It makes empires rise and fall…
It is becoming a perennial topic of discussion within the American church…
It’s money. Specifically, tithing.
Tithing is kind of a funny thing. Formerly a non-negotiable for every church-going Christian, it’s gotten a bad rap lately. Every so often, I’ll read another blog post or Facebook update about the old-fashioned practice of tithing isn’t Biblical, isn’t necessary, isn’t even good. And the studies show that, whether we say it publicly or not, we just don’t tithe anymore. Very very few of us still set aside the traditional ten percent of our income for Jesus.
I’m not going to tell you that you must tithe or go to hell. But I do think the discussion has somehow veered into the weeds and we’ve, once again, missed the point all along. What if we’ve just been tithing wrong all this time?
Let’s Leave The Bible Out of It
I’ve heard it many times, more and more often lately, that “tithing” is not Biblical, not a requirement for New Testament Christians.
It’s true. Jesus never tells his disciples to tithe ten percent of their income to the local synagogue. He never tells his listeners that they need to contribute to the latest building campaign so the children can have a really kickass Sunday School wing, complete with slides and rope bridges.
But when we talk about being “Biblical,” we easily, so very easily miss this one detail that it borders on complete intellectual dishonesty:
See, we do have an idea of how Biblical Christians lived in the New Testament. We get the description in Acts, that the believers shared all they had, that no one was left out. People sold property to make sure the community had enough. So let’s be honest, that sounds like a lot more than a paltry ten percent. Those New Testament Christians sound a lot more like a socialist commune than a bunch of Americans with 401K accounts.
I have seen precisely one community of Christians living this way: everyone working part time, contributing all their money into a common account, supporting the ministry (in which they all lived and worked), and it seemed to so radical and backwards, and un-American, that it could hardly be understood.
But that is what is really “Biblical.” It would be better if we left the Bible out altogether, because it’s not going to help us here.
Tithing Is Supposed To Be Fun
The problem with tithing I think is that it’s been abused a lot.
We’ve all seen one too many charlatans, one too many televangelists, one too many phony pastors promising unlimited financial blessings if people will make a gift in faith to the ministry. We know it’s a scam. We feel like we are enabling the scam, just like we are enabling the homeless man to buy alcohol when we put change in his paper cup.
If we look at Old Testament tithes, they were meant to be enjoyed by the community. They were not meant to pad the pockets of a few. If we really knew how biblical tithing worked, we wouldn’t think too much of it. God says “bring your tithe in the form of an animal.” So the people do. God says “now place the animal on the altar. Make sure you reserve these parts for me. Don’t eat the fatty parts, those are mine.” So the people do. God says, “Now eat the rest of the tithe you just made and have a good time together.”
Sounds like potlucks are more Biblical than building campaigns.
America’s Pastime: Pretending to Be Poor
Finally, this is just a fact of American life:
We are among the riches people on Earth, the most economically mobile. But we like to pretend we are poor.
We habitually look at the few who have more rather than the billions who have less. We keep words like “struggle” in the front of our minds, lest people think we are doing better than we are.
We like to pretend our money is tighter than it is. I admit I do it too. We pretend we are poor and then go to the fanciest church with the most up-to-date technology we can find. And we look positively childish, the people with the most money, sitting in the churches with the most money, complaining that we don’t have enough money.
But I genuinely think that it’s not tithing that needs rethinking. It’s how we tithe, or two whom.
Does America really need another mega church building? Or does it need more homeless ministries and hospitals? Do we need fancier technology, bigger screens, better sound systems, or do we need churches that do without so they can build an orphanage overseas? Can I find one church in America that boasts it has a squeaky sound system because it blew its budget on orphans? Good luck.
See, I really don’t think our disillusionment over money comes from the amount that we are asked to give. We just aren’t sure of the value of what we are building anymore.
What do you think? Is it tithing that needs rethinking? Or just how we tithe?