Friday, July 22, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Tithe

It should be obvious to anyone who has been around Church for any period of time that the big pot never is big enough. There are always more ideas and more ways to spend contributions than there are contributions. More contributions to Church won’t solve the shortage of funds any more than more taxes ever satisfy all of the needs of government. When it comes to spending other peoples money, there never is enough. If you don’t believe me, just go ask your Pastor or your dictator.

For most of my life as a believer, I’ve given my 10%. I believed I was obligated to tithe because I have always been taught it is Biblical to tithe. God has blessed me in ways I never could have imagined, so I can’t complain about how much I have given, but I will no longer participate in a big pot model of the Christian Church because the big pot model is a mess and it is not a model prescribed by God.

There are many interesting passages in the Bible about tithing. I would encourage everyone to do a study on their own. Most tithes have a very specific purpose and sometimes the purpose is even for the benefit of the person doing the tithing. Even though tithing is not coerced, it is very similar to a tax in some situations. The poor are even expected to tithe. Tithes that are used for sacrifices can be eaten by the ones doing the tithing. Tithes are used to support the priests and the temple. Tithing is used to diversify assets. [I bet a Pastor never told you that one.] The alien, the fatherless and the widow are to receive tithes designated as gifts.

I’m not pointing out any of these tithing principles to be legalistic. I’m legalistic about my lawn, not my faith. But I do want to point out that rarely, if ever, is tithing described as a big pot contribution where a committee decides how to spend the tithe. The tithe is almost always designated for a specific purpose.

Perhaps getting back to the principle of a designated tithe along with the principles of capitalism would improve contributions and the uses of contributions. In my next post, I will tie this together with capitalism.

18 comments:

Jennifer said...

David, I agree with you here. Mark it on your calendar that I agreed with you on something! In my church, the financial contributions are handled by the trustees. Our pastor never knows how much anyone is giving, and he doesn't even have access to the bank account. We get regular financial statements from the trustees accounting for every single dollar and how it was used - electricity, water, phone, supplies, etc. This is all very different from the way money was handled in my childhood church, and I think it's a much more responsible way.

Teresa said...

Well for one, a tithe is literally 10% and it goes to the local body to support the body: building, staff, programs, and if left over, the people. Anything above that should be an "offering" or "donation" for a special need, whatever it may be and it must be voted on by the "body" or representatives of the body. This is by law because a church is still a corp. Aside from that, Jesus is more concerned with the people than all of that! Read my last several posts. I left our church for the MAIN reason of this. Just to note: probably 30% of our income goes to our church or ministry and most of it is used for the people. No salaries, no budget, no sounds systems, no expensive stuff. The one and only thing that we have spent a significant amount of $ on is the production of our web-site, which is still not finished, but then it is done and the upkeep costs next to nothing. Like an internet business-no overhead! I could go on forever here-so I won't.

Hammertime said...

David,
I trust you will remain a good citizen and remove the use of the church's financially acquired assets (building, hymn books, pew bibles, parking lot, air conditioning, tent, water, whatever) since you refuse to contribute to them.

This is too much.
Act 4:32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
Act 4:33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
Act 4:34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
Act 4:35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

A bit more than a tithe, but the "big pot" is clearly justified. Who manages the tithes?

Act 6:2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
Act 6:3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

Clearly, there are some in the hurch whose job can be to manage the "big pot".

For a bunch who advocates the early church as a model for today, this is a strange position.

Be obedient, David. It is specifically advocated by God, indeed. Unless, of course, you will avail yourself of the appropriate facilities. Which things will those be? I'd love to know. You won't pay the sexton? You won't pay the pastor? You won't finance the mission trip? You won't fund the landscaping? (I can sympathize with that one!)

What are you really getting at?

(as an aside, I will be retracting my retraction from some time ago...when I get a chance).

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a good comment. However, it seems like you read something I didn’t write. I definitely believe in tithing and I do still tithe; I just don’t tithe the way I used to tithe because I don’t think the big pot works as well as what I am going to propose and I don’t think the big pot is Biblical.

There is a difference between what the Bible describes and what God and the Bible prescribe; wouldn’t you agree? The Bible describes men after God’s heart as having more than one wife, but the Bible prescribes that a man be married to one wife. I think the Bible describes behavior in Acts of the Apostles differently than what is prescribed for tithing. Please read some of my previous posts and then bear with me for another post or two.

David M. Smith said...

“Well for one, a tithe is literally 10% and it goes to the local body to support the body: building, staff, programs, and if left over, the people. Anything above that should be an "offering" or "donation" for a special need, whatever it may be and it must be voted on by the "body" or representatives of the body. This is by law because a church is still a corp.”

Hi Teresa,

I didn’t read anything in my study to support your claim. I’m not one of those people who believe everything Christians do has to be justified in the Bible, and I do think your statement basically makes sense, but when was the last time a Church had any money left over?

I am almost certain the Bible does not say the first 10% must go to the local body. I don’t think there is anything wrong with giving 10% or more to the local church, but I also don’t think there is anything necessarily right about it either. There are many factors that should be considered. Giving blindly is never a good idea.

I’ve been reading all of your posts and I will continue to do so. I just haven’t had time to comment yet.

Jennifer said...

David, nice responses. Teresa, the church of my youth taught exactly what you are saying, and it ruined a lot of people. Like David, I don't see where it is commanded that our tithe go to the local body. Many times my husband and I wanted to donate money to a mission trip or some other cause we cared deeply about, but were turned away because we didn't give 10% to the church every week. We were told our *offering* wouldn't be acceptable to God until we started tithing properly. This is wrong.

Hammertime said...

I was filling in the blanks, David - I am looking forward to what you intend to write. You advocate giving your tithe specifically to certain things, so I wonder what kinds of things you plan on NOT giving it to.

See you at the next post, then!

Jennifer, as far as I know, almost every church handles their finances that way (like in your first comment). I don't think that is what David is talking about.

Teresa said...

OK, lets clear something up. The word tithe means 10th. I don't beleive that it is a COMMAND. I think that we can all agree that God owns whatever we have. God asks us to give a 10th back, but if your giving is done unwillingly or does not come from your heart for God, you should not give. Bottom line--God knows your heart. I think what you are speaking of Jennifer is the type of teaching COMMANDING people give or the implication was that they were going to-hell-in-a-hand-basket so-to-speak. When the Lord convicts you or tugs on your heart and tells you what to give and to where, you will know and your relationship with the Lord will suffer if you're not listening. Giving should be between an individule and God, tithe or more. I will find scripture refering to the 10th going to the local body, but I don't think that God will strike you down if it doesn't.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Teresa,

Tithe does literally mean a 10th or 10%. I’ve always known it meant 10, but I also always thought it was a gift or a tax that had to be given away. I was a little surprised to learn that the tithe is sometimes for giving away, but not always. I tried to point this out in my post.

Like you wrote, I think it is wise and important to remember that God does own all of our time, possessions, activities, accomplishments, family, and other relationships. However, I don’t know if the term “giving back” is any more useful than just plain old “giving”. I still maintain that spending is better than giving most of the time, but that giving is sometimes necessary.

People can do very good things for selfish reasons and very bad things for altruistic reasons. Perhaps the word “diversification” is even more conceptually right when referring to the tithe than the word “gift”. Perhaps the spiritual “lesson” is to “lessen” our grip on the things we hold dearly.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

I do plan on deciding for myself what needs to be funded and what doesn’t need to be funded. I do still give an offering at the service I attend, but it is less than 10%. I don’t think I should depend on an Elder Board or a Pastor to decide how to use my gift or my time and I don’t think they should depend on me to fund everything they think is necessary. Each of us can support whatever we think is important by donating our time and money.

We support a Church Plant Pastor and we support a Hospital Chaplain. We have supported missionaries in the past and hopefully we will have another one to support soon.

Unlike Teresa, I think Church property is very important to the success of a Church. If I could designate my gift to go to maintenance and improvements, I would consider it worthwhile. I do not care to support Free Trade coffee since I think it is a complete misnomer, but if others in my Church want to support it, I will have a sip or two.

Hammertime said...

I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions, David. I am closer to "conversion" than I thought I would be when you started!

Nuwanda said...

I used to be a strong supporter of the tithe and have been in ministry for over 10 years. My main question for anyone who believes that the tithe is for New Covenant believers is - where does the New Testament command or even recommend tithing?

Also, since the only definition of tithing is found in the Old Testament, do you receive your instruction from it or the New Testament? I'm not aware of any description of the tithe in the NT.

Does the fact that neither Jesus or any of the apostles ever received a tithe, gave a tithe, or commanded a tithe have any effect on your beliefs? Or that the church did not even institute a tithe until the command went out from Charlemagne in the late 8th century?

These are only a few of the objections to tithing.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Nuwanda,

How did you come upon this post way back in my archives?

Could you send me an e-mail?

nuwanda said...

Hi David, I found this post while doing some research on the internet. I'm always facinated to hear anything on the subject of tithing, and so I had to respond to yours, even though it is a post long gone.

Your view on the tithe is very merciful. I've been around some ministers who are outright militaristic about the tithe. I have yet to find a minister, or laity for that matter, who could form a decent, Biblical, argument as to why Christians should tithe. The tithe sneaks into nearly every church that claims that they pull their doctrine from scripture alone, and are free from the traditions of man.

Even though you are very non-legalistic concerning the tithe, do you have a reason for believing that it should be in our churches today?

nuwanda said...

Hey David, unfortunately I'm all too familiar with the silence I get when I challenge other Christians about the sciptural truths of the tithe. Don't sweat it man. Your silence says it all. Have a good one.

David M. Smith said...

Hi nuwanda,

I am pretty non-legalistic regarding most Biblical matters that are open to interpretation. I don’t differentiate between the Old and the New Testament. I don’t even know for certain that every word of the Bible is the word of God since there is a degree of tradition that determined what was included and since most everyone relies on imperfect translations. However, I do accept the Bible as the word of God because it has stood the test of time and because it has been affirmed by some of the most astute thinkers throughout history.

I believe in tithing because I believe that everything in my possession, and everything I earn, and everything that happens to me belongs to God. Setting a certain amount of income aside to give to the functions of ministry that depend on gift support is the practical way of practicing tithing. The actual percentile is not the important part. Finding a sacrificial level is important because it helps me stay focused on heavenly matters and not earthly matters. I hope that makes sense to you.

I suspect you might be looking more for Biblical justification, but defending my beliefs with the Bible in not what I am about. I would never want to do anything that is against the will of God and I hope I have learned and practiced the lessons of the Bible throughout my life, but I just am not comfortable using the Bible to tell others what they should do. I prefer to make practical arguments that make sense to me.

It has been my blogging experience that most bloggers do not like to be challenged. I am the exact opposite. I love criticism much, much, more than praise. Please visit and challenge more often.

nuwanda said...

Thanks for the reply, sorry for my quick bail out. If the Bible is not your authority on correct doctrine (I mean that in the general sense) then you are completely consistent.

I'm am intrigued by your statement "defending my beliefs with the Bible in not what I am about." What do you defend them with? Personal experience, reason, history, instinct...?

If the Bible is less than the perfect defense for believing in Christ, what convinces you that Christ did anything reported of Him? Ex: do you trust that John 3:16 is correct? If so, why? Why is it reliable but other parts aren't, and how do you know which parts are in question?

David M. Smith said...

Hi Again nuwanda,

The Bible is my authority on correct beliefs, and even more importantly, correct actions. However, I know from my research and experiences that much of what is claimed to be taught in the Bible is debatable. I can’t sit through a single sermon anymore without hearing the preacher make a point that I know is not a clear teaching in the Bible. Some are better than others, but almost all preachers include personal opinions in their sermons. I accept that thoughtful, sincere Christians will come to different conclusions than me sometimes about what is taught in the Bible.

I will certainly defend the Bible and I will make the case for the truthfulness of Christ being our Savior as he died and then rose from the dead to pay the price for our sins. I just don’t have a passion or the background to defend the minutia of specific interpretations.

My highest value is truth. The Gospel of Luke is music to my ears because it was written by a man who also held truth to be the highest value. I think I can start with the Gospel of Luke and then make the case that the entire Bible is true. However, making a case, and knowing for certain, are not the same. For me, it is never of question of if the Bible is true, (my assumption is that the Bible is true) but a question of understanding the truths contained in the Bible. I want to show grace towards any sincere believer who does not come to the same conclusions as me.

I agree with you that the Bible does not teach that Christians are commanded to tithe. However, the Bible does teach sacrificial and selfless giving. It is a discipline I want to practice and pass on to my children.