Do you tithe?

Do you tithe?

March 7, 2018 0 By Neo Ntsana

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “tithe”?

Most who profess to be Christian, especially in Africa, would undoubtedly give different answers. They may talk about money and rich pastors. Some would emphasise the “10% offering” and “seed planting”. Others may even refer to blessings and wealth; fancy and beautiful church buildings. Some may even say fraud.

It is quite evident that the practice of tithing has many connotations today. But this can’t be right. We have the Bible to clarify and teach us all things.

Certainly, most seeming Bible ambiguity or contradictions are a result of mishandling and misusing the Word of God. For the Word is clear and not ambiguous. It is inerrant and totally sufficient to give particular definitions and application of biblical principles (2 Tim. 3:16). Therefore, it is important to look at what the Bible says about critical issues such as tithing—particularly when they have the potential to raise controversy within the Christian community.

The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of tithing and its historical relevance by answering the following questions:

  1. Is the practice of tithing relevant for the Church today?
  2. Is tithing a New Testament principle for Christians? If so, are they obliged to follow it?

 

  1. Is the practice of tithing relevant for the Church today?

Tithe was a tenth of the best of all that the Israelites earned and offered to the LORD for their ceremonial cleansing customs. These offerings were to be given to the Levites—priests and Levite men (Num. 18:8-32), the chosen descendants of the tribe of Levi (see Exo. 32:26-29) according to the Law of Moses (Heb. 7:5).

The Levites were religious men who served in the temple of God or Tent of Meeting and were responsible for all of Israel’s spiritual needs (Num. 18:22-24). They offered to the LORD a tenth of all the tithes given to them (Num. 18:26), with the rest of the tithes being theirs to enjoy (Num. 18:21, see especially vv. 8-20). They were the connection between man and God (see Num. 18). And the tithes were due to them as their inheritance (Num. 18:21). God had chosen and set them apart to serve in his House and bear responsibility for offences against it (Num. 18:23-24; Heb. 7:5).

Therefore, tithes were offered mainly for two reasons. First, as an offering to God; Second, as ‘payment’ particularly and distinctively to the Levites.

When God took the Israelites out of Egypt, he wanted them to be distinct and to serve him according to his own precepts. He chose the Levites to be the spiritual leaders of Israel and perform all the necessary religious rituals that would rid Israel of her sin and make her pleasing to God. These rituals required the people of Israel give 10% of their earnings to God as an offering. This was mandatory. Then the offerings were essentially used as payment to the Levites for their service to God.

“Tithes were offered mainly for two reasons. First, as an offering to God; Second, as ‘payment’ particularly and distinctively to the Levites.” tweet

So, in light of what the Bible says about the origin and intended purposes of tithes, the answer to the above question would be no. The practice of tithing is no longer relevant for the church today.

Here are two fundamental reasons. First, Christians don’t need human priests to bridge the gap between them and God, by performing atoning religious sacrifices which seek to reconcile them to God. Jesus Christ is the everlasting priest (Heb. 7:11-12) who has atoned for Christians once and for all (2 Cor. 5:18-19; 1 Jn. 2:2). Therefore Christians have no human priests to whom they need to offer tithes. Second, church leaders are not Levites. Only Levites, according to the Bible, are the rightful recipients of tithes.

 

  1. Is tithing a New Testament principle for Christians? If so, are they obliged to follow it?

If tithing is not biblical for the church today, why then is the practice so popular within the church? You might be asking this question now. The answer is simply that most of what is practised in churches today is not properly derived from scripture. There is generally a lot of mishandling and misuse of the Word. In my experience, most of the popular teaching and preaching undermines the authority and direction of the Word. A lot of the time it is manoeuvred in order to meet human gains. One such erroneous interpretation of scripture is when the Church is paralleled to Israel in order to impose Jewish laws of the Old Testament onto it. They misuse the Bible by teaching and practising Judaism in parts just to manipulate Christians to do things they are not compelled to do.

The following are some tenuous claims often used to justify why Christians are obligated to pay tithes today and some reasons why these are unfounded.

“In the New Testament, the apostles teach the churches about the importance of being generous and giving and encourage them to have a spirit of offering willingly to the church.” tweet

Claim 1: The money is needed to run the House of the Lord and “true Christians” must pay tithes because it is their obligation to do so. Failure to pay means one is not Christian, or at least not Christian enough.

In the New Testament, the apostles teach the churches about the importance of being generous and giving (2 Cor. 8:7) and encourage them to have a spirit of offering willingly to the church—as much as they can afford—for the sake of ministry. Christians are never in any way compelled by Scripture to give (2 Cor. 8:1-15; 2 Cor. 9:6-15). Giving money to the church does not validate your Christianity, only faith in Jesus does. This claim cannot be true as it is not in line with what the Bible says.

Of course, the church has running expenses that must be paid. But each church should spend according to its needs. Also, members of the church must generously contribute (2 Cor. 8:7) toward running costs, according to how much they can afford (not just limited to money). None of this should be done under any compulsion. Unlike the Israelites, Christians are not obligated to pay their tithes.

However, it is not wrong for people to choose, out of their own volition, to pay tithes, or make pledges, or give more than 10% to the church, or any of such resolutions, purely as a service to God. If you are willing to give and can well afford it, God loves a cheerful and generous giver. It is good to give, but not so much so if done with wrong intentions.

Claim 2: Christians should pay tithes because Abraham paid them to Melchizedek.

Even though Abraham gave Melchizedek 10% of what he had, this does not mean Christians should pay tithes. The tithe Abraham gave to Melchizedek was a special offering to him as an everlasting priest (see Gen. 14:18-24), just as Jesus is (Heb. 7:3). By paying the tithe to Melchizedek, Abraham was not setting a precedent for Christians. He gave to the priest as he willed. Neither Jesus Christ nor the Apostles ever taught or accepted tithing as normative. They saw it as a principle of the Law of Moses. Christians are not governed by or made righteous by observing the Law (Heb. 7:12). Malachi 3:6-18 is referring to Israel, not the Church!

Claim 3: Plant a seed in order to reap a prosperous harvest

This one is just sad because it undermines the message of the gospel. The gospel that tells us that God, in his great mercy, loved us sinners as we were and made us alive in Christ without any help of our doing (Eph. 2:1-10). There is nothing, the gospel declares, that we can do for God to make him love us more or give us anything. Because there is nothing we can offer him except faith and total brokenness and dependence on him (Heb. 11). So when we try to do anything—like paying tithes in planting a seed—in order ‘to please God’, that’s actually idolatry, and God hates idolatry (Col. 3:5; 1 Jn. 5:21; Gal. 5:19-21).

“When we try to do anything—like paying tithes in planting a seed—in order ‘to please God’, that’s actually idolatry, and God hates idolatry.” tweet

Here is another thing to think about. We’re living under the New Covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Jesus Christ never taught that tithes should be paid to him by making reference to the tithe Abraham paid to Melchizedek as meaning the church was obligated to paying tithes too. We do not see it anywhere in Scripture. The apostle Paul never accepted that for which he did not work, and he encouraged such an attitude for the church (2 Thess. 3:6-10). He, considering his position and title, had every right to demand things from the Church, such as tithes and better hospitality, as his apostolic role would have allowed him, but he never did.

This is only because they knew and understood the origin and purposes of tithes. They knew what to ‘love and serve one another’ meant. They knew also about the tithe Abraham gave to Melchizedek before even Levi was born, but still didn’t collect it themselves, because tithing is a principle of the Law and not of Christianity.

And frankly, the paying of tithes is not a Gentile tradition, implying that if a non-Levite collects tithes, they’re actually stealing.

Finally, t0 answer the second question, since we neither see this practice in any of the New Testament churches, nor see it being taught or encouraged by Jesus, nor any of his apostles, we cannot therefore conclude that it is a biblical principle that Christians ought to follow—especially under obligation.

For that reason, it is wrong and unbiblical to demand tithes from the Church. Christians should give willingly and generously as they are able, not under compulsion or based on Jewish principles.