Saturday, March 14, 2009

Scripture for Tithe & Offering

The tithe and offering is a fixture in the American church (I'm not sure about internationally). And it makes sense. The bills DO have to be paid. Although I have to be honest in that the biblical mandates used have never been terribly convincing. I've heard them and arguments for giving 10% (still seems rather arbitrary from a Scriptural perspective) hundreds, if not thousands of times.

I still remain a bit unmoved. I'm sure there's those who would argue that I'm just ignoring God. However, I wonder if there's another explanation. The Christian History article, Passing the Plate, is a great, concise history of tithes and offerings in the American church. Originally, churches were financially supported by the State through taxes and fees. Once that ended, church leaders needed to find another income. Fair enough.

But just as we so often do, they began looking to the Bible for support, finding a biblical mandate. Now I wonder if now-deeply-rooted belief in the biblical mandate of tithe and offering is an honest exegetical interpretation of Scripture or is actually proof texting. It's often felt like the latter to me, although I have to be honest in saying that I have not done an exegetical study of those verses.

Is this to say that tithes and offerings are bad or unwise? Absolutely not. They're absolutely necessary. But call them what they are: A practical need. The crossover into the spiritual realm (especially from an Incarnational perspective) comes quickly, as we want to support our communities. However, I have all-too-often heard these biblical mandates used in ways to create funding thought spiritual guilt and shame. That's quite unbiblical...


  1. Here's a friend's comment he emailed to me and my response:

    Then they failed to take into consideration the verses in Acts where they were giving during their worship services as well as many others from the old testament. Whether we did that here in America 1,800 years after the fact is the point of contention (and perhaps to see church as business) not the idea of offerings, tithes nor gifts.

    My response:
    Excellent point. However, we virtually never hear those stories when churches often guilt people into giving money. As I remember those stories, the idea of tithes and offerings was tied to practical necessity. That crossed over to a mandate from God when people are supposed to support their spiritual communities. But I almost never hear this stuff presented this way. It's usually more of you have to give money because the Bible says to. That theological position seems to be more of an artifact of a historical need that resulted in proof texting. That's one of the things I appreciate about HoP: They don't guilt people into giving through supposed biblical mandates, but admit that they need the money for practical reasons... I think being up front about it is a lot better than trying to find some texts to motivate people. If they're not motivated to give to the community, then there's another problem entirely related to loyalty and commitment...

  2. I think you might be right Josh. It might be better to consider tithe Christian tradition and generosity a biblical mandate. Good post.

  3. Malachi 3:8-12

    "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
    "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
    "In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. 12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty."

    The tithe is already God's. To do anything less than bring it back to him is robbing from God, not just from the church. Tithing is also an act of worship - of saying to God "thank you for blessing me with what you have." So not tithing also robs from the individual's relationship to God (refusing to trust Him in one area of life). In further context of the chapter, the storehouse is the church. Even back in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the storehouse is God's house (the church). Yes, the church does need money, but I'd rather hear the words from the Bible and know exactly what God wants from me rather than to support the church because it seems like a good idea to my human (and therefore fallible) brain. It goes beyond the practical and enters into faith, trust, and believing God's Word.

  4. Kim, that's the most explicit verse I've seen related to tithe and offering. Thanks!

    The problem is that the storehouse cannot be assumed to mean the modern church. For one, the church (as we know it) did not exist at the time of Malachi. Further, the idea of a worship center was rather different, as the OT and Israel was dominated by theocracies, where the predecessor to the brick-and-mortar church was a community center--the center of life. Unfortunately, today's communities are rarely that way.

    I agree with your points about money being God's anyway and tithing being an act of worship, but it's just not as explicitly stated in the Bible as we often like it to be. As you said, we don't like relying on our human ideas because they're fallible. So we turn to the Bible. Of course, not a bad option. The problem, though, is this can lead to proof texting. Further, we forget that although the Bible may be infallible, our interpretations of the Bible are still fallible and can fall under just as much scrutiny as the human ideas we were trying the avoid the first time around.

    So this brings us back to the interpretation of storehouse. Does this really mean that we have to give to the brick-and-mortar church, or other things, as well? The context of modern faith communities is very different from the context of those communities where tithing was talked about more explicitly. Perhaps the point, as Bobby phrased it, is that generosity, giving of our abundance, is the biblical mandate, while giving specifically to the brick-and-mortar church is based more in tradition and need. And just because it's based in tradition and need does not make it a bad thing...

  5. Here's a couple more comments from friends. I love the discussion this is creating!

    Good point as well, my friend! Thanks for the discussion and thoughts!
    Great article, for a number of reasons. First, it notably points out that, although the giving of tithes and offerings is biblically rooted, the common method of passing the plate is a contemporary concept. Second, the article correctly points out the privatization of churches after the Constitution's Amendment I was ratified, and how Jefferson et al strongly opposed government establishment of religion from the get go.
    I like the pew space rental model......I wonder how much we could get for the front row of folding chairs.

    Its interesting that one of the fundamental architects (Andrew Jackson) of the democrat party fought for religious freedom and the abolishment of mandatory taxation of people, to a particular church, not just a state church. This move backfired in that not only the government removed themselves from supporting any church but laws for individual support of any church were also removed. The reason for the mandatory taxes on people to support a church (not just a state church but a church of any kind) originally was to form "better" people by introducing them to Christian religion. The government received no compensation for this. it was the thought of the times that when people went and gathered with other believers, that they too would become better people (what a novel thought!). This was evident by all the implications of religion in and about the structure of the constitution. New topics like abortion, homosexuality ,marriage vs. civil unions, and others that seem to separate the morality of the two main voting parties, originally had nothing to do with monetary gain, they are perceived as restricted freedoms. Its also interesting that Massachusetts, a trend setter for so many controversial topics against generally accepted biblical principals, was the last state to accept religious disestablishment. During the early 1800s it was evident that the government was trying to grow in power and still reduce the public taxation. The "helping the disenfranchised" thought process of America has evolved to a mandatory financial support thru taxes, instead of a voluntary support. It became a requirement to help the "needy" rather than a option of love. So in short we have gone from making it mandatory for people to be involved in religion, no matter what that religion was, to create a better society of moral people. To making it mandatory for people to pay for morally questionable practices disguised under the deceptions of freedoms and rights of the disenfranchised. The judgment of whether supporting the church because it created better people was never in question, the question of church support was strictly political and the fundamental reason for the separation of church and state was so that the state could not tell you what church you should belong to, only that you needed to support a church of your choice insured by taxation. Now we pay for mandatory auto insurance to protect us from others and to protect others from us. Everyone should have mandatory psychology insurance to protect us from all the lame brains out there whose religious compass is jacked up. Passing the plate was governments way of passing the buck to the people, where would we be if it was mandatory for people to pay their tithes to a local church of their choice without the government getting a dime?



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