Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: Insight for Living on Tithing

One of the most outspoken critics of the pro-tithe position is Russell Kelly, PHD. You can find his site by clicking here. This site is very thorough and goes into great detail.

One of the things I appreciate about the site is the quotes he includes from recognized church leaders such as J. Vernon McGee, Walter Elwell, and (to a lesser extent) James Kennedy.

Here is an excerpt from an email by a representative for Insight for Living about the ministry and Swindoll's position on tithing:

Insight for Living, October 15, 2007

... Chuck believes that the tithe was part of the Law, not New Testament teaching.

...We are not under the Law.

The New Testament doesn’t teach tithing or how often we are to gather as a church.

...Under the Law of Moses tithing was an obligation, not an option. It meant paying a precise percentage of one’s goods, produce or income to the Lord. ... Merrill Unger helps up sort it all out in his Unger’s Bible Dictionary [Dallas/Moody] and I encourage you to read the entire article.

...The [Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord, Dallas] cautions us about using [Malachi 3:10] to support church giving. ... While not requiring a tithe of believers today, the New Testament does speak of God’s blessing on those who give generously to the needs of the church.

The New Testament does not command church members to tithe like Jews in the Old Testament. The people in the early church did not tithe per se but they did give regularly to the work of the ministry following the principle of the tithe. We find several references to special offerings for specific projects (2 Cor 8 & 9) that were given in addition to the early Christian’s normal pattern of giving. So, although they weren’t required to give a specific percent of their income they were giving regularly.

Under the New Covenant giving is a matter of the heart, not percentages. ...

Still the answer remains, how much should we give? The answer is this, As much as the Spirit leads. The percentage and frequency of our giving ought to be a personal matter between each person and the Lord. Ten percent may be a good amount for you. Certainly the Lord considered ten percent a fair amount for the Hebrews. But the Lord may lead you to give less or more. ...

Church leaders who pressure you to give a certain amount are robbing you of the joy of being a cheerful giver. They are putting you under compulsion and making you feel guilty, which is not the way God wants us to give. As a member of Stonebriar Community Church, where Chuck is the Senior Pastor, I have not heard Church try to manipulate people or use guilt as a motivation. In fact I have not heard him preach on the tithe as a rule for giving. He has taught that giving as the Spirit leads is the way to approach it.

So while Chuck feels we are not obligated to tithe like the Israelites under the law, the principle of systematic giving is a good idea for all Christians. ...

I think those who continually preach the tithe are being manipulative. It is the Holy Spirit who directs our living and that includes our giving. They are not the Holy Spirit. We are not under the Law. ... I am glad that Chuck preaches grace giving from the heart.

Warmly in Christ
Graham M Lyons, Pastor

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: WWJD - What Would Jesus Donate?

As if we don't have enough schisms and labels these days, there's a growing group of people who call themselves "Red-letter Christians", meaning they only concern themselves with the things Jesus said in the Bible. I think this is silly, but I admit that, while the writings of Paul and the other New Testament writers are equally inspired by the Holy Spirit, I can see why special weight would be given to the One upon whom everything is founded.

So what did Jesus have to say about our pet topic of tithing? Surprisingly little, yet much has been made of it. And I'll need to warn you - I get just a wee bit upset. His words have been twisted and mangled like a secondary character in one of those Saw movies to support the pro-tithing position, violating the most rudimentary principles of Bible interpretation and simple logic.

There are only two instances where Jesus mentioned tithing: Matthew 23:23 (and the parallel passage in Luke 11:42) and Luke 18:12. Let's take a look . . .

Mat 23:23
(23) "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

I actually heard this verse read recently at a church service right before the offering was taken. The pulpiteer read the verse and then said, "See, tithing is still for today." The pro-tithe teaching on this verse takes the part where Jesus says, ". . . without neglecting the former." (referring to the tithe) and uses that to say that Jesus approves of tithing - or at least that He says to not neglect it.

What ignorance! Do they really expect us to believe that Jesus was commending the Pharisees for their scrupulous tithing practices?!!? I'll guarantee you that the Pharisees did not leave that meeting feeling like Jesus had just given them a gold star. They recognized that they had just been spit-slapped by this uneducated friend-of-sinners, and they were none too happy about it.

Listen, of course they were supposed to be tithing - they were still under the Mosaic law! Jesus confirmed this in the passage, ". . . you have neglected the more important matters of the law . . .". As we discussed in an earlier post, Christians are not obligated to the law, and are sternly warned against allowing themselves to be brought back under it. Paying tithes was the Pharisees' duty. To overlook this and misinterpret the passage to say that Christians are obligated to tithe reveals one of two things: an ignorance even greater than that of your typical National Inquirer subscription holder, or a bias for a particular doctrine that has seriously skewed the preacher's interpretation.

As an aside, Jesus was referring to the Pharisees' practice of tithing their spices - not money. This was an extreme variation on the Old Testament tithe which, by the way, never required money. Look it up - it was all agricultural product. If your pastor insists on using this passage to defend his position on tithing, start putting some paprika or lemon zest from your spice rack into the tithe envelope . . .

Now let's look at Luke 18:12 in its context:
Luk 18:9-14
(9) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:
(10) "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
(11) The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.
(12) I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
(13) "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven,
but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
(14) "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
First of all, notice that tithing is mentioned in this context (as well as in the passge discussed previously) as part of a rebuke of the Pharisees' self-righteousness. The only two times Jesus mentions the tithe is to use it to illustrate the hypocrisy of the religious elite - doesn't this bother the tithe advocates?

Notice also that the only one of the two who went away justified was the non-tither (I'll admit to getting a kind of perverse pleasure out of that!). The only one who truly got anything out of church that day - who truly touched heaven - was the one who ignored the offering plate and did real business with God.

Incidentally, the Pharisee also fasted twice a week. Where are the sermons about the importance of fasting in the life of a Christian? Few and far between. Must not fit the agenda . . .

Luther. Martin (Sermon; August 27, 1525)
“But the other commandments of Moses, which are not [implanted in all men] by nature, the Gentiles do not hold. Nor do these pertain to the Gentiles, such as the tithe..."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: The Abrahamic Fallacy

Here's the story: In Genesis 14, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are sacked and looted, and Abram's nephew, Lot (who was living in Sodom), was taken captive. Abram (soon to be renamed Abraham) caught wind of this and went out to rescue his nephew. Abraham was successful and brought back everything that was stolen, along with all the people who were captured. When he returns, he is greeted by the king of Sodom and Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. Melchizedek blesses Abraham, and Abraham gives him a tenth of all (the book of Hebrews says he gave a tenth of the spoils of the battle).

Now (buckle your seatbelts - we're going on a twisty, windy road), since this story takes place some 400 years before the law of Moses is given, the tithe advocates are able to say that when the law was fulfilled and cancelled at the cross, it did not cancel tithing because tithing existed outside of the law.

Furthermore, since Jesus is referred to as a priest in the order of Melchizedek and Christians are children of Abraham, we are to tithe to Jesus just as Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (this tithe is to be collected and administered by your local neighborhood church administrative board, finance committee, and council members). The conclusion reached by the tithe teacher is that Abraham's tithe to Melchizedek seems to teach us that tithing is meant to be a continuing part of the New Testament Christian's life.

This kind of jigsaw hermeneutics can be very convincing and has developed quite a following. In fact, it is the strongest argument the tithe teachers have. But the problem is that Abraham's tithe looks nothing like the tithe the local church requires today. Let's take a closer look at Abraham's tithe:

Bad Bible study principles
Every first-year seminary student learns that Old Testament narratives cannot be used to establish doctrine, only to illuminate or illustrate a doctrine clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. As we discussed in an earlier post, Christians are never taught to tithe - NEVER. When expositing an Old Testament story, the student must determine the purpose for that story. In this case, we are given the purpose of this story in Hebrews 7. This story is used to illustrate the truth that Jesus (a priest in the order of Melchizedek) is greater than Abraham and the entire Levitical priesthood. The Jews needed to understand this because they were still holding to the Old Testament traditions and commands that were made obsolete at the cross.

Tithing was a cultural offering that existed in many cultures
The practice of giving a tenth to a reigning monarch was not new, neither was it unique to the Jewish people. This was a common practice at the time among cultures as disparate as the Greeks, Chinese, Arabians, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians: when one entered the realm of a king, one was expected to give a tithe of his possessions to that king - presumably one-tenth was the standard because it made the math easy to calculate on the fingers. It's very possible that this custom is the reason for Abraham's tithe - notice that the tithe is not mentioned as being connected to worshipping God (as in an offering) - the only one mentioned worshipping is Melchizedek.

One time gift
Abraham is never recorded as having ever tithed again. And he's not recorded as having ever tithed before. Based on this, we cannot say that tithing was a defining element in his relationship with God (and as discussed previously, Abraham's tithe may not have even been an act of worship). Abraham is recorded as offering up sacrifices and burnt offerings (as acts of worship), but never a tithe.

The tithe-teacher likes to point to Jacob's tithe to show that the practice was common to Abraham's family - hey, Jacob had to learn it somewhere! But, again, the tithe to a monarch was a well-known, customary practice among many cultures in that day. Besides, Jacob is a very poor example of a willing, cheerful giver. Jacob promised to tithe (we're never told whether he actually did or not) if, and only if, God came through on certain demands. Today's tithe-pastor would cringe at teaching his congregation that practice. When have you ever heard a tithe-teacher tell you to lay out a set of conditions you want God to meet and then, if He does, give the church ten percent of whatever you have at that time?

Not out of personal possessions
Hebrews points out that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war. Abraham did not give a tenth of his personal wealth, even though he was a very wealthy man. This is a far cry from the church mandating you give ten percent of your regular paycheck every payday.

Quickly, I want to point out two real problems the tithe-teacher has to answer:

What about king of Sodom?
There's another character who plays a significant role in this story, but the king of Sodom gets forgotten in this whole discussion. The passage indicates that Abraham gave everything else to him because he didn't want it to be said that Sodom made him rich. What are we to do with that? Sodom was well-known as a wicked, immoral city and represents man's rebellion against God - that's why Abraham wanted nothing to do with the place. If this story is indeed teaching us that tithing is to remain a part of the Christian's life, what is it teaching us about the other ninety percent?

What about circumcision?
Abraham carried out circumcision as well - long before the law of Moses was given. If we are to argue that we are to tithe because tithing preceded the Law, we might as well pick up circumcision as well. Circumcision preceded the Law. But how did Paul and the other apostles respond to some people's insistence that circumcision was necessary for believers?

Gal 5:1-5
(1) Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
(2) Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.
(3) And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.
(4) You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
(5) For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

Based on the above, couldn't it be said that if you accept the law of tithing (just as circumcision), you are obligated to keep the entire law? Have you not then fallen from grace?

So, I say to you as well: Stand fast in the liberty that Christ has purchased for you! If you submit to this tithing nonsense, you take up the yoke of slavery again: Christ does not require a tithe from you.

Next, we'll take a look at what Jesus had to say about tithing . . .