All right, it’s been a while since we’ve had a Q&A post so for all of you who have been waiting, here we go! Just a forewarning, this is going to be a long post because it tackles a complicated debate, but I think it’s a good one.
I was recently talking with one of my co-workers and the subject of tithes and offerings came up. As a Christian woman she feels like it’s important to tithe as the Bible outlines, however she also wants to respect her husband who is currently unsure about their financial ability to give 10% to their church. They, like my family and I, live paycheck to paycheck and often times at the end of the day there just isn’t much (if any) extra money laying around.
So the question was raised: “What is your view on tithes and offerings?”
What is a Tithe/Offering?
To begin I think it’s good to define a few things for our non-Christian friends and new brothers and sisters who aren’t necessarily familiar with some of the Christian vocabulary.
- A tithe literally means a tenth. The institution of religious tithing comes from the Old Testament. Moses wrote of tithing in Leviticus 27:30 saying that a tithe of the harvest as well as of the animals belonged to God. The concept of tithing, however, precedes the Law. We see this in the life of Abraham (who lived hundreds of years before Moses) when he offers a tithe to Melchizedek a priest and the King of Jerusalem after Melchizedek blesses Abraham and his family (Genesis 14:18-20).
- An offering, unlike a tithe, is a gift that is offered for a particular reason. For instance, offerings in the Old Testament were often animal or crop sacrifices that were offered to God by Israel to ask forgiveness for sin, to pray for blessing, to seek counsel, or any number of other reasons. Offerings carried on into the New Testament and persist with us today, though they look slightly different. I’ll touch more on these later on.
The Church Connection
We start by looking at these two terms because they are words that are used a lot within the Church but are rarely defined which results in a lot of confusion for those in the Church and outside of it.
As a general rule I have noticed that most churchgoers do not look favorably on pastors and elders speaking about tithing during their services. Partly this is because we in the West don’t want to hear about giving. We get the same standoffish attitude when a pastor asks for money as we get when a homeless man is panhandling on the street corner. We think “It’s my money”, and “I can’t afford to give 10%”. We rationalize not tithing by saying we’ll serve in the nursery, help with the landscaping, work the soundboard, etc. While these things are good and churches need people to help out with them, they aren’t a tithe. Even if you are tithing your time you would have to dedicate 16.8 hours a week in the nursery, cutting the grass, or working the soundboard which even the most dedicated among us do not do.
I’m not trying to be legalistic about tithing, but I am trying to make a point. A tithe is not paying for services rendered, it’s an act of obedience to what God has asked us to do, even if it’s not what we would want to do or what we think we CAN do. When we serve our local church, the sacrifice of our time and energy would be an offering, not a tithe. Furthermore, giving to missionaries, local ministries, and other non-profits are offerings as well. While these are great ways to spend hard-earned money, God has us tithe, first, to our local churches to support the ministry and function of the church body that we are plugged into and to grow in faith and generosity.
“I don’t tithe to my church…
… instead I tithe by giving to other ministries or groups that I want to support or feel led to give money to.” Here is a fairly common statement that is made regarding tithes. Again, supporting Christian ministries at home and abroad is not a bad thing. It’s great and I wholeheartedly endorse it! However I would advise caution in taking this approach, for a few reasons:
- When we give to a church or ministry we are simply reallocating the money that God has given us back into the work of His Kingdom on earth. However, as we saw in the story of Abraham and Melchizedek, Abraham didn’t just tithe to some random person or ministry that he liked. He was met by Melchizedek and had been blessed by the work he had done. In response he lovingly and thankfully gave his 10% to the ministry that had been poured out for his benefit. Giving to missionaries and non-profits are good and I have done so myself, but are those groups directly pouring themselves out for the benefit of you and your family? If not then I would suggest tithing to the ministry that is doing that for you, which is most often your local church.
- My wife and I did this when we were first married and what I noticed was that this outlook transforms tithing from a loving act of obedience for the good of us and others into an investment portfolio. “Well, I only have X amount of money, so which group do I like the most? Oh, this group looks good, but I don’t like their view on this, that, or the other. I guess I’ll find something else to give to.” When our view shifts to that of an investor it becomes increasingly difficult to give to any ministry because no ministry is perfect, and sometimes you end up not giving anything to anyone which prohibits spiritual growth in generosity.
- Finally, because our tithe is going to a ministry or group that is not the ministry that we are directly involved in it makes it easier to detach ourselves from our home church and become consumer Christians who want to be blessed and not be part of the blessing process.
“But tithing was an Old Testament thing…
…and we are under the New Covenant”. This is another common argument among Christians. Do we tithe or not since Jesus gave us the New Covenant? This is a reasonable argument to some degree. The Law told the Jews not to eat pork because pigs are unclean animals, but then in Acts God tells Peter (a Jew) that nothing is unclean that God has made clean (Acts 10:9-16). And so now I thank God daily for bacon, and a large percentage of us eat ham on Easter.
So the logical conclusion for many of us is that we can take or leave any of the Old Testament laws because we’re not under the Old Covenant. Don’t murder or steal? Here here! Don’t lie to each other? Sure, that sounds good. Homosexuality is a sin? Well that was for their culture back then; thankfully we have progressed beyond their primitive understanding of how things work.
However, Jesus himself made a very interesting statement that complicates this argument (as He often does).
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [aka the Old Testament]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:17-20 (embhasis added)