The Church Should Stop Tithing

Dear Jack,

Okay, this letter heading is admittedly a bit deceiving, but you’ll see what I’m saying soon enough.  My point is that in recent conversations with clients, friends, and family, I’ve realized that the goal of giving a tithe (literally a “tenth”) has done violence to a biblical understanding of money.

First off, a few points of clarification.  The commandment to give a tithe isn’t found in the New Testament.  A tithe was given in the Old Testament, but even that wasn’t necessarily 10% of your income… it was more like 23.5%.  (Really it is – but that’s a whole other conversation).  The New Testament rather talks about giving generously and freely as the Lord/Spirit directs us to.  It’s about radical generosity, something that I wish the Church (big C) was universally known for.

According to a Pew study, the average church goer gives something like 2.3% of their income.  And so then, whatever giving amount we’re doing, if we strive to give a tithe (one tenth) of our income, what happens when we reach this?  From my conversations recently, it seems that this is the ultimate goal: to work up to giving 10% and capping out there.  If we’re in a job situation that provides an increasing amount of income, I’d sure hope that the 10% giving budget line increases incrementally with the top line income.  Giving $3,000 while earning $30,000 is much more of a sacrifice than giving $10,000 while earning $100,000.  As our income increases, so should our giving percentages (not just dollar amount).  I think we pigeon-hole ourselves when we have a goal to give a “tithe,” and I’ve found that the Church encourages this by constantly referring to financial giving as a tithe.

The idea of a tithe subconsciously relays to us that if we “give God 10%” that means we have the remaining 90% to ourselves.   This is a powerful concept, and one that often goes undetected.  God owns 100% of all that we own – not just the bones we throw back at him.  God owns everything, and he cares about what we do with this everything.  I’m not at all a proponent of the poverty or the prosperity gospel – I firmly believe with all of my heart that we can honor God equally with our wealth whether it’s through two dollars, or a few billion dollars.  I think oftentimes Christians give their tithe (or whatever percentage) and then check off their duty of seeking God’s direction with what to do with the rest.

So what are we to do?  Here’s a couple of ideas to hedge against falling into the dangers of pigeon-holing ourselves into a faulty understanding of tithing:

  1. Give radically.  Right now.  As in now.  Don’t wait till next year’s raise or until your retirement savings are started.  Decide to get radical with your giving.  Now.
  2. Give outside of your home church.  Find some charities that you really get excited about supporting and give to them.
  3. Keep some cash earmarked to give away.  As you see needs in front of you, give as prompted.  Don’t turn away a hungry mouth and say “You know what, I’m not sure if you’re going to buy alcohol with this – so I’m going to go home and pray about what I should do.”
  4. Pray about what to do with raises and unexpected income/gifts before you spend them.  I’m hesitant to paint with too broad of a brush, but I’m inclined to say that for each raise you receive through work, your giving percentage should increase.  Okay, I ended up saying it.  Do it.
  5. Don’t aim for 10%.  Don’t short change yourself (and Kingdom-building purposes) by aiming low and striving to give 10% of your income.  Start there – or higher – and see who can out give who: you or God.

Sincerely,
J.

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12 thoughts on “The Church Should Stop Tithing”

  1. The church should stop teaching and collecting the tithe, yes. What you’ve stated is true, but there is more.

    The Biblical tithe was NEVER on income. The tithe was ONLY on FOOD from crops and animals RAISED ON THE HOLY LAND (Leviticus 27:30-33). Those are assets that come from God’s hand, miracles of God, not income from man. The Israelite farmers did, in fact, have income from the sale and/or barter exchanged of their crops, but that income was never tithable.

    Next, God commanded that His tithe be taken to the Levites, forever (Numbers 18). God NEVER directed anyone to take His tithe or gifts to any pastor or church. God NEVER gave any pastor or church permission to receive His gifts or tithe.

    Giving to the church is NOT giving to God. However, giving to the poor IS giving to God. Jesus said so.

    1. Gary- thanks for the comment. You’ll have to tune in and weigh in again when I write a letter concerning my thoughts on the OT Tithe. I think circumstances have to be considered when making direct comparisons of assets vs income, and Levites vs church leaders.

      I’d definitely take issue with your last statement of “giving to the Church is not giving to God”, as I believe giving to God is inclusive of anything he’s using to redeem the world around us (including us), of which the Church is a big part of. A distinction between give/tithe is intentionally used in this instance.

      Thanks again for visiting the site.

  2. You’ve stated the issue and problems very well, Jeremy. I’m sure you already know I agree with you.

    As I wrote in my recent post on Bible Money Matters, I just can’t understand why the Church keeps focusing on the tithe as a standard for giving when we’ve got Jesus Christ showing us the ultimate example of generosity. Plus, I’m personally moved to much greater generosity when I consider what God has done for me and how He has called me to help the poor (and even my enemies). You’re not going to see anyone get emotional about how much tithing has loved them… (not that we should be ruled by emotions, but you see what I mean, right?)

    1. Amen, Paul. I really enjoyed that post on Bible Money Matters as well, by the way.

      And I do agree – I think that true stewardship can’t be understood until true grace is understood. God didn’t come to pay 10% of our sins, he came to pay 100% of them. I’m learning that it’s tough to grasp the concept that God owns it all until we truly realize that God paid it all.

      Great point on the concept of “how much tithing has loved them…”

      1. Glad you liked it, Jeremy! Your point about God paying it all is spot on. We can’t understand what it means to serve Him until we understand that it requires giving everything over to Him – not just 10%.

        You’ll hear that “God owns everything” when many people talk about tithing, but for some reason the concept of giving is never applied to anything but that first 10%.

  3. Thank you for this posting, I don’t attend church that much anymore for I feel that when the people see that you are not following the rules, they show there true colors. No matter how much you may give to the needs of the poor countries or the people in your communtiy that is not enough. Preachers seem to more concern on telling you how you are going to suffer by not paying that 10 percent. I have learned over the years from the age of 21 you have to studying or you will be truly misled either by ignorance or greed. Let us pray that one day eyes will be open to those preaching on tithing. I am care not to get into this with many for I never try to force my beliefs on anyone, I just pray for understanding that I may be able to give my children the understanding of what it mean to have relationship with God.

    Thanks again

    1. Mae –
      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear that you’re not worshiping with a church on a regular basis. It truly is a wonder how Jesus still perceives us as being beautiful amidst all of our flaws and dirtiness. I pray that you seek out a church that is healthy – not perfect, as those churches don’t exist, yet, but healthy. Giving is only a small portion of how we are to conduct our lives, and unfortunately it is can be overly focused on by some church leaders.

      I don’t think that people necessarily need to be part of a local church to walk with God, but I do believe it certainly helps them put one foot in front of the other on a daily basis. Thanks again for your comment, Mae.

  4. Jeremy, love the post…I think it’s amazing and sad to look at how little we Christians give…if we are to be “hilarious” givers, and then give so little, it seems that we don’t value God’s grace…at least the Israelites valued the Law by tithing…(23 1/3% on average per year)…

  5. Great post, Jeremy, just the sort of thing where you have profound and important insights.

    In one of your replies above, you wrote, “…giving to God is inclusive of anything he’s using to redeem the world around us (including us), of which the Church is a big part of. A distinction between give/tithe is intentionally used in this instance.”

    I would be very interested in more of your thoughts on this (perhaps another post sometime?). I find “giving” much easier and more fulfilling than “tithing.” I definitely give more to non-church charities than I do to my church itself.

    Also, where does “Christianly” consuming fit in to this? I try to use ALL my money in economically just ways. That’s why (for instance) I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, and support local businesses as much as I can. It’s more expensive to buy things that weren’t made in sweatshops, or have less impact on the environment. But I know plenty of people who save money at Wal-Mart and then can afford larger gifts to the church. Is one more pleasing to God than the other?

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