This may be the most controversial chapter in this whole controversial book. For as long as I can remember I have been a believer in tithing. I have even actually tithed for most of that time, though there was a period where I couldn’t afford it, no matter what Malachai had to say about the windows of Heaven. (Malachi 3:10) I was surprised to hear what Viola and Barna had to say about this topic and I did not intend nor expect to be convinced by their argument–but I’m not a total cement head. It’s possible to persuade me–if you’re really good. 😉
You’ve guessed by now that the authors don’t believe in tithing. They say it’s Old Testament and doesn’t apply to the New Testament and to the church. So far, they say just what my pastors have always said that those people (meaning the people who are wrong) would say about tithing. However . . . they have more than that to back up their position.
Read the New Testament, and you’ll see there’s nothing there about the churches tithing. They gave, but they gave as they chose to give. They didn’t give to support a church building because they didn’t have church buildings. As I mentioned in my review of chapter five, the authors argue that the NT church didn’t have paid clergy, so if this is the case (and I think they made a good argument for it), the church didn’t tithe to support their pastors. Tithing wasn’t a practice of the NT church. There are a couple of mentions of tithing in the NT, but they don’t apply to the church.
The tithe in the Jewish nation went to support Levites (who were not allowed to own property), and orphans and widows. It was a tithe of grain, vegetables, livestock, etc. Orphans and widows and Levites didn’t have these things (which was why they needed them) and so they didn’t have to pay. The tithe was good news to the poor.
Having experienced not having enough money to pay my bills, I can tell you what a burden the tithe can be on the poor, even if they don’t pay it. I wouldn’t call myself poor, as I had relatives who helped me, but I was not able to tithe, and I felt terrible about it. What’s more, I had been told the tithe was not just on income (before taxes), but also on any appreciation of property. I didn’t own a house, but this made the idea of owning one farther away than ever, as I knew that, even if I could afford to buy a house, I would never have been able to afford to tithe on its appreciation unless I were to sell it. Maybe it seems silly to you, but I really wanted to obey God, and this seemed like such a heavy burden to me, and with no relief in sight.
Many times I wrote a check for my tithe not knowing how I would feed my kids or pay my bills. While I always managed to do these things, there were no windows opening in Heaven for me–for the pastor, maybe–I don’t know. I “knew” that God was punishing me because I had not paid my tithe a couple of months ago and had yet to make it up–but I didn’t have the money to do it.
The Malachi promise was made to Jews paying their national tax (which was, apparently, more like 23% when all the various forms of the tithe were added together.) We have better promises now, and God’s favor is no longer counted in bigger grain harvests and more calves and lambs being born.
The history of how the tithe made its way into the Christian church is amazing. It started as rent on land belonging to the state. This rental fee was typically 10% of the produce of the land, and was called a tithe. Ownership of the land, with its accompanying 10% rent charge, eventually was transferred to the ever more wealthy church, and began to be identified with the Old Testament Levitical tithe. This was the beginning of tithing as a practice in the Christian church, and it didn’t happen until around the eighth century!
As the tithe as rent payment ebbed out, the tithe as moral (and in many places legal) requirement ebbed in. By the tenth century, the tithe had become a state-mandated religious tax. It was not optional–it was the law of the land.
Although tithing to the Christian church is no longer the law of the land, many denominations require it as a prerequisite to church leadership and many more will impose a load of guilt on those (including the poor) who do not pay it. When you’re struggling to buy macaroni, ten percent of what little income you have is an impossible figure. You feel you’ll never be worthy of God’s blessings because you just can’t afford them. But what if you’re making 250K a year? Sure your tithe amount is enough to get you an easy eldership, but does it hurt you? Can you put beans on the rosewood table? Eeh–you’ll probably manage.
As the children of grace, is tithing even applicable to us? The authors argue that Christians should give as the Holy Spirit prompts, sacrificially, out of love, and in faith that God will meet our needs. Believers should give out of a heart of compassion and with a cheerful spirit, but not out of obligation or compulsion.
Maybe I’m a pushover, but it makes sense to me. What a relief to know that I can give to that ministry that touched my heart and that I long to support but couldn’t afford to because I could barely afford to tithe to my local church, which could barely afford to keep the doors open, what with paying the mortgage and the pastors’ salaries and the utilities and, and, and . . . .
My family has begun doing church together at home. If we find people to join us, that’s not going to increase the budget appreciably–maybe a little more coffee, some extra folding chairs or whatever–we can still afford to give to the causes God impresses us with. What freedom! What joy to be able to give where God leads us to give!
The next chapter covers baptism and the Lord’s Supper, so stay tuned. 😉