By now you’re probably aware of the pastor, Alois Bell, who left this for her waitress to discover after eating at Applebees:
The story has gone viral.
In sum, “after service one Sunday Bell and her congregation” went to Applebees where “a disagreement over the establishment’s auto-gratuity of 18% for parties of 8 or more” took place.
Apparently in order to avoid the mandatory tip the table of about 20 requested separate bills even though Pastor Bell paid them all. Of course the mandatory tip was still put on the bills and here is where the controversy get’s hot.
Pastor Bell scratches out the tip and writes:
I give God 10% why do you get 18
Then the waitress, Chelsea Welch, took a picture of it and posted it on Reddit.
In response Pastor Bell apparently apologized calling the episode a “lapse in my character and judgment” that “has been blown out of proportion.” The irony in this statement is that the pastor went on to call Applebees and demanded that everyone involved be fired. Welch, the server, lost her job.[The above quotes were taken from The Gawker. You can find the pastor’s apology at The Smoking Gun. At The Examiner James-Michael Smith offers a very Christ-like response.]
[Update: it’s been confirmed that despite what the pastor wrote on the receipt, she and everyone with her did leave a cash tip. Applebees posted at the time of this writing on the front page of their website: “We simply cannot accept behavior that compromises the safety and privacy our Guests have every right to expect and deserve. Please note that we are also not excusing the Guest’s behavior in this matter and the unacceptable comment she wrote on the receipt, which is offensive to us and all our hard working team members. To be clear, the 18% gratuity added to large party tickets was paid by the Guest’s party.” HT]
GETTING IT EXACTLY BACKWARDS
I believe Christians of most strips have turned what the Bible says about tithing into an act intending metaphysical results. We’ve mystified it, spiritualized it and legalized it. Worst of all, in doing so we’ve turned its original intent on its head. Is it possible to rob God? Yes, by tithing and not tipping.
And it is not just the charismatic folk with their prosperity Gospel that are doing this. In almost every church I’ve attended the belief goes like this: we must tithe 10%. If we want to give more in an offering, go ahead, but no less than 10%. That’s what the Bible says to do.
DOES THE BIBLE COMMAND 10%
The scriptures do not actually instruct anywhere that Christians or even Israelites are to give 10% to God, the Temple or the Church. Tithing 10% is a myth we’ve all assumed to be true.
The Old Testament does reference tithing, with clear instructions to Israel. But there are three different tithes that they are instructed to give. Two of those tithes are annual and a third tithe is to be given every third year.
- Tithe 1: There was a tithe of the produce of the land to support the Levites who had no inheritance in Canaan. (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:21-31)
- Tithe 2: Another and altogether separate tithe of the produce of the land was to sponsor religious festivals in Jerusalem. If the produce was too burdensome for a family to carry to Jerusalem, they were allowed to convert it into money. (Deut. 14:22-27 – festival tithe)
- Tithe 3: Finally, a tithe of the produce of the land was collected every third year for the local Levites, orphans, strangers, and widows. (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12-13)
When the scriptures mention the “tithes” (plural), it is referring to these three different categories of 10% giving (which, by the way, was essentially Israel’s social tax). Thus the biblical mandate of “the tithes” is 23.3% annually, not 10%.
WHY DID GOD COMMAND THE TITHES?
The purpose of the first tithe was to support the Levites because this class of citizen was not allowed to work or live off the land (which was the main industry of the ancient world). They were, in essence, local ministers in various towns and in the Tabernacle/Temple. It’s important to note that the Levites were not allowed to work. If they could this tithe may never have been given.
The second tithe was to support the national religious festivals.
The third tithe, like the first, went to supporting those who needed it. Levites (again, it was like a bonus year), orphans, strangers and widows.
So if you’ll notice, the tithes are given primarily for social purposes. They were, in essence, God’s socially active instructions. Every blessing the Israelites had, came from God. God did not want 10%, he wanted 100%. But for the people to show their trust in God’s provision of life – particularly in the life-sustaining agricultural provisions – they were to give up the first portion. It served a double purpose of encouraging trust and faith in the Lord while simultaneously supporting the helpless.
HOW TO ROB GOD
One of the most often quoted verses in the Bible about tithing is found in Malachi chapter 3:8:
Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.But you ask, “How do we rob you?”In tithes and offerings.
Often stripped from its context, this verse is used by many – with right but misguided intentions – to get people to tithe. But verse 5 talks about those who “defraud labourers,” who oppress widows and orphans and treat foreigners with injustice. In other words, the passage is rooted in the social structure of Israel. God’s concern wasn’t that the Israelites were not giving. His concern was that by not giving they were not caring. In fact verse 10 says “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” Food to care for the Levites, the widows, the orphans and to help the foreigner. The whole tithe. Not just one of the tithes. Not just 10%. But all of it. All three. All 23.3% of it.
So how do people rob God? They rob God when they turn the tithes into a law of 10% while simultaneously not tipping their servers.
BY NOT GIVING THEY WERE NOT CARING
Today we could turn that statement around. Many of us have become tithing zealots. Our reason for tithing is not the same as God’s. God commanded the tithes in order to support those in need – not just the ministers and not just to keep the lights on in the Temple. Many of us religiously tithe on the grounds that we believe God commands us to tithe. We tithe because we are instructed to tithe. It’s law masked as good Christian obedience. God instructed the Israelites to tithe because he has a heart for those who need help.
In the end it’s not the sacrifice that matters, but the heart (Psalm 51:17). The lesson we learn from the early church is that they did not give 10%, but they shared everything so that “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34). And that is the point. God’s heart. “No needy persons among them.”
The Israelites had a problem. They weren’t giving and they weren’t caring. We have a similar problem. When we tithe religiously to keep the lights on at church because we believe we are commanded to tithe, when we do this but don’t invest our money and energy into the needy, are in giving and not caring.