started to be in a person's interest to claim to be a Christian in order to 'get ahead' in society. After all, was not the very emperor now a Christian? Over the next few centuries we witness thousands pouring into the visible, institutional church many of whom - without question - were not converted. It is only now that the principle of tithes and offerings starts to be strongly pushed in order to help finance an ecclesiastical system which - to be frank - was unknown to the New Testament.
Of course, within this system in which 'Christianity' became a domain (hence the name 'Christendom') true Christians were still to be found, indeed, without doubt, they remained the majority. Yet we now frequently find the leadership of the organised church falling into the hands of "bishops" who were really politicians much more than they were men of God! So this was a start of a system which led to the much despised imposed tithe. So tithing had not been practiced in the early Christian church but gradually became common by the sixth century. The Council of Tours in 567 advocated tithing. Tithes were made obligatory by civil law in the Carolingian empire in 765 and in England in the tenth century. Much has been written about the dissent, anger and hatred which this was to cause in places like England and Germany. Sometimes plainly corrupt "bishops" (who were really what we would now call politicians) were to be found living in luxury amidst the starving. The established church amassed great lands, properties and untold wealth by means of this system. Yet, perhaps nothing has made the established church so hated as this abused and misappropriated tax.
Evangelicals who - in our day - have so enthusiastically embraced the tithing principle seem genuinely unaware of the often hideous record of this system, as well as the fact that this tax was not finally abandoned in England and Wales until the Tithe Act of 1936!!
C. New Testament "Proof Texts"
Modern restored tithing, as we have seen, bears little semblance to the biblical model which was part of the legal code of ancient Israel. That law - within a simple and agrarian society - was concerned with the needs of the poor. Modern tithing, however, is mainly concerned with funding local church congregations in a society - or societies - which usually bear little or no resemblance to the Israel of Leviticus. Therefore those who strongly promote tithing realise that there is little point in quoting Old Testament Scriptures.
So attempts are sometimes made to appeal to the very few New Testament Scriptures in which tithing gets a mention. Unfortunately these people are in serious trouble before they even start. Why? Because they know that New Testament premier writer and theologian, the Apostle Paul, is completely silent on the subject, whereas these people would dearly love to have a Scripture in which he enthusiastically backs it! In all honesty, I have to say that NOT A SINGLE NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURE SUPPORTS TITHING AS SOMETHING WHICH CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE PRACTISING IN OUR DAY! We might as well say that straight away. Nevertheless, since some writers have indeed claimed that there is New Testament support for tithing as a thing which Christians should practise, let us look at the so-called 'Proof Texts.' PLEASE CHECK THESE REFERENCES IN YOUR OWN BIBLE.
Here Jesus complains to the Pharisees that they have tithed 'mint, dill and cumin' (herbs) when they have neglected weightier spiritual matters such as mercy and faithfulness. He told them that those matters are more important and should have been practised 'without neglecting the former' (tithing). It is a little hard to believe that this has been used as a text showing that Christians should now tithe, but it has been! One important Christian writer, British-based but of American origin, even said,
"His approval and exhortation to tithe ought to be sufficient motivation for any Christian."
But of course, Jesus is talking to Pharisees who operated under the Old Covenant, and tithing was part of their system. Today Christians stand under the New Covenant which renders the Old Covenant obsolete. Both the writer of the Book of Hebrews (original manuscripts bear no author's name) and the apostle Paul (especially in the Books of Galatians and Romans) make this very plain.
Luke's parallel account to the Scripture which we have already considered.
This is the Scripture in which a Pharisee boasts that he fasts 'twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' Of course, there was a problem with his attitude since he sought to justify himself and Jesus said that it was the tax collector who simply asked God to be merciful to him who went away most justified. Again, we would expect a Pharisee to tithe - it was part of their legal system. Yet is it not interesting that tithes are only mentioned in these Scriptures in association with self-righteousness?
This refers back to the story of Abraham and Melchisedec. Of course, the central message of the Book of Hebrews is how the New Covenant is immeasurably greater than the Old Covenant. A few will say that since Abraham was the 'father of the faithful,' then Christians of today should therefore "follow his example" and tithe as he did. But this Scripture is not even saying that Abraham normally tithed; it refers to a specific occasion which - as we have already noted - was not even a tithe in the sense the word is usually used today (referring to normal earned income). If - on the basis of this - it is proposed that Christians should tithe, I could propose that, on the basis of Abraham's life, we should also be circumcised, or go out into the desert and wait for God's instructions as to where He will have us go!!
In order to get the full sense of this Scripture it is vital to continue to the end of the chapter. Obviously, the chapter is not about tithing at all but about the greatness of the New Covenant compared to the Old. Just reading as far as the tithing verses 4-9, as many tithing enthusiasts like to do, will not give a full sense of the Chapter's meaning. This Scripture is saying that Abraham recognised Melchisedec as a great man so gave him a 'tenth,' symbolic of recognising a greater authority than oneself, and of giving offering/tribute to him.
Melchisedec was very mysterious, many believe that he must have been the Angel of the Lord, still others feel that Jesus revealed Himself directly to Abraham through this person who was our Saviour Himself! (This seems a little harder to accept). But if this Melchisedec was just a pagan High Priest (as some like to say) it is hard to see why Abraham should have been in such awe of him! Here is a much closer consideration of Melchisedec for any who are interested.
But nothing here is saying that Christians today should give a tenth as a legal (or even an optional) practice, and one can only arrive at such a conclusion by suspending all logical reasoning. Despite this, on about three occasions in my life I have either read or actually heard Christian ministers (who really should know their Bibles better!), claim that Abraham's example means that modern Christians should tithe.
Neither - of course - would we expect to see such an instruction here since - elsewhere in the New Testament - both Jesus and Paul show this would simply be inappropriate. The New Covenant offers a freedom and liberty which was just not available to those who lived under the Old Covenant. Only we are to use this freedom to serve God and our neighbour - not to sin.
There are no further New Testament references to tithing. Against this, however, we have 2 Corinthians 9:7 in which the context is clearly one of financial giving within the Church and which appears to be a plain enough instruction:
'Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.'
Imposed tithing means that one is giving "under compulsion." The reader may find further consideration of Paul's use of the Greek word, 'anangke' in this verse here.
D. The Effect Of Tithing Upon Congregational Life
An Indian missionary visited several congregations in the affluent Western world, and came away in some state of shock. Why? He was just simply astonished at what Western Christians waste! The wealth of some of these congregations staggered him. In one such congregation, he was given what he considered to be a sizeable donation for his mission, but he was later invited to a meal in which far, far more money was spent!
This man began to realise that some wealthy North American congregations could - just on their own - support huge numbers of indigenous missionaries! Modern Tithing (which, again, I wish to separate from Levitical Tithing, since it has almost nothing in common), can make a large congregation very wealthy, where the tithing is strictly and legalistically imposed. But what message does this give to the church member? It tends to teach them a message of Justification by Works. But the New Testament upholds Justification By Faith Alone clearly and unequivocally! Tithing is especially popular among the cults and sects and among the newer - and often more extreme - charismatic groups. It is also considered a particularly vital teaching in the prosperity gospel churches. Let us honestly admit that some of these groups only have the most superficial understanding of Christian theology. But many have noted that a strict tithing regime also tends to undermine the correct understanding of Justification among more mainstream Christian groups which strongly push tithing! Many tithers tend to boast about what God does for the tither, a few even feel that non-tithers will only get into heaven by the skin of their collective teeth!! But this is plainly displaying a works-based approach toward salvation. But we can NEVER EVEN IN A MILLION YEARS EARN SALVATION! It is all a matter of God's bountiful grace!
A very keen observer of the Christian world, made this comment to me in an e-mail:
"I have come to the conclusion that some very strongly tithing churches are too inward-looking. They are no longer looking outwards at how they can help others, especially missionaries, but they become - in some cases - almost obsessed with their local scene. Some of these congregations become quite wealthy but although they will often give asistance to foreign missionaries, it tends to be a 'drop in the ocean' in comparison with their resources. I have also noticed that the underlying legalism involved in a 'You Must Tithe' approach spreads to other areas of church life. If a member encounters financial difficulties, it is too quickly thought by some that he or she could not have been tithing, or had been witholding part of the tithe. Apart from being a theologically perilous position to adopt in its own right, this appears to be the eager judgmentalism of the spiritually naive. I just wonder how many in those churches made prosperous through tithing realise the original purpose of tithing, that is, to assist the needy. I have also wondered whether a few folks who attend such churches are in private financial straits!"
This man - once a fervent advocate of tithing - tells me that he now supports voluntary tithing only. I take this man's comments seriously; although he wishes me not to mention his name, he is a seasoned observer of Christian life, an experienced preacher and a Bible-believing conservative. But he is 'nobody's fool' (as we Brits say!).
Another - and very serious - problem can be noted in some congregations: The congregation becomes divided into two groups, the tithers and the non-tithers, but only the tithers can ever become "members" of that congregation. I am frankly astonished that more have not spoken out about this disgraceful practise!
ALL WHO HAVE REPENTED AND ACCEPTED CHRIST'S SACRIFICE IN THEIR OWN LIVES, BECOME MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD IN ITS TRUE AND ETERNAL SENSE!!
Pastors need to ensure that this is carefully pointed out to all their congregation! The very concept that only those who tithe can be considered 'members' of any local congregation is so very seriously flawed that I find it astonishing that the practise continues unchecked in some places!
E. A Better Way: Koinonia!
It sometimes happens that ministers withdraw from teaching a tithing approach (unfortunately, all too rarely), but what too often happens is that within months the congregation faces a financial crisis and, perhaps under pressure from the treasurer, the church returns to a tithing position. This is very, very sad but turning from a tithing system to a faith position does not mean that God will automatically bless where churches have not put their financial house in order!
In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul describes the incomparable greatness of the New Covenant compared to the Old. He shows that while that which was passing away was glorious, what remains is "much more glorious." He writes of the veil which remains over the face of those who read the Old Testament without spiritual understanding, then he says,
"Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
(2 Corinthians 3:16-17).
Sometimes we forget how much liberty is involved in serving Christ. In that same chapter (verse 7), Paul refers to the Old Covenant with its legalistic package as, 'the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones.' The Christian stands in real liberty under the grace of God, the penalty of the law no longer stands over such a person since they are now forgiven and covered by God's grace. This is the great time which Isaiah wrote about:
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has appointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound."
I leave the quote there but would advise the reader to read the whole of this glorious chapter, which looked forwards to the preaching of the Gospel, and to the Church. Later in the chapter there are fairly clear allusions to the Jubilee Year in which the Israelites were cleared of debt and all land reverted to its original owners. The Gospel is always associated with freedom and liberty.
Rather than upholding "tithing," the New Testament emphasises the 'Koinonia' which was to occur among believers. This Greek word means 'sharing' and involves the principles of fellowship and community. This word implies a real commitment to serving and sharing and it was part and parcel of the early Church. We see this glorious principle in action in Acts 2:
"Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need."
This principle is seen again in Acts 4:
"Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need."
We should note that this principle of Koinonia goes way beyond the principle of tithing! But it is vital to note that this principle ensures that congregation members are well provided for. This obviously goes way above and beyond any situation where tithes are demanded to support the "ministry" (sometimes including a pastoral team living in some luxury!), no matter what the financial status of the individual member!! I have been told of many places where this happens - can we honestly call this 'Christian practise'??
I know of a minister who went to see a student who was struggling to get through his degree with a wife and a few children. During this period, life was one long financial struggle for this family. The first thing the minister asked was, "Do you own your own home?" (He was assessing the family's financial situation). The answer was No. Yet very soon the student was asked when he would start tithing! I have the full facts of this particular case in front of me. Of course, if Koinonia was being practised, that student should have been offered generous financial help from his minister, especially in view of the fact that the degree which he was seeking to attain was a theology degree!! This sort of thing is unbelievably insensitive.
I would like to see the principle of VOLUNTARY GIVING taught in every congregation in the land. People could be reminded of their responsibilities to help keep their congregation afloat. What tends to happen now is that if the congregation is a strict tithing group, members are rarely taught about voluntary giving. The finances are coming in due to the tithes so why worry? But this is not good; Christians need to learn about Koinonia in action!
I would like to see EVERY SINGLE MINISTER FACE UP TO THE TRUTH ABOUT TITHING! That it actually masks the glorious truth of Koinonia. Yes, such voluntary giving and sharing requires active, living faith! But what a joy and a thrill when we see the fruits of such faith!
But nobody should expect this approach to equal what tithing can achieve finance-wise. Don't forget: God promises to supply what is really required, not luxury! If a congregation has enjoyed a very substantial income because it has very strongly taught tithing, there is going to be a drop if tithing is abandoned, that is just simple arithmetic. But all good evangelistic activities within that congregation's locality will still be able to go ahead if they are approached in faith, and if they receive the Lord's blessing. Yes, more earnest prayer-time is probably going to be required! Can that ever be a bad thing? But there will be a need, perhaps, of a tightened up financial approach. The minister might also have to be paid less, in order that there is a good strong 'help fund' for those in the congregation who are experiencing financial difficulties! Yes, I can see that this approach might be very, very unpopular with some! But this is New Testament Koinonia in action!
Let me respectfully suggest to you ministers reading this that you remind your congregation that - under the New Covenant - tithing can only ever be a voluntary action, NEVER a mandatory act.
Also let me urge you to remind your people that tithing was concerned with assisting the poor. Please be bold enough to tell your people that, yes, there is a responsibility to support one's own fellowship, but if 10% has been a struggle, why not 5% or 3% because if one's heart is right before God the amount does not matter (remember the widow's mite?). If a few members insist on continuing with their tithe, that is absolutely fine since they will hopefully now understand that it is not a matter of command. But you may need to mention the subject to these people again in case their understanding is legalistic. Legalism undermines the correct comprehension of Justification By Faith.
DO NOT CAUSE DIVISION!
Let us imagine that one is coming to this understanding afresh and with great joy. What should the reader do? Please let me make a plea here:
DO NOT CAUSE DIVISION IN YOUR CONGREGATION!
Do not spread this topic right through your congregation but take it to your minister for his reaction! You are free to print this article out for this purpose if your minister is not able to connect to the internet. Please be patient with your minister, he may well be under terrible pressure to continue a tithing approach whether or not he understands the approach which I have outlined here! You may feel that you would like to discuss this with your minister several times. Don't expect him to jump in response to this article. It may well be that you will not be able to make any difference and your fellowship will continue to be one which encourages tithing. Should you leave? While this will be a personal decision, I don't necessarily feel that the reader should leave their congregation over this matter. Have you been contented paying tithes? Are you assured that the tithes are administered wisely with surpluses regularly going to the poor? Or has tithing caused your congregation to build a 'big barn' of unused money even while many within your community are in serious need? These would be some of the pertinent questions to ask. But PLEASE DO NOT be afraid to discuss this with your minister! If you have been faithfully tithing within your own congregation perhaps over many years, you have every right to query your minister over your fellowship's tithing policy. But also please don't make this the conversational 'topic of the month' among the brethren. None of us should wish to cause division within any fellowship!
An E Mail Question On This Article And My Response To It! (Please consider this question, it might be your question!)
"You seem to be saying that God does not bless the tither but I have always been taught that God greatly blesses the tither! What about the 'Windows of heaven' Scripture?"
The answer to your question is that God greatly blesses the GIVER. I once heard a lady from a Seventh Day Adventist background saying, "Isn't it wonderful how God blesses tithers?" But I also heard an old lady who had never tithed in her life say, "Isn't it wonderful the way God blesses Christians? I live on very little money on paper, but God always showers me with blessings!" This old lady was a real Giver. God blesses those who give willingly with a cheerful heart. Frequently (though not entirely always) the blessings of a cheerful giver start to come to them even in this life. Lets look at the Scripture:
"Give, and it shall be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."
Please notice that the context in this verse is the cheerful giving which Paul also talks about. Tithing is nowhere mentioned here. But does God bless the tither? Absolutely!! But not only the tither, but all who are cheerful and generous givers. But Luke 6:38 is no reason to pay a 'mandatory tithe' especially since this Scripture does not even mention tithing! Of course, I could say that God blessed me when I was single, but is that a reason not to seek a wife? I could say that God often greatly blesses those who are 'babes in Christ' but is that a reason for them to try to remain 'babes in Christ' and not move on in knowledge and understanding?
Malachi 3 is an interesting chapter. It starts off with a prophecy of John the Baptist, but from vese 7 it reverts back to, "...the days of your fathers..."
Then of course, Israel is really slammed for witholding their "tithes and offerings" (verse 8). The "whole nation" (verse 9) are accused of robbing God in this way. Of course this is referring to Old Testament Israel and Malachi was a Prophet who stood within the Old Covenant. In verse 10 (the one which pro-tithers love to quote), Israel are given the famous challenge to,
"Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and prove Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it."
Halley said of this,"By the Mosaic constituition, the tithe was God's property."
But the point here is that Israel were disobedient in this very serious matter. Under the various kings of Israel the land became prosperous, but they were rarely interested in paying their tithes except spasmodically. But it is very problematic to refer this to the New Covenant Church when nowhere in the New Testament do we find even a gentle reminder to tithe! Moreover, as already pointed out, it is quite obvious that the early Church was not tithing when Paul wrote his epistles and certainly obvious that the apostle never appeals to tithing.
Again, let us remind ourselves that Christians enjoy a liberty in such matters which was not enjoyed under the Old Covenant; we should not be surprised therefore, that Jesus does not refer to tithing when speaking about the financial approach of the New Testament Church (Matthew 10:9), neither does Paul (though he even finds time to discuss the length of men and women's hair), it should not be surprising, either that Luke 6:38, perhaps the premier 'giving' Scripture in the New Testament, does not mention it. While it is indeed true that Israel were a clear type of the Church to come, the specifc 'tithes and offerings' of Malachi 3 can hardly be applied to the Church in that form; but the principle of Christians being ever ready to give financial support to the Church of God certainly does apply.
To conclude my answer to this question, it is surely worth pointing out that, perhaps, the great majority of Bible scholars down through the ages have felt that Malachi 3:10 cannot be applied to the Church.
We have seen that tithing formed an important part of the Old Covenant which was ratified at Mount Sinai. This Mosaic code came to a conclusion when the veil of the temple was torn when our Saviour expired upon the cross. Christians now live under the New Covenant. Both the apostle Paul and the writer of the anonymous Book of Hebrews plainly show that we are no longer subject to the legalistic Levitical system. It is true that tithes are also mentioned prior to Sinai in connection with both Abraham and Jacob, but, as we have seen, we can deduce little from those examples for two reasons:
1. Tithing was not confined to Israel, the concept appears to have existed elsewhere in the ancient world.
2. Strictly speaking, those examples were not even a 'tithe' in the way in which that word is now often used, they were freewill offerings of a tenth.
We have also noted that neither the apostle Paul nor the early Church appeared to hold any concept of paying tithes, with the concept only emerging post-Constantine when a means was sought to finance huge 'church' and cathedral buildings.
With hopefully a little sadness, we noted that increasingly the visible, organised church was now all too often led by "bishops" who were really more politicians than spiritual leaders. Of course, there were some exceptions to this but Christian history - all too often - paints quite a depressing picture. Hopefully we have also seen that the imposed tithe became associated with terrible abuses of power at times by the established church, leading to terrible periods of unrest in England and Germany, including the Peasant's Revolt (this is not to say, of course, that tithing - all on its own - caused the Peasant's Revolt, but that it was one of the things which appeared as gross injustices to the poor, such injustices finally leading to that revolt).
We have seen that the 'modern tithe' (which appears to have emerged in the late 19th century United States), bears little resemblance to the Levitical tithe. That tithe was concerned with meeting the needs of the poor of the land, whether the Levites who received no land inheritance, or others who wished to travel to the Levitical Feast days, or the poor in general. It was not the sort of tax which, as Samuel warned, kings would impose, thereby making themselves richer and financing their various projects!
Finally, I pointed out that the New Testament points out a financial approach which is best summed up by the word 'Koinonia'(sharing). We see this approach employed in the Book of Acts; it was a complete committment by all Christians to each other, so that none should suffer lack or privation, and out of this, the preaching and advance of the Gospel was also funded. If this were practised today, it is fair to say that congregations would no longer have poorer members, though pastors might have to accept lower pay for their labours in some cases, especially in more affluent areas. It is also true to say that if this kind of total Christian sharing were practised today, third world missions would surely receive much greater financial support than is often the case at present.
Once again I make a plea that all reading this and accepting these conclusions, be committed to not causing division within congregations. If any are feeling angry about any of my comments, please first ask yourselves WHY you are feeling angry before sending off an irate e-mail to me! If what I say is unbiblical, then show me where I am being unbiblical. May I just say, God bless all of you and if any feel that big and uncomfortable decisions are now called for, please petition the Lord to give you the strength and courage which you will undoubtedly need.
Robin A. Brace 2002.
A FURTHER FOLLOW-UP QUESTION
"Your views on tithing are close to mine, but here is a question for you: I heard a minister on an audio tape sermon say this about 'Koinonia:' 'Koinonia was tried by the early Christians but it did not work and the Church was almost bankrupted because of it. This was partly because some 'spongers' took advantage of it and refused to work, so the Church abandoned it.'
How about this?"
My! The man who made this comment seems to have put a lot of things in the New Testament together and come up with a conclusion which most theologians would shy away from! In other words, he appears to be adding 4+4 and making it 20!
He is obviously thinking of those Scriptures in Acts which we have considered in this study which show that the early Christians really did practise this all-out sharing.
Secondly, he appears to be considering the fact that the congregation at Jerusalem got into some financial difficulties.
Thirdly, he is apparently considering those one or two texts where the apostle Paul complains about a few who were not too keen on working, and he says, 'If any don't work, neither should they eat.' (By the way, we should not misunderstand this comment by Paul, he was speaking in a day where work was always available. Modern western unemployment in which some older men find it almost impossible to get full-time work once they are made redundant is, indeed, a modern phenomenon. Nobody who is in that position should reproach themselves).
But Paul does not say that a few did not want to work because 'koinonia' meant that they did not have to work! There have always been a few such people within society. Do we seriously think that a system of koinonia could not impose a few guidelines to ensure that it was not abused?
But with all due respect to the minister who made those comments on an audio sermon tape, I don't know what he is referring to. Perhaps he is suggesting that tithing came along 'just in the nick of time' to save the early church. If he is suggesting that (and I don't know if he is), that is absolute nonsense; it was many centuries before tithing came into the church. It only really caught on when Christianity became a domain and people were assumed to be Christians - even from birth (as long as they were baptised) - and when a means was sought to finance cathedrals and a whole system of clergy (which, in any case, was hardly a biblically prescribed system).
So, if I knew who that minister was (which I do not), I would say that the onus was on him to quote chapter and verse to back up his points! Certainly, we know that Jerusalem was affected by a famine and the apostle Paul was keen to summon help from the other churches to provide assistance. A famine is a famine, if the inspired text tells us that a famine was the cause of the financial problem, why do we start to 'second guess' that?
I'm afraid that this minister's comments cannot be sustantiated from the New Testament.
© This article is Copyright Robin A. Brace 2002. If you want it on your own website please do so but please also do the honourable thing and correctly quote the writer and state where the article comes from. You are also free to use 3 or 4 quotes from this article, but again, the writer's name should be quoted and you should provide a link to this website on the same page as the article.
(For any wanting to go even deeper into this subject, there is now a book available on this very topic which covers far more ground than I could have done in this article. The book is Beyond Tithing and is written by Stuart Murray. It is available on Paternoster Publishing, Copyright 2000, ISBN;1-84227-000-1)
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