Spending a lifetime in the organized religion, I have always heard about “tithing 10%”. It was a must. If you want to be a really good Christian (whatever that means), and have God’s blessing on your life then tithing is a non-negotiable.
As the years went by and I began to grow in my faith, I began to see inconsistencies between the church of America and the church of the Bible. I saw inconsistencies in the way the church was managed and run, inconsistencies in priorities, inconsistencies in leadership, and mostly inconsistencies in tithing philosophy.
Most people’s (especially unbelievers) biggest complaint against the church is that they are all about money. I began to study this thing of tithing, to see what the truth really is. What I found, and will endeavor to show you in the next few paragraphs, is that tithing, though biblical, is an unChristian activity.
Tithing in the Bible
The tithe was something which specifically belonged to ancient Israel, it was a sort of income tax. The Israelites actually were commanded to tithe a total of 23.3%, not 10%. The tithe instituted by the Lord consisted of three parts:
- a tithe of produce of the land to support Levites who had no inheritance in the land
- a tithe of the produce of the land to sponsor religious festivals in Jerusalem
- a tithe of the produce of the land collected every third year for the orphans, strangers, and widows
These tithes all specifically consisted of products of the land – seed, fruit, and livestock – not money.
The passage most used by pastors to pull money out of our wallets is Malachi 3:8-10:
“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
A few points on this passage:
- This passage is directed to ancient Israel. Holding back the tithe was akin to not paying taxes. As we would be robbing America by not paying taxes, the Israelites were robbing God by not tithing.
- The storehouse is not figurative, it is an actual room in the temple. This room was built to hold the tithes (produce, not money) for distribution to those in need.
- Those who owned nothing – the stranger, widows, fatherless, Levites – were the rightful recipients of the tithe. It is in this that we see the heart of God. He opposes oppression of the poor, and calls us to assist them in their plight.
When Christ died on the cross, ceremonial Jewish codes (the law) died as well. It is for this reason that we do not see any of the churches or Christians of the New Testament participating in the activity of tithing. (see Colossians 2:13-14,16-17)
We see the first century church giving cheerfully as they were able (2 Corinthians 8:3-12, 9:5-13). They did not give out of compulsion or coercion, the benefactors of these funds were not church leaders, or property purchases, but all the funds went directly to the poor, orphan, sick, widowed, and imprisoned. These first century Christians gave to one another as they had need (which would have been more than 10%).
Origins of Todays Tithing Philosophy
So, if tithing is not mentioned in the New Testament, how has this practice become so embedded and perverted in the modern church?
Tithing was first instituted by Cyprian of Carthage. He believed that since the Levites were supported by tithes, Christian clergy should be as well. Many preachers today hold to this same belief. However, scripture would show something different.When Christ died on the cross the Levitical system was abolished. Furthermore, 1 Peter 2 tells us that we, as believers, are all part of a royal priesthood.
“In the seventh and eighth centuries, leasing land was a familiar characteristic of the European economy. The use of the tithe, or the tenth, was commonly used to calculate payments to landlords. As the church increased its ownership of land across Europe, the 10 percent rent charge shifted from secular landlords to the church. Ecclesiastical leaders became the landlords. And the tithe became the ecclesiastical tax. This gave the 10 percent rent charge new meaning. It was creatively applied to the Old Testament law and came to be identified with the Levitical tithe! Consequently, the Christian tithe as an institution was based on a fusion of Old Testament practice and a common system of land-leasing in medieval Europe.”
Clergy salary was instituted by Constantine, who paid these salaries from church funds and municipal treasuries. However, this practice has no root or ties to New Testament Christianity.
If a person wishes to tithe then that is fine. Tithing becomes a problem when pastors misrepresent scripture by making the tithe a command of God, bar people from serving who do not tithe, and throw poor Christians into deeper poverty by pressuring them to give out of obligation. Tithing becomes a problem when church leaders use these funds for purposes they were never intended for such as, salaries, support staff, operational costs, buildings/property, and programs.
In Acts 20 we see that the Apostle Paul, was not salaried and spoke against it. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 3 shows us that elders (shepherds) in the first century church were not salaried, but were working men involved in the affairs of the community.
Perils of the Paid Pastorate
A salaried church staff has a huge potential for negative consequences to the faith community. The paid pastorate tends to lead to the sin consequences of greed, power, and pride. Out of these heart conditions, come these practical pitfalls:
- Elevates the pastor above the rest of God’s people (creating a clerical caste system and business hierarchy). This results in a church of passive dependence. Frank Viola writes,
“If all Christians got in touch with the call that lies upon them to be functioning priests in the Lord’s house (and they were permitted to exercise that call), the question would immediately arise: “What on earth are we paying our pastor for!?” But in the presence of a passive priesthood, such questions are never asked. On the contrary, when the church functions as she should, a professional clergy becomes unnecessary. Suddenly, the thought , That is the job of the pastor, looks heretical. Put simply, a professional clergy fosters the pacifying illusion that the Word of God is classified (and dangerous) material that only card-carrying experts can handle.”
- Encourages the pastor to be a man pleaser; he becomes a slave to men.
- Produces clergy who feel “stuck” in the pastorate. They lack employable skills. It is interesting to note that in ancient times Greeks spoke publicly for a fee, while Jewish rabbis learned a skill and could not accept money for religious services.
- Breeds insincerity – becomes just a job, not a calling.
- Discourages the use of others gifts; prevents the body of Christ from functioning as it should.
In our lives, often the greatest motivator of change is a personal experience. Due to various personal experiences (within the church and outside of) I stepped away from tithing. I share one experience here.
A dear personal friend that attends our local mega-church came down with a sickness, a cancer. This sickness required intensive surgery at an out-of-town facility, and my friend would be unable to work. Through this time, which no one is ever prepared for, he would still have bills, and normal needs to be met. The church that he is part of, and has been attending for a long period of time knew of his situation, the local campus pastor had personally visited him. Due to church policy he could not provide financial assistance. If my friend had a need he had to drive several miles away (in the midst of out-of-town surgery, and sickness) and fill out a paperwork request for assistance, and someone would evaluate the validity of his need and determine to what extent the church would help. My friend, needing what assistance he could get, complied with the churches rules (after going through surgery), drove to their facility, and filled out their request for assistance paperwork. The assistance he received was almost enough to cover one-months rent. If he needed any other financial assistance he would have to repeat the paperwork process for the next month.
This local mega-church, one of the top ten largest in America, is building a 50,000 square foot facility in his community. They have raised and paid multiple millions of dollars for property. They employ nearly 200 people. But when it comes to giving money to those in need it seems they are less giving than they would like for their parishioners to be.
But, I digress, my ill friend, is also a member of the same faith community that I am (a group of Christians, some attend other churches, some do not, that are doing life together). This group is about 13 people, however, these have given more money than the local mega-church (who has millions available), some have taken my friend into their home while he recovers, personally knowing him, they have been able to bless his life and be blessed through this trial.
I quit tithing because I can, and will, use my money to help the body of Christ, and those in need, better than the organized church ever can. Since I stopped tithing, my life has not degraded, God has not left me, I am not in a shambles. Just the opposite has happened, as I give freely to those in need, my life has been richly blessed in all aspects (spiritually, marriage, family, relationships, career, income, finances).
Solutions to the Tithing Debacle
Here are some practical steps to free you from the tithing bondage that organized religion has you in:
- set aside 10% to give away (create a separate account or some other method) – this is to assist the selfish spender on keeping money available for others.
- give freely to those in need
- get involved in a faith community – needs are discovered only when a Christian is an active part of a body of believers
If the church, God’s people, did as it was called to do, stopped giving money to church buildings and programs, stopped paying healthy people to separate themselves from the real world and not work, and started giving Biblically, as each has need (Acts 2), the world would be changed. The church in America would change if these large organizationally structured churches were taxed, and the position of pastor was unpaid. The face of Christianity would change, we would look more like Christ, more like the Bible, and less like a corporation. Governments and insurance companies would not have to step in for healthcare – Christians would meet one another’s needs. Funds would go to serve the poor rather than building structures that serve no real purpose, or add value to the community at large. Only the truly called would pastor or teach, there would be no monetary, or power incentive. Sincerity would rule the day.
As we’ve seen, tithing, while biblical, is not Christian. Jesus Christ did not teach it to His disciples. The first-century Christians did not observe it. And for three hundred years, followers of Christ did not do it. Tithing did not become a widely accepted practice among Christians until the eighth century, though they gave generously – often well above 10% of their resources – from the beginning.
Tithing is mentioned only four times in the New Testament. But none of these instances apply to Christians. Tithing belonged to the Old Testament era where a taxation system was needed to support the poor and a special priesthood that had been set apart to minister to the Lord. With the coming of Jesus Christ, there has been a “change of law” – the old has been “set aside” and rendered obsolete by the new (Hebrews 7:12-18; 8:13).
We are all priests now – free to function in God’s house. The Law, the old priesthood, and the tithe have all been crucified. There is now no Temple curtain, to Temple tax, and no special priesthood that stands between God and man. You have been set free from the bondage of tithing and from the obligation to support the unbiblical clergy system. May you, like the first-century Macedonian Christians, give freely, out of a cheerful heart, without guilt, religious obligation, or manipulation…generously helping those in need (2 Corinthians 8:1-4; 9:6-7).
When I consider this tithing issue, it always begs the question, if our pastors have not been 100% forthcoming on the tithe (many of whom hold Doctorates, and are well-studied), how else might they be misdirecting their flock?