Thursday, December 6, 2012

Should a Christian tithe?

When I was a new Christian, a member of the Methodist Church I was attending told me that John Wesley gave 10% of his income to the Kingdom of God. (I've since learned that he gave far more than that, living on the same amount of money each year regardless of the increasing money that came into his hands). But that remark started me on my tithing journey lasting 50 odd years. And for me, that was a necessary discipline in regards to trusting God and learning to be free from the deceptive love of money. So, one answer to the above question is, if God tells you to tithe, then you must obey!
If you have been following my Simple Church Letters, you will know that after years of following traditional church practices I have started asking disturbing questions. As far as tithing is concerned I was at a loss to answer one of my daughters questions, "Why is it that some preachers preach from selected Old Testament Scriptures and not other O.T. verses?" She was referring to the Malachi 3 verses on tithing. My stance has always been that if a teaching from the O.T. is repeated in the N.T. then (obviously) we must accept that teaching. So, is there a command or exhortation to tithe in the N.T.? In Matthew 23:23 Jesus did tell some Pharisees to continue to tithe what their gardens produced - and notice he didn't mention money - but these people were still living under the Old Covenant. This incident can be compared with the healed lepers who were commanded to present themselves to the priests. Today, should we expect a person to follow this procedure when they are healed?
I was once teaching on Paul's financial giving chapters (2 Cor. 8 & 9) and a pastor wanted me to include tithing in my 'money message'. The reason I didn't is because it's not there! If tithing was a N.T. practice, why didn't Paul include it in these chapters as well as in verses like 1 Cor. 16: 1-4?
My tithing practice stopped when I realised it was 'unthinking' giving with no sense of guidance from the Holy Spirit. I was also convicted by the many O.T. and N.T. verses that call loudly and insistently to God's people to be generous to the poor. And, I've heard many sermons on the Jerusalem apostles recognising Paul's and Barnabas's apostleship and giving them the "right hand of fellowship" (Gal. 2:6-10), but I've never heard a sermon on verse 10 regarding both groups of these apostles expressing their major concern regarding "helping the poor." In view of these ‘insistent’ verses, there should be no Christian or Christian church that is not actively and generously helping the poor of this world. And when we do, we are told in Proverbs that those who give to the poor lend to the Lord, "and what interest he pays on your loan!" (Translation based on "The Living Bible").
I'm tempted to give a blast against the way some people use these Malachi verses to bludgeon people into guilt-induced tithing. I even heard an internationally known teacher say that non-tithers come under the "curse" of verse 9. This sort of manipulation of Scripture makes my spiritual blood boil. A careful reading of the small book of Malachi will show you that it was the priests who were robbing God, not the people. See, 1:6 –2:9; 3:2-4.
If you are serious about discovering the truth of the tithing debate, go to the website of Christian apologist and theologian Russell Earl Kelly PH.D. In his numerous blogs on tithing, Professor Kelly delves extensively into the Old Testament, giving surprising and well researched evidence regarding the tithe, what it was (and what it wasn't), who received it (and who didn't), as well as scholarly research from the New Testament.
To conclude, I'll repeat three suggestions I made in my last Letter and apply them to N.T. giving.
1) Be Free - in the N.T. sense of freedom.
2) Be Lead by the Holy Spirit - He will guide you.
3) Be Extravagantly Generous. Like the Old Testament believer (see Psalm 112), whom Paul quotes in 2 Cor. 9:9,
"He throws caution to the winds,
giving to the needy in reckless abandon..."
(Message Bible)

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