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.

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