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Monday, 14 February 2011

Yesterday’s tithing is today’s taxation

The international Gideons’ organisation, has a local camp which I belong to in the Northern Beaches of Sydney. We are gearing up for the annual district convention, when a couple hundred Gideons (that includes spouses) descend on our camp from around New South Wales. Among other things, we share what God has been doing among us, as we place Scriptures in schools, hospitals, hotels, and so on – in fact, in all the ‘traffic lanes of life.’

It’s my job to motivate my brothers to try to obtain speaking ‘pulpit’ spots on the Sunday of the Convention w/e, in the 50+ churches which are situated in our area. In preparing for this, I have been getting to know some of our churches a little better. I have noticed in getting alongside my brothers in the charismatic movement, that a large part of their financial success in ministry stems from their strong teaching on tithing, which is presented as a mandatory discipline for every church member. One local minister (1) recently gave me a little book he has written, which sets out the need for tithing, to inter al. support the minister. I have been studying the topic in the light of his book. Also just nearby, we have the local campus of the Christian City Churches (c3) at Oxford Falls, founded by Phil Pringle. It is now a powerful and growing movement, with a global reach involving several hundred congregations.

Three Sundays ago, Phil was talking to ‘church’ about tithing. I viewed this via a video clip on their website. Phil said, in effect, that giving a tenth (‘tithe’) is a sacred principle of Christian self-discipline. This principle should not be touched, that is, should not be questioned -- any more than Adam and Eve had the right to question God’s command not to touch the tree in the middle of the garden, in Genesis 3! I ask myself, does this insistence stand up to a close Biblical examination as to what the Bible teaches about motives and methods of giving?

To answer this question, we should not appeal to “authorities’ for an answer, because some godly men have taught it as mandatory, while others flat-out deny its authority. For example, Arthur Pink wrote a very clear brief for tithing (2), and the British Evangelist Tom Rees promoted it strongly, saying “The Sabbath was given by God . . . . In every age God has demanded one-seventh of man’s time. . . . . The Lord’s Day and the Lord’s tithe stand or fall together . . . . The New Testament assumes that all . . . obedient Christians will. . set aside at least . . one-tenth of their income for the Lord.” (3) If this statement is true, it has the force of law for the Christian. It follows that if the church member fails to reserve a tenth of his weekly income and to set it by store (into the local church’s funds), he is being disobedient to a clear command of Scripture.

Now, if it were so clear – that it is a timeless law to be obeyed, why is there not unity among Christian writers and teachers, to that effect? Disobedience to a God-given clear command is a serious sin. In contrast to Arthur Pink's approach, John MacArthur explains in Giving: God’s Way (4) that nowhere in the New Testament are we taught such a commandment as the need to tithe. Whereas, if it is a commandment, it should have been clearly taught at some point after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to indwell the believer (Rom. 8:9). The fact is, it was merely a Mosaic Requirement and had a temporary effect only, eventually giving way to a larger commandment, as CS Lewis (5) expressed it in his book Mere Christianity

I do not believe one can settle how much he ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than you can spare.

If you believe that tithing is a timeless principle – and therefore applicable today – then you presumably believe the pre-Mosaic instances of tithing establish this principle. Let's look at them; there are two instances:

(a) Gen 14: 20. Abram gave a tenth (“tithe”) of the spoils of war to the King of Salem (Melchizedek), who had blessed Abram for his victory over the five Kings, and had also been a passive supporter of Abraham’s war;

b) Gen 28:22 Jacob promised God a tenth of all his possessions if He brought him safely home from Haran, after having to flee to avoid the nasty consequences of his deceiving his brother Esau. These are the only places where tithing is mentioned, pre-Moses.

Tithing was practised all over the ancient world, from Egypt to Mesopotamia and beyond. In every case, it had a religious connection, but nowhere in the OT does it suggest tithing was specifically revealed by God. Where Scripture is silent, we should be silent. It was a means of State taxation upon Israel and in other nations, as a way of maintaining whatever the established religion was, at a particular time and place.

In these two cases, MacArthur sets out (4) what was going on:

When Abram saw God’s representative, he naturally wanted to express thanks to God for the victory. So, what did he do? “He gave tithes of all” (v. 20). Did God tell him to give a tenth? No. it was spontaneous. . . . In fact, this is the only recorded time he ever gave a tithe during his 160 years on earth. . . . And it was free, voluntary, totally motivated by his heart, not by divine command. He chose to give. And he gave what was common to give, a tenth, representative of his giving all that he had.” P 56 - 57.

Abram wanted to say ‘thank you’ to Melchizedek, for his blessing and support. He did it in the conventional way. It was taken out of the spoils, and it was not a tithe of his regular income.

As to Jacob at Bethel:

“Do you realise that Jacob was really trying to do [in Gen. 28:20-22]? He was trying to bribe God. “Hey, God, give me a safe trip [and bread and clothes], and I’ll let you be my God. I’ll even build an altar and give you a tenth of everything I have. . . . . The offering was completely voluntary. There was no obligation, and in fact . . . in this case the tithe was displeasing to God because of the reason Jacob gave it . . . . Abraham and Jacob were not conforming to divine fiat, but were namely giving a tenth as a symbol of giving all. There is no case for tithing as a pre-Mosaic requirement of God.”(4)

The tithe was not actually giving at all, any more than when we leave money to someone in a will, we have given it. No, it was taken from us and we simply ensured it got steered in a particular direction. So, the tithe was a form of taxation, whilst voluntary gifts are called “offerings” - hence the expression: “tithes and offerings.” The first was an involuntary tax to meet the needs of Israel as a nation State; the second was a gift to God in thanks for His goodness and merciful kindnesses. As MacArthur points out, if we are going to teach tithing as a standard of giving, then we had better set the benchmark where the Old Testament sets it, at approx. 25%! Study it, and see if this is not correct! The 25% is made up as follows: There was (a) a tithe to support the Levites’, Lev 27:30, plus (b) a festival tithe (tenth). This was in the form of produce taken to Jerusalem, which was to be eaten by the worshipper’s family, friends, servants and the priests in the sanctuary. It was a kind of ‘community tax,’ Deut 12:10-18; and, (c) every third year (on an annual basis, that’s 1/3rd of a tenth) there was a welfare tithe, to support the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, Deut. 14:28. That’s 23+%. In addition to all that, there was an additional Temple tax at certain times, Neh. 10:32-33; and a Sabbath rest imposed on the land every seven years, when all debts had to be cancelled, Exod. 23:10-11. (4)

Again, John MacArthur (4) helpfully explains this: the New Testament parallel to the tithe is not our setting money by store into the local church fund (1 Cor. 16: 2) but it is akin to paying taxes to the government of the day - this has the very same effect as when Israel paid the tithe to its theocratic government. The action glorifies God, because we honour His servants. Yes, they are His servants!!

For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. KJV Romans 13:6

Paying taxes ‘does us good,’ like taking medicine. Why? It makes us realise our weakness, and how much we love money! So, the Apostle says, Rom 13:1- 6 “He is the minister of God to thee for good.” (v. 4). The tithe has nothing to do with giving. It has everything to do with taking! But, the Scriptures are clear that whether the Government is wise in its spending or not, taxes (“tribute”) must be paid in full.

In conclusion, take a look at MacArthur’s ten principles of giving:

• Giving is investing with God.
• Giving is to be sacrificial
• Giving is not only a matter of what we have, but a matter of the heart.
• If you can’t handle money, you can’t handle spiritual riches either.
• The amount given is between you and God.
• Giving is to be in response to need.
• Giving is to demonstrate love not law.
• Giving is to be planned.
• Giving is to be generous.
• Giving always results in God’s blessing.

First, we may give into the church as a response to teaching, which says, “This is what you must do! – give at least ten per-cent!” But, in doing this we might well say, “But, I have already given over 30% to the taxman – you’re going to have to make do with rather less, as a result!” Ah, yes, but think of that 30% (or whatever) as your obligatory tithe to the State, like Israel’s tithe to its government. Alternatively, when it comes to giving to maintain the Church fellowship, to promote evangelism and cross-cultural mission, then we should respond to teaching which says, “The LORD deserves everything we have (left!), so let’s give more than we can spare!” If we do it the first way, we will lose the reward that comes from giving willingly (1 Cor. 9:17). It's all too easy to give reluctantly, out of a mere duty to obey a legal code. “Ah, well! I’d better be obedient!” Whereas God said through Paul:

KJV 2 Corinthians 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

If we do it the other way, we may be very conscious we are ‘giving more than we can spare.’ This is when we give in such a way that we know we are going to have to go without that fancy holiday, or that new jacket, or that DVD movie-series, and so on.

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, is reported to have said, in words to this effect,

A man may be consecrated, but still undisciplined in his habits and life-style. And the last area of his life to be entirely handed over to the LORD is his bank account.

Perhaps that’s why many Christian leaders revert to a Mosaic legalistic approach, so the church coffers will be filled, regardless! Maybe it’s much easier to appeal to a legal code, than appeal to the sacrificial love of “the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20). He gave Himself at the Cross so that He could - as the saying goes - pay a debt He did not owe, to satisfy the debt we owe, which we will never be able to pay!

In conclusion, the Apostle Paul said, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thess 5:21). So, don't take my word for it. Let's study it direct from the Bible, and ask God the Holy Spirit to enlighten us further, as to what should be our motives and methods, as we think through this sensitive area of the Christian life.

1. Appel, T.W. (2004) Father's financial favour. CA: Christian Services Network. p/b
2. Pink, Arthur W. (1981) Tithing, MT: Gospel Mission Press
3. Rees, Tom, (n.d.) Money Talks, Hildenborough Hall,
4. MacArthur, John F. (1981) Giving: God’s Way, ILL: Tyndale. Pp. 56-57; 57-58; 60 -64; 82 - 101.
5. Lewis, Clive S. (1952) Mere Christianity, Lon: Fontana