I Have Anguish In My Heart For The Church
In the last post, I suddenly came out and shared my position on tithing openly, which I had mostly only hinted at in my blog until now. I had a burning in my heart to write, and I felt like it was time to do so. Rather than starting with many arguments about the doctrine, I shared a few stories that point out why a 10th is worthless as a measure of what’s in a person’s heart. I also pointed out how the modern tithe often goes against even the spirit of the ancient tithe by collecting from those who would have received the ancient tithe.
Some people ask “Why do you need to talk about this?” In fact, a friend who agrees that scripture doesn’t teach tithing for Christians responded “Why talk about this? It won’t bring you favor to minister in churches. After all, scripture doesn’t prohibit tithing, and it’s a model of giving that works well in our culture.”
I think if you read to the end of today’s post, you should see that there is a major, pervasive gospel issue that can’t be ignored. In the next post, we’ll briefly point to the overwhelming weight of evidence against the tithing position from church history and scripture, then go on to point out how the church breaks several clear commands of scripture for the sake of today’s religious tithing tradition.
My Anguish For The Church
Before going on to share why this is such a crucial and fundamental issue, I’m going to get totally real about my heart in sharing this.
Romans 9:1-5 (NIV) I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
Why did Paul have such anguish over Israel? He saw God’s work and blessing on his people. But they stumbled by persuing the law as the way of righteousness, not by faith but by works. (Romans 9:31-3
I can relate to what Paul says here, although not quite to the point of wishing I myself were cursed and cut off. As Paul loved his people, I love God’s people and I have a burning passion for the work of the Holy Spirit in the churches. I pray often for the churches and for friends who are pastors with many tears of passion and love, with great thankfulness for what the Holy Spirit is doing among God’s people. It seems that I can barely visit a new church without soon being in tears…I frequently weep half of the time when I’m in a Christian meeting, and it’s because I recognize what the Holy Spirit is doing, I see how he’s moving in people’s lives, and I put all my heart and soul into agreeing with the work of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, I’ve often been alone and felt God’s glory on me like a weight, but the greatest manifestations of God’s glory have usually been in gatherings with other Christians. I don’t want to live if not for Jesus and for his purposes with the church. My life’s passion is to see people know and experience God’s glory, and to see God’s glory manifest in and through Christ’s body the church.
Yet some serious issues today have hindered the church from manifesting Christ’s glory more fully. The church today has often sent a mixed message…the declaration of truth brings a manifestation of God’s glory, but it only goes so far if the church then contradicts itself and teaches people to pursue by works that which is only available by God’s grace. For example, so many times I have been deeply grieved to hear a preacher from the front connecting people’s monetary offering to receiving their healing. People were receiving from God by grace, God’s glory was manifesting among the people, but then confusion was brought in.
God is my witness of the many tears I’ve shed in prayer over this issue. God’s given me a commission to strengthen the church and to encourage pastors. Yet talking about the tithe will often close doors to ministry if you don’t agree with it. So I have put much prayer into asking God for wisdom about how to discuss these serious issues. I recently shared my position with two Brazilian pastor friends who I’ve been talking to and praying for. Thank God they understood where I’m coming from!
I have plenty to lose by talking about the problems with today’s tithe tradition. If it were just about being “successful in ministry,” disagreeing with the tithing doctrine is one of the worst things I could do. But the fear of the Lord and love for the truth will not let me around this issue. Love for the church and a passion to see a greater manifestation of God’s glory through the church compels me. This is certainly not about wanting to tear down. I agree that if Christians want big buildings and other high-overhead things, it makes sense to pitch in for them. I believe the gospel is worth giving not only our money but also our lives to promote. I want to build up the church, I want people to give generously, and I want to see provision for ministries, but it must be by God’s grace and not according to the law.
Deception Starts Subtlely
In my early twenties, I realized that the tithe as I was taught in church cut away at the very foundations of the gospel message.
That may seem unbelievable, and of course, almost everybody who teaches tithing would deny that they are teaching salvation by the tithe.
But especially for full-gospel preachers, they use an inconsistent definition of salvation. Full-gospel preachers rightly define salvation as healing, deliverance, provision, access to God’s presence, and wholeness in every aspect. But then when it comes to tithing, they switch to a limited definition of salvation as making it into heaven and escaping hell in the end. And they say “You aren’t saved by tithing but…”
Two of the most common teachings concerning the tithe undeniably teach salvation by tithing, at least for anybody who recognizes the Biblical implications of what we are saying.
The first is the idea that your blessing or curse hinges on your tithe. This teaching comes from a gross misuse of Malachi that ignores context and audience. I talked about this previously in the article “Righteousness, Blessing, Salvation.” Basically, if you are blessed or cursed based on your tithe, justification is by tithing. If you are blessed or cursed based on your tithe, tithing is what puts you right with God, and salvation is by works. Period. There’s no getting around it. You can not be righteous (right with God) and not be blessed. You can not be righteous and cursed.
The second is the teaching that tithing opens the heavens and that the heavens are closed over you if you don’t tithe.
The implications of this become absolutely clear if we understand biblically what open heavens are. Hebrews chapter nine and ten lay it out clearly. An open heaven is access to the Father, access to God’s presence, and the heavens were torn open when Jesus’ body was torn.
To say that tithing opens the heavens is to put the tithe in the place of Jesus’ sacrifice and what it accomplished. Jesus’ torn body is our open heaven, and it is the only way into the Father’s presence. In fact, Pastor Bertie Brits has a really interesting video called “Jesus is the tithe,” explaining how the tithe pointed prophetically to Jesus.
Salvation is about so much more than only getting into heaven and escaping hell when you die. It is about being brought into communion with God now through grace. Whether or not you say you teach salvation by tithing, if your teaching leads people to relate to God on the basis of their tithe, you are teaching salvation by tithing and contradicting the message that leads to the manifestation of God’s glory in and through the church.
As I shared in the last post, I thought I went to one of the least legalistic and most grace-based churches I knew, but when I got into a pressing situation I realized that I didn’t feel like I could approach God the in same way since I wasn’t paying my tithe. I knew many other Christians would feel the same. That was when I started to question what I was basing my relationship with God on.
I’ve talked to others from a “grace-based” church that were in pressing situations and feeling a tremendous amount of confusion, guilt, and condemnation over this issue. One person from a “grace-preaching” church who had disagreed with me so strongly about the tithe just two years earlier broke down crying because she was in a pressing financial situation and felt so much guilt and condemnation about struggling to pay her tithe. Even though she was tithing, it was such a burden every time that she couldn’t do it with joy and then felt condemned because she was trying to hard to give it joyfully and felt she couldn’t so she was a bad Christian.
I could relate to her. When I was tithing, I had been taught that giving only started beyond my tithe. So I always felt like I wasn’t giving enough. After all, Malachi said “You’ve robbed me in tithes and offerings.” (I hadn’t considered that the tithes Malachi talked about were food and the “offerings” Malachi referred to were animal sacrifices) I was always wondering at what point my offerings were enough. Have you ever been there? You always try harder and it’s never enough. This is not the gospel I first received!
In his video “Tithing will kill you,” Pastor Bertie also shares his testimony of how tithing totally changed the way he related to God and to other people. I can testify that he’s right on. The tithe teaching changed how I related to God exactly as he describes, and I’ve seen it in the lives of many other people. I can relate to Bertie as to how zealous I was for the things of God. It’s often the most zealous people who take the teaching more seriously who get burnt out on it. As Bertie describes, even if you are tithing, the accompanying teaching puts you in a place where whatever you do is never enough. The teaching says you are not even giving until it goes beyond the tithe, so unless you give significantly beyond the tithe you are “sowing sparingly.” So if you are “reaping sparingly” you must also be robbing God in offerings.
There are two sides to this coin. I was a young man who had spent a lot of money on mission trips and was in the position of being the main provider for my family for a time after I just started working. For many people who are in a tough position like that, the tithe teaching bears the fruit of guilt and condemnation. For many others, the fruit is religious pride and self-righteousness.
I was recently listening to Reverand Mike Kola Ewuosho sharing his view on the tithe. Although he insisted that the tithe isn’t what makes us accepted by God, he said, “The tithe is gospel.” He also teaches that the tithe is the fruit of faith, and we are justified by faith. These are typical statements of many who teach tithing. Now if the tithe is gospel, the logical implication is that those who don’t tithe haven’t accepted the gospel. If the tithe is of faith, the implication is that those who don’t tithe don’t have faith. (Although Jesus referred to the tithe not only as law but as one of the lesser matters of the law, and scripture says “The law is not of faith.”) According to scripture, faith is what makes us acceptable to God.
A church may say they do not teach salvation by tithing, but if their acceptance or non-acceptance of people into fellowship (or even good standing for leadership) hinges on a tithe, consider what this implies. We are ambassadors of Christ and the body of Christ on the earth. If the church’s acceptance of someone into fellowship depends on the tithe, the church is essentially telling people that being accepted by Christ depends on the tithe. And thus in all practicality, this teaches people to attempt to approach God based on their works rather than on Christ’s work. Who are we to reject someone whom Christ has received?
Do you think I’m blowing this thing way out of proportion? Let’s consider the extent to which this slippery, subtle deception has lead to the acceptance of blatant and explicit teachings of salvation by tithing. What I’m about to share shocked me, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg, and it causes me great concern for the state of the church.
Subtle Deception Paves The Way For Blatant Error
I realize many people don’t like the word “heresy” since it’s been so misused to bash people who have different beliefs. But when any teaching says that there is a way to the Father except through Christ, or another way to be saved, “heresy” is an appropriate word. The apostle Paul treated such teaching very seriously, as you can see in the book of Galatians.
Consider the following quotes which explicitly teach salvation by works and tithing.:
“Nobody who does not tithe faithfully will ever see Jesus’s face or be permitted into heaven.”
“Anybody who wants to be with the Lord Jesus forever must work hard for his salvation every day for the rest of his life.”
What shocked me was not that somebody said some stupid things. There have always been people who say stupid things.
What shocked me is how quickly and easily the book* that includes these statements gained widespread acceptance in mainstream Christianity.
It was published by the biggest Christian publisher in the world. It was endorsed by the pastor of the biggest church in the world. (As of the time it was published.) It became an international bestseller, selling over a million copies, with Charismatic Christians raving over it, including people I know. In fact, I don’t know how I read it the first time as a young teenager and did not see the blatant error.
Consider a few quotes from Creflo Dollar. If I’m not mistaken, he was at the time the TV preacher with the largest audience in the world. Friends, this isn’t about picking on Creflo Dollar. In fact, I’ve heard that he’s totally changed his tone and publicly apologized for some of his earlier teaching that lead people into bondage. My point is the extent to which a false gospel of salvation by tithing has made its way into mainstream Christian culture.
“If you take the time to tithe and tithe correctly, it’s impossible to go to hell, because if you’re doing all that, the tithe will keep you in heaven. The tithe will keep you in the presence of God.”
In fact, Creflo joked about handing guns out, then lining up all the non-tithers and shooting them down at the count of three “Jesus’s”, then throwing them into a mass grave out back so that God could come to church. He said, essentially “I’m serious. That’s what they deserve if not for God’s grace.”
What shocked me is not just that somebody said some really stupid things. What shocked me is how many Christians I have found to defend such statements, and even laugh at the comment about shooting down all the non-tithers and throwing them in a mass grave. What shocked me was the level of mainstream acceptance in Christianity of a preacher teaching such things.
Yet the hatred and anger evident in the joke about shooting down non-tithers is perfectly consistent with the self-righteous and furious responses of so many Christians today if anybody so much as questions if tithing is the Biblical model for Christians’ giving today. I’ve experienced this again and again, and it shows something is wrong.
One friend, a very godly man, became so angry that he later came back and apologized. He didn’t know why he acted so irrationally and out-of-character. It was like something came over him. Others who initially became very angry heard the Holy Spirit respond “The reason you are so angry is because what he’s saying is true.”
Bertie Brits tells of a man who wrote a book on tithing. It was endorsed by well-known leaders and about to be published. Then he heard Bertie preaching that the tithe has no value for Christians today. He became furious. And the Holy Spirit said, “You are furious because everything Bertie is saying is true.”
Irrational rage is sometimes a manifestation of a demonic stronghold. Speaking the truth confronts the lie the demon is holding on to and stirs up resistance. There are godly men and women who have a demonic stronghold that was built up by today’s tithe teachings. If you want to consider the matter from the perspective of scripture or history, they suddenly change and act way out of character.
Friends, you may think I am being dramatic, but I can tell you very truly that today’s teaching about tithing has opened up many people to demons of self-righteousness and false religion. This is true to the extent that some people who are even defrauding others think their wealth is a sign of God’s blessing because of the tithe. The few stories I shared in the last post are just the tip of the iceberg. These issues are pervasive in the church today and it is major deception!
Friends, if any of you give a 10th of your income because it’s truly what you have decided in your heart and that’s what you want to give, not of any compulsion, and you do not measure yourself against others by your tithe, then of course nothing is wrong with that! We are dealing with the teaching that a 10th is what you owe, measures where your heart is, shows where you stand with God, and is essentially not even giving but is paying your dues.
What Do I Hope To Accomplish With This Post?
I know a wide variety of people will be reading this. Some will be pastors and leaders who have taught tithing. Some will be tithers who are caught in either cycles of guilt and shame, or who have fallen into religious pride and self-righteousness. Some will be people who have been questioning what they believe.
Some people may be furious. If you are angry, ask yourself why. Don’t the issues I’ve brought up today and in our last post make it clear that we have a serious problem? If you are teaching tithing, shouldn’t you be willing to consider and respond to scriptural objections to the teaching?
Others might agree with me but wonder, why is this such a big deal? Why talk about it at the risk of churches losing funding because people don’t have to tithe anymore, or of closing doors to ministry opportunities? Why is this something to lose blog subscribers over?
Whether you agree with me or not right now, I hope I’ve gotten your attention as to why we need to talk about this issue in the church. I hope I’ve gotten you to consider what foundation you are building your life on. If you are a leader, I hope I’ve encouraged you to consider how you are teaching people to relate to God. And I hope I have encouraged you who are givers to take responsibility for stewarding your money and truly give according to the desire in your heart which springs from communion with the Holy Spirit, but never as you are pressured to by others.
In the next post, we’ll make the case that the tithe of today is a human tradition that has little to do with scripture, and then consider several ways in which the church today breaks the commandments of God for the sake of the tithing tradition.
*Where are these quotes in the book? A funny story…I had read the book “Heaven Is So Real” years before and someone gave it to me again with their fervent endorsement. I underlined these quotes and a few others, marking the page numbers because I wanted to cite it. But after I told my parents the extent of the error it taught, they burned it as they would a witchcraft item. They figured I wouldn’t mind at all, not realizing that I wanted to keep it so I could cite the page numbers of these quotes. So sorry I don’t have the page numbers at the moment. Lol. But they are in there!