Sunday, August 18, 2002
On the subject of tithing....
I’ve been watching with interest the discussion going on at Rachel Cunliffe’s blog about tithing and whether it is in fact a New Testament principle or not. I want to take this space to air my views on the subject, since this is one of the issues I actually have strong feelings about. I think that probably anyone who is not just coasting in the Christian life has strong views on this subject one way or another, since money is one of the most talked-about subjects in the New Testament.
I have done a little bit of research on the subject of tithing (not an exhaustive study, by any means, but enough to give me somewhat of a handle on it), and the first thing I should say is that I do not believe tithing to be a New Testament doctrine. What I mean by this is that, while tithing is certainly a good idea and a good discipline, it does not appear to be a “requirement” for New Testament believers. I can’t find anywhere in the NT where tithing is made a prerequisite for inclusion into a body of believers or even the Kingdom of God. One of the respondents on Rachel’s blog said that they believed 10% giving to be a “minimum” for Christians. The only “minimum” I find in the NT for Christians is to “confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead”(Rom. 10:9).
That being said, I do believe that a life of giving should naturally flow out of a life of being one with Jesus. Proverbs 3:27-28 says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’—when you now have it with you.” But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I want to present my view here systematically and coherently, because this is such a volatile issue that I want to minimize misunderstanding as much as possible.
There seem to be two main examples that people pull out when debating on the “for” side of tithing: Jesus vs. the Pharisees, and Abraham and Melchizedek. I’ll address these one by one.
First, Jesus’ words to the Pharisees re: tithing (Matt. 23:23-24). The passage goes as follows: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”(emphasis mine). There are two points that seem apparent to me here. First, Jesus is obviously taking the Pharisees to task for their hypocrisy in making a big deal out of their tithing. I think that there are lots of folks out there who tithe down to the penny (in fact, I know of one minister who goes so far as to figure the cost of his Christmas and birthday presents and tithes on that amount, too), then think (maybe subconsciously), “Well, I’ve done my bit. Boy, doesn’t that feel good!” Meanwhile, they get angry when the pastor or someone else mentions a need in the church or an outreach or whatever, thinking, “All they ever do is ask for more money!” My point is that sometimes tithing becomes a cop-out for real, heartfelt, giving because there’s a need and God is speaking to you to help fill that need. I guess this is where 2 Corinthians 9:7 comes into play. It reads, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” I don’t think it gets much clearer than that. Secondly, Jesus makes clear in the above passage that He considers tithing to be less important than justice, mercy, and faithfulness. (In fact, it’s interesting that Jesus separated the issues of tithing and faithfulness. Hmmm….)
Now, about the incident with Abraham and Melchizedek: if you read that passage (Genesis 14:17-20) in context, it seems apparent that Abraham was responding spontaneously out of gratitude for the blessing spoken over him by Melchizedek. I don’t find any evidence that this was more than a one-time gift; in fact, Strong’s Concordance only lists one other mention of Melchizedek—in Psalm 110:4, where God was promising David’s descendants that they would serve, like Melchizedek, as both kings and priests. (This is an amendment to the original text of this blog: yes, I found the references in Hebrews to Melchizedek--in Strong's the Hebrews references are spelled differently, for some reason. But again, they refer to the "king and priest" thing and not to tithing.)
The bottom line is, we are not bound by “the law” anymore—Jesus fulfilled the law in all its manifestations—so, if tithing was ever a “requirement” (and I know that it was in the OT to support the Levites who had their hands full killing bulls and goats all day, every day, to atone for the Israelites’ sins and therefore weren’t able to own land), it isn’t now. However, since all of our life belongs to God (not just our money), we should be willing to give whatever we are able to give (whether it be money, time, talents, or whatever) to insure the growth of the Kingdom (not necessarily the growth of the church building and administration). There are so many tangents I could go off on at this time, such as my pet peeve of the “faith movement” treating God like a slot machine (“If I just throw enough quarters in here, one day I’ll hit the jackpot!”), but I won’t. I hope this is not too rambling and that all “rabbit trails” have come together.
Hi, I'm Debi. Once in a while I have a thought and I like to write it down before it goes away. This is where I write it.
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