Monday, January 24, 2011

Is Tithing for Christians? Part Five

Four Arguments for Tithing Refuted

So we have dealt with tithing in the Old Testament, and by the use of exegesis and logic we see that tithing, as found in the Old Testament, is only obligatory on those that are under the Old Covenant. Some will say that because Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek prior to the institution of the tithe under Moses that Christians are under the obligation to pay the tithe. We ask, however, whether or not these tithe teachers are circumcised? Was not Abraham circumcised prior to the Mosaic requirement? How about taking concubines? Did not Abraham take concubines? Should we follow that example? These tithe teachers simply smile in embarrassment as their logic is demonstrated as faulty.

Under the Mosaic Law there was only one tithe commanded by God. This tithe was on a three year cycle. The first two years of the cycle the tither was to take his tithe to Jerusalem and use it to support him and his house during the week in which they celebrated the Festival of Booths. The third year, the tither was to take the tithe to the city gate, and leave it. This tithe was then used by the Levite, the widow, the orphan and the alien in the land.

In Malachi we see God speaking of cursing the land of Israel because they were not paying the third year tithe. By doing this they had not properly disposed of “the sacred portion” and in doing so the returning Jews brought the curse of the Law upon them.

Even with all this said, people who are still wedded to their tradition of tithing will ignore the clear biblical teaching and offer arguments to support tithing. In this post I will address four of them.

The After Sabbath Collection

Now concerning the collection of the saints, you should follower the directions I gave to the churches in Galatia. After the Sabbath ends, each of you should set aside and save something from your surplus in proportion to what you have, so that no collections will be made when I arrive (1 Cor. 16:1-2, International Standard Version).

The question must be asked, “Does this verse recognize the shift from a rural agrarian economy to an urban business economy, and compel a weekly tithe from the church?” The answer is, “No!” The reason is simple. The direction we cited above has a specific purpose, namely, relief for the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3). If anything, this verse supports the idea that special offerings can be received by the church elders for specific projects or purposes. In the instance quoted above, however, we see that this collection was added to the collection received from the church in Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1-4; 1 Cor. 16:5). This collections was specifically for the poor (Romans 15:26-27). This collection was similar to one that was taken up in Antioch (Acts 11:27-30).

Since this collection was a one-time event (2 Cor. 8:14), and it was a collection that lasted about one year (2 Cor. 8:10; 9:2), this scripture is not a systematic teaching about tithing in the church, but rather a special offering given for a specific purpose. This offering was a generous, loving and voluntary redistribution of wealth from both wealthy and poor Gentile followers of Christ to distressed Jewish followers of Messiah in Jerusalem.

Not Teaching Tithing Gives People an Excuse for Not Giving

No, what I am presenting gives people an excuse for not tithing. Jesus said in Luke 14:33, that in order be one of his followers a person must give up ALL his possessions. In other words, a person must recognize God’s sovereignty over all her finances, and not just ten percent. A follower of Christ must understand that she is merely a manager of God’s money and God’s property.

The tithe, on the other hand, teaches a person that he merely has to “pay God off” with ten percent and with that done God has no say in how the remaining 90 percent is handled. Christians are taught to meet the needs of others, especially fellow Christians (1 John 3:16-18). In my personal experience with members of tithing churches, is that while they speak highly of giving to God they are very stingy when meeting the needs of fellow believers who are in need.

Tithing is a Starting Point

Many tithing advocates will point to Galatians 3:24, and state that tithing is an excellent starting point to begin a life of Christian giving. If anyone understood the Law it was Paul. In this passage however, he is speaking on how the Law pointed the way to Christ. He is not saying that the Law pointed Christians to Christ, but that in order to have a starting place turn back to the Law. In fact, Paul was teaching the opposite.

Paul stated that the Law failed because of human weaknesses. Grace succeeds where the Law failed because Christians have the empowering of the Holy Spirit to help us in our weaknesses (Romans 8:3-5). Shouldn’t Christians trust the Holy Spirit and God’s word to teach us about giving rather than pointing back to the Law that was weak? Is not tithing merely relying on man’s wisdom rather than trusting God’s foolishness (1 Cor. 2:5)? The answer is clear, tithing is not a starting point, but is in reality a legalistic rule being imposed on unsuspecting Christians by predatory pastors motivated by greed and not by love.

Why Was I Blessed When I Tithed, but Not Blessed When I Held Back?

This was always a big objection for me. I have heard this question so many times that if I had a nickel for every time I heard it I would be a very rich man. What this question boils down to is whether or not something is true because it works. This is a philosophy called pragmaticism, and it is the lone American entry into the world of philosophy. As Christians, however, we are not to judge the truth of a teaching or idea by whether it works or not. A Christian philosophy says that if something is true, then it will work. Now this idea can be turned around by tithing advocates who will say, “See, tithing is taught in the Bible, and it works. Therefore tithing should be practiced by Christians. Is this the case?

God is consistent in blessing those that honor Him. If God blesses those who pay tithes it is not because of the tithe, but in spite of the tithe. God is honoring the motive behind the tithe. Further, the issue is not tithing, but rather the conscience. If a Christian has been incorrectly taught that tithing is something she ought to do, then she must conscientiously tithe. To not tithe would be a violation of her conscience, and according to Romans 14:22-23, she would be committing sin. It is to these Christians that I am addressing these series of posts.

Christians who have been taught that tithing is a Christian obligation must be re-educated to understand that the Christian standard is not tithing, but freely motivated giving. I am also writing to pastors that are teaching the necessity tithing; that they would reevaluate their human tradition and bring their teaching back under the covering and protection of Scripture.

In the next post: The Tithe and the New Testament.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Is Tithing for Christians? Part Four

Tithing and the Curse

Now we are coming down to the meat of all the tithing messages that I have ever heard; the Malachi curse. I will be getting into that verse in depth, but I have a passage that I wish to discuss because much of what is said in it confirms what I have already written about regarding the tithe as laid out in Deuteronomy. This passage is one that I have never heard preached on in any tithing message I have heard, and for good reasons.

Amos’ Rebuke

Amos is a pre-Babylonian exile prophetic book that gives us a taste of some of Amos’ preaching to the wayward Israelites. In Amos 4:4-5, we find the first mention of tithing in the Old Testament prophetic books. What we find is that in their zeal for pagan worship the Israelites were paying tithes to the false gods they worshipped, as opposed to every third year as prescribed in Deuteronomy.

It is interesting to me that so many pastors, who advocate the tithe, advocate it in a religious manner. In fact, I heard one pastor speak about what you owe if you miss paying tithes off one pay cycle. He said that from the next paycheck, a tithing person owes another 20% interest on the tithe he missed. Obviously this pastor was making God an advocate of exorbitant interest rates that even this pastor would in no way, shape, or form pay creditors!

Malachi’s Curse

This is the passage used by pastors who believe in enforced giving. This passage is used to beat those who do not tithe into thinking that tithing will somehow stop God from blessing their lives. Not tithing, it is said, not only stops God from blessing you, but it gives the enemy the right to curse the non-tithers finances, health, and other areas of life.

This use of highly emotional language is often a key part of any sermon given by any pastor that believes that the curse in Malachi is applicable to Christians.

Before we go into this book further, we must also explore the historical context that surrounded Malachi’s preaching. Malachi is in the post-Babylonian exile prophetic books. It is part of three books that show samples of the Holy Spirit inspired preaching of the day. These books are also to be read in light of the post-Babylonian history books, in particular Nehemiah 10:37-38.

The question must be asked, however, whether or not those under the New Covenant are under any of the curses described in the Old Testament curses. As we have stated in previous posts, the Old Testament never make the requirement that the tithe be given away. Ironically, Malachi confirms the fact that there were two tithes, and that the tithe in question was the third year tithe.

So let’s look at the passage in question, Malachi 3:6-12 (ESV):

"For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

What are the main points of this passage? First, Israel had robbed Yahweh by not giving to the third year tithe to the Levites as required by the Mosaic Law. Second, the consequence for their disobedience was that the “windows of heaven” were closed to them. Third, a curse was pronounced on their land by Yahweh. Fourth, Israel must respond with the whole tithe in order to have the curse lifted. Finally, this tithe was to be brought into the Temple storehouse.

How is this passage to be understood? Is this passage linked to any other passages, particularly in the Mosaic Law? There is a direct parallel found in Deuteronomy 26:12-15 (ESV):

"When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, 13 then you shall say before the Lord your God, 'I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. 14 I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the Lord my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me. 15 Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.'

Only when Malachi is contrasted with Deuteronomy can we understand what Malachi was inspired to preach against. The Israelites were instructed to declare that the “Sacred portion” had been removed from the home of the tither. They called on Yahweh to look down on them from His heaven and they called on Him to bless the people of Israel and their land which He had given them.

Malachi was preaching against Israel’s failure to pay the tithe, as required by the Law, and pronouncing the consequences of said failure against the people. The consequences of robbing Yahweh were that the windows of heaven were shut to them, and that they were not able to live under God’s blessing, but rather they had to suffer under God’s curse. With this in mind it is therefore necessary to conclude that the curse spoken of in Malachi applies only to those that were under the Mosaic Law, and it does not apply to any believer that is under the New Covenant.

The purpose of teaching the tithing curse is NOT to cause God to bless those that give. Rather this curse teaching was designed by greedy pastors that do not want to work, but would rather have people support their lavish lifestyles.

The Punishing Tithe

This tithe can be found in 1 Samuel chapter 8. This tithe is the consequence of Israel’s desire to have an earthly king to rule over them. This tithe was essentially a tax levied on the people by the king in order to support his family and the kingdom. Interestingly, this tithe is closer to what so many pastors demand from their parishioners than what the Mosaic Law described.

Another interesting fact regarding this tithe is that this passage was used by the Roman Catholic Church to support the concept of tithing since at least the 6th century A.D. This concept was also carried on by the Protestant churches, and is especially prevalent in Pentecostal churches.

Concluding the Matter

Ultimately, it is clear that any pastor who teaches the tithe and uses Malachi 3 as a stick to beat his congregation into submission is guilty of ripping this Scripture out of its proper context and shoving it into the New Covenant. I will discuss what New Covenant giving consists of in future posts, but for now it is clear that there is no president for this sort of enforced giving to be imported into the church. There is no reason for any believer to think that God will curse them if they do not tithe. It is my hope and prayer that believers in these sorts of churches will prayerfully consider their future in these churches. It is also my prayer that pastors who may read this blog will reconsider their traditional teaching on tithing, and instead go back to the Biblical teaching of giving.

Next on the blog: Responses to various arguments for tithing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Suggestions for 2011 & When Traditions Trump Scripture

While I have an entire spectrum of ideas I can write about, and I will be finishing the Tithing series this month, I wanted to throw the doors open to my tens and tens of readers for topic suggestions in 2011. I hope that these will be topics that you have questions about, or questions that you have not received a satisfying answer for. Now, I am not saying that I can give satisfying answers to many questions or topics, but I will try to look at them through the Christian worldview and answer them accordingly. So please post some suggested topics below. Thanks in advance.

When Tradition Trumps Scripture

This has been a topic I have been thinking about since the hearing James White's on The Dividing Line on New Year's Eve day. In that dividing line he refuted an Arminian Baptist's poor attempt at refuting The Doctrines of Grace, also known as, Calvinism. While this speaker's refutation was poor, there was something that really stuck with me. Dr. White stated that the poor exegesis (the drawing out of the meaning of Scripture) demonstrated by this Arminian Baptist is a direct result of allowing tradition to trump Scripture.
The Arminian Baptist consistently took Scripture out of context (Romans 8:28-32), emphasized the wrong words (2 Peter 3:9), denied the clear teaching of Scripture (Romans 9:10-13), and he persisted in a blatant misrepresentation of the Calvinist position. All of these things I have come to expect from my Arminian brothers, after all, as this particular Arminian Baptist stated over and over again, Calvinism is a pernicious false doctrine that need not even be examined. Of course, anyone who is involved in so-called discernment ministries ask, "How can anyone properly refute a topic that one has not properly researched?" Further, when a person simply applies the basic rules of grammar to the Arminian's proof texts their doctrine falls apart like a sand castle when it is beset by the rising tide.
The saddest point with many Arminians, and many others within Christianity that hold to non-biblical doctrines (by non-biblical, I mean doctrines that have no clear biblical foundation, as opposed to unbiblical, which are doctrines that are contrary to the clear teaching of scripture) is that they allow their tradition to trump scripture. This should never be the case. Our traditions are always defined by scripture. Of course many within this branch of Christianity would proudly crow about not having traditions, however, this is a tradition in and of itself.

So with this in mind, I have had to ask myself, and I ask you, the reader, to examine what traditions you have that are trumping scripture, and what will you do with them should you find them? Here are a couple of traditions that are especially prevalent in Christianity, especially at the beginning of the year. Perhaps your church passed out handouts giving you a plan on how to read the entire bible the whole year? Or maybe they hand out a checklist, a sort of "spiritual to-do" list of various spiritual disciplines such as prayer, bible reading, fasting, church attendance, tithing, etc. These things are not full of grace, but rather they are elements of legalism. Legalism is the doing of any good thing with the thought that the act will ingratiate God to us. Worse yet, if you do not do these things God will love you less. My friends this is the epitome of legalism, and do not let anyone mature Christian, church leader or even a church pastor tell you different!

I am not against bible reading or spiritual disciplines, they are, in fact, a natural fruit of a changed heart. A changed heart will want to read the God's word; it will want to communicate with God through prayer; it will want to give finances joyfully and without compulsion; it will want to seek out a community of fellow believers and actively fellowship with them; it will motivate you to fast when the times of life require a special time of separation from the world. It is clear, however, that there are churches and leaders that have taken these good things and made them ultimate things, as Timothy Keller puts it. In other words, they are made idols that we sacrifice to in the hope that God will no longer be angry with us over our sin. In reality, however, we have sinned in that we, in the act of spiritual devotion, have created an idol.

Again, traditions are not necessarily bad things. Perhaps you come from a church with a tradition of emphasizing traditions or spiritual disciplines. It is your responsibility as a believer to examine the tradition or discipline regardless of who taught your the tradition or discipline (Acts 17:11). Secondly, if your tradition or discipline becomes an ultimate thing, then you must repent of your idolatry. Lastly, I am not telling you to go up to your leader or pastor and tell him that he is preaching idolatry. Perhaps he or she has not had his/her conscience trained properly, or maybe he/she is just ignorant of the scriptural teachings, or, and this is the worst case scenario, perhaps he/she is is so devoted to their tradition that she absolutely will not change. What we must understand is that in this area we are dealing with the conscience, and these areas must be handled delicately, or better yet given to God in prayer.
My purpose is not to change people that can not or will not change, but rather to help those that are willing to examine themselves and make the necessary changes. So I end this post with the question, are you willing to change?