To Our Readers:
On the Grace Christian Assembly website, and particularly in this Q and A section, I try to discuss ideas, not people. I am committed to what I call “laying down straight sticks.” In other words, the best way to point out a crooked stick is to lay a straight stick next to it. So, I deal with theological ideas, notions and constructs, rather than argue against the person who holds a position I disagree with.
Recently I was asked to peruse a website, read the articles on “tithing” and express an opinion. My response included the website address and name of the author. But, in this version I have excluded those details in order to concentrate on the ideas and not the man.
I think the issue of tithing in the New Testament Church is an important and often (as proven here) misunderstood and abused principle. It is for that reason that I chose to post this particular Q and A.
Thanks. Our exchange went like this —–
Q – Hi Jim,
Would you mind looking at this website and giving me your opinion?
Jim – Okay, at your behest, I read R.A.’s article on tithing. My response?
Was that descriptive enough?
R.A. is guilty a common, frustrating dilemma – He is sending Christians back to Israel’s Law in order to attain a performance from them. Dragging out God’s threats to Israel in Malachi and imposing them on the New Covenant Church as a way to get money is extortion. Extortion, and nothing less.
And, of course, like all men who teach this erroneous doctrine, R.A. never tells his audience that the first and second year tithes were eaten by the very people who set them aside. Israel’s tithes were taken to the three yearly feasts and used by the very people who owed them. The third year tithe was used not only for the Levites (R.A.’s false assertion), but also for the widows, the fatherless, and the needy. And, Israel had actual, literal storehouses where those tithes were to be placed. The local Church is not Israel’s storehouse.
We are not Israel. We are not under the Law of Moses. We are not paying tithes to support Levites. We do not have an inheritance in Canaan and thereby are not required to support the temple.
Let’s look at a couple of his arguments and see if they hold up logically and Biblically. For instance –
(Quote from R.A.) – Tithing was practiced before the law, by Abraham and Jacob (Gen. 14:20; 28:20-22) and is never specifically rescinded in the New Testament.
Actually, that’s wrong-headed thinking. If we are going to argue that tithing predates the law and is therefore binding on the Church, then we have to go the rest of the way and admit that animal sacrifice predated the Law (all the way back to Cain and Abel!) and therefore the Church is required to sacrifice animals.
I expect that R.A. would counter that the book of Hebrews rescinded all animal sacrifices. But, that just muddies the waters. If that’s true, why did Paul take a vow and offer a sacrifice to keep peace with the Jews at Jerusalem after his conversion (Acts 21:22-27)? Let’s start chopping up those cows.
And, as for R.A.’s assertion that the tithe was “never specifically rescinded in the New Testament,” that’s simply inaccurate. What, I would ask, was the Apostle Paul – being a Jew himself, raised on the Levitical tithe – driving at in the following verse?
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)
That is, in fact, a specific rescinding of the tithe in the New Testament, despite R.A.’s claims to the contrary. The tithe was given “of necessity.” It was not a matter of the heart. It was often given grudgingly, as so much of the Law was performed. But, Paul took the exact opposite approach and declared that New Covenant people would give according to how God moved on their hearts. The infilling Spirit was to drive their charity, not the letter of the law, which was external to men and grievously born. The Spirit of God, moving on His people’s hearts, will produce charitable giving, because God loves cheerful (hilarious) giving.
So, according to Paul, how is giving to be done? Not by a specific standard, like 10%. Not by guilt and pressure; not grudgingly; not of necessity in order to avoid curses. The tithe (which Paul never once advocated) was just the opposite of that description.
By the way, if Paul did indeed continue to believe that tithing was a necessity in the New Covenant Church, then he did the Church in Corinth no favor. His lack of a command for systematic, legalistic tithing would surely bring God’s curse to them. But Paul, as I said, never mentioned it.
Of course, the common argument in response to Paul’s lack of tithing commandment is that the Church would have naturally tithed, so Paul did not need to bring it up. But, that’s not true. The First Century Gentile Church, to which Paul was an Apostle, was unfamiliar with the Law of Moses and would not have been “naturally” tithing. They would need to be taught to tithe. But, Paul never mentioned it. Instead, he promulgated his theology of giving according to one’s heart.
Moving on. Here is another incredible bit of speculation –
(Quote from R.A.) – There is no question that Jesus tithed. He was raised in a devout Jewish home, meaning that his parents obeyed the Scriptures, tithed and taught him to tithe.
Really? No question? The Bible never once says that Jesus tithed. The tithe went to support the religious system that Christ came to end. But, more importantly, this is such sloppy exegesis. Without a shred of proof, R.A. has declared, “there is no question…” (!)
If we start making leaps like that, then we can say that He also lived in a blue house and raised canaries … without question! The fact that Jesus was raised a devout Jew does not prove that He tithed. Remember, devout Jews kept the Sabbath. Jesus constantly broke it. They killed Him for making Himself equal with God, which was blasphemy for any devout Jew (unless that devout Jew actually happen to be God). And, that is the central error in R.A.’s statement.
Jesus was more than a devout Jew. Judaism as a system was designed to glorify God. But, Jesus was God. He did not participate in those things which He was Lord over…like the Sabbath, marriage, giving alms, tithing, etc. Most importantly, there is not one single, solitary word to give credence to something R.A. claims “there is no question” about. Very scary.
Or, this bit of hermeneutical gymnastics –
(Quote from R.A., including bolding) – In Matthew 23:23 Jesus states that while they should have paid attention to more important things, the Pharisees were correct in being careful to tithe.
Matthew 23:23 : “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)
The truth is the New Testament portrays the norm of Christian giving as far beyond the tithe. It never suggests the “floor” set by the tithe was eliminated, but simply that the ceiling of Christian giving was far above it.”
Oh, dear. Jesus was talking to Pharisees, who were indeed obligated to the Mosaic Law, which Law is not binding on the Church. Of course they should have tithed. But, to create New Testament doctrine for the Church out of Jesus condemnation of the Pharisees is pretty slippery slope. How we are to deduce the “norm of Christian giving” from this verse is beyond my comprehension.
By the way, notice that the Pharisees’ tithing was not exactly opening the windows of Heaven and bringing down those blessings they could not contain. Jesus was cursing these men. He pronounced “woe” on them. They were busy keeping the outward performance of meticulous tithing (which R.A. advocates), while forgetting about the more important elements of true religion – mercy, justice and faith. Christ was condemning their performance, not praising it. But, R.A. (and plenty of men like him) want you to believe that this is Jesus advocating tithing for the New Testament Church. Wow. What confused exegesis.
Or, here’s perhaps my favorite bit of interpretive word-twisting –
(Quote from R.A.) Church Fathers on tithing
“The Jews were constrained to a regular payment of tithes; Christians, who have liberty, assign all their possessions to the Lord, bestowing freely not the lessor portions of their property, since they have the hope of greater things.”
“not the lessor portions” is a direct indication that the tithe was considered a minimal standard in the early Christian community.
Huh??? How in the world did he get “the tithe was considered a minimal standard in the early Christian community out of the words “not the lessor portions”? He says it is “a direct indication.” But, there is no such indication in that phrase! This is a classic example of being led by your suppositions. R.A. would like tithing to have been advocated by Irenaeus, so he imposed it on his words.
Look at the actual words Irenaeus used. There is an enormous contrast between the Jews and the Church, according to Irenaeus. The Jews were “constrained” to pay regular tithes. But, the Christians had “liberty”! What a contrast – one is constrained while the other has liberty. In their liberty, the Church assigned all their worldly possessions to the Lord. Why? “…since they have the hope of greater things.” Worldly possessions were nothing to the early Church, because they had greater eternal possessions in mind.
So, in that context, what were “the lessor portions of their property” that they bestowed freely? The obvious answer is: their worldly possessions! Nothing in that paragraph gives any “direct indication” that the early Church tithed. In fact, just the opposite is found. The Jews were constrained to tithe, but the Christians gave away all that they had in favor of Heavenly possessions.
Man, this guy is really led by his suppositions. He reads things into words that aren’t there. He implies things the Bible never says. He assumes things about Jesus that the Bible does not say. He mixes and matches the Legal Covenant with the New Covenant. He plays fast and loose with Scripture and is putting the New Testament church under a bondage that Paul fought tooth-and-nail to extricate them from.
Sorry you asked?
This is the first article I have read of his, but I don’t think I’ll be reading many more. Go read my sermon transcripts on giving and tithing to hear the other side of this debate. I will not extort money from people and take away their joy of giving. I will not risk the blessings God attached to cheerful giving. I will not risk the conscience of the people God has put under my watch by twisting Scripture for personal gain.
I’m afraid I’m just a hard liner.
Q – Sorry to disturb you with R.A.’s writings. Someone just introduced his writings to me last week and I knew that you had studied the giving / tithing / OT / NT issues in depth enough to give serious feedback.
Now, could you tell me more about the canaries and blue house Jesus lived in? I think you’re on to something here. ;-0
You know, it seems that seminaries, authors, churches and many other things are vying for our attention at the cost of neglecting the truth contained within the Scriptures. Let the text speak and let God be true and every man a liar!
High five !!
I’ll stick to running alongside those that are sticklers for hard lined theology. No, I am not sorry I asked but glad to be enlightened to the things I have missed.
Jim – Me again…trying to make you sorry you asked. 🙂
Here is a classic example with what is wrong with this kind of teaching. This is right from his tithing article. The emphasis is his.
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” (Leviticus 27:30)
1. “Tithe”–The meaning of the word “tithe” is ten per cent. If someone makes $2000 a month and puts $50 in the offering box he hasn’t tithed. If you make $2000 a tithe is two hundred dollars. You cannot tithe 2% or 4% or 6% of your income any more than you can “whitewash” a wall with red paint.
Breakdown numbers: Income/ Tithe
2. “Everything.” Doesn’t mean “some things.” Doesn’t mean “most things.” Means “everything.”
When our kids were young, we taught them from the beginning that when grandpa gave them $20 for Christmas, it didn’t mean they had $20 to spend, it meant they had $18. The first $2 belonged to God.
Win a scholarship for 2000, $200 belongs to God. “Everything” made them stop and think at every turn about God’s hand, God’s provision.
(I realize in business income has to be balanced against expense to do business; but the bottom line is, whatever the profit is to an individual or a family, before that money is used to pay anything else–taxes, retirement, insurance, anything–that money is tithed on.)
Do you see what he did? He stated an absolute – everything is to be tithed on. He proved it from a bit of the Levitical Law. That Law is absolute. Everything means everything, and R.A. pounds that concept. Even your kid’s Christmas money is to be tithed on. Absolutely everything. And, I agree, the Law was an absolute. No cheating. No skimping.
Then, in order to make allowances for business, R.A. suddenly stated an exception to the rule.
What?! There are no exceptions! He just said so! He just said –
“Everything.” Doesn’t mean “some things.” Doesn’t mean “most things.” Means “everything.”
But, then he allowed exceptions in order to make it easier on businessmen who might be giving to his ministry. But, there are no exceptions in everything! There are no exceptions to the Law!
Look, either get in or get out. Either live by the Law or admit it’s impossible. Either teach absolute, systematic, no exceptions tithing or admit that we cannot do it. Don’t put the guilt of an absolute 10% on a poor, single mom with three kids, afraid that some morsel of what slips between her hands will fail to be tithed on and God will not open the windows of blessing to her, while at the same time telling corporations that they are exempt from the “everything” rule because that’s how business operates. What hypocrisy! What bondage!
The answer is to go back to Paul’s rule. Giving is between a man and his God. The left hand is not to know what the right hand is doing (Mat. 6:3). Let every person give according to their heart and quit motivating people by guilt and massive contradictions. Because, some day some of those same people might actually read that Bible R.A. claims to teach and they will be terribly confused. At best, they will give up on him and his ministry. At worst, they will give up the Church altogether.
I know. I was one of them.