Since I wrote a bit about money last week, I thought it prudent to say a bit more this week. “What do Christians think about tithing?” “How much should I give to the church?” “Do we have to give 10% – and is that gross or net?”
I’ll save the long argument for another post, but let me be both clear and frank here: we are not Old Testament Israel and – even for them – 10% was only part of what they were required to give (if you take into account ALL required giving, it would have been somewhere around 22-23% of their income).
Immediately, Christians of all stripes might have several reactions to this. The first is that some might argue that we need to keep all of the Old Testament laws today – though, curiously, most just stick with the part that mentions 10%, not the other tithes. We are studying why this view is problematic as we work through Galatians (seeing as Christ has fulfilled the law, we are Gentiles and not Jews, Christians rather than those who follow the Jewish religion, etc.).
Others might see this as cause for rejoicing: “hey, I don’t have to give anything!” But these folks neglect all of the examples (and there are many) of Christian giving that are seen throughout the New Testament – examples not just of Jewish background Christians, but of Gentile Christians as well.
All of this muddies the waters quite a bit, doesn’t it? It was easy to say 10%, but that’s not really accurate. It was easy to just ignore giving altogether, but ministry costs money just like anything else we value in life.
While I’ll give a more detailed application at a later date, my point in this post is to get us thinking about two things: one immediate and the other larger.
Immediate: when you give to the church, give joyfully. Give impact-fully. Give in a way that will reflect your worship of God. When you look through the letters of Paul where he references gifts and giving, you see that Christians are giving sacrificially for the spread of the Gospel via the only method that God has ordained: the church, who then uses those resources for both local and global mission. Let me highlight that again in our era of parachurch ministries that flood mailboxes with requests (sometimes legitimate, sometimes not) for more money: the God-ordained method of accomplishing the Great Commission is the church. If you are giving more to parachurch ministries or non profits or humanitarian organizations than you are to your church, your priorities are not in line with the Lord’s.
Since this is worship, your and my thinking should not be “can I spare 10% of my income,” but rather should be “how much can I give to show my priorities as a Christian?” And whatever answer you come up with from there – whether 1% is stretching the budget or 50% – is what you should be giving to honor the Lord and promote the Gospel.
Larger: ultimately, what really led to this blog post was a journal article I was reading from Andreas Kostenberger called “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving.” While the article is, obviously, about what our giving should look like now that Christ has come, one phrase jumped out at me that applies to all of Christian life. Kostenberger is speaking about how it takes a lot more wisdom and maturity to think of tithing as an act of worship and not just some set rule or percentage that we can follow and then check off our “I’ve met that requirement” box (which is awfully close to legalism, by the way). We like simple answers. But the fact is, much of life is complex. And the Bible is no different: God’s commands are simple at times and complex at others. To that truth, Kostenberger says this, which you and I should reflect upon:
“It does not matter how simple or complex the teaching may be: if it is biblical, it must be taught and obeyed. If the evangelical church decides to base its teaching on what is pragmatic, then doctrine is relegated to second place. Any church that decides to do this will cease at that point to be evangelical. Doctrine must remain central to our teaching and faith.”
As you can see, this applies far larger than just to tithing. It directs how we as Christians must act and think on many issues – even some of the hot button ones of the day that folks would rather ignore or find easy solutions for. To be frank – and not trite – if the Bible says it, we really do need to obey it and believe it. And when society – or even our own personal preferences – go against Scripture, then it is we who need to change, not the Word of God.
That’s a point worth pondering.