Heavy emphasis is being made by leaders of Christian churches, evangelists and local pastors on tithing as a major basis for Christian giving. But in recent years one rarely hears criticism of tithing as an approved method of giving or there is a fear of “rocking the boat.”
Both of these no doubt are true. But neither is valid when examining the New Testament for proof. It is therefore necessary that Christian leaders, stewardship committees and Christians everywhere return to the Gospel for its recommended method of giving.
Tithing was one of many regulations from the levitical laws. It was for Jews alone. It meant that Jews were to give at least one-tenth of their money, crops, possessions, etc. to God by way of the priests. There were no exceptions that allowed anyone to deduct taxes, food, clothing or anything. Everything was to be tithed.
All of Jesus’ apostles were Jews and trained to be tithers. But when the apostles became Christians not one of them hinted that he would thereafter tithe. Yet daily they all encountered the exhibition of tithing by the Pharisees everywhere.
The gospel refers to tithing only three times. These three are condemnations of the Pharisees and are devastating in their intent. Three times tithing is mentioned in Hebrews 7:5-9. These are historical references. As for the rest of the New Testament, tithing is not to be found.
If one wants a method for giving that is encouraged in the New Testament, Paul presents a good one 1 Corinthians 16:1 and 2 Corinthians 8:4. Paul used the best method for giving at the beginning of some of his epistles: “1 give thanks … I thank my God … We always thank God … We are bound to give thanks … I thank God whom I serve.”
Thanks is the most wonderful Christian reason for giving throughout the New Testament. For some, thanks is an automatic response to having received something. But when considering all the gifts God gives us, such as grace, forgiveness, love, hope and eternal life, is there any greater response than thanks? God also gives what we generally take for granted: the next breath, the next heartbeat, sleep, hearing, feeling, eating. When we are thankful for these, no law is sufficient to tell us how much one should give to God for them.
As promised and practiced among us today, tithing results from a variety of suggestions. Some of these are: “Tithing is a reasonable beginning.” “You can’t afford not to give a tithe.” “The Christian response shouldn’t be less than those who responded under the law, it’s a minimum goal.” “Evangelical tithing results in joy and blessings.” All of these are schemes and could be avoided if we trusted enough in giving as a response to being thankful.
When giving is based on thanks, those who cannot tithe will not feel shame or guilt. One person said, “I know I am cheating my Lord when I do not tithe, but I cannot give more than 5 percent. Another whose income was barely enough to pay the rent and feed his family said, “Do I give to feed the hungry in Africa and not have enough to feed my own family?”
The other side of the ledger is about those who do tithe. How often is this heard at stewardship meetings: “How many tithers do we have here?” Jesus never asked his followers if they tithed. Some who do respond in the affirmative no doubt feel they have done their due. I ask: “Are there such feelings that allow me to think that I am ever giving enough? Probably some tithers could be giving 20 percent – 50 percent if they gave in thanks.”
As more and more of our religious organizations and institutions are experiencing a financial crunch tithing is being turned to in full force. Frankly, these hard financial times are ways our Lord is trying to tell us tithing is not his way to pay religious bills. Giving thanks is!
The Rev. David F. Conrad is a retired pastor who served churches in Alabama, Texas and North Carolina. He wrote this for The Lutheran magazine in 1992, but granted permission for Faith in Action to reprint it in its Spring 1993 issue.
© Copyright 1993, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This essay appeared in the Faith in Action. Articles from Faith in Action may be reproduced for use in ELCA and ELCIC congregations provided each copy carries the note:
© Copyright 1993, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an article from the archives of the Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship. For nearly a century, LLM assisted, inspired and trained congregations in important ways. LLM ceased operations on May 31, 2003, but the Stewardship of Life Institute is proud to continue its work by making its web resources available to a new generation of stewards.