Are Christians supposed to tithe?

Question: I and my husband have become increasingly uncomfortable with the many sermons on tithing we’ve been recently hearing at our church. Our pastor insists we tithe 10% to the church regardless of what else we give to other ministries. It seems like it has been reduced to a formula: Give ten percent and be blessed out of your socks. Could you share your views on tithing with us?

Answer: In the Old Testament, a tithe was that part of the Israelite tax that went to support the Temple and the Levites who were in charge of it. To refuse to pay this tax was to “rob God” (Mal. 3). As with most other stipulations in the Old Testament, God associated blessings with fulfilling this law, and curses with disobeying it.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing in the Bible that suggests that non-Jews are required to continue to pay this “temple tax” in the New Testament – especially since the Temple and Levitical priesthood came to an end in 70 AD. When the New Testament talks about giving (e.g. 2 Cor. 8-10), it mentions giving “generously,” “outrageously,” “not under compulsion,” “joyfully” and “as God leads you.” But the New Testament never mentions a rule about a percentage one is required to give. In fact, such a law violates the spirit of the New Testament’s teaching on giving. (It’s true Jesus mentions the tithe in Matthew 23, but he’s talking to Pharisees [Jews] before the Temple fell. They were still under the Old Covenant law, and thus were supposed to pay their Temple tax).

For these reasons, I don’t believe there is any justification for pulling out Old Testament verses to get people to give 10% of their income to their church. There’s 613 laws that were required of Hebrews under the Old Covenant: why, one might wonder, do pastors hit on this one as the one that should be carried over? One could just as easily argue that we should continue to preach against wearing wool and cotton together, since this too was an Old Testament law!

Having said this, one could argue that the 10% pattern in the Old Testament could serve as a sort of minimal “benchmark” for disciples today. That is, if we find that we are spending more than 90% of our income on ourselves, it may be evidence that our priorities aren’t right. Studies show that the average American Evangelical gives 2 to 3% of their income to their church or to charities. Given that our standard of living is four times higher than the global average, it’s hard to argue that we’re being “generous” and “outrageous” and “following God’s leading” in the way we’re stewarding our resources.

So, there seems to be a problem with the priorities of many American Christians. But re-invoking an Old Testament law to coerce people to give a percentage of their income to a church is not the solution. The solution is rather for Christians to get a vision of the beautiful Kingdom they are called to advance that is more compelling to them than the American dream. We are not called to be a people that are shamed by a rule, but a people who are captivated by a vision.

Related Reading

How do you respond to Genesis 45:5; 50:20?

Joseph said to his brothers, “…now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life,” (cf. v. 7). Joseph later says, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people…”…

What Bible Translation Do You Recommend?

Greg talks about Bible translations. http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0051.mp3

Sermon Clip: Twisted Scripture-Hebrews 9

Why must there be the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins? Our Twisted Scripture series continues this week as Greg explores Hebrews 9:18-22. This scripture passage is commonly used to support the penal substitutionary atonement theory in which our guilt was transferred to Christ and He was punished on the cross on our…

The Key to Understanding the Bible

In yesterday’s post we discussed how Jesus is the starting point for interpreting Scripture. If this is the case and Jesus is the subject matter of all Scripture, then the ultimate challenge is to disclose how each aspect of Scripture bears witness to his subject. To state it otherwise, if the intended function of all Scripture is to mediate…

How do you respond to Malachi 3:6?

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.” Some cite this verse as evidence that God need never be flexible in his plans and change his mind. But this claim contradicts all the explicit declarations in Scripture which state that God does frequently modify his plans and…

In your Anabaptist view, should Christians get involved in politics at all? Do you think they should even vote?

Ultimately, each person must follow their conscience when it comes to whether or not they vote, how they vote if they decide to vote, and the extent to which they should involve themselves in the political system. But we must always remain aware of the dangers involved in participating in the political system, for it…