Tithing: A Biblical Mandate?

"The essence of legalism is trusting in religious activity rather than trusting in God. It is placing our confidence in a practice rather than in a Person – and, without fail, this will lead us to love the practice more than the Person."



Disclaimer:  We believe the Bible commands us as Christians to be generous with our time and our possessions.  Our look at the tithe in no way diminishes our belief in “cheerful” giving; however, we do not believe that the Bible commands a certain amount to give in order to be a “good” Christian.
Recently, we did a story on Mac Brunson at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville.  We believe this pastor receives a salary and benefits package in excess of $500,000.  He lives in a gated community, and the real estate is valued at close to $1,000,000.  He delivered a sermon, angrily stating that members need to give more and set forth his example.  Mac was planning to tithe his tithe and give it to the church.
But, what is the tithe and is it Biblical?
Legalism is a substitute for radical grace.  Many people have a hard time accepting the simple truth that we are saved by grace alone.  There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn that grace.  Although all would agree with “sola gracia” many of us live with a formula that goes something like this.
Grace + X = Good Christian
That “X” differs from Christian to Christian.  X can be many things to many people.  Some examples could include:
X = praying using a certain formula for a certain amount of time each day
X = believing in a six day creation and going to Sunday and Wednesday evening services
X = attending small groups + buying and reading all of Apostle Mahaney’s books
X = praying in tongues
X = homeschooling
X = the Duggar approach to family planning (quiverfull)

There is a serious problem with this.  If we act as though we believe grace involves something more, we place ourselves on a treadmill, never quite measuring up to some artificial standard . For example, if we believe X = reading the Bible one hour per day, what happens when one of friends tells us the Bible indicates we should pray more than read the Bible?  Can we really keep up with all the mandates that are out there?
How many of us feel guilty when we go to a conference and learn all the things we should be doing, such as:homeschooling our children, having daily devotionals, praying in a certain format, doing Indian Princess with our daughters, coaching our kids' soccer teams (to influence the next generation, you know), trying not to work too much, in fact, only working at home, attending regular Bible studies, participating in prayer groups, attending crusades, parking the cars and setting up tables at church, bringing brownies (homemade, of course) for school, writing elegant thank you notes to all of the teachers (as a witness), washing my pastor’s car, buying and reading all of C.J. Mahaney’s books, taking seminary courses, learning Greek, and walking the dogs two times a day while exercising one hour a day to maintain God’s Temple and on and exhausted on.
The truth is simple.  “You can’t measure up on your own.”  That is why Jesus died for you.
This is the scandal of the evangelical mind — the scandal of Biblical illiteracy.  Sometimes we wonder if some of the church leaders actually pride themselves in the stupidity of their flock.  They are so easy to manipulate when they don’t ask a lot of questions.
Everything in Scripture needs to be read in context.  Verses and stories are not to be contextualized in just the preceding and proceeding passages but in light of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  One must always ask the question, “At what point in time am I reading?”
There is the Old Covenant of the Old Testament, which is always pointing forward to the glorious coming of the Savior.  The Gospels deal with the days of Jesus.  It is a curious time that we shall call the “Time of the In Between.”  Jesus is the bringer of the New Covenant, but His glorious sacrifice occurs at the end of the Gospels.  Therefore, the Temple sacrifices are ongoing when Jesus walked the earth, but something new was in the air.  It’s kind of like seeing the first crocus at the end of a very bad winter.  Spring hasn’t quite sprung, but it is on the move.  Finally, there is the New Covenant, fulfilled in Christ Jesus and this is the rest of the New Testament.  This is the age of the church, and we are waiting until He comes again.
Today we shall look at the Old Testament.  Dee has a certain way of looking at the ebb and flow of that time before the Messiah. First, there is the Garden where God walks with His creation.
Then, there is the Fall, and God becomes the ruler who gives His people their marching orders, in a manner of speaking.  This is called a theocracy, which means God is in charge.  You can look at it this way — God is the Department of Defense, commanding invasions.  He functions as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in which He tells folks what to eat and what not eat (sounds like a television show — What Not to Wear — oh, God did function as the fashion police, too!)  Furthermore, during that time the rivers and the seas were used for refuse disposal.  Shellfish are bottom feeders and were likely to become infected, spreading the infection onto the human consumer.  Therefore, shellfish were banned from the diet.  (Dee is exceedingly glad for the New Testament due to her fondness for New England lobster rolls).
Then, there is the time of the kings.  The people wanted leadership with a face on it.  God obliged and in a rather remarkable, prophetic way tells the people that He’ll let them have their king, but they won’t like it. From the NIV, 1 Samuel 8:10-18
10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle [b] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."

Do any of you see anything there that directly applies to today?  With the exception of David and a few others, most of the kings that came along “Did evil in the sight of the Lord.”  And the human race was left groaning, in its sad estate, awaiting the arrival of the “Face of Grace.”

There is a thought provoking book entitled Pagan Christianity by George Barna and Frank Viola that provides a wonderful history of tithing.  However, please feel free to “google” the subject.  There are many sites dedicated to this topic and most give similar information.  We found one source strangely silent on this matter.  Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology does not have the topic of tithing in its index.  Considering the fact that both “Nephilim” and “gender neutral terms” are present, we wonder if the issue of tithing is a really, really controversial topic!

The tithe had three parts which are as follows:

   The tithe of the produce of the land to support the Levites, the priests of Israel, because they were not allowed to own land in Canaan.

2.    A second tithe of the produce of the land to sponsor religious festivals in Jerusalem.

3.    A third tithe of the produce of the land collected every third year for the local Levites, orphans, strangers, and widows.
(Pagan Christianity p.173)

So, think about it.  This tithe was essentially a 23.33%/year tithe.  The Levites were the priests, set aside for performing the religious duties spelled out in Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.

Here are a few points to ponder.

1.    If the Levites received 10% from the tribes of Israel, they were essentially receiving the average income for all of the tribes.  In other words, they weren’t paid more for their “important” duties of running the religious things.  So, does Mac Brunson’s enormous salary, which we assume is way more than the average salary for his congregation, fit into this guideline?

2.    These priests were not allowed to own land.  How many pastors do you know that don’t own land today?  How about Brunson’s fancy lot in a gated community?

3.    It is important to note that the times of the Old Testament did not look like the United States of America.  That means there was no health insurance, welfare, orphanages, food stamps, unemployment insurance, no death insurance, disability insurance, and so on.  Some of this tithe went to providing compassionate income to the destitute.  The government takes care of much of this today.

There was an instance of tithing prior to the imposition of the Mosaic Law.  In Genesis 14, Abraham tithes to the high priest Melchizedek.  Interestingly, this was not a regular tithe out of a regular income stream.  It was done out of a spontaneous act of gratitude.  Abraham had won a battle, and he tithed from what he had gained in the battle.  This is the only time that the Bible mentions Abraham as tithing. (Pagan Christianity p.174).

Finally, Malachi 3 is often used as a proof text that God is angry when His people refused to tithe.  Malachi was written in the days of the Law.  In fact, God was angry that the people were oppressing the poor by refusing to pay in their tithe.  In verses 8-10, the Lord angrily points to those who do not pay their laborers their wages and those who oppress the widows and the fatherless.  (Pagan Christianity, p.175).  One can look at this sort of tithe as we might look at some forms of taxation today.

So, we are left with the New Testament and how it views the issue of tithing.  Tomorrow we will look, once again at the historical context.  One major question that will need to be dealt with is the issue of the priesthood.  Are today’s pastors part of that Levitical priesthood or is the priesthood very different in the age of the church?

We leave you with this thought.  Mac Brunson cannot have it both ways.  He is either part of the Levitical priesthood or he is a pastor in the Church of our Lord.  If he claims to adhere to the Mosaic Law, he is making way too much money and should not own any real estate.  If he adheres to Christian principles….  Well, we leave that until tomorrow.

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