Tithing is one of those strange Christian traditions that many Christians take for granted, without having any understanding of its origins or lack of Biblical foundation. Many Christians would be shocked to learn that tithing — that is, the practice of giving one-tenth of your income to the church — is not a universal Christian practice at all. For that matter, it’s not even a “Christian” practice.
Here are a few truths about the practice of tithing:
- The word “tithe” means “tenth.”
- A tithe was not money (except in the event the food tithe could not be transported to where it needed to go).
- The Law of Moses includes more than one tithe.
- Tithing only applied to farm goods; people like fishermen, carpenters, and merchants did not have to pay a tithe.
- Tithing did not apply to income, it applied to what you had at the time.
- Someone with only 9 sheep did not tithe, as he had no “tenth” to give.
- Only Levites could receive a tithe.
- A farmer under the Law of Moses “tithed” approximately 23% per year for various causes.
- The early church did not practice tithing.
- The practice of tithing taught in many churches today has no resemblance to any tithe in the Old Testament.
When you believe in things that you don’t understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way – Stevie Wonder
The current practice of tithing is nothing more than a superstition. Whether you believe that you’ll be blessed if you keep the rule or punished if you don’t, or if you’re troubled by the question “net or gross,” you’re acting out of superstition. And where there’s superstition, there’s no faith.
Seriously, you might as well be concerned about spilling salt or having your path crossed by a black cat.
When pastors teach that tithing is a New Covenant directive (whether they use the word “law” or the modern “principle”), either they really suck at Bible study (in which case you should critically consider everything else they teach), or they are motivated by a fear of not having enough money. Either way, you’ve got to wonder, and you should be concerned.
New Covenant Giving
Now, there’s nothing wrong with giving. In fact, it’s encouraged. But, giving in the New Testament is based on the idea of reciprocity: we all give, and we all receive, according to our gifts and needs. This is not socialism (a forced redistribution of wealth), or having everything in common (which was done by some in the NT, but not by all and never mandated by anyone). It’s simply relational.
The bad news for pastors (or what seems like bad news to those who lack faith) is that there is no Biblical mandate to pay a pastor or leader, or to funnel all of your offerings to a local church. There’s also nothing precluding these things, but giving should be based on relationship and good stewardship, not on a few out-of-context Bible verses and a boatload of guilt.
Personally, I think the 10% guideline is good; however, I generally prefer to give to charities and other non-profits rather than to a church. If I thought a church really needed the money, I’d have no problem giving it to them, but it’s not my first choice. When choosing between a) a church with a new $20,000 sound system, and b) some orphans, I’ll tend to go with the orphans. But that’s just me.
Party On, Dudes
Today I discovered a really good series of teachings on tithing, which is one of the things that prompted this post, by Joel Brueseke over at Grace Roots. It’s entitled “Freed from Tithing, Free to Give,” and I encourage you to check that out. I particularly enjoyed part 5, where he quotes from Deuteronomy 14:
“24But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” (emphasis mine)
You don’t hear that preached too often.
Grace, and Peace
Christians shouldn’t have to live in anxiety about whether or not they are about to suffer 7 years of bad luck because they didn’t tithe, or tithe properly.
 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.  As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.  By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,  while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.  Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
(2 Corinthians 9:6-15 ESV)
Grace, and Peace.