How I Learned To Tithe, Part 2
Part 1 Is Biographical
Part 2 Is Technical
Read Part 1
So, back to my dilemma.
At the age of 21 I was fully recommitted to Christ but I didn’t know what that commitment looked like. One question I struggled with often was:
“How much should I give to God and how often should I give it?”
It wasn’t an easy question to ignore. The offering plate was passed in every church service and since I attended every one of those services I was constantly wrestling with a compulsion to give without knowing specifically what to do.
I was hesitant. I wanted to do the right thing but knew there had to be a limit where “right” ended and “irresponsible” began. Should I just pass the plate along, wave a hand over it like I was putting something in, actually put in a little change, give a chunk or what.
The one thing I couldn’t do was avoid it.
To motivate people to give, the minister would mention the financial burdens of the church and then pray for the offering. What sincere Christian could be unmoved. I wanted to do my part but wasn’t sure exactly what my part was.
To make things even worse, my Dad, a hybrid Baptist/Methodist from way back and a Presbyterian during many of his last years, was constantly accusing the Baptist of only wanting money. He didn’t like me attending a Baptist church and he was even less impressed with me giving them money.
In this case, however, I was 21 years old and responsible to make decisions for myself. And to be smart I decided to do some research. That is where my friend Nancy came in.
She was a mature Christian and had much more knowledge of the Bible than I so I decided to broach the question with her.
I didn’t, however, expect what I got.
Admittedly, this is not an easy topic to discuss. People are sensitive where money is concerned. They work hard to earn it and need it to exist. People don’t take kindly to being told how to manage it or spend it and there are many ugly names for people who scam others out of their money.
But in the case of Christianity, money does have an important part to play. Doing your own thing where money is concerned, which may mean doing nothing at all, is your personal right but Christians are to be partners with God and He does have something to say about money. We need to know what that is.
It was with that thought in mind that I raised the topic of “giving” with Nancy. What I got was sledgehammered.
I don’t remember my exact words but I sheepishly let Nancy know that I was curious about the giving thing and I’ll never forget her words. Her response, no lie…
YOU MEAN YOU DON’T TITHE!?
ALL CAPS! She almost screamed her response and I almost jumped out of my skin.
She didn’t calmly ask questions to make sure she understood my question or my intent. She didn’t approach the topic cautiously or dispassionately. She assumed my guilt and her tone of voice shouted “accusation” as if I was being a cheap give-nothing-to-God leach and she disapproved.
When I regained my breath and my composure I timidly asked, “what’s a tithe?”
Thankfully, Nancy backed down a bit and gave me the basics which are listed below:
One, the word “tithe” means one tenth or ten percent and is the portion of a person’s income that should be given to God.
Two, the first record of a person tithing was Abraham in Genesis 14:20.
Three, Abraham gave the tithe to a priest so we understand that it should be used to support organizations that represent God and activities that serve His purposes.
Four, based on Malachi 3:10, the tithe belongs to God and anyone who doesn’t tithe is robbing Him.
Based on this information I made the decision to tithe and have never considered giving less. But my experience was harsh. I was hammered into tithing not patiently led through the pertinent bits of information until I could see the issue clearly and decide for myself, and my experience isn’t unique. Many people are introduced to tithing with the hard sell approach.
The stories are endless. Here’s how he scenario looks:
New-comers to faith, and church, in order to get them “started right,” are quickly told they must give a large junk of their personal time to serve in some area of ministry and the area they work in is chosen for them. Wherever the church needs help is where you must work. Additionally, which ministries the church develops are determined by the leadership elite not consensus which means there is little consideration for the particular talents, abilities or interests you or anyone else brings into the congregation. If your abilities fit, good. If they don’t, force it.
Square pegs are often crammed into round holes.
That situation brings its own frustrations but the kicker is, to remain in good standing and keep your place in ministry, i.e., to keep doing the thing they need you to do whether you want to, are able to, or not, you must make two additional commitments: attend every service including Sunday School and midweek Bible study and tithe your income regularly. Attendance and offering records are carefully maintained so your allegiance can be monitored. Big Brother is watching.
If anyone, newcomer or not, has questions about these issues, particularly tithing, the response you get is similar to the one I got. You are given enough information to satisfy the obvious questions and expected to obey forthwith. Anything less than immediate compliance is frowned upon.
And other than the raw basics of tithing, very little is added later, except, of course, a guarantee that God will pour out a great material blessing on your life if you tithe – the health and wealth Gospel.
I think we all agree. This approach to teaching tithing is not an easy pill to swallow. No, not all churches use the hammer method but even the more gentle don’t offer sound answers to the questions. That’s a problem for newcomers.
When I was maneuvered into tithing, I was committed to the bone. Nothing could discourage my determination to serve God but the same thing can’t be said for all newly committed people. They aren’t so resilient and often, when pressured to tithe, walk away with harsh words for the church. It is no wonder that the church is rumored to “only want your money.”
What I have described so far represents only one problem, how new believers are manipulated into tithing. But this first problem has given rise to a second problem, the proliferation of anti-tithing rhetoric and I’ve written many articls in response to the descent.
How churches teach tithing isn’t the only gripe. Another problem adding fuel to the fire is the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by some high profile pastors. They have mastered the art collecting money with emphasis on “collecting.” While those giving endure a workaday existence, the minister multiplies his personal possessions: houses, cars, jewelry and in a few cases wives.
Not all pastors do this. Only a few are guilty but unfortunately all are painted with the same brush. It makes an emotional but very effective argument against tithing. Don’t believe it! Where you deposit the tithe can be a problem, tithing is not.
The truth is, the coercive ways people are manipulated into tithing and the misuse of this money once given has no bearing on whether one should tithe or not. We should be careful where money is offered and mindful of how it is used but the ten percent guideline for giving is either valid or not. How much you give is one issue. Where you give it and how it is used are different issues completely.
But, in spite of that, what I have done automatically without hesitation for years is not accepted by all. Many people reject the tithing principle and offer counter arguments to suggest that tithing, following the death of Christ, became a non issue.
Tithing was okay for Israel in the Old Testament but was invalidated by Jesus. Tithing, they say, has been defunct, invalid, rescinded, eliminated, obsolete and outdated ever since the Cross.
Many people start their Christian walk with the same questions I had and, like me, are condescended to when they ask about money. And then they get caught in the middle when anti-tithers use equally manipulative methods to argue against tithing. How can one determine what is right when two opposing voices are shouting at the same time.
So what we have is a stand off. Those on the pro side offer sparse and emotional arguments to induce people to tithe and those on the con side, though admittedly more diligent, offer counter arguments that are equally as shallow.
The con side does have an advantage though. Economies are struggling worldwide, some failing, and anti-tithing rhetoric is on the increase. With the problems and the noise it is easy to throw up the hands and stop trying.
Well, don’t give up too soon. There are answers to many of the questions people are asking. Many of my articles address some of the more popular anti-tithing arguments:
- Did Jesus (and Paul) eliminate tithing or reinforce it philosophically?
- Did Jesus eliminate the “Law” or just the curse?
- Can giving tithe money cause financial collapse?
- Can withholding it encourage financial recovery?
- Does corruption countermand tithing?
- Should our giving be regular (tithing) or whimsical (grace giving)?
- If we tithe on net income which “net” are we talking about?
- Is tithing just a law or does it make good sense?
No, you nor anyone else should be forced into tithing but every sincere Christian has a natural desire to make a contribution and everyone agrees that giving is what we should do. I’ve written articles to help you think carefully through the issues and decide for yourself.