Why the Tithe Is Obsolete and What to Give Instead

I’ve written several posts on tithing and they are, by far, the most viewed posts on Average Us. It seems that a lot of you are interested in this subject and have questions about the typical Christian teaching you hear on it. In those previous posts, I reason that the tithe which God commanded Israel to give has nothing at all to do with Christian giving.

photo of tithe in dictionary

[Christian Giving: What’s the tithe got to do with it?]

However, I’m concerned that my posts could be seen as justification for a half-hearted financial commitment to the kingdom of God, or a less generous attitude toward those in need, or to excuse self-centeredness in one’s financial habits.

I want to clear up any misunderstanding in this post.

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Why Your Church Does Teach Tithing (And Why You Sometimes Feel Guilty About It)

This post is part 2 of a 3-part series on tithing and giving:

  1. Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing (And Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About It)
  2. Why Your Church Does Teach Tithing (Any Why You Sometimes Feel Guilty About It)
  3. What Jesus & His Apostles Taught About Giving (And How You Can Find Joy in It)

In the first post of this series, I wrote that Jesus only incidentally mentions tithing once, and His Apostles never mention it at all. But, since tithing was such a clear obligation in God’s old covenant with Israel, I asked how we can account for the lack of New Testament teaching on tithing.

My conclusion was that tithing, which had a specific purpose in the religious life of Israel, was not renewed as an obligation of the New Covenant which Christ established with His followers. The New Covenant is for all people, not just Jews. And when the Apostles wrestled with whether Gentiles had to keep the Jewish Law of Moses (including circumcision, tithing, dietary laws, etc.) as a condition of participation in the New Covenant (i.e. to be Christians), their conclusion was absolutely, “NO”. In their letters, Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude addressed every conceivable issue of Christian living including work, money, charity and giving, but they never laid the obligation to tithe upon the churches they founded and nurtured. They never even mentioned it.

Umm…Those Guys Never Went to My Church

But at many churches today you’d think tithing was the 11th Commandment! Heck, at some churches you might never even hear the first ten (that’s Sunday School stuff, anyway), but they sure tell you about that 11th one. “Good Christians” tithe, right? I remember one well-meaning Christian brother who described tithing to me as, “basic, square-one stuff.” He was convinced that non-tithers could never grow spiritually. In his mind there are people who call themselves “Christians”, and then there’s real “tithing Christians.”

What a disconnect!

A Medieval Tithe Barn

A Medieval Tithe Barn

Why Your Church Makes You Feel Guilty About Tithing

Is it because your church believes in the paramount importance of financing the local and worldwide mission of the gospel? Maybe…

Is it because your church misunderstands the relationship between the Old and New Covenants? Maybe…

Is it because your church wants you to be blessed? Maybe…

Is it because your church genuinely believes Christians should tithe? Probably…

It’s About Checking the Box

Regardless of your church’s motives (which may be more or less noble), I think the real root of the problem is that human nature always looks for some way to self-justify itself. We want a little box to check that says, “I’m okay with God because I… [fill in the blank].” We don’t want to depend solely on the unmerited grace of God. We’re uncomfortable with casting ourselves upon His mercy. We’re all tempted to feel that somehow the cross of Christ needs just a little help from us if God is really going to love us and accept us.

(Sound like you? Yeah, me too.)

I’m like the Pharisees Jesus rebuked. They added rule upon rule to define God’s Laws in such a way that could know that they know that they had checked all the boxes, and had therefore earned God’s acceptance. But isn’t that just a nice way of saying, “God, you owe me?”

I’m like the Christians in Galatia Paul rebuked. They wanted to add Law-keeping as a condition of being a Christian. But Paul wrote to them angrily, telling them that if they did so, they were abandoning the gospel and forfeiting the grace of God (Galatians 1:6-7).

How Your Church Got This Way

But, tithing seems like a pretty worthy check box, doesn’t it? After all, it takes money to support the mission of the gospel, right? So, at some point in America’s history well before your great-grandfather’s time, a few preachers added tithing (and a bunch of other stuff, too) to the spiritual check-list. Then after months and years and generations of checking the box, tithing came to seem, in many of our churches, part of the gospel itself, even though it actually veils the gospel and robs you of the spiritual freedom Jesus died to secure.

Don’t get me wrong. Many Christians tithe and know that tithing doesn’t boost their standing before God. But many Christians and Churches don’t.

Even if you attend a church that teaches stewardship (not tithing), if you asked how to know when you’re giving enough, your leaders will probably hold up the tithe as an example, or a “minimum standard,” saying that in the New Testament everything is elevated. (Not true, by the way. Jesus’ teaching represents a return to God’s true intent in the moral laws of the Old Covenant. Anyway…)

So, What Do You Do?

All this leaves you in a rough spot, doesn’t it? You love Jesus. You’re thrilled to be redeemed and loved by God. You want to give. You want to please God with your giving. You just feel like you need a standard, and the only one your Church tells you about is the tithe – “Just do it.”

There Is A Biblical Standard

But, there is a Biblical standard in the New Covenant, a standard that Jesus and His Apostles taught. And that’s what I’ll talk about in my next post on this subject.

Until then, let me leave you with this thought:

If you are in Christ, God doesn’t love you because of anything you have done or will do. He doesn’t accept you because you checked a box. He doesn’t love you more because you put a tithe in the offering this week. He doesn’t love you less because you didn’t. If you are in Christ, He loves you always and only because of what Christ has done for you.

That’s because God is great; even if your church is average.

Read Part 3 in this 3-part series.

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Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing (And Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About It)

This post is part 1 of a 3-part series on tithing and giving:

  1. Why the Apostles Didn’t Teach Tithing (And Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About It)
  2. Why Your Church Does Teach Tithing (And Why You Sometimes Feel Guilty About It)
  3. What Jesus & His Apostles Taught About Giving (And How You Can Find Joy in It)

Average Tithers

If you’re average like us, on any given Sunday you’ve put something in the offering plate as it passed that amounted to a tithe on your net (after tax) income, or a tithe on gross, or a super-size offering, or some random change, or five dollar bill, or 6% of your current income…

Or, nothing at all.

If you’re average like us, you’ve heard loads of pastors tell you that Christians are supposed to tithe (“Trust God!” “Step out in faith!” “Plant that seed!”), the implication being that “good” Christians tithe, and those who don’t, well…

If you’re average like us, you’ve had your share of financial ups and downs (due to emergencies, or job loss, or a blown engine or poor management, or just plain being too materialistic, or lousy decision making, or all of the above in our case) where making a decision about what you could, should, would put in the plate on Sunday was a high-stress, angst-filled mental wrestling match.

And if you’re average like us, you’ve wrestled with feelings of guilt when you didn’t tithe, and maybe even some secret, self-righteous pride when you did.

If you’re average like us, you’re blessed to attend a church that emphasizes stewardship – the wise management of all your resources for God’s kingdom – over tithing. But tithing still hangs around in your mind as this minimum standard good Christians have to meet – like the first jump for a high jumper. Miss it, and you’re out of the competition.

Are you average like us? Yes? Then you’ve wrestled with the same questions, doubts, guilt, presumption and pride we have.

Tell you what. Let’s figure this out together starting in Genesis, shall we?

Tithe barn at Guiting Power, Gloucestershire

Tithe barn at Guiting Power, Gloucestershire

A Little Biblical History

The first tither was Abraham, who gave a tenth of the spoils of war to a mysterious priest/king named Melchizedek in Genesis 14:20. We don’t read that Abraham was commanded to give that tithe; apparently it was just part of the ancient near-east cultural norms and Melchizedek blessed him for doing it.

Four hundred plus years later, when God established His covenant with Israel after the exodus from Egypt, He commanded the Jews to give a tithe of their produce to support the Priests and Levites since they were not to receive any property when the Promised Land was divided up among the tribes of Israel (Numbers 18).

Fast forward another thousand years or so, and the prophet Malachi brought God’s charge against Israel that they were breaking His covenant and robbing Him (yikes!) by not giving the tithes for the Priests and Levites. Malachi challenged Israel to repent and see how God would bless them if they renewed their obedience to the tithing regulations of God’s covenant with them.

Now jump forward another four hundred-ish years to Jesus, who gave the Pharisees (whom he was berating) a backhanded compliment for tithing their herbs and spices. And then…

Nothing.

As in, no other teaching on tithing any where in the New Testament. Zip. Nada. Nothing from Jesus. Nothing from Paul, Peter, John, Jude or James. Not one word.

Why?

Because tithing isn’t an obligation of the New Covenant in Christ.

Now, before you take up pitchforks and torches, lemme ‘splain Lucy…

Jesus instituted a New Covenant when He shared His last Passover meal with the twelve disciples. He broke the bread. He passed the cup. Whenever you partake in Communion you are saying, “I am part of the New Covenant God made with Christ’s followers.” Whenever you hear the gospel – that your sins are forgiven because Jesus has done for you what you could not do for yourself (i.e., pay the penalty for your sins and live to tell about it) – you are hearing the central message and blessing of the New Covenant.

The Gospel Goes Multi-Ethnic

Okay, so there’s no question that the Old Covenant administered through Moses was made with the Jews only, right? If an Egyptian or a Moabite wanted in on the blessings of that Covenant, he had to become a Jew and submit to it’s obligations – Ten Commandments, circumcision, tithing to support the priesthood, not eating pork – everything. But, the apostles Peter and Paul quickly figured out that the New Covenant administered by Jesus was for both Jews and non-Jews (like AverageUs). They understood that the blessing of the gospel of Christ, this New Covenant in His blood, was for all nations.

But this, raised a critical question for the early church leaders: If the New Covenant includes non-Jews, were non-Jews obligated to keep any part of the Old Covenant?

Put yourself in Peter’s place. You’re a Jewish fisherman. You were born under the Old Covenant and lived with an obligation to keep the Law of Moses all your life. Jesus called you to follow Him. After His resurrection, you finally get what Jesus has been trying to drum into your head for three years. It’s about redemption for anyone who believes. Now you’re the leader of the church. And now, Gentiles want in. They weren’t born under the Old Covenant. They’ve never kept the Law. Do they have to become Jews before they can become Christians? Do they have to keep the Old Covenant laws to enjoy the blessing of the New Covenant? Is this like baseball where you have to tag first before you can go to second?

And The Answer Is…

A resounding NO. The Jewish church leaders got together to discuss the matter and their conclusion was simple: Non-Jews mustn’t be forced to keep a law that we Jews have failed to keep ourselves (Acts 15:10). Instead, they gave a few instructions that Gentile followers of Christ should not eat food offered to idols or meat that hadn’t been properly butchered, and should shun all forms of sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). No requirement to be circumcised. No requirement to tithe.

In fact, in all the letters the apostles wrote to both Jews and Gentiles which explained how to live a gospel-driven, Christ-centered life, not once did they teach tithing. They taught on every conceivable subject related to Christian living: church order, prayer, spiritual growth, church discipline, leadership qualifications, worship, personal ministry, marriage, parenting. They even taught on subjects that might logically lead to a discussion of tithing like work and charity.

In short, the Apostles had every opportunity to teach the fledgling churches that they must tithe, but they didn’t. Why? Because they viewed tithing as an obligation of the Old Covenant, a covenant that Gentiles never were a part of, a covenant that Christ replaced with another, better covenant with His church.

Our Conclusions, Until the Next Post…

Christians are not obligated to tithe. (No Guilt!) Tithing is not a mark of a “good” Christian. (No Pride!) God is not displeased with a Christian merely because s/he doesn’t tithe. God is not pleased with a Christian merely because s/he does tithe. These conclusions are, we think, in harmony with the gospel.

Ah, but this doesn’t answer all of your questions, does it?

But you’re tired of reading this anyway, right?

So, let’s continue another time, shall we? For now, we’ll just hint that the New Covenant has it’s own obligations – one that touches on the subjects of giving and charity and stewardship.

If you have a specific question about tithing, leave a comment and AverageUs will try to address it next time.

Dawn and I sincerely hope this helps some of you to experience the freedom of the gospel in a new way. Be blessed.

Read Part 2 in this 3-part series.

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