I read an article recently about a woman in Florida who was sent a $1000 collection notice from her church. Unbeknownst to the single mother of two, the $1000 is a required yearly donation to remain “a member in good standing.” (I will provide a link to the full article). This annual donation is on top of the required monthly donations and other special donations the church requires for members and their children to pay. As I read this article, I felt sickened in my spirit to see a church resort to such tactics. In the church today, it is common place for tithing to be required of church members and often, new members pledge their financial support in front of the pastor and congregation.
Before I go further let me state that I am not arguing whether or not Christians should tithe because what you give to the Lord is and should be between you and the Lord only. I am examining tithing in its Old Testament context and if it applies to the church today.
The Tithe was never about money
“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord…And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, or whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.” (Leviticus 27:30, 32, NKJV, emphasis mine).
“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year.” (Deuteronomy 14:22, NKJV).
“As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. And the children of Israel and Judah, who dwelt in the cities of Judah, brought the tithe of oxen and sheep; also the tithe of holy things which were consecrated to the Lord their God they laid in heaps.” (2 Chronicles 31:5-6, NKJV).
In fact, Deuteronomy 12:6-7 and 14:23 mention that the tithe was to be eaten at the Holy Place God would choose (i.e. the Tabernacle or Temple). The only time tithing is associated with money in the Old Testament is Deuteronomy 14:23-27, where if a person’s tithe is too much for them to make the trip to the Holy Place, they can sell it for money then travel to the Holy Place. Once they arrive at the Holy Place, then that person can purchase what they want to make a sacrifice to the Lord.
The Tithe served a specific purpose
“Then the Lord said to Aaron: You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel. Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of the meeting.” (Numbers 18:20-21, NKJV, emphasis mine).
“And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered.” (Nehemiah 12:44, NKJV, emphasis mine).
Thus, by studying these Scriptures, we see that the purpose of the tithe was to support the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament. The tribe of Levi received no allotment of the Promise Land, for the tribe of Levi was set aside to serve the Lord and the tithes took care of them since they had neither land to farm nor livestock to raise. Those who believe and teach in a replacement theology state that since Israel rejected Christ, the church has then taken the place of Israel and all of Israel’s promises in the Old Testament now apply to the church. However, there is no Scriptural basis for such a theology. It is this replacement theology has been used by many churches to require its members to tithe “to support the ministry.” Also, even Old Testament tithing went beyond the required 10 percent as Deuteronomy 14:28 and 26:12 discuss a tithe given every three years for the Levites, the strangers, the orphans, and the widows. The Israelites were also expected to give during festivals as well, so Old Testament tithing could have exceeded twenty to thirty percent, beyond the required ten percent.
Tithing before the Law
There are two passages of Scripture in Genesis that are used to justify Christian tithing, as the events took place before God issued the Law to Israel- Genesis 14:20 and Genesis 28:22. In Genesis 14, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was kidnapped and Abraham lead a group of men to go and rescue Lot. On the way back, Abraham met a priest name Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham. Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all of the spoils he received when he rescued Lot (Genesis 14:20 and Hebrews 7:1-4). This is the only time in the story of Abraham that it states Abraham gave a tithe. Abraham gave out of the spoils of war, not out of his personal possessions. Abraham gave a tithe after Melchizedek spoke a blessing over him. Scripture does not say Melchizedek demanded a tithe nor does it state this was a required practice of the day. Just from this one instance, it is difficult to build a doctrine or requirement for the New Testament church.
Before his life changing encounter with God, Jacob was known as a deceiver- cheating his brother, Esau, out of his birthright and his blessing. Jacob is on the run from Esau and he camps out at Bethel. Jacob had a dream and God confirmed his covenant with Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, to Jacob. Jacob woke up and made a vow to God:
“If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:20-22, NKJV).
Jacob’s vow was conditional upon God doing His part. Jacob said “If God does this, then I will do this.” The Bible warns us about making vows that we cannot fulfill or have no intention of fulfilling, thus, the vow Jacob made was for Jacob’s situation and should not be intended to be made a doctrine.
If you have attended a church in the United States for any length of time, I am sure you have heard Malachi 3:8-10 taught before the offering is taken up or during a sermon on giving. Unfortunately, these verses have been used to both encourage the health and wealth of the prosperity teaching while at the same time bringing condemnation into the life of the believer.
“Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, In what way have we robbed You? In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this, Says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:8-10, NKJV).
If we read these verses in the proper context, it clearly shows that Malachi 3:8-10 is not intended for the church or for individual believers. In the Book of Malachi, God is rebuking the Levitical priesthood for making improper animal sacrifices. According to the Law, an animal sacrifice had to be perfect, free of physical defects and deformities. However, these priest were sacrificing these defected animals. In the first three chapters of Malachi, the intended audience is addressed as “Levi”, “Levites,” or “priests,” and not the nation of Israel (See Malachi 1:6, 2:1, 2:4, 2:7, 2:8, and 3:3).
What does New Testament giving look like?
The dichotomy of Law and Grace is as old as the church itself. As our Lord Jesus, the Apostles, and the first generation of believers were Jewish, the issue of keeping the Law and salvation became a hot topic when the Gentile believers came into the church. The issue was eventually settled in what is known as “The Jerusalem Decree,” which stated in part: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” (Acts 15:28-29, NKJV). Those four items mentioned were all that the Jerusalem church required for Gentile believers. Both the Old Testament and New Testament are clear that one must follow the entire Law. If one part of the Law is broken, then the whole Law is broken. The Law, then is an all or nothing proposition and we are not free to choose which parts we follow as believers. Thus, if the church is going to keep the Law of tithing, then we must keep the other parts of the Law. Nowhere in the Gospels did Jesus demand a tithe nor did the Apostles in their letters to the churches.
Even the Law made exceptions in giving and offerings. If someone did not have the animal needed for a certain sin offering, they could substitute it with another animal. If a farmer had only nine cattle, he was exempt from the tithe. This carries over to the New Testament as well, as Paul discusses in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 concerning an offering the Corinthians were taking up for another church.
“For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack-that there may be equality.” (2 Corinthians 8:12-14, NKJV).
“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8, NKJV).
As Christians, just as we have surrendered our hearts to Christ, so our heart must be in our giving. If your church teaches that you tithe out of obligation, where is the joy in giving? If you see paying your tithes to God as you would pay a creditor, where is the blessing? If you are living on a tight budget or in poverty, how will you take care of your family’s needs if you give away what you do not have or what you cannot afford to give? I have been in these situations myself, I speak from experience, not bitterness. If you come under condemnation because your tithe had to go to an unexpected expense, where is the grace? God has given us the precious gift of His Son and our salvation, a gift we cannot pay back with material possessions, but only with our lives. How can churches and pastors require a monetary donation to stay “in good standing with Him?” How can we have a victorious church if everyone has been browbeaten into believing that they have robbed God and God will not hear their prayers? How can the church teach that because of Christ we have a better covenant with better promises and yet hold onto the old covenant? (Read Hebrews 7). If God has blessed you where you can give financially without taking away from your family needs or shirking on your financial obligations, then do so if He draws upon your heart. If you do not have the money to tithe, give yourself to the Lord. Volunteer your time, buy groceries for a needy family, or help the sick and elderly in your community. The church is more than a building or a group of people- you are the church. God bless you.
As promised, here is the link to the original article: