A young woman came up to me at work one day and asked me if we are supposed to tithe. I told her that we should give to support our church and our leaders if we can, but that feeding our children and making sure our bills get paid comes first. To this she responded with another question, ‘but doesn’t the Bible say that we have to tithe?’ This second question is asked with a presupposition that expects an answer in the affirmative, in court this would be called a leading question, asked in such a way as to expect no other answer then a ‘yes’. But the answer is – strictly speaking – no, the Bible does not tell us that we have to tithe; there is no such command in the scriptures. From Acts to Revelation, in all of the Pastoral Epistles and the other epistles that instruct on operating a church there is not a single mention of this doctrine for Christians!
Not long ago I read a book by John Stott called the Living Church: Reflections of a lifelong pastor. In this book an entire chapter is devoted to giving within the church and to the church and it is filled with exegesis of all relevant New Testament passages – yet not once in the entire book is the word tithe or any variation of it used (Stott approaches this subject beautifully!). Yet today it is difficult to imagine many churches teaching on church giving without appealing to an Old Testament law on tithing and telling the people that God requires it or they won’t be blessed.
Someone asked me a while back if I would write a blog on this subject and so here it is. On the one hand I want to be sensitive to the fact that tithing is a common practice in many churches, but I also need to be firm – the doctrine of tithing is destructive, unbiblical and against the design of Gods Church. This is the conclusion of a series of three articles. The present article will attempt to support the bold claim I just made. The first article examined all the relevant biblical texts that are used to support tithing and showed (I think) how the scriptures, when read in context, do not support the idea that Christians are to tithe. The second article instructs on a wholesome, biblical and godly practice of giving.
Why does it matter?
There are four pastoral reasons why it matters whether or not we teach a doctrine of tithing to our people: 1. it destroys the faith of the Christian; 2. it hinders a right attitude of giving; 3. it becomes a barrier to the unbeliever; 4. it prevents the Church from being what God designed it to be.
1. It destroys the faith of the Christian
How many times have I heard messages delivered from pulpits teaching that God will financially bless those who faithfully tithe? And so many people give (or try to give) ten percent of their income. Sometimes they are not able to pay their bills, collection agencies are after them. Some people can’t afford to feed their children or keep their phone lines activated. Some can’t afford to get their car on the road (which they need for work) and still, week after week they struggle to give a tenth of their income to the church.
Why isn’t God blessing them with more money or a better job or miraculous food etc? Oh yah sure, someone is going to go up to the platform and describe a miracle that happened to them, but others – and way more in the majority – are living in condemnation and guilt, feeling unacceptable before God, unjustified and weighed down by the sin of either not being able to give ten percent, or else by giving and still – for reasons God only knows – cannot afford to pay their monthly bills! Does this look like the picture of the church that God intended? Does this testify of a God whose eyes are on the sparrow? As Mark Hall poetically but it, “if we are the body, why aren’t his arms reaching”? But more on this anon.
The scriptures teach that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus [Rom 8:1] and that we find approval in the eyes of our heavenly father who smiles down on us because of our faith in his Son Jesus Christ, and not by the works of the Law [Rom 3:28]. Yet when we teach tithing we both place our brothers and sisters (especially those who are already hurting – God help us) in condemnation [Luke 6:37, cf. verse 38] and in shorthand we are essentially telling them that their approval rating before God, their level of being justified if you will – is not found by faith in Jesus alone but by works of the Law; the work of tithing.
2. It hinders a right attitude of Giving
Little is necessary to say on this. We find ourselves – by which I mean the ‘we’ (whoever they are) who teach the law of tithing – in quite the predicament. How do we tell people that they must give ten percent of their income, threaten them that if they do not give ten percent that they will not be blessed, and then have them do it for ‘spiritual’ not legal reasons? In the New Testament Paul can say on the one hand, give with a willing and cheerful heart, but then on the other he can say, give freely [2 Cor. 9:7]. Tithing may say (depending on who’s preaching it) you must give with a cheerful heart, but it cannot liberate you to give freely, on the contrary it demands that you give (minimum) ten percent of your income “or else”.
3. It becomes a barrier to the unbeliever.
Scenario 1: Imagine you are an un-churched person living in today’s southern Ontario economy – the previous automotive capital of Canada – with all of its auto factories and dealerships folding up operations and moving elsewhere leaving countless without jobs. Now you (and almost everyone you know) are faced with the daunting task of taking care of your family without the financial means to do so. You then meet a previous co-worker on the street who is in the same boat as you are yet as you dialogue with one another you discover that your new friend is not nearly as depressed as you are over the situation and so you ask what’s up. He explains that God is taking care of his financial needs until he gets on his feet. You first scoff, ‘yah I’ve heard that before. What does God do, drop dollar bills from heaven?’ But then he warmly rebuttals, ‘it’s true, the body of Christ, the community of faith, are helping me pay my bills and some of them have even given me short term work to help me out’ he explains, ‘a guy in the Bible named James teaches that he will show everyone his faith my what he does and another guy named Paul describes the Church as the body of Christ where we help and support each other by the will of God… and friend’ he says to you, ‘we would love to help you as well’. Tears stream down your cheeks as you are emotionally overwhelmed by the workings of a Christ you don’t even know it yet.
Scenario 2: Now let us consider another more familiar scenario. You are un-churched and a Christian friend invites you to church. The economy stinks yet still a leader of the church steps up and declares that it is time to take up the tithe. He gives a mini-sermon on how God requires that we give ten percent of our income to the church, no matter what situations we are facing. To neglect this is to be disobedient to God, to show a lack of faith and as a result, God will not ‘bless’ you or your family. Or consider this true scenario I recently heard: there was a woman who was ‘seeking to find religion’. After several weeks of attending church – note she was not a believer, but only a seeker – a church leader approached her and warned sternly that if she was to continue to attend the church she must tithe – she ceased attending church altogether (story slightly modified).
Is it even necessary to ask which of the two scenarios above best shines the light of Christ via his body to a lost and dark world?
4. It prevents the Church from being what it is designed to be
This fourth point is simply a corollary to the previous three: The Church of God is a community of faith based missional believers called to be the embodiment of Gods people functioning Gods way to this dark and hopeless world. Instead we have removed the faith from this community and substituted it for law. Then we claim this in the name of that very ‘faith’ which we removed, claiming we must give by ‘faith’ ‘believing’ that God will ‘bless us’, even though James – inspired by the Holy Spirit – has a completely different philosophy: it is you who must prove your faith by helping those who are in need [James 2:18]! When we fail to do this and then demand from those we are supposed to be helping that they must give anyways, we are both destroying their faith while simultaneously proving that we ourselves are faithless! We have consequentially nullified ‘faith’ and God’s divine institution – the Church – and have ceased to continue in the lead of Christ to be Kingdom people!
We have essentially – like Israel before us – become a part of the problem instead of a part of the solution to man’s plot!