Rethinking the Tithe: How The Richest People In The World Have Lost Sight Of Their Money

January 29, 2014

It makes the world go around…offering

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?

7 responses to Rethinking the Tithe: How The Richest People In The World Have Lost Sight Of Their Money

  1. While I agree that too often American Christians focus on building and technology to the detriment of other weighty matters, it doesn’t have to be either/or, but can be both/and. The problem isn’t that churches have great facilities, it’s that too many churches stop there and don’t give more to continue taking care of the other matters as well. Both could easily be done, given the enormous wealth available in this country, but too few people do tithe, let alone give at all. The last statistic I saw indicated that the average giving in my denomination was just 2.5% of income. If that went to just 5% it would be incredible what could happen, let alone thinking about quadrupling it to 10%!!!! I suspect if folks actually saw what would happen if they gave sacrificially, they’d be stunned at what God would do with it.

  2. Tithing should be about building faith; God is our provider. Tithing should be about refocusing our perspective; what we have has been entrusted to us, it is not our own. Tithing, then, is an act of worship. And it’s just the start of our giving, not the end.

    I’ve long read Deuteronomy 14:22-26 as a separate “Party Tithe” which also helps us keep our focus and faith in check: God is good. I don’t know if this passage is a separate tithe, but it makes sense to me. God wants us generous and also rejoicing.

    My mind is currently pulled to the story of the widow and her two mites. She was poor. Really poor. Ridiculously poor. And she gave. And Jesus commended her. He did not, however, seem to go over and give her alms even though that was “all she had.” I find that interesting.

    May we be generous, giving out of love and thankfulness and joy.

    Luke Holzmann recently posted..Transitioning

  3. This is great! The early church didn’t bring people in with their displays of wealth, but of their displays of giving in the face of poverty!

    On a personal level, once I realized that the money I had wasn’t really mine, but what God gave me, it changed my perspective on tithing. Now we try to walk a fine line between making sure we take care of family and put some away for future needs AND help those who are truly needy.
    tandemingtroll recently posted..Running my butt off

  4. Fellowship, or to use your word, partying, was funded by tithes but there were many other functions funded by tithes too: education, medical care (very limited), justice and even charity but I’ve always thought those things were done with evangelism in view. In other words, the money was used in a way that created community that reflected God. It drew people to Him. For me that is the ultimate purpose of anything we do individually or collectively, including tithing.
    EnnisP recently posted..Good Parenting: Fourth of 4R’s – Rewards, Part 2

  5. Christians give from the heart (for good or for ill)

    A tithe is a calculation. We don’t give that way. Or shouldn’t, anyway.
    theoldadam recently posted..“The word that best describes the Christian life is…?”

  6. Thank you so much for this post. We have started a small charity for Street children in Ghana and Mongolia and find it very difficult to raise “ANY” money. We sold advent calendars for $5.00 and couldn’t have given them away, People will give “things” mostly that they don’t need, but “Stay out of my wallet. I just wish Americans could see some of the things “YOU” and I have seen in Uganda, Ghana, Mongolia, Egypt, Russia and other places, It is a difficult mindset to change. I love Tony Campolo’s quote “Those issues are biblical issues: to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to stand up for the oppressed. I contend that if the evangelical community became more biblical, everything would change.”
    For what it is worth.

  7. Matt, I’ve never read here before, but I stumbled across this post yesterday. It occurred to me this post must be related to that email conversation we were having between August and December of last year. Over an article I submitted to Prodigal, yes? The Prodigal Chicken. You always have to hope that the fellowship of believers would show itself in awareness and acknowledgement of one another, but it’s endlessly disappointing. Which makes the tithe itself—the celebration of God’s enjoyment of His people—all the more sustaining.