How Should We Tithe?

As someone who has worked in the ministry and been to seminary, I’m sometimes asked by churchgoing friends what I believe about tithing. Money in the church has always been a sensitive issue. According to Scripture, God instructs us to give. The rule of thumb from the Hebrew Bible was a tithe, or 10 percent of one's income/harvest for the temple or storehouse (Malachi 3:10 for instance). It seems Jesus places a new and different emphasis on this commandment by commending the poor widow who gave only two mites to the Jerusalem temple, which was all she had (Mark 12 and Luke 21). Then there’s the infamous rich young ruler who is challenged to leave not a tenth of his possessions, but everything. Whereas the widow’s intentions are pure, Jesus calls out the idolatry in the young man’s heart.

If Christians are called by Christ to deny ourselves, give whenever someone asks and sacrifice unconditionally for the Kingdom of God, how does this translate to "the offering" of today's institutional church? Are church leaders who preach about generosity and giving being honest in their teachings, or do they sometimes conveniently presuppose a degree of clarity about the tithing issue that is not so self-evident? What is the role of the congregation in holding its leadership and itself accountable with regard to charity? How much should the church be giving away in proportion to what it spends on its on logistical and family needs? Finally, are individuals always expected to give a full tithe to the church, or is it acceptable to give a percentage of this tithe to other ministries and causes as well?

Much like the vocation of Israel described in Isaiah 43 as Yahweh’s witness, Paul speaks of the Church as the body of Christ and its function to demonstrate God’s love for the world (Colossians 1:24, 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 5:30). Luke testifies to this as well (Acts 1:8), and Jesus tells the disciples in John that they will be known as His followers because of their love (John 13:35).

What does this love look like? It looks out for “the least of these,” and it imitates Jesus’ obedience to the point of death. If this is the primary order governing the faith community, surely the chief financial commitment on both the part of the members and the ministerial staff ought to be directed not inwardly, but toward the local and global needs of the suffering and marginalized as much as possible.

It might be that some of the questions raised above are based on a mistaken cultural viewpoint of the Church in the first place. The problem is that modern churchgoers tend to conceptualize themselves as separate from the church itself. Thus, we talk about giving to the church. This wouldn’t make very much sense if we understood ourselves instead to be part of the church. Conceived of as part of the church then—rather than us giving to the church—it is now we the church that gives to others. Thus, under this framework, it is no longer a matter of giving to the church and other causes, but of the church together as a whole, under the guidance of the Spirit, giving to other causes. This also breaks down the clergy/laity divide. In other words, it is not about congregants giving to support the ministry of pastors, but memberships taking care of pastors while the two groups give together as a unit.

Concerning how much individuals are to give, not surprisingly, the wisdom of C.S. Lewis is appropriate: “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give [like the widow] more than we can spare.” And what do we give? Not just money, but as Jesus requires, our whole selves. In order for this to happen though, money is still a critical factor, and many churches would likely have to reevaluate their outlook on what they consider to be truly necessary in terms of costs. In seasons of plenty, this task of self-examination is neglected. As a result, the recent economic crisis devastated some ministries across the country more than it probably should have.

Obviously the church requires money for basic purposes and for its own spiritual nourishment, but the biblical mandate on the body of believers, in the developed and dominant world especially, is undoubtedly one for Christ-likeness (Philippians 2) and solidarity with the poor, the orphaned, the naked and the hungry. Provided this is true, serious reconsideration of our tithing allocation becomes essential in the American evangelical world. Returning to the account of the widow in Mark’s gospel, Jesus goes on to predict the destruction of the Temple in chapter 13. This prophecy is often interpreted to promise the overthrow of any house of worship sustained by mismanagement or robbery. This is a fitting warning to those of us living in prosperity and “security” relative to those facing legitimate economic, political and religious persecution.  

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In sum, undisturbed affluence and comfort is inimical to the divine commonwealth exemplified by the early church. What made this group of Christ-followers in Acts so cohesive? They gave up their rights, shared with everyone in need and didn’t consider anything a possession (Acts 2). Faithful stewardship of the tithe is indispensable for discipleship and for authentic proclamation the Gospel. After all, it’s supposed to be good news for the poor (Luke 4:18). To the extent that the church in much of the so-called West holds on to its social status and maintains a safe distance from the face of the destitute other, it opposes the values of the Kingdom Jesus preached. One of the best ways to protest injustice and declare God’s reign is by practicing kenosis, or self-emptying, with our money—not by spending it on church buildings, sound equipment and ministry careerism, but by letting go of it so that “the last will be first and the first will be last.”      

Bill Walker blogs at http://billwalker.wordpress.com/

Top Comments

90,685

ChurchWithOutWalls commented…

In a recent church meeting, folks were talking up $15k sound equipment. I just sat and listened, glancing over their shoulders at a simple wall mural of Jesus with His arms outstretched and the verse Matthew 11:28. What they said seemed so ludicrous against that backdrop.

40 Comments

90,685

ChurchWithOutWalls commented…

In a recent church meeting, folks were talking up $15k sound equipment. I just sat and listened, glancing over their shoulders at a simple wall mural of Jesus with His arms outstretched and the verse Matthew 11:28. What they said seemed so ludicrous against that backdrop.

90,685

Joel Spencer commented…

Those within the Body of Christ were never called to build elaborate edifices and pay pastoral salaries with the "tithe". High-end sound systems, light shows and million dollar "environments" has pushed out true biblically-defined evangelism and true religion (helping widows and orphans in their distress). It's not that the "church" doesn't do these things, it's that it is INCREMENTALLY secondary to the support of the ridiculous campuses and programs that scatter this nation.

The present-day obligatory tithe absolutely goes against Gods desire for you to give. We are called to live lifestyles of giving, in all places and settings, to all people. The 10% myth sets boundaries and establishes an unhealthy "what is mine and what is God's" mentality.

I elaborated on this topic and asked some questions should anyone be interested in reading further: http://desh412.blogspot.com/20...

90,685

Jason commented…

I find the replies here interesting on the law of tithing. One thing not cited in the article was the question that God had for the people.(Malachi 3:8) Will a man rob God? They seemed confused and asked "Wherein have we robbed thee? God simply said "In tithes and offerings." We, as his children in 2011, are no different then his children in 400 B.C. We can and do rob God when we do not tithe AND give offerings. In my church, tithing and offerings are two separate things. We tithe on our income and we give offerings as we see fit. One offering is the fast offering. The first sunday of the month our congregation comes together fasting and have a meeting where we share our testimonies of our Savior. The money that would have bought the two meals that we did not eat because we were fasting are given to the church is called a fast offering. It is used for the temporal needs of the members in the church, such as food, clothing, an electrical bill, etc. My church has been able to create dozens of storehouses across America to feed the poor and hungry. In fact, in Houston alone we are canning 1 million pounds of peanut butter for the food bank. When we pay our tithes and offerings a promise is given by our Father. He promises that "the windows of heaven will be opened and he will pour out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it" ( Malachi 3:10). I testify this is true and I have seen the hand of God in my life and in the affairs of my church. I invite all to prove God and pay your tithing and offerings and see if God will not keep his promise.

iggnyte

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iggnyte commented…

The "law of tithing" is no more applicable today than is the commandment to sacrifice burnt offerings." I highly recommend John MacArthur's discussion of this topic for New Testament believers. http://www.gty.org/Resources/S...

90,685

BecomingRelevant commented…

A little late running across this...but you are fully aware of the church's mismanagement of your money, and you still willingly give it to them? This does not compute. It's like me throwing more of my paycheck to my stockbroker when I'm getting a -40% return. Don't confuse faith with complete lack of sense.

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