Extension of FTN’s tithing post

FTN has this discussion on tithing and I just thought I’d extend a bit on it.  If you haven’t read it, you should and also read the comments. 

 

On the front end of this, I’d like to point you towards a few resources that I’ve looked at on the subject.

 

First, there is the Sheep Comics, that really give a good treatment of the subject both through the biting satire and through the writings that follow. (Here’s a second one)  This really was what started me on the road to reconsider the whole tithing issue.  I had some misgivings before reading it, but this really pushed me in a “No Tithing” frame of mine.

 

Another resource is a video clip from Family Room Media which takes another really big bite at the tithing concept.  This is actually based on the true story of Loren (playing himself) when he was a youth pastor.  He was going through a rough time financially and the church was considering helping him out.  However when they checked their tithing record….well, you’ll just have to watch the 2 minute video.  It shows how the entire system is fairly oppressive in it’s nature.

 

Russ Kelly’s website is new to me and I was glad to have a look around after I looked it up when he left a comment on FTN’s post.  Always cool when someone weighs in and knows wht they are talking about.

 

Now a bit about my own story…

 

My parents were pretty good and regular givers, despite the fact that we were pretty poor.  Yeah, I do definitely believe the poorest 50% are giving 90% as far as charity.  So this was passed on to me, and further reinforced when I was involved with the hfundamentalist church in college.  Of course at that time, I had nothing to tithe.  Even I was able to figure out that tithing on a student loan was a dimwitted thing to do.

 

When I first went to work after work, I wasn’t altogether cool with the church.  No tithing during that time, but I was working A LOT among 3-4 jobs.  And I made more money than I’d ever seen  in my life.  Must’ve been at least $13-14K!  And I saved 5k and went back to school.  After another year of school the economy went south and so did I.  It was in Georgia that I began going to church again.  And I began tithing, despite not making a lot of money.

 

I regarded tithing like a lot of the other commenters to FTN’s post.  It was my duty and obligation to give back to God and give to the church.  The church I was attending was a mega-Methodist church with tons of programs and an expansive programs.  The majority who attended were VERY affluent.  I’d never seen so many Range Rovers, Mercedes, BMW’s and Jaguars in my life until touring that church’s parking lot on a Sunday morning.  And yet when I read the average tithing figures, I was in the top 50% of givers.  “What the hell is WRONG with these people?” I thought.

 

After getting married, we move to South Georgia and again the small church was pretty affluent and again I was in the top tier of tithers even though I was in the bottom 50% of earners.  They made me a member of the finance committee for my efforts.  Less than 5% of the budget went towards missions in the community, and most of the money went towards their own salaries, buildings and program efforts.  In the Methodist church, each congregation gives the denomination an apportionment which is like a tithe the church pays.  Much of that money went into various relief and various social organizations.

 

I was pretty much like a Pharisee during that time.  I was on the church board, taught Sunday school, president of the United Methodist Men, and really lobbied for more outreach, more regular giving and more regular attendance and church meetings and functions.  The Sunday school class there didn’t particularly appreciate my hard-nosed stance on the issue.  My feeling was that if a relatively poor person like me could do it, couldn’t the more well-off folks do it?  We were living in a trailer park, for heaven’s sake!

 

In the current church, after toning it down, I’ve tried to turn the Pharisee off.  There is no salvation in the law.

 

The thing that bugged me most about how the Methodist churches did their money-raising campaigns was the concept of pledge cards.  Every year, the congregation would be asked to make out a pledge card, pledging to give a certain amount per month.  Avery quarter, you got a statement stating how much you gave and where you stood in relation to your pledge.  For the few years I filled one out, I was always ahead but it still bugged me about how the church was keeping score.  I got to the point where I refused to fill out a pledge card.  I still gave, but I wasn’t going to be a party to what I saw as a rather faithless method of doing a church budget.  To my way of thinking, the church leaders could budget based on the previous year’s expenditures, pray about any increase or decrease and then go about their business, walking in faith that God would provide.  Afterall, this is what they were asking us to do individually when we filled out the pledge card.  But they insisted on sticking to the Old Testament law.  Any of the most causal Christians could see that there was a clear difference between the giving found in Number and Deuteronomy and the giving found in Acts.

 

The one time we see a sort of pledge system at work in Acts, is chapter 5 when a couple failed to live up to their pledge.  The consequences were pretty dire, weren’t they?  In Peter’s response, we see they would have been far better off to simply be truthful about their business and intent. 

 

The simple fact is, is that any church that is teaching the tithe is teaching a lie.  They are twisting scripture in order to accomplish what many perceive to be a Godly end.  It would be far better that they be honest about the intent, which is to get the money to pay people and keep the institutional machinery running, rather that twist and use scripture in the name of helping the poor and less fortunate.  The world sees the truth which is the most blatant of hypocrisies and the reaction is justifiable cynicism towards pretty much anything the church does. 

 

I do think giving is important, but not to keep the institutional machinery running.  It’s important to help clothe the naked, feed the hungry and help the oppressed.  We can improve our character by giving generously because there really isn’t any better way to learn and cultivate generosity than by doing it.

 

But claiming that god requires us to give stuff to him is a contradiction to what Paul said in Acts 17: 14-27:

 

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

 

 

God doesn’t want or need our stuff.  He wants US.  That may involve releasing our grip on our stuff long enough to discover Him and that’s really what is behind the spirit of charity.  It’s not about the law, duty, obligation.  It’s certainly not about blessings and curses.  God wants us to feel our way toward Him and to find Him.

 

Since I quit tithing I’ve got more money to be generous with that ever before.  How’s THAT for a prosperity gospel!?!?  You won’t hear that message preached from the pulpit because it does not square with the prevailing political agenda.

 

D.

 

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11 Responses to “Extension of FTN’s tithing post”

  1. Square1 Says:

    I always find it interesting that churches will preach until they’re blue in the face about tithing, but when someone who is struggling with a rent payment or is threatened to have their power cut off, the church is very rarely there to help their congregation members out. I also am a firm believer that people who have a lot of debt and who have responsibilities ought to consider not tithing so that they do not have to go in front of the church board and be humiliated when they can’t pay their bills. Does that sound jaded? Yeah well, experience tends to do that to a person.

    The biggest thing that opened my eyes was reading back through the Old Testament to find out WHY the tithe was instituted. The tithe was set up to support the tribe of Levi because they did not own any land, and did not work for their living. They were there to minister to the people day in and day out.

    In this sense I agree with the structure the Catholic Church has established in that the priest is provided with a rectory, a simple vehicle, and a monthly pittance upon which to survive. This allows him to be available to “tend his flock” no matter what day or hour. I do however disagree with the corporate structure or hierarchical structure of any religious organization. I do not need to go through priest, cardinal, or popes, or likewise in Islam through Imams and Sheiks to have faith in God.

    In the Protestant faith the constant harping on tithes always left me with a sick feeling, because most of the Pastors worked very good jobs and didn’t want for much in the way of luxury while a good percentage of their congregation worked menial jobs and lived paycheck to paycheck. And if it wasn’t the pastors taking the money, the money was being put into building a bigger building or putting in a new P.A. I can understand general maintenance of the building. Obciously the power bill needs to be paid, it needs to be cleaned, light bulbs need to be changed etc. But I will forever disagree with huge structures being built on the backs of the poor all in the name of God. I rather think God would be appalled at this sort of oppression, if I may be so bold as to guess at God’s mind.

    I’m sorry, but last time I checked the church consisted of the people, not the building. I felt that way as a Christian, and i feel that way as a Muslim as well. I will say the Zakat or charity system in Islam does seem to follow a better structure.

  2. Square1 Says:

    P.S. Tithe did not used to mean money either. Generally it was a portion of livestock or crops. And it can be given directly to someone who needs it instead of giving it to a middle man. To me handing five dollars to a homeless person on the street is as much a tithe as a $20 dropped in the collection plate, and is probably a more sincere action of generosity on the givers part.

  3. Russell Earl Kelly Says:

    God remarks fromn Square1. the Catholics come nearest to OT tithing becasue their priests do not own and inherit properety. That simple OT fact woudl put a dent into the rich landowner prosperity preachers.

    Check out my free 2 hour video on tithing. I think you will like it. It is getting 500 downloads per month!

    I also like Sheep Comics.

  4. FTN Says:

    I’m torn on a number of issues regarding church giving. As I mentioned, people complain about how so many churches harp on tithing until they are blue in the face… Yet my own church shied away from being up front about their financial situation until it was almost too late. Because they didn’t want to turn people off!

    So on one hand, the church SHOULD be able to talk about money without people getting so upset. On the other hand, they need to go about the conversation in the right way. And I think some churches DO. Of course, many DON’T.

    I do think it is my responsibility to give some to the church to which I belong. Maybe not 10%, I don’t know. Maybe a good idea would be for me to give about 5%, and to set aside 5% to give generously to others. The 10% may not be a hard and fast rule, but overall, it seems like a workable percentage. I just wish churches were using the money less on THEMSELVES.

    Oh, and those sheep comics still rule.

  5. Square1 Says:

    FTN I do agree that a church needs to make it’s congregation aware that there is a certain amount of money that needs to be coming in for general maintenance and repair. As long as they are being upfront about it that is perfectly acceptable. I have a problem when a church is constantly guilting people into giving money they don’t have in order to build a bigger and better edifice rather than to take care of the people in the congregation.

  6. diggerjones Says:

    Glad you piped in, Square! Indeed, your experience is too common. In the book of Acts, the purpose of giving was so that the entire community shared pretty much the SAME standard of living! Having someone in poverty who is a member is anathema to everything Jesus preached!

    Muslims do actually have a looser and more flexible giving system. It is also much more modest, at 2.5% or so. as far as the major building programs, I’m dead set against it. The first dedicated buildings didn’t exist for 300 years because Christianity was an outlaw religion! The idea of using millions of dollars on these complexes sickens me.

    Thanks for visiting, Russ! I’d like to download the video but didn’t see any way to get it. I have fast access at work, but I hardly think they would like me to spend 2 hours watching a video! (no matter how good it is!). The priests of the Catholic church do indeed live a bit more authentically much like the Levites in the OT. This would be fine if they were living under the old covenant and followed all of the Mosaic laws.

    This goes back to some of my earlier posts, FTN, regarding what a church really is. If it is an institution consisting of a campus of buildings and a number of programs, than you are quite right. The members should support it just like members of other various clubs support their organizations. But if it is about relationships, then money should go to support PEOPLE, not institutions or buildings or programs. When Paul collected offerings from the various groups, the money went to support PEOPLE and not for salaries, buildings and programs or even a 401K.

    Just something to think about.

    There are ways to grow a church and it doesn’t have to be about building a bigger arena with more parking to attract bigger crowds.

    D.

  7. Square1 Says:

    Yes it is approximately 2.5% of whatever you have saved per annum. I’ve found that the Masjed in Islam is generally kept in good repair by people who are willing to donate time and supplies to keep it so, more than money, and in general this tends to be the wealthiest of the bunch, because they believe they will be rewarded greatly for their efforts. The rest of the maintenance is kept up by membership fees, which I don’t necessarily agree with, but since no one is twisting my arm to pay for membership, and I don’t plan to pay a membership fee, I’ll live with it.

    Zakat in Islam is between God and the person. In fact there are Zakat boxes that are left by the door where a person can anonymously give as they see fit, if they wish to give to the Masjed. Otherwise charity can be given by feding the hungry, giving money to a family who needs it directly, or by otherwise helping someone in an area that they have need. A simple smile can be considered an act of charity, if that is all you have to give.

    I much prefer this over the constant harping to give money to an organization until you are destitute. In fact we have been told that if we give charity at a time when it will cause harm to us or our children to do so (and I mean serious harm, like giving money would prevent us from buying medication or something) it is actually haram or forbidden to do so, since we are not allowed to harm ourselves or our sisters or brothers. Some Muslims feel that the sister and brother only extends to other Muslims, but I apply a more liberal translation to that, and extend it to every member of the human race.

    I always found it ironic that at church we would get preached at to “give, give, give” but were also told to only give with a joyful heart. It’s hard to give joyfully when you don’t know how you’re going to pay your electricity the following week.. They say to have faith that God will provide, but then refuse to be the avenue by which God can make that provision.

    I believe firmly that God does most of his work in other people’s lives through us, but only when we are open to his promptings.

    Sorry. I’ll get off of my soap box now!

  8. FTN Says:

    Digger, let me explain why more I’m torn about some of this. Obviously, the church should be more about the PEOPLE and less about the building, the salaries, or the 401K.

    But if we stop giving to the “church,” then the bank forecloses on the building, and we no longer have a place to meet. Many of my friends, who have invested their lives via seminary, Bible college, and a lifetime of paid vocational ministry, no longer have jobs. Sadly, they aren’t qualified to do much else! I have friends that are full-time ministers that are working second jobs to make ends meet… jobs like delivering pizzas. They seldom see their families as it is!

    The problem is that it isn’t so cut and dry as “people” vs “buildings.” Sure, if we could just start over entirely, it might be easier to build things the way we want from the ground up. And maybe that’s the way to go … If we all just stop giving money to the church, we can lose the building, and fire all the staff! Then we can start over the way WE want to do it.

    See where the problems of reality come into play? I obviously would feel better if my check on a Sunday morning was going to feed a homeless family in my community, or help pay the bills of a friend in need. But the reality is that my check will most likely go towards a mortage payment… More likely just the INTEREST in a mortgage payment.

    But I still drop that check in. Because I know that in the 21st century, an imperfect church like mine still needs a place to meet, both on Sunday and throughout the week. As nice as it would be to have all of our ministers be doing this as a second, unpaid job, in today’s society that would just SUCK. It might be ideal, but it’s not realistic. I’m pretty happy having full-time ministry staff, because I know most of them work hard and serve people well.

    We made our bed, so now I lie in it. Not liking how they do things isn’t a good enough reason for me to stop giving. If I disliked it THAT much, I’d find another (imperfect) church.

    Anyway, I don’t know exactly what my point is here, but I hope at least it’s coherent.

  9. Xian Husband Says:

    So, I missed FTN’s original post because I’ve been busy and haven’t had time to blog a lot lately. Too bad because this is one issue I would kind of like talking about.

    Firstly, while the term “tithing” implies some things that aren’t really applicable in the new covenant, giving is still a necessary and important part of Christianity. If anything, the removal of the ten-percent rule was not so much to allow Christians to give less, but to remove the idea that 10% was all they owed God. We don’t. We owe Him everything. He doesn’t just own 10% of our goods — which is the rule He gave the Jews — He owns all of it.

    Theologically, that is the result of salvation. When God brought Israel out of Egypt He did so through the pouring out of His wrath on the land. The Death Angel was to pass through the land and kill every first born of every family. But Israel was spared God’s wrath through the Passover. The passover lamb was a substitutionary sacrifice, alleviating God’s wrath on the household. God said that when He saw the blood on the door He would pass-over them. Why? Because the lamb took the place of those He would otherwise have killed. He was in essence saying, “That one is already dead, so I’ll move on.” The first-born among the house so passed over were considered dead, and then metaphorically raised back to life by God.

    The results of this were important. Later in the book God says that, because He spared them His wrath through such metaphorical death and rebirth, all the first-born belonged to Him, as His personal possessions. He kept that with all livestock — which is why the first born of all animals were to be sacrificed to Him — but with people He made things easier by doing a swap. Those who were to be His because they were the saved first-born were swapped out with the tribe of Levi. The Levites, therefore, became His because of the Passover. The tithe was set up to support the Levites, and it was truly seen as giving to God — not men — because the Levites were God’s special possession.

    Well, with us, God has saved ALL Christians from His truly deserved wrath through our passover lamb, His one and only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. We are saved through a substitutionary sacrifice — we died with Him and are raised with Him. Because of that, we are ALL God’s possessions. Slaves to Him, owned by Him. We are not our own. And, therefore, neither is any of the goods He chooses to entrust us with. If you are in Christ then you are not your own. You own nothing — not even yourself.

    OK, all that being said, 10% is still a nice, even number to use as a starting point for budgeting your giving. God owns it all, and He had only entrusted it to you (you’ve earned NOTHING on your own), but He entrusts us with it for a lot of reasons. Supporting ourselves and our family is an important one. Planning for the future is another. Helping the poor — especially those of the faith — is a major one. Providing for our ministers and church leaders is another.

    These are all not just good ideas. They are responsibilities. Duties. Properly understood, we don’t have choices here. The scriptures are clear on that. Matthew 25, I Timothy 5, etc.

    Now, to say that the whole point is so that there is no difference in standard of living between believers is going way too far — the book of Philemon would make no sense if that were true. But we certainly are to share. All we have, God has given us. It is HE who provides. He chooses, therefore, to give more to some people and less to others (and He says the poor will always be with us). Why? So that those with more can share with those who have less, creating bonds of love and community. Poverty, therefore, is not a problem to stamp out (as if we could!), but an opportunity to demonstrate our love, service, and self-sacrifice.

    As for my family, if you look at our gross income, we give around 8% to various causes — church is just one of many — and save around 12% in various investment vehicles. After tax, those numbers are right at 10% and 6%. (All our giving is after-tax, but most of our savings in things like 401K and stuff is pre-tax). I’m a firm believer that, while God never promises material prosperity on anyone in particular, and in general says that life will be harder for those who believe than others, He also blesses those who are the most generous.

    He promises that — when Jesus tells us to lay up treasures in heaven and not on Earth, He uses financial imagery. When we give to the Lord we are making an investment in the truest sense. An investment that gives infinite return, 100% guaranteed. The blessings that flow from such things are spiritual in nature, but that is not to say that God does not, at times, also translate them into the physical realm.

    Giving is certainly a duty and obligation. He OWNS us. If we are truly to be His, then we are to be His slaves — and we are slaves to the one we obey. Where He sends, we will go. What He says we will do. And what He tells us to do with His own property, we must do. And we should do it cheerfully and joyfully, as such things are nothing but an opportunity to invest in the greatest opportunity ever given to man.

  10. Jared Says:

    Thanks for the comments on tithing. I don’t agree with the tithing law, but i do agree with sacrificial Spirit-led giving. I describe it like this. If the Spirit ordains a ministry it’ll provide the means to sustain it. Just like the law ordained the levitical priesthood and also provided the means through tithing to sustain it. The Spirit-led church must be supported by Spirit-led giving.

  11. Emily Says:

    I thought quite a lot about yours and FTN’s post about tithing. I have tithed in the past, and in fact given more than 10% for long periods. After more than a decade’s break, I have now been going to a church for about a year, and should probably be thinking about making more of a financial commitment.

    But although I like the church a lot, and generally support their approach, I do have reservations about spending so much on buildings and churchy activities that are probably worthwhile but not exactly critical. In particular, to give more to the church, I would ultimately have to give less to the charities I currently support. It doesn’t feel right to take money away from causes to do with the third world and redirect it towards a mainly middle class church.

    So for the moment, I spend money on one project they do that I really like: maintaining a larder for people in the local community who need food. I cook for their freezer and pay for what I cook, which is quite a substantial amount when I am often making over 20 meals at a time.

    It’s probably not a long term solution, but I feel good about where the money is going, and its genuinely useful. So maybe I will stick with it for now!

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