Tithing

The church I am in is not very open about finances, and I am not convinced that tithing is a requirement for Christians, though we are expected to tithe. What should I do? Name Witheld. Dec. 12, 2009,

Dear Faither:

I'll try and provide a brief biblical and pastoral framework as I answer your question.
A while back I myself wrestled with the idea of Jesus paying tithes to the corrupt temple that was about to put him to death. I wondered if He dispensed Himself! I'm supposing you have heard Malachi 3,9 where this prophet vehemently upheld tithing despite the corrupt priesthood of his day. From Malachi, I don't think we have the self dispensation option.

In fact, Jesus never did condemn or overturn tithing, or subvert the basic principles of the Torah (even when he apparently broke it by healing and picking grain on the sabbath). As He said, He didn't come to oveturn the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5,17).

He did however strernly correct those who tithed in a self righteous and show off way, to the exclusion of one's many other faith-biblical obligations- like mercy and justice (Matthew 23,23), not to mention the new stuff like loving our enemies, and forgiving all folks, and all the rest.

And to be frank- in my pastoral and evangelistic service I have seen that tithing can become sort of "I gave at church," "paid my dues" sort of thing. "Like, hey I came to church, and tithed what more could anyone, including God, want." The living faith of it has been lost. Just the same situation as Matthew 23,23, not having the faith to experience revelation right before your eyes.

Anyway, I think you should pray on a couple of scriptures that will end up defending tithing, and still allow you to live with a clean and free conscience under the Law of the Spirit.

Romans 15,4. The context of this scripture is Christian folks in Rome arguing about "doubtful points" or criticizing and insulting folks (Romans14,1ff) who have weaker consciences (probably new folks) as to what Christians can now eat (which was settled at Acts 15), and Paul is very gentle and tries to bring the discussion back the primary principles of scripture: ""Whatsoever things were written aforetime were for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." The idea is here if we have disputes scripture will help us, find consensus and peace.

So by the logic of this scripture, tithing, which is generously giving back to God for the blessings he has provided, is a learned principle of the Hebrew scriptures. It is not a doubtful doctrine, or a secondary thing open to a lot of argument. But for everyone, especially first timers, it's a challenging requirement. And make no mistake the God of Israel, our God too, is often very demmanding. Just ask Abraham, or his son Issac, or Jesus Himself.

And the new Law of the Spirit, which governs us Christians (Romans 8,2) is also demmanding and will say the same thing about generously giving, in that He is the same God. This is something for us Christians to learn, both from the Hebrew Scriptures and from the Spirit of God.
Now please pray also on 2Cor.8,20-21 regarding Paul's raising money for the poor back in Jerusalem. Paul takes pains in every detail about this money: "We arranged it this way so that no one should be able to make any accusation against us about this large sum we are administering. And so we have been careful to do right not only in the sight of the Lord and the sight of the people."

Paul announces this knowing full well that his openess will spur the generosity of Corinth and that this is a legitimate concern for every one being asked, or as you are, required to give. So your concern is not nosy, or out of order. Most churches are pretty good and responsible with finances, and as I read scripture there is no reason for not providing total openess as to finances, for the blessing and protection of everyone concerned.

Not every church will be willing to do this. But God is still speaking to your church about this and to you, and we trust that God will guide both you and your church about this matter. In fact, God may release you to another place of worship in that we post Reformation Christians presently, excepting a few countries like Russia and China, enjoy a freedom of association when it comes to our faith. As a pastor I had to remember that while church attendance is important, it is also voluntary. Churches can't make people attend or tithe, but everyone does owe each other the golden rule.

You can respectfully ask your pastor about your concerns, and in many churches this is just part of a church growing. When it was 10 folks in somebody's basement no one much noticed, but after that it serves everybody best interests to be open. I know that certain Evangelical (ie non pentecostal) organizing and sanctioning bodies make openess and on paper accountability part of their sanctioning procedures, and I totally agree with this. It's an area of faith growth for many churches to do this. As a pastor, I wanted all the finances out in the open, but I have seen churches where even the church board did not want to open the books.

As I said above the Law of the Spirit under which we Christians operate governs our generosity, and I trust that the Lord would reveal that to be 10%. I say this because the tithe requirement does not explicitly appear in the New testament, perhaps because at that time it explicitly referred by then to the institutionalized Temple requirements in Jerusalem when it had the quality of being both a sacral and state tax, sort of like paying the Temple and your income taxes in one. This was way more formalized than the start up Christian movement of aliens and sojourners that shared, at first, everything in common, more than tithes!

So Paul likely made no mention of a tithe in the various churches because he didn't have to. Because scripture suggests that the Jewish based churches, as all the first churches were, gave generously for the sake of their own individual and mutual survival, and the tithe amount was not at all in dispute, and became the standard practical norm for the gentile church as well. This is no surprise. We are co-heirs of the Jews. It was something the Jewish Christians had learned from scripture, as we do, and the Law of the Spirit.

Now if you are not aware of the way your church uses it's finances then you can prayerfully speak to your pastors and encourage greater openess about it's financial practices and vision. It may be like many churches- there are just one or two helpers, none of whom has any financial administrative gifts (so hire a part time bookeeper and publish the books). Perhaps you are that person they need to step up. Most pastors want to do right by the Lord and their people, but they need help, and oftentimes they are quite willing to show how much it costs to run a church.

And if you are short of cash, or just learning to manage money, you might consider volunteeering your services. I was very thankful when folks offered their time, their services, even sometimes their custom work. The way I see it- if God accepted all sorts of animals and grains from his first people as tithes during an agrarian time why wouldn't he accept all kinds of services and goods from a services society? The point of tithing remains the same forever, God gets the first fruits, the best stuff, not leftovers. Anyone who has tried to call someone for manual or technical or professional services knows such service would not in anyway be considered leftovers.

The problem with just offering your services is churches have bills and they only get paid with money, but again, talk to your pastor, mayby there is some service you can do that will really bless your church.

So, whether your church still use the word tithe or takes "free will" offerings, the principle from the Hebrew Torah and the Torah of the Spirit (the latter governs us) is generosity, and the the amount given as led by the word and the Spirit is going to be about ten percent.

Thanks for your question. Hope is blesses you. Let me know if it helps. Bro. Tobin