Rethinking the Tithe: Part Two

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
 C.S. Lewis


Last evening on the O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly interviewed the sometimes noxious Sally Quinn, religion editor of the Washington Post.  Ms. Quinn was critical of Sarah Palin, appearing to accuse Ms. Palin of self-indulgence, which is akin to a donkey calling a mule stubborn.  However, she made a comment that was rather interesting.  She apparently likes Rick Warren and has interviewed him on a number of occasions.  She said that she admires the fact that he gives away 90% of his income to his church.
This brought to mind a book written a decade ago by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson called Blinded By Might.  Here is an excerpt from a review on

Ultimately, devout Christians and the people they are trying to influence are the most hurt by the corruption of church through politics, according to coauthor Cal Thomas, a former spokesperson for the Moral Majority. For example, by making the Pro-Life movement a political issue, he claims the Christian right has lost sight of more supportive antiabortion tactics, such as focusing on offering homes and finding jobs for destitute single mothers. Ultimately, the duo calls for a change in strategy–hoping to create followers of the Christian agenda through positive example, consistent living, and devout faith rather than brute political force”.
 Dee remembers when this book first came out and listened to all of the conservatives (of which she is one) criticize this book.  However, the more she pondered it, the more she realized that the premise is correct.  During the days of the early church, the Christians formed burial societies.  During those days when a person died, their bodies were dumped over the wall into the burning garbage dump.  The Christians reached out to their neighbors, lovingly caring for the bodies of the deceased and giving them a proper burial.  These acts were looked on with awe by the culture of that day and many turned to the Lord.
As Dee pondered this example, she realized that the way to reach a fallen world is through sacrificial service, not by angry pastors making too much money.  Although it is important to participate in the government, our salvation does not come from that source.  The watching world hears far too much condemning rhetoric and sees far too little love and service on the part of Christians.
So, see what Sally Quinn admired.  She was amazed by Warren’s sacrifice.  She is familiar with his work in Africa.  There is no question that the world admires extravagant givers.  So does God.  All that we have belongs to Him, and He graciously allows us to use His resources.  There is also no doubt that God wants us to give generously.  The question that arises for most of us is “How much?”
Although we believe that John Piper has drifted a bit too much to the side of the “Calvinistas”, we have always admired his book, Desiring God (in fact, he is starting his new seminary just like Mark Driscoll.  We, your humble blog queens, wish to be the first to coin a term for these seminaries started by pastors who obviously feel that they have got it right as “boutique seminaries.”  We shall write more on this topic in the near future).  But, we digress.  So, back to the subject at hand… Piper defends a literal, 10% tithe in seven different points.  You will find the first link to Piper’s website.  The second link is to a website called Set Free to Give.  We use the synopsis of the seven points from this second source.
Seven Biblical Reasons to Tithe

Tithing honors an Old Testament principle of how God provided for the ministers he called and the expenses of their ministry.

We believe it is a mistake to link today’s giving to the tithe given for the Levitical priesthood.  The Levitical priesthood was wholly dependent on the food tithes because they were not allowed to own land.  Today’s pastors are released from this burden and can own land, houses, businesses, etc.  Yesterday, we gave an example of a pastor who is paid as a full-time pastor, yet he has a sideline business developing church materials.  He sells these materials to his own church, writes books for profit, and is a paid speaker at conferences.  Why in the world should this pastor be receiving a full salary from his church?  To push the point, even the real apostle (to distinguish from the fake, self monikered apostles) Paul, worked as a tentmaker so that he was not dependent on the people he served.

However, we have no objection to paying full-time pastors as long as they are truly full-time. But, a few pastors want to be paid well and quote the history of the tithe to encourage their salaries.  For example, Mac Brunson at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, receives a salary of approximately $500,000 per year and even was given a lot in a posh gated community valued at $300,000 on which he built a luxurious house.  Does he ever shed tears over giving!  Mac is always talking about money.  It is our thought that if he wants to use the tithe as his measuring stick, he should then take the compensation package offered to the Levites.  They received the average income from the offerings of the tribes.  (Check the math). Based on this Levitical guideline, we believe Brunson’s salary should be somewhere in the $50,000/year range, which would reflect his understanding of the Old Testament tithe.  Brunson would have a cow!

There is one further issue, which further separates us from the Old Testament Levites.  There is no longer a set aside “priesthood.”  We are all the priesthood of believers.  Just like we pay our lawn person to mow our lawn, there is some tendency to think that a paid pastor should be taking care of the “religious stuff.”  Why not?  The priesthood is paying them for a service! (Cynicism meant).  Perhaps this is why a 2,300 member congregation needs 17 full-time pastors. They are taking the place of the priesthood of the believers while taking their money.  We believe the blame lies squarely between the two parties.  However, the pastors ought to know better.  They went to seminary, didn’t they?  What are they teaching future pastors these days?
2. When we release a tenth of our income and give it over to the ministry and mission of Christ in the world, we honor the Creator rights of God who owns everything, including all our income.

It is difficult to understand why an arbitrary number of 10% shows that we are honoring the Creator who owns everything.  Isn’t 10% merely a tip of the hat to God?  Using that as a number, why wouldn’t giving 20% really, really show we honor God?  Rick Warren must be a superhero in this context.  What happens if you give only 9%?  Are you a loser and Mac Brunson a winner since he gives 10% (along with his tithe of a tithe)?

3. Giving away a tenth of our income to the mission and ministry of Christ is an antidote to covetousness.

So, if we give 10%, we will be cured from coveting!???  There are lots of folks who check the list of giving 10% and are also quite covetous even though they have the other 90%.  Why not give everything and live in a hut and eat oatmeal?  Would that cure covetousness?  However, there are many poor people who will tell you that covetousness is rampant in their communities.  This, too, is  pat statement.  We believe that covetousness occurs at any giving level.

Piper made a comment that this is why he doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about $30,000 cars.  Well, neither do we but we can assure you that we struggle with covetousness in other areas and so does Piper.  We are just more honest.
4. When we go to the tithe and beyond, as I am suggesting we should, it puts a governor on ever-expanding spending.

The reasoning behind this is the same as Point 3.  Why does removing 10% of one’s income cure you from wanting to spend more?  It doesn’t.  All of us struggle with spending.  If you were to keep it all, not give the 10%, and you are an out of control spender, you would still be broke.  The tithe does not prevent this.
5. The fifth reason for going to the tithe and beyond in our giving is that this is God's way of bringing about many good deeds for his glory.

So, if we simply give 10%+, God automatically brings about many good deeds for His glory.  Are we not supposed to give everything and do everything for God?  Why is it limited to 10%.  Also, if we give 9.7 %, does this limit the Almighty in the bringing about of good deeds?  This is wishy washy theology.

6. The sixth reason for pre ssing to the tithe and beyond is that it is God's way of providing you, the tither, sufficient money for your needs.

So, there is a promise that if we give 10%, God will meet all of our material needs?  We believe it is dangerous to say that if we give God will provide.  There are many people who don’t give and are rich.  This appears to be a quid pro quo theology.  In fact, this is exactly what the health and wealth Gospel people promise.  Give and you will get….

7. Finally, in our giving we should press toward the tithe and beyond because it will prove and strengthen our faith in God promises (sic).

This once again is a “prove” God verse.  Does the Bible warn us not to put the Lord to the test?   So, what happens when a person earning $400,000 decides to tithe in order to prove that God will take care of him?  He lives on $360,000.   Hmmm, is this proof that God is caring for his needs because he tithes?
We conclude that a mandatory tithe is not found in the New Testament.  Yet we also know that we need to give sacrificially.  So what is a New Testament Christian supposed to do?  This is a heart issue, and that is where we should focus.

1.     We should give where the needs are the greatest.  There is no mandate in Scripture for developing buildings that cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  In fact, excessive wealth is often condemned.  The original tithe was to help those who could not earn money and to help those who were destitute.  Give where the needs are the greatest.
2.     How do we determine what we should give?  At a Christian conference, a statement on materialism was developed which said that all Christians should strive to live “simply” to which Stuart Briscoe said, “Let’s use the word, ‘simpler’ instead.”   That is something we all can understand.  So, instead of establishing some arbitrary number for giving, we could all (with the exception of the impoverished and the already sacrificial giver) start with ‘more’.
3.     We do not feel there is any Biblical mandate that says that one must give 10% to the local church before giving elsewhere.  However, it is incumbent on the believer to find a church that is not narcissistic.  The programs of a church can be self-serving.  For example, many Sovereign Grace churches do not generously support missionaries because these churches believe they are mission churches.  When Dee attended Ed Young, Jr.’s church when it met in Irving, she was surprised to find that his church did not support missions at that time.  They, too, felt they were a mission church.   Hmmmm — a mission church with over a thousand regular attendees who lived in some very pricey real estate in the Dallas.  What mission? Egads!!
So, perhaps members of those churches who, for some reason, can’t leave could give money to groups that reach out to the neediest.  All of the money goes to the Lord, and no church should make arbitrary rules about how it “all” should come to that group.  However, we do believe that we should give generously to our local church body.
    There appears to be evidence that people are inclined to be more generous when they have contact with those who are the recipients of their giving. Today’s giving in the church divorces the giver from the recipient, causing the giver to feel at times like a mere portal for money.

Although short-term missions are good for opening our eyes to the rest of the world, there is little evidence that there is a long-term benefit to either the church member or the recipient of the visit, with the exception of some medical and/or community improvement visits.  We believe that all Christians should take on a long-term mission that can be done locally.  There are so many groups that reach out to the poor and destitute. All of these love volunteers.

When Dee’s children were younger, she and they tutored children in low-income settings for many years. Dee’s kids learned to care about the children who came.  Dee and her children’s prayers became more specific, remembering their favorite kids.  Her son even suggested that they bring a few home to live!

This example has long-range effects.  One of her daughter’s has helped set up a special needs program at her college church.  One time, they decided to forgo birthday presents and buy gifts for the kids.

Over the years, there were many needs that became apparent.  Both she and her children donated many items for the families.  Her small group came and painted the family center.  The needs were staring them in the face every week for years.   Somehow, it didn’t seem much of a sacrifice to give to these families and children because they became like family.

5.     If you live well and you are not giving sacrificially, you must take inventory.  Why?  Is it your heart?  Perhaps it is the focus of your church?  Perhaps you really don’t believe that all you have belongs to God?  Pray and ask God for guidance and then give it a stab.
We want to leave you with a story of a regular commenter on this site.  We won’t identify him because he is a humble servant.  This man and his wife are highly educated.  He has the capacity to earn a great deal of money and live in the lap of luxury; however, he lives in the poorer section of his town by choice.  He dedicates approximately 50% of his professional life serving and advocating for the poor and let down.  His insights into issues are deep, most likely born out of a life of caring service.  Yet, he seems joyful and content.  He is an example to both of us, and we often discuss his comments and thoughts.  He challenges us by his words and his life.  Somehow, when thinking about him and folks like Mother Theresa, we both realize how the tithe of 10% seems too small.  And so, we say thank you for being an example to your town and us.  We bet Sally Quinn would approve!

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