Should modern-day believers be guided by the principle of tithing?
In some churches, believers are constantly reminded to tithe. Many churches include tithing as an important doctrine in its pulpit ministry.
The principle of tithing has its roots in the Old Testament (OT) and scholars differ in their opinion as to whether it is relevant for believers today.
The tithe is a tenth of the produce of the earth (crops or animals) set apart to meet the needs of the Levites (who had no land) and the poor. The paying of tithe was an important part of the Jewish religious worship under the Mosaic Law in the Old Covenant (Leviticus 27:30-32). However, today, the word ‘tithe’ is often used to denote a tenth of our gross income consecrated to God for special purposes.
If tithing is relevant for believers today, why is the New Testament’s apostolic teachings SILENT about the amount we should set aside when giving to God’s work?
If tithing, an OT concept, is given prominence in today’s churches, why are other OT practices—such as circumcision—not given the same emphasis?
Let us now briefly examine some references from the New Testament (NT) on tithing:
Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, a priest, 400 years before the Law came into being (Hebrews 7:2). The latter is a type of Christ. So, as some argue, we should tithe even as Abraham did. However, when Jesus—the eternal High Priest—came, He established a new covenant and made the old one obsolete (Hebrews 8:7, 13).
Abraham gave to Melchizedek out of gratitude to God, not under compulsion to obey a written commandment in stone. In this, Abraham becomes our New Testament example for motivation in giving. Furthermore, he gave only once; no evidence that it was repeated regularly. Notice also that he did not give from what he produced (like crops or animals) but what he looted from his enemies. Do believers have to follow his example of looting before we give to God? And there is no record that Isaac, his son, gave tithes.
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for they were tithing to the penny but neglecting more important issues such as justice, mercy and faith. Jesus was then addressing teachers of the law who taught about tithing. For the early Jewish believers, tithing was a lifestyle since they were under the law. But is tithing a requirement for us who are Gentile believers today?
The decision reached by the early church at the Jerusalem conference was that the Gentile believers should not be unnecessarily burdened except that they should “abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15: 28-29).
Furthermore, Paul stressed that Christ has set us free from legalism. And we are to stand fast on this bedrock truth of our Christian liberty. This does not mean that we are free to break the Ten Commandments (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) but that the Jewish laws, including the need for circumcision, no longer apply to Gentile believers. If circumcision is no longer relevant, then why should other OT laws—such as tithing—still apply to believers today (Galatians 5: 1-2)?
Let us now explore other models of ministry support:
Why do churches promote tithing and pledges among believers when George Mueller funded so many orphanages by praying to God alone, without directly asking from men?
And Nehemiah completed what God called him to do just by praying to God. We talk so much about having faith in God but where the rubber hits the road, we are not putting our money where our mouth is.
The apostle Paul epitomised the self-sustaining, tent-making model of ministry—as opposed to depending on donor support. He did not make use of his right to make a living out of preaching the gospel, though it was legitimate to do so.
Why is the apostle Paul silent on tithing if it is such an important doctrine for the church to follow?
Though we are told to give generously and cheerfully, there is no mention about the percentage or amount we should give in the teachings of the apostle Paul:
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
(2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
It is clear from Paul’s teachings that generosity and cheerful giving are to be encouraged. Giving is voluntary, without any compulsion, in response to God’s love for us.
But it seems that, in some churches, believers are cajoled to give—constantly bombarded with the “GIVE, GIVE, GIVE” message. The incentive that accompanies such repeated calls to give is this: “God is going to bless us bountifully when we give.” Though we do reap when we sow towards God’s work, unscrupulous people can abuse this truth for their selfish ends.
If leaders place inordinate emphasis on tithing and giving (and they usually package this call with the “sweetener”—so that God will open the windows of heaven and pour down unimaginable blessings on you), it may demonstrate a lack of faith on the part of the former.
Leaders often preach on the importance of having faith. But do they put their money where their mouth is? Do they show through actions, and not just words, that they believe in what they are preaching?
After all their preaching on Philippians 4:19, do they really trust God, the One who supplies all their needs?
If members have truly been ministered to, and leaders believe in a providential God who knows all our needs, will He not move people to spontaneously give to the church or ministry—without the need for frequent appeals for money, verbally or through pledges?
One of the dangers about overemphasising tithing and giving is the potential for church funds to be abused once it reaches mega proportions. The principle of ‘seed faith’—the more you sow, the more you will reap—can be abused and hijacked by ‘prosperity gospel’ teachers for their own selfish ends. The mantra of these false teachers goes something like this: “The more you give, the more blessings you will get.” But they will never reveal who ultimately gets to enjoy the mega share of the blessings. Some are so blessed that they fly around in private jets and live in mansions filled with unimaginable luxury and opulence, a lifestyle akin to that of film stars and pop stars.
When tithing and giving are overemphasised—and transparency and accountability lacking—financial scandals may result. This has already happened in megachurches where massive funds from church coffers have been diverted towards fulfilling questionable goals and personal ambition. These fallen leaders initially start out with good intentions. But, along the way, as power, fame and money increase, their heavenly focus steadily diminishes and they get sidetracked from their noble pursuits. Such leaders, who are often hero-worshipped and surrounded by an elite ‘inner circle’, are then tempted to dip into the church funds and whitewash their acts through sham bond investments and “round-tripping” transactions.
The sale of promotional materials such as books, CDs and DVDs is another area which has to be considered. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such practices, there is no need to use high pressure sales techniques to get members to purchase them. We should not turn a house of prayer into a place to do business. If a minister is truly worth his salt, people will be queuing up at the end of the service to purchase these materials without the need for much cajoling.
Tithing illustrates the fact that when a doctrine is constantly being preached over the pulpit, gradually it gets assimilated into our mindset and becomes entrenched as truth—even when scriptural support for it may be vague or flimsy.
That said, it does not mean that we should be less than generous when giving to the Kingdom. Jesus commended the widow who gave whatever little she had (Luke 21:1-4). Paul commended the Macedonian church for their sacrificial generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1-3).
Indeed, when it comes to giving, generosity should be the principle that should guide believers today—and often that means much more than 10 % of our income.
“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back” (Luke 6:38).
After all, all we have come from God and we only give away what is, in fact, His.
To reiterate, tithing cannot be the New Testament standard for giving simply because we are now under grace. We are supposed to cheerful and generous when we give. And how can we be cheerful if we give under compulsion in order to meet a certain quantum?
To the poor, who can barely survive, the tithe may be too burdensome. To the rich, however, the tithe may be too paltry to be deemed as generous. So why set rules? Christ has set us free. Why let legalism shackle our Christian liberty (Galatians 5:1)?
Furthermore, some may think they have already discharged their responsibility towards God by tithing so they can spend the rest of their income any way they like. Truth be told, we are to be accountable to God for all the resources given to us, not just a tenth of it.
Unfortunately, when it comes to giving, our mindset has largely been shaped by this passage in the OT: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10).
However, when modern day believers look for guidance on the subject of giving, we cannot allow this Malachi passage to overshadow Paul’s teachings on giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). The former seems to be more relevant for a group of people living in a bygone era. The New Covenant must definitely supersede the Old Covenant in all matters of doctrine and conduct (Hebrews 8:13) whenever there is any theological dispute or controversy.
And, specifically, it is the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42) to which we must pay special attention—for the church is built on the foundation of the apostles (Ephesians 2:20). What does the apostle’s teaching say about tithing? Nothing. In contrast, what does the apostle’s teaching say about giving? A lot. The guidelines on how believers should give are spelled out in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9.
If tithing is an important principle for the modern day believers, the apostle’s teaching would definitely have revealed it to us, not once but repeatedly. For example, warnings against sexual immorality and false teaching are emphasised on many occasions. We may reasonably conclude that since tithing is not mentioned even once by the apostles, it is an unimportant principle for believers today. Why then do some leaders continue to harp on tithing so earnestly?
The purpose of this article is neither to stir up controversy nor to discourage believers from giving to the local church or any ministry.
Firstly, this article illustrates the fact that a doctrine can be widely accepted even if there is no firm theological basis for it.
Secondly, it is to warn believers that there are leaders who misuse this Old Testament concept of tithing (Malachi 3:9-10) to convince believers to give—whether out of guilt (robbing God if we don’t) or reward (God will open the windows of heaven to bless those who give).
The New Testament stance for giving does not set any percentage or amount. We are to give regularly, cheerfully, generously, according to our ability, out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us. Though he who sows abundantly will also reap bountifully, rewards or blessings should not be the primary motivating factor in our giving.
VARIOUS MODELS OF MINISTRY SUPPORT
GEORGE MUELLER’S APPROACH
He had child-like faith, trusting that God will supply (Philippians 4:19). Through earnest prayers, he received millions to build orphanages, never asking anyone directly for money. He merely trusted God to put in people’s hearts to send him what he needed. He never borrowed. Yet neither he nor the orphans were ever hungry.
When Nehemiah heard that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, a burden arose in his heart. He mourned, fasted and prayed, imploring God to grant him success as he considered embarking on a mission of reconstruction in his fractured homeland. But who would think that an insignificant cupbearer, exiled in a foreign land, could accomplish such a massive project?
Without even mentioning his needs to anyone (Nehemiah 2: 12), Nehemiah’s burden moved the king he was serving to grant him special favours. He gained special permission to pass through foreign territories on his long overland journey from Persia to Judah. Furthermore, he was supplied with timber from the keeper of the king’s forest.
Surely the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Proverbs 21:1). This was certainly a fulfillment of this adage: “When God calls, He provides.”
PAUL’S TENTMAKING MODEL
As a tentmaker, the apostle Paul supported himself while he preached the gospel. He did not make use of his right to make a living out of preaching the gospel, though it was legitimate to do so.
Paul’s priority was not money but sharing the gospel. He willingly set aside his right to financial support so that people would not think he was in ministry for the money.
“In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9: 14-15, 18).
Thankfully, Jewish theologians know better than their Christian counterparts. They are well aware that only Levites have the right to receive tithe of the people. After all, the Jewish leaders have the Old Testament as their Scripture and that’s what it commands. And since there is no Temple in existence (and consequently no ordained Levites or Priests serving in a Temple), then a major factor in fulfilling the laws of tithing does not exist in our modern world.
SHOULD THE CHURCH TEACH TITHING?
Churches showcase success stories but fail to mention the testimonies of those who have tithed for generations without escaping poverty. Today the very lowest income class pays the largest percentage to charity. Yet most remain in poverty. Meanwhile many atheists become wealthy by simply following principles of money management which also makes many tithers successful. Neither the lottery, nor the tithe is a magic get-rich-quick answer to replace education, determination and hard work. If Malachi 3:10 really worked for New Covenant Christians, millions of poor tithing Christians would have escaped poverty and would have become the wealthiest group of people in the world instead of remaining the poorest group.
We must not try to establish a doctrine by using tenuous, flimsy arguments.
THE MALACHI TITHING PASSAGE: ITS PLACE IN THE LIFE OF THE MODERN DAY BELIEVER
Is the passage in Malachi 3:8-12 merely God’s address to His chosen people at a particular time in history or is there something else for us to take heed today?
HOW TO QUICKLY ACCESS PORRIDGE
ABOUT Author: Dr Lim Poh Ann is a medical practitioner. He was the former editor of Asian Beacon magazine (December 2008 – October 2011). He can be reached at his blog, Porridge for the Soul
For a quick overview: http://bit.ly/1ijiXHp
For the source article, go to: http://limpohann.blogspot.my/2015/11/is-tithing-important-principle-for.html
*The views expressed in the article are the writer’s own and does not necessarily reflect the views of Christianity Malaysia
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