Was Tithing Really Rescinded At The Cross?
How Much Of The Law
Did The Cross Invalidate
Christians are taught that the New Testament affords a long list of benefits for today’s believers which Old Testament saints did not enjoy and one of those benefits is complete deliverance from the law or at least that’s the impression you get. The New Testament is riddled with statements that seem to reinforce this idea:
- A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
- You are not under law but under grace.
- You have become dead to the law by the body of Christ.
- We are delivered from the law.
- Christ is the end of the law.
- Man is not justified by the deeds of the law.
- If righteousness comes by the law then Christ is dead in vain.
All these apparent denouncements of the law beg the question, “What do these statements really mean?” and “How far can we stretch the liberation concept?”
In most discussions Christian Liberty is contrasted with the law. The two are considered exact opposites and since our liberation is the direct result of the Cross any positive remarks about the law are treated as scandalous.
It is no surprise then that New Testament ideologies are often expressed with an anti-law sentiment.
In fact, because the Cross “delivered us from the curse of the law,” it is assumed to be the enemy of the law and is personified as the hero-defender protecting humanity from the law. The law is the villain. These ideas have become so prominent that the mention of certain laws antagonizes Christians. They won’t hear it.
To be sure, there is truth in the “Cross vs Law” debate but only to a point. And to be honest Christians are very selective about which laws they abolish.
There are some laws which the Christian community vigorously upholds, even to the extent of being disagreeable – obnoxious – but that only applies to pet laws not all of them. I mention this here because in the case of tithing, a law that applies primarily to believers, and is costly, the liberation idea is stretched far beyond the allowed limit.
It is true that the New Testament believer has many things to be thankful for but the elimination of the law is not one of them. If anything, New Testament benefits instill a love for the law. We can’t obey it absolutely but we no longer need fear it, so the appropriate response is to ponder it and embrace it and make more of an effort to abide by it.
Even in the Old Testament, David said “I love thy law” and he said or implied that more than once, so shouldn’t we love it more. Paul actually repeated David’s sentiment. His words: “I delight in the law of God…”
We shouldn’t hate it, deny it, impugn those who teach it or disparage those who uphold it. When others break it we shouldn’t be surprised and when we struggle to keep it we shouldn’t be glib. A thinking person knows the law is good for us not bad.
All of that is to say the benefits for New Testament believers are great but our perspective on the law might need adjusting. One way to clarify the issue is to compare Old and New Testament applications of law at the grass roots level. How was the law applied to individual infractions in the Old Testament and how do we apply it today? The comparison will help us answer such questions as:
- Were people in the Old Testament judged more severely than those in the New?
- Does the grace-defeats-the-law issue really only apply to the New Testament?
- Were Old Testament saints as strapped by the law as we are led to believe?
A closer look is revealing.
For example: David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then, because she conceived, devised a plan to have her husband, Uriah, murdered. Her husband was not a bad man. If anything, he deserved commendation. He was honorable and very courageous but in order to cover up his indiscretion David had him murdered.
The law required stoning for either offense, adultery or murder, but in David’s case it was never invoked. Instead, and to everyone’s surprise, he was forgiven! He was the recipient of God’s grace!
He suffered for his actions, sure, but his sufferings were only the naturally expected social and emotional consequences of his offenses and he offended a lot of people. Not one wife but several, along with their children, their extended families and their friends. His polygamous lifestyle multiplied the hurt and the backlash.
It really makes you wonder. With a house full of caring ladies competing for his affections why go for one outside the ring, particularly one already married? This fact makes his offense not only egregious but stupid.
The important observation is this: the consequences were the result of personal vendettas, not God’s direct judgment or the laws He put in place. The law never came into play. God fore-mentioned the consequences but He didn’t execute them.
But here is the point and the question. Any person today, Christian or not, will be severely punished legally for committing murder and the judgment is worse if covering up an affair was the motive. The severity of the judgment in such cases today makes David’s experience look like a picnic.
As far as I know, no court has excused such evil just because the offender is a New Testament believer. There aren’t two sets of laws, one for the Ins and one for the Outs.
And the question? Which one do you think was “under” the law, David or today’s criminals? The answer’s obvious.
We are more legally constipated today than ever before and I, for one, am grateful. Thank you Dear God for the laws governing society and the agencies that enforce them. Laws are boundaries that keep us safe not bars that cage us in.
Yes, the Bible says…
You are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14)
But it also says…
- Do we nullify the law by faith? God forbid!
- Is the law sin? God forbid!
- The law is holy, and the commandment holy, just and good.
- I (Paul) delight in the law of God after the inward man!
- The carnal mind is enmity (hateful) against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Implying, of course, that the spiritually minded person can and will be.
- Love is the fulfilling of the law.
So, no, the law cannot save us but, yes, it is quite capable of guiding us. We may be delivered from the eternal penalty for breaking the law but we aren’t delivered from the natural consequences for ignoring them. Because we can’t follow the law perfectly doesn’t mean we should be dismissive. God offers immediate forgiveness to the honest person who breaks the law and even to those who dismiss it but blessing in this life is afforded only to those who try to obey.
The sensibilities embodied in Old Testament law are no less valid in the New than in the Old and they are practically useful. The inability to obey these laws perfectly won’t be the reason we are barred from heaven but we are still responsible for them in this life.
So, the claim that tithing is nothing but an Old Testament legalism to be shunned really doesn’t make sense. Even if one could prove it is only an outdated relic from the past it remains a practice we should honor by love if not by law.
In Tithing, Douglas Leblanc provides much more than a narrow discussion on a traditional issue. He doesn’t repeat the same worn out arguments the same boringly technical way.
Instead, and probably because he admits to being “no theologian or exegetical writer,” Douglas has found an intriguing way to cut to the real heart of the issue. He shares the experiences of eleven different couples and one lone Monsignor, all of whom practice tithing for a very similar reason: selflessness.