money

Are Christians Required to Give 10% of Their Income to the Church?

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

Sermon: Kingdom Nice

Did Jesus’ disciples break up?!? In this short clip, Greg Boyd talks about conflict between the disciples and how they handled it in a Christ-like way. The little things we do in the Kingdom make a big difference. In the full sermon, Greg shows that the incarnation and cross are spiritual and physical realities for…

Is Your Accelerator Stuck?

In this story today from CNN, we see video of a woman who is trapped in a vehicle that is malfunctioning so that it keeps accelerating and cannot stop. It’s hard to imagine the panic this woman must have felt. It kind of reminded us of our culture that seems to have its foot stuck…

I have forgiven, but how do I trust again?

READER: A while back, a friend of mine seriously hurt and betrayed me. After three years of not seeing one another (her choice), she humbly repented, told me she was sorry, and asked for my forgiveness. I have forgiven her and we are starting to be friends again. But now what? How do I open my heart to her again? How do I start “testing the waters” to see if I can trust again?

How Much Is Enough?

Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology wrote a reflection on insights he gained from the book How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky. He points out how the advent of money changed the way we view our needs and made it easier to hoard without noticing it. It’s a…

Engaging the Culture

Mark McIntyre shares some thoughts here on the culture wars that often define our relationship to the world outside of the Church. We are called to be a people who are known by our love rather than our stance on this or that social issue. Are we really known this way? Mark’s words are a…

How should Christians respond to Near Death Experiences?

In a recent Q and A session about the book of Revelation, Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy answer a question on How Christians should respond to claims of Near Death Experiences. You can view the entire Q and A HERE.