A Footnote on Tithing

Since the idea of giving was so important to my posts on the redemption of work, can I offer a quick footnote on the subject of tithing?

I have convictions on this subject that I’m pretty sure are in conflict with those that I am hearing expressed these days. I hope you will understand that it is difficult for me to say anything on this subject, because of my respect for the people who are expressing these ideas. Some of them are my friends. Others are people who have said a great many things over the years on other subjects that have been very meaningful and influential for me. Others are people whose examples of Christ-likeness make it hard for me to be disagreeable with anything they say.

But I also feel strongly about this subject, so rather than just letting the whole thing slide (as I’m tempted), and rather than trying to lay out a series of propositions with what I think are good proof texts (as I am also tempted), I will just pose a few questions. This way, perhaps, we can start a conversation about the subject, rather than drawing lines in the sand.

These really are questions, by the way. They are probably a little too argumentative, to be sure, but I don’t mean to use them as sarcasm. Nor are they intended to be purely rhetorical.

Here they are:

1. When Christians tell other Christians that God requires them to tithe, isn’t that an implicit rejection of the gospel, in the same way that early efforts to circumcise gentile Christians was a rejection of the gospel in favor of the Mosaic law? (If you don’t follow what I’m asking here, read the book of Galatians in its entirety – even if you don’t think the comparison is fair, at least you will get the gist of my question. And it is in this issue, by the way, where most of my concern on this subject lies).

2. If we are really going to be faithful to Old Testament requirements about giving, won’t we end up requiring people to give a lot more than 10% of their income? Didn’t God require sacrifices and offerings in addition to the tithe? If we are going to assume that the “giving” requirements of the Old Testament still bind us, shouldn’t we be looking for parallels to all of the law’s requirements for giving as well?

3.Didn’t Jesus teach that, at least for some, all of one’s riches must be surrendered for the poor? Even if we don’t agree that this concept is universal, isn’t it better to encourage people to be moving in that direction? Isn’t that a more Kingdom-like way to behave?

4. Can an emphasis on tithing create an unspoken ceiling on people’s giving? A place where people who have a lot of income can feel complacent about their discipleship? Doesn’t it also encourage people who tithe to be self-righteous about it?

5. What about those in our faith communities who are truly poor? Or those who desperately need money for medicine, food, or shelter? Doesn’t it make more sense that, in a spiritual community that models the gospel, the rest of the community should be taking care of them, rather than requiring them to give up what little income they have?

6. Why aren’t the New Testament’s exhortations (1) to give cheerfully, (2) to give in proportion to the way God has blessed us, (3) to view ourselves as stewards of that which belongs to God, and (4) to give sacrificially, more appropriate ways to discuss giving? (All of these ideas are more closely tied to the gospel, and they seem less legalistic to me.)

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