You Negate The Word Of God For The Sake Of Your Tithing Tradition Part 2
In the last post, we made the case that the tithe of today is a human religious tradition, supported by fabricated doctrines and differing even in principle from the tithe God commanded Israel. Today we will examine several commands of scripture that many churches regularly break for the sake of their tithe tradition. I have heard so many people claim they teach tithing as a “grace principle” of faith, not as legalism, yet in most cases, many of these issues remain.
Guys, again, this whole issue of the tithe tears me up. I write with love for the church. I just have to be real about it…honest with myself and honest with others. This is what I see when I read scripture and apply it to issues in the church today.
Matthew 7:5-13 (NIV) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Open Your Hands To The Poor And Do Not Oppress Them
If you ever just open your Bible and read it cover to cover, one of the main themes you will find is justice for the oppressed and the command to help the poor. Check out Compassion International’s compilation of scriptures concerning the poor for a few of them. When scripture talks about giving, it talks about this more than anything else. The New Testament also has extremely harsh words for those who oppress the poor and defraud workers of their wages. God’s heart is huge on this matter.
Many churches teach that giving to poor and giving to missions only come after the tithe. However, the poor under the Old Covenant received from the tithe and did not pay it. Even if we were 100% under the law of the Old Covenant, following today’s modern tithe tradition would still be breaking the commandments of God.
Instead of helping the poor as the ancient tithe did, today’s modern tithe tradition tells them that they are cursed and they are God-robbers if they do not pay their tithe. (Often before anything else including food or rent.) Even many grace preachers like Joseph Prince who preach tithing but say the curse does not apply have still taught things like “the original sin was not tithing” and “non-tithers are God-robbers.”
Some in financial straits have stopped going to church because they couldn’t afford it. This is not rare. My aging mother-in-law, whose income covers half her expenses, was one who said, “I can’t go to church tonight because I don’t have my tithe.”
Her pastor is a very loving guy, sincere, and I think he’s just teaching what he’s been taught and what he thinks is right. His tradition, like many, seems to treat tithing as a fundamental of the Christian faith. I doubt he would tell her she couldn’t go to church without her tithe, although there are pastors who do. Even so, my mother-in-law is simple, like a child, and “you’re not welcome if you don’t come with a tithe” is what she understood from simply teaching the denomination’s position on the matter.
I have already shared a few stories of injustice, such as a widow caring for orphans and tithing faithfully, but getting kicked out for not paying rent. When I share these, similar stories start coming out of the woodwork. I’ve received various messages from others sharing their own experiences since I started this series. These are pervasive issues, common within churches that claim to teach tithing by grace, but people usually only share their stories when they feel safe and don’t believe they will be judged.
Consider this: Even if you believe Christians are under the law (which is a great error in itself), to know scripture commanded that the needy receive the tithe, yet tell a person in need that scripture teaches they must pay the tithe before even their rent or grocery bill, is fraud. To tell them that God will curse them if they do not is extorsion. It’s a crime in God’s eyes, and it’s oppressing the poor. Even if we were fully under the tithe law of Israel, those in need received help from the tithe and it was landowners who gave it.
I realize that many preachers have taught this error as it was passed down to them, believing it sincerely. But someone who is faced with these facts from the Old Testament and continues to do so has no excuse. The rebuke of Jesus to the Pharisees, which he gave after seeing a poor widow put all she had to live on in the offering, applies here. (Read here for further explanation of this often misinterpreted story.)
This reminds me of our experience with being sold a business by fraud. When shown facts like differing financial statements for the same time periods, the franchise owner and representatives refused to respond to anything, but when confronted about the matter and about the lies of their salespeople, they became angry. If even seemed like one representative of the franchise whom I corresponded with was honestly convinced that the franchise was in the right. Many people, unfortunately, deceive themselves in the same way over the tithe. When confronted with the fact of how the poor received, rather than gave, the ancient tithe, they become angry in the same way. They have deceived themselves and believe what they want to, in spite of many facts to the contrary.
People, even those who agree with me that tithing is not the New Covenant model, ask “Why is this such a big deal?” The first reason is that these teachings are untrue, and we participate in a spirit of fraud when we continue to hold to them and ignore the facts. Nobody can argue with the fact that the tithe of the Old Covenant helped the poor rather than demanding from them.
Declaring What Would Have Helped Your Father Or Mother Is Dedicated To God
This is the specific example that Jesus gave to the Pharisees of how the nullified God’s word for the sake of their tradition. Instead of caring for aging parents, they made a “gift dedicated to God.”
The teaching that wrongly equates a tithe with the separate Old Testament “firstfruits” offering, and then teaches people to tithe before anything else, has often equated to the same thing. There are many cases in which people who took this erroneous“firstfruits tithe” teaching seriously have not adequately cared for their families. As a missionary who’s seen some of the global church and who corresponds with Christians from various nations, I can say these situations are even more common in third-world countries. There have been reports of African women prostituting themselves to pay tithes, and I’ve personally heard similar stories from African Christians.
1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV) Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Romans 13:8 (NRSV) Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Paying a tithe before caring for your family or paying bills is nullifying God’s word for the sake of human tradition. There are many, many situations in which this is happening and tithe teachers do not want to come face-to-face with these situations. Many preachers will say “Oh, those people are just victims of preachers who abuse the truth of tithing. It doesn’t invalidate the principle.” Yet the same situations often exist in their own churches. It’s not that someone is “abusing the teaching.” The teaching itself is abusive.
Some people who pay tithes first and are behind on bills or not paying what is due are living in guilt and condemnation. Others are full of self-righteous pride. I heard one man speaking boastfully of his tithe, saying “the tithe is grace, and really, it’s only a starting point for generous giving” and then upbraiding other people for the supposed “stinginess.”
What many people didn’t know is that this guy owed one of his workers 7 months of unpaid wages. He eventually paid, but not before his tithe! The irony is that this man qualified as an elder in the local church for paying his tithes, yet the one who would pay the worker first would be disqualified for leadership!
“Don’t Test The Lord Your God”
In Acts, the early church determined that trying to compel Gentile Christians to be bound by Jewish law was testing God.
Acts 15:10 (NRSV) Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?
Matthew 4:7 (NRSV) Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
This reminds us of Jesus rebuke to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, in which he upbraided them for their self-righteous boasting in their money and for laying heavy burdens on people and locking them out of the kingdom of heaven. It also reminds us of Matthew 18.
Matthew 18:6 (NRSV) If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.
I’ve talked to many unchurched people about Christ. So many of them avoid church precisely because they believe the church cares about what they have, not about them. This does great harm to the cause of the gospel. On the contrary, the apostle Paul said “We want not what is yours, but you.” That’s enough about this. We already examined earlier how the tithe tradition undermines the way people relate to God. From the correspondence I’ve received, many of my readers can relate. The whole book of Galatians applies to this point.
Give In Secret
Matthew 6:3-4 (NRSV) But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Churches who check their member’s tithe records and ministries that ask if people are tithers are not allowing them to give in secret to be seen only by God. Jesus also rebuked the Pharisees who gained honor by doing their deeds to be seen by men.
I have often heard tithe teachers speaking quite a lot in public about their giving, and have often heard defendants of tithing in going on in self-righteous boasting of their giving, but talking down on people they consider stingy. Consider Jesus’ words, which are no less applicable today then they have ever been:
Luke 18: 9-14 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Let Giving Be As Each Decides In His Heart, Not Under Compulsion
2 Corinthians 9:7 (NRSV) Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Teaching tithing to Christians clearly violates Paul’s New Testament instructions here for giving in the churches. The church is not to tell anybody how much they must give, but giving must flow from communion with the Holy Spirit. Consider Tertullian’s description of early church giving, similar to what Justin Martyr described of Christian worship. Note how closely they match Paul’s command in 2 Corinthians 9:7, but are totally incompatible with anything less than free-will giving. The money went to help many of the same people whom churches compel to tithe today.
“Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.”-Tertullian
“And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.” -Justin Martyr
The free will giving of the early church helped the same people who the tithe law of the Old Covenant helped. We could do a whole article in detail on this one subject, but by controlling giving instead of letting it flow out of a heart in communion with the Holy Spirit, the tithe supplants giving to missions and helping the needy. Leaders of some of the fastest-growing church planting movements in the world see teaching a tithe as a hindrance to church multiplication since it supplants being lead by the Holy Spirit and individuals taking responsibility as stewards of their giving.
Do you remember Edgar’s story? Our giving to a church didn’t amount to 10% when we cared for him, and the Baptist church that helped us with a bed for him has never taught tithing or used any form of compulsion in giving, yet we’ve seen them do far more to help the needy than many churches 10 times their size will do.
A friend shared her story in the comments of our blog post “Tithing and Injustice.” She wasn’t supposed to be on the worship team if she wasn’t tithing. She was struggling to make ends meet, but on joining the worship team, she had signed her name that she would agree to tithe to the church. Then one day she felt the Holy Spirit guiding her to give $50, more than her tithe would have been, to a lady in the church. She argued with God but he said firmly “She is my church!” So she obeyed. The lady cried because that $50 was grocery money for her and her two kids that week.
She disobeyed the tithe tradition of men, but she obeyed God.
Welcome One Another As Christ Has Welcomed You
Romans 15:7 (NRSV) Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Many churches have made it clear that people who don’t tithe are not welcome as functional members of the body of Christ, or even as church members at all. Dooming anyone who is giving less than 10% of their finances to spectator status in the church, which even many “grace churches” do, is not accepting them as Christ has. On what basis did Christ welcome us? On that of a tithe?
Many may say “We don’t teach you are accepted by tithing. You are already accepted in Christ.” Yet often, their practice is not so! And if they teach that non-tithers are “God-robbers” like so many do (even some “grace preachers” who claim to teach tithing by grace), it brings cognitive dissonance. It’s hard to keep this scripture out of people’s minds:
1 Corinthians 5:12 (NIV) “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
Do Not Show Favoritism
James 2:1-6 (NRSV) My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you?…
This is one of the most relevant and applicable scriptures to what we are talking about. In many churches, being in leadership is out of the question if one is not a tither, although it is not one of the qualifications for leaders set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Titus 1:6-9. How many times have we seen extreme leniency as to the scriptural qualifications for elders, yet a person who holds the scriptural qualifications and has the integrity to pay bills before giving, would never be considered if giving less than a tenth at the moment? Some leaders even say upfront that how much money people contribute to the church is one of the main factors when they choose elders.
The next point really illustrates the problem with this:
Don’t Judge By Mere Appearances, But Judge With Righteous Judgement
John 7:2 (NIV) Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.
1 Samual 16:7 (NIV) But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
When mammon becomes the measure by which we determine the sincerity of other’s faith, their devotion to Christ, or their favor with God, we are deceived. Looking at just the outward appearance destroys discernment. Nobody’s heart before God can be measured by a percentage or a dollar amount.
I agree with John Wesley’s teaching that as we live for Christ 100% of our money is holy, and what we spend to care for our own needs and those of our families is just as holy as the rest. Wesley taught to first care for your own needs, then the needs of your family, then the world. There is no guilt in this view of giving.
Sometimes there are people who are bursting with God’s life but don’t have a lot of money at the moment. When I was in that crisis situation and decided it would not honor God to tithe but not pay my electric bill, I was seeing people healed all the time. I was trying sincerely to be a good steward of my money before God.
Weekly I saw people in tears as God touched them. I sometimes saw more people healed in a day than I had seen previously in years of church attendance. I sometimes started weeping as I walked down the street because I was imagining God touching somebody. It really wasn’t about wanting a position in church or wanting to be seen. I just wanted to see people meet Jesus. I had homeless people living in my house. I think I often spent about 20 hours a week praying for people everywhere I went and talking to them about Jesus. When I met somebody who needed to be healed, if felt like time stopped and the person in front of me was the most important thing in the world. Yet I was in financial distress.
I shared that story with you guys earlier. Some friends regarded me as backslidden. Many thought I was being stingy if I wasn’t tithing. The pastor said they could no longer endorse my ministry, and I didn’t know a church that would. I didn’t know who would stand behind me as a missionary. I was more welcome to minister in the houses of many unbelievers and idol-worshippers than in church.
What if 20 or more hours pouring out my heart in love for people that week and ministering healing was more of a sacrifice for me than the 4 hours it took another person to earn their week’s tithe money? Not to mention the trips to minister in small churches where often the small offering, if there was one, didn’t cover my travel expenses. (I’m not saying this begrudgingly at all…it was my privilege to see what God did there and I was thankful for what they did give.) And the mission trip to Russia cost as much as a year of tithes would anyways. What if there was more risk and sacrifice in taking a homeless couple and their baby into my house than there was for another person who gave the full 10% of their income to the church that week?
As I write this last paragraph I feel uncomfortable, like “why should I even need to talk like this?”
2 Corinthians 10:7,12, 17-18 (NIV) You are judging by appearances…We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise…But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.
Paul went on to say in the next chapter that he was boasting like a fool, but he did so to cut the ground out from under those who boasted and compared themselves to others based on outward things. And so I speak to cut the ground out from under those who see a percentage or dollar amount as the measure of a person’s heart.
When we fail to judge with right judgement, we’ll reject Jesus himself coming to us, as Jesus did not come with anything in his outward appearance that people should desire him, and he continues to come humble and riding on a donkey. When leaders judge by outward appearance whom to entrust God’s flock to, they end up appointing those who will divide and devour rather than build up and care for God’s people. There are many poor who are rich in faith, as scripture says. We should not discount their faith if they make their first priority caring for mother or father rather than dedicating “A gift offered to God.”
A few weeks ago I shared my story in “Tithing and Injustice.” After that, we talked about how some of the most common tithe teachings undermine the gospel message, open people up to deception, and change how they relate to God and others. In the last post, we examined the weight of evidence from scripture and history against teaching a tithe model for Christian churches. And today we examined several commands of God, from scripture, which are often broken for the sake of today’s tithe tradition. If anybody asks you why this issue is such a big deal, feel free to refer them to these articles!
I pray that you who read be free to give abundantly in every way, not of obligation or guilt, but from participation in Christ’s nature as flowing from communion with the Holy Spirit by grace!