Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | April 25, 2010

Tithe Doctrine: challenging what’s preached from the pulpit-Part III

Tim and Mary lived in a middle class suburb just outside of  Charlotte, NC. They were committed Christians, desiring to follow Christ in all they did, and wanting others to know about Him. They were both involved in serving in their local church (Tim as a Sunday School teacher and Mary in Children’s Church), and with 3 kids of their own along with their careers in the insurance industry, life was busy.

Over time, Mary had befriended a co-worker at her office; a young single mother named Tara. Tara wasn’t a Christian but was very open to spiritual truth. She enjoyed her talks with Mary on a range of subjects, including some on the Christian faith. Both ladies started spending more time together during lunch and break-times.

But over time, Tara started to pull away and was showing some visible signs of intense stress on the job. Out of sincere concern, Mary approached her one day to ask her if everything was OK. At this point, Tara became teary-eyed and opened up. She was struggling financially in a most terrible way. Just one of the many pains of divorce. And recent medical bills, along with her ex-husband’s recent inconsistencies with child support payments, had put Tara at the end of her financial rope. Rent was past due and if she didn’t come up with $800 by the end of the week, she would be evicted. If that happened, she didn’t know what she and her young son would do.

Mary drove home that evening with a heavy heart, wanting to help Tara in a tangible way. Upon arriving, she spoke to Tim about the situation, asking if they had enough money to help Tara out financially. “As much as I’d like too, we just don’t have it,” replied Tim. “Even with our tight budget and our modest lifestyle, we can only squeeze out $50, but how much is that going to help?”

“But what about the money we set aside this month for our tithe?” replied Mary.

It was  the end of the month, and Tim & Mary had $750 already set aside to give to their church that Sunday; $700 for the tithe, and a $50 offering. Tim was moved by the situation with Tara and wanted to help. But according to the teaching that Tim grew up with and embraced (and Mary to a lesser extent), the tithe “belonged to the Lord.” It was supposed to be brought into “the storehouse” (the local church) to support the ministry. Only offerings above the tithe could be given as “freewill offerings” elsewhere. As a Christian, to not give in such a way was to “disobey God” according to Malachi 3, and much worse, was considered robbery of God. It also gave the enemy entrance into one’s finances to wreak havoc.

Mary thought she might have been hearing from God concerning Tara, but after further discussion with Tim, they both agreed that it just wasn’t possible to help Tara….at least not at that moment. That Sunday morning, they dropped their $700 tithe check into the offering plate.

When Mary arrived to work Monday morning, she was surprised to see Tara’s office unoccupied and empty. When she inquired as to where Tara was, she was shocked by the response. Apparently, it was no joke that Tara needed immediate help to pay her rent. She was evicted from her apartment that Friday, and called in to work early Monday morning to explain to her boss that she wouldn’t be back, and that she and her son were moving in with relatives 2 hours away.  Furthermore, she still had to figure out how to move all her stuff and pay for it.

Mary walked to her office feeling horrible. Not only for Tara, but for Tara’s son, who would now have to start over in a new school. And what about Tara’s personal belongings? How would she afford moving expenses for the stuff left behind? On the inside, Mary hurt. She wanted to help, and she and her husband had $750, but $700 of it had to go to the church. Or did it? At that point, the only option was to appease her own conscience by just accepting what the preacher taught about the tithe. After all, the situation with Tara was over….

My friends, although the above story is fictional, it is not too far a stretch of the imagination by any means.  Mary had a budding relationship with someone who wasn’t a Christian but was nonetheless open to spiritual truth and the Christian faith. Lets just for a moment pretend that Tim, Mary and Tara did exist. Could you imagine the impact Mary & Tim could have had on this single mother by providing her a love offering for her rent, in Jesus name? Could you see the powerful testimony that could have been given through tangible, spirit-led giving? But instead, a budding relationship with promise was cut short, and a financial blessing was eliminated, all in the name of performance based Christian religion.

You may think I’m being a bit harsh, but I truly believe that the tithe, as it is typically taught in most church circles, is the greatest example of  “theology gone wrong” and the epitome of spiritual abuse in those environments where pastors and teachers have personally been exposed to a new covenant interpretive perspective on the tithe, but continue to teach otherwise.

Jesus was not silent on the issue. Here he is, speaking to the religious leaders of His day:

9And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[c] your own traditions!10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’[d] and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’[e] 11But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:9-13)

Wow. Here it is right here. Jesus rebuking the religious teachers of His day for teaching false doctrine in regards to giving. These Scribes and Pharisees were not allowing people the freedom to live from a heart motivated by compassion and love in their giving, but instead were putting the people under religious requirement, saying the gifts were to be “devoted to God” instead. The result was that the needy among the people were routinely neglected.

Nothing much has changed in 2000 years.

Statistics show that 85% of funds received by church are directed toward internal operations of the organization; 50% of it going to staff salaries.

Mission outreach & evangelism accounts for about 3% of the average church budget. The rest of the money remaining can be used for other practical purposes.  (John & Sylvia Ronsville, “The State of Church Giving Through 2000,” Champaign, Ill.: Empty Tomb, 2002, 1:  also, Lifeway Research, Average Church Budget Spending, n.d.”)

My goodness, this is not good!

The New Covenant paints a different picture as to how Christian giving should look, and 2nd Corinthians 9 is a hallmark chapter on the subject. Lets get a breath of fresh air and start there, spending some time talking about spirit-led giving:

6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9As it is written:
“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”[a] 10Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:-)

In this portion of scripture, Paul is praising those in Achaia for the generous gift they were preparing for the believers in Macedonia, who had obvious tangible needs that needed to be met. A few things to take note of:

  • They were instructed not to give out of compulsion, but according to what each one decided to give, based on searching his/her own heart regarding the matter.
  • Their giving was directed at supplying the needs of the saints in Macedonia, not an organization.
  • According to Paul,  “Joy” would be their experience since their giving was not compulsory, but a freewill offering from the heart
  • God would receive much glory through their spirit-led giving

Now compare this to the typical mode of giving (tithing) that is routinely taught by the institutional church.

  • It is clearly compulsory. It is taught from the pulpit as such, typically through Old Covenant doctrine, or through a few “proof texts” from the New Covenant that are incorrectly taught or taken out of context.
  • As mentioned before, on average,  85% of the funds a church receives goes toward the internal operations of the organization, not to people (inside or outside the church) who have tangible needs.
  • Joy is unmistakably lacking in environments that adhere to a strict tithe to support “the church.” I attribute this to exactly what the Apostle Paul touches on in 2 Corinthians 9:1-5; that such giving really takes no preparation, forethought or heart-sensitivity on the part of the giver. In other words, it takes no relationship with God to do it, it takes no sensitivity to the Holy Spirit to do it, and it takes no relationship with your neighbor or sensitivity to their need to do it. Just have your checkbook ready, and write out the check before the offering plate gets to you. Instead of our giving being relationally oriented, we’ve opted for a rigid, mechanical, obligatory system of giving which quenches any direction and creativity that the Holy Spirit might want to bring to this area of our lives. What a shame. And we wonder why joy is lacking in our giving!

Who should primarily be benefiting from our giving? As basic and elementary as the question may sound, I believe many have lost sight of this from a biblical perspective.

Lets read the portion of scripture from 2 Corinthians 9 once again, paying attention to what is emphasized in bold print:

6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9As it is written:
“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;

his righteousness endures forever.”[a]

Notice that in regards to giving, we are called to abound in every good work. And the good work we are called to abound in is, primarily, supporting the poor! Now before some of you may be thinking that I’m using “proof text theology” to make this claim, lets look at the New Testament a bit closer. When it comes to giving, a noticeable theme rings out:

2“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they (B)may be honored by men (C)Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3“But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and (D)your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2-4)

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” (Matthew 26:9)

8Zaccheus stopped and said to (A)the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have (B)defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back (C)four times as much.” 9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is (D)a son of Abraham. (Luke 19:7-9)

5but now, (A)I am going to Jerusalem (B)serving the saints. 26For (C)Macedonia and (D)Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. (Romans 15-25-26, Paul speaking)

10They only asked us to remember the poor–(I)the very thing I also was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10, Paul speaking)

Perhaps the one portion of scripture from the New Testament that defines what our attitude should be toward the poor is found in James chapter 2:

1(A)My brethren, (B)do not hold your faith in our (C)glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of (D)personal favoritism. 2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in(E)fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in(F)dirty clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the(G)fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges (H)with evil motives? 5Listen, (I)my beloved brethren: did not (J)God choose the poor of this world to be (K)rich in faith and (L)heirs of the kingdom which He(M)promised to those who love Him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. (James 2:-6)

My friends, when I read the New Testament, I see a recurring theme as it relates to our giving: be generous to the poor. And in so doing, God receives much glory. (2 Corinthians 9:11-15)

Even in the Old Testament, this theme rings loud and clear, and you may be surprised to learn that EVEN THE MAJORITY OF THE OLD COVENANT REQUIRED TITHES REVOLVED AROUND SUPPORTING THE POOR!

The Lord’s tithe (Numbers 18:20-32) supported the Levites for their service in the Tent of Meeting, and 10% of this tithe was given to the priest by the Levites.

The Festival Tithe (Deuteronomy 12 :17-19, Deuteronomy 14:22-27) was for the purpose of the Israelites enjoying a great feast.

The Poor Tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) was meant to support the poorest of the poor (the fatherless, the alien, the widow, and the levites since they had no inheritance to call their own).

My point is this: The Israelite people did not live in a western, capitalist society with our industrial opportunities or various socio-economic statuses. The people were generally poor, living in an agricultural society; life was NOTHING like it is for us in our culture. I find it interesting that even the Old Covenant tithing system primarily revolved around supporting not only the common people who were generally poor (through the Festival Tithe), but also the poorest among the poor, being the fatherless, the widows, the aliens, and the Levites who had no inheritance to call their own (through the Poor Tithe).

Yet in our culture, our giving usually has “Me, Myself and I” at the center, not the poor. It’s all about meeting the expected tithe amount so I can be blessed. Certainly there is a universal law of sowing and reaping, but “what we can get” shouldn’t be at the center of our giving. Communion with God and others should be at the center of our giving.  Only then can we be sensitive to how the Spirit might lead, sensitive to the tangible needs of those within the community of faith, and sensitive to the tangible and certainly the spiritual needs of those outside the faith.

By reading this post, some may feel like I do not strongly believe in supporting Pastors or others in full-time ministry through financial giving. Well, let me make a disclaimer; this is not the case. Pastors, evangelists, folks in the mission field, and others called to full time ministry certainly need our support. And those who preach the gospel, as the Bible says, have the right to get their living from the gospel.  However, I do believe that typical “tithe doctrine” needs reform in a very big way. If a church cannot survive financially without putting people under the obligatory system of the tithe, perhaps it is the church that needs restructuring. Maybe that particular local church is not necessary. Tough questions when people’s pay checks hang in the balance, but questions nonetheless that we should ask.

I will share a brief personal testimony on the subject of tithing vs spirit-led giving in the next post.  Grace to all of you!

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Responses

  1. Harry This so good I wish you had time to write more. I do so much enjoy leaning from you! JIM

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    • Jim, nice to hear from you and thank you for the encouragement. I’m thankful for His grace and also do appreciate His grace upon your life.

      Like

  2. “Certainly there is a universal law of sowing and reaping, but ‘what we can get’ shouldn’t be at the center of our giving.”

    Great post, and I agree with most of it. Certainly, churches that teach tithing have it wrong. Your quote above misses an important part of the text (or at least seems to), which I have emphasized below:

    And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, YOU WILL ABOUND IN EVERY GOOD WORK.

    -and-

    You will be made rich in every way SO THAT YOU CAN BE GENEROUS ON EVERY OCCASION…

    In other words, God is blessing our “generous sowing,” not so that we can have more stuff and lead a more cushy lifestyle, but he is blessing our generous sowing because we have shown ourselves faithful stewards of what is really HIS money; he knows that we won’t spend that “bountiful harvest” on ourselves, but rather abound in even MORE good works and be even MORE generous with our money. He knows this because we’ve already shown that we will do it through our attitudes and, more importantly, our actions.
    It’s really the parable of the three stewards, told by Paul!

    For a great example of this, look at the life and giving of John Wesley.

    Like

    • Hi Brian,
      Thank you for your feedback, and you make a great point. God has always desired a people who would hear His voice and do what He says. If we embrace a “kingdom perspective” in lieu of being consumed with self, our giving will definitely become more effective…. people in need will benefit, to the glory of God.

      Blessings to you,
      Harry

      Like


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