Please note: When I speak against the “teaching” of the tithe, I am specifically talking about someone teaching Christians that God expects them to tithe. I am not talking about teaching about how God gave Moses laws requiring Old Testament Jews to tithe and some of the principles we can learn from that.
Before I stopped attending traditional church, I had a vigorous discussion with my then pastor about tithing. The point under discussion was whether or not it should be commanded in the church. You may have read some of the fruit of this discussion in another blog I wrote at the time, entitled “The Law & Christian Giving.”
The purpose of this post is economy. What’s the bottom line on tithing, the short version? The fact of the matter is that teaching or commanding churchgoers to tithe is putting them under Law. The New Covenant nowhere commands believers to tithe, though believers are simply expected to give, which should come as no surprise. With the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, what believer is not excited to give?
Perhaps you go to a church in which tithing is taught or commanded, and you have felt that it was wrong but weren’t quite sure what approach to take with church leadership on the subject. I will make two points that nail the case shut on commanding the tithe. After all I went through discussing this, I would recommend you start and end here. If your church leaders refuse to see these points, I doubt anything else will move them.
The first point is made in 2 Corinthians 9:
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
The NIV translates “of necessity” as “under compulsion,” for a little added clarity. Does not teaching or commanding the tithe put people “under compulsion” and require them to give out “of necessity?” Of course it does. It certainly gives people the false understanding that God needs their money and that they “had better be obedient or else…” If you compel people to give, especially a specific percentage of their money, it becomes much more difficult for them to obey the verse above. So which covenant shall we follow?
The second point which buries teaching or commanding the tithe is more subtle, yet equally convincing. Many church leaders, including my former pastor, defend teaching or commanding the tithe using Matthew 23:23, in which Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. (Matthew 23:23)
While there is the first point that, at that time, the Jews were actually still under the Old Covenant Mosaic Law (thus requiring Jesus to endorse the command to tithe); there is another point that at first escaped my notice regarding Jesus’ statement here and the modern application of it.
Let’s continue reading what Jesus said:
Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. (Matthew 23:24-26)
When is the last time your pastor solemnly addressed the congregation and said, “Look, people. One of our duties as Christians is to give all our cups and dishes a ceremonial washing, OK? If you don’t, you’re violating the command of Jesus, because he endorsed it right here in Matthew 23:25!”
Never heard that? Hmm, I wonder why. But of course, you probably have heard this: “Look, people. One of our duties as Christians is to tithe, OK? If you don’t, you’re violating the command of Jesus, because he endorsed it right here in Matthew 23:23!” Does the ridiculousness of this argument make sense now? I hope so. No one today seems to have a problem seeing that ceremonially washing cups and dishes is Old Covenant Law that we no longer need to obey, even though Jesus clearly commanded the Pharisees to do it in the above passage (even though he is obviously speaking metaphorically of matters of the heart). But jump up two verses, and everything changes. Suddenly, a much less forceful command (“without leaving the others undone” – hardly a ringing edict) is heralded as “Jesus Christ Commands All Believers to Tithe.”
What could possibly be the motivation for such a double-standard? In the secular world, when there is a scandal or mystery, people often say, “Follow the money, and you’ll get to the bottom of that.” I contend that the same is true in this case. Pastors understand that the tithe pays their salary. It also pays for all their pet programs, ministries, and building projects. The sad thing is that simple faith in the Lord to provide by moving in the hearts of His people to give has been severely damaged by this error, an error which frankly reeks of Roman Catholic influence. (See Exodus 36:3-7 for an inspiring example of what can happen when people are allowed to give freely, as the Lord leads, and not under compulsion.)
I pray that you take seriously the error of churches teaching or commanding the tithe today, because it points to a much larger misunderstanding of the reality of the New Covenant; and it potentially points to other issues such as greed, lack of faith, and lusts of the eyes and the flesh in church leaders who directly benefit from tithes. It should go without saying that these are all issues which demand corrective action from vigilant laypeople, if they desire to see God’s Church walk in faith and see His Word honored.