I didn’t see it coming. I hadn’t intended it to happen. But last week, Average Us became controversial. I wrote a post about Why Pastors Shouldn’t Teach Tithing and lots of you showed up to read why, tell me you agree, or disagree, or imply that I’m a false prophet.
(Phew! I’m just a little too average for all that. And btw – we Christians should give generously to support the mission Jesus has given to the church. I explain how much we should give, and why we should give, in What Jesus and His Apostles Taught About Giving.)
One of the disagree-ers was Pastor Tom from California. He wrote a very thoughtful comment explaining why he disagreed, and I thought it was such a great example of Christ-like humility and charity that I asked his permission to offer a reply in this post. Here is Pastor Tom’s comment:
1) Abraham gave tithes before the Law. He was saved by faith without the Law, and he gave the tenth before the Law (Genesis 14:20).
2) Most of the churches Paul started began with Jews and Gentiles (God-fearers) who were attending synagogues (i.e. the Corinthian church and the Thessalonian church). When these churches began, they already knew about tithing and were already practicing it. Hence Paul did not need to teach it in his epistles. Lon, your conclusion about Paul not teaching it to Gentiles is only an assumption you are making.
3) People who never have to pastor a church and be responsible for its financial survival are always quick to throw out the tithe. Yet, every other organization has prescribed amounts for its citizens or members (i.e. tax rates, membership dues). There is even what we call the msrp (manufacturers suggested retail price). So in everything else there are precise percentages and numbers, but yet the church is supposed to survive without any objective system of giving? I don’t think so. The tenth is God’s suggested number, and New Testament Christian giving should start there.
I have to lovingly disagree with Lon’s argumentation here. It doesn’t hold any greater weight than the long-held traditional Christian teaching of the tithe.
Community Baptist Church
I really appreciate this comment because Pastor Tom isn’t pointing a finger through the web just to say, “You’re wrong, and you’re bad for thinking so.” He makes a reasonable argument without getting personal that can be discussed and debated. He’s not interested in fighting. He clearly wants to reflect the Savior he loves while standing his ground on his convictions. Here’s a quick how to disagree and still sound like a Christian.
- Make a reasonable argument — explain and support your point.
- Respond to the other person’s point — don’t ignore it.
- Don’t make assumptions about the other person’s motives or make personal attacks.
- Marry your conviction with humility and love.
And it’s on that basis that I’ll offer these answers to Pastor Tom’s comments.
1. Abraham gave tithes before the Law.
True. Abraham did tithe to the mysterious Melchizedek before the Law of Moses (e.g. the old covenant) came into effect. I mentioned this in Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing. But an example of someone tithing is not the same thing as a command to do so. Abraham’s example of tithing the spoils of war nowhere receives the divine “Do thou likewise.” God gave Israel specific commands to financially support the old covenant sacrificial system with their tithes. He did not leave Israel to simply follow Abraham’s example. And it is factual to say that when Jesus created the new covenant, neither He nor the Apostles re-issued the tithing command to Gentile believers who were never part of the old covenant. The purpose of the tithe under the old covenant was to financially support the sacrificial system. And since Jesus was sacrificed once for all as our passover lamb, and has given us a new covenant in his blood, there is no more sacrificial system to support.
So, even if we choose to give 10%, which is fine, it’s not the tithe of Scripture, so pastors shouldn’t teach it as such.
2. The early churches already knew about, and practiced, tithing.
True again that the early churches included both Jews and Gentiles. But, it’s a big leap — an assumption, if you will — to say that this explains why Paul didn’t teach tithing in his letters. We simply have no information in Scripture, pro or con, on this point. More importantly, this assumption also doesn’t explain why the Apostles chose not to speak about the tithe even in these two very relevant circumstances:
- When the council of Jerusalem met to discuss the question, “should Gentile converts have to keep the law?” they gave specific commands, but didn’t include tithing (or giving of any sort).
- When Paul was raising funds for a relief offering to bring to Jerusalem he could have taught a specific percentage to be given. He could have taught 5%, or 10%, or 50%. But he left it as a matter of conscience between the giver and God.
So, whatever we choose to give, it remains a matter of conscience, not an imposed percentage, so pastors shouldn’t teach it as such.
3. The church needs an objective system of financial support.
This is not a biblical question, but a practical one. So, I’ll respond to it as a lifelong churchman, and former pastor who believed in tithing at the time.
Now, whether the tithe has always been the Christian standard is something I am beginning to doubt. I haven’t done the historical research yet, but I can’t recall ever reading anything older than 100 years or so that taught tithing as the objective standard of Christian giving. If anyone knows of an earlier source please share in the comments.
But, certainly the Great Commission requires significant financial support. And I know what it is to hope the offering will cover the church mortgage and my salary, and something for ministries, missions, etc. So, an objective system could be useful. But even so, we should not call it the tithe because it isn’t. And it should not come with promises of blessing or cursing because it doesn’t. And it should be voluntary, because God didn’t command it.
Having said that, I believe there is a better way to raise funds, pursue the mission, and bring believers to spiritual maturity. And that is, for pastors to inspire us again and again with our grand mission, His Great Commission. Remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our families, and bigger than our local church. Lead us by example by making the Great Commission the first line item on the budget, and strategizing all other expenses to support that priority. Show us that neither operating expenses (mortgage, salaries, utilities, etc), nor capital expenses (more buildings, larger buildings, etc), are the priority. Set a visionary goal like adding 1% per year to the church budget that is exclusively devoted to pursuing the Great Commission and Great Commandment. How inspiring would it be to see the church leadership commit to giving away an increasing portion of their total offerings in service to the worldwide mission of the gospel?
So pastors, when you ask us to give, show us how our church is pursuing the Great Commission first. Inspire us with the scope, and joy, and motive of our mission. Then, leave our personal budgets to our consciences, and I believe, the Holy Spirit will move us to give generously and cheerfully, often beyond 10%, and without ever talking about tithing.
Thanks once again to Pastor Tom for sounding like a Christian while disagreeing with my perspective. May God multiply His grace and peace to him and Community Baptist Church in Norwalk, California.
(Here are more posts on tithing.)
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