Sunday, September 15, 2013

To Tithe or Not to Tithe

A Particularly Sacred Cow

The tithe is a sacred cow that has taken over church thinking for centuries and has been considered basic Christian doctrine by just about everyone. This particular post will no doubt step on a lot of toes and cause an enormous amount of offense, but I am going to stick my neck out here and go against the tide of tradition in a big way to try to bring some sense and reality into our thinking where money is concerned. If this upsets you, you won't be alone, but please at least consider another point of view before slamming down on the "close" button! You owe it to yourself (and your family) to see what tradition has done to us all.

Institutional church today is permeated with doctrines that amount to the traditions of men. Much of what we consider "gospel" is nothing more than men's interpretation of scripture that goes beyond anything that is actually taught in the New Testament. We have been so thoroughly programmed to accept these doctrines, we consider anything contrary to them to be heresy, when actually it is the doctrines that have been twisted into something close to heresy.

The one doctrine that irks me the most is the doctrine that demands the tithe. I assumed for decades that this doctrine was truth, considering a non-tither to be disobedient if not out-and-out rebellious. How far from the truth this is! This goes hand-in-hand with the distortions of the prosperity message in general and the perversions thereof. But to really understand how far off the mark this is, you have to understand how our thinking about "church" in general is distorted, how we have misused the term itself and have taken it to mean something it doesn't.

Money is free image from Wikimedia Commons.


Defining "Church"
The People of God or a Building?

The word "church" in the New Testament refers to believers in general, the general population of those who profess Jesus as their Savior. It has nothing to do with a building and never did. New Testament believers didn't go to church, they were the Church. And those believers met wherever they could, in houses or public places, but never in a building erected for that purpose.

It was Constantine that changed all that when Christianity became the state religion and buildings were erected to more or less compete with the pagan religions of the day. He wanted Christianity to look "legitimate" so the construction of monster, elegant buildings began. Through the course of time the buildings became more and more elaborate, culminating in those huge cathedrals with all the pointy things on top. All of this was simply mimicking pagan religions to bring Christianity into a place of acceptance. [1]

So the meaning of the word "church" shifted from simply referring to believers in general that met wherever they chose to meet, to attending some scripted service at a building set apart for that purpose; in other words, Christianity became an institution. "Church" has become synonymous with the actual ritual we go through every Sunday in that building we call the church. So with that shift in meaning, we assume that the presence of God is in the building, that the building itself is sacred, and now we just take it for granted that we must support this building for God's work to continue. This is the line I bought into for years, as I'm sure you have as well.

[1] For more information on the origins of our Christian traditions, see Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity, link below.

Church image is free photo from Wikimedia Commons.


Christianity as an Institution
Feeding the Monster

Because of the way "church" is now, with big buildings and demands for finances to maintain them, these doctrines have become deeply ingrained into Christian thought for generations. We consider the building to be the dwelling place of God, calling the structure the "house of God", and in so doing, we think that we are obligated to support it with our finances.

When Jesus came, the old system was abolished, and that included the temple as a building and all its rituals. Jesus' body is the temple now- the Word calls believers the temple of God, not some building, yet we pour money into these structures to keep up appearances. If you stop and think about it, much of this is strictly image maintenance. We have been duped into believing that we must support these structures because this is where we "meet God", this is where the presence of God is, and that is just plain unbiblical. Believers are the temple, not the bazillion structures all over the land.

We pour money into these buildings that generally get used 3 times a week at the very most, and we support programs that are designed to keep this monster fed. Program after program is concocted to keep the members they have and try to draw in others, when all the time, church attendance is, generally speaking, dropping like a rock. (Which brings up another point, that we were clearly called to "go", not to try to get people to "come".) So when churches get under pressure for money, the traditional thing to do is to remind congregations of their "obligation" to God to provide tithe money to the "storehouse" so that the work of God can go forward. I've been in several churches over the years, and they all say the same thing.

Monster is free clip art from artvex.com.


Cursed or Blessed?
Let's Think About This

So tithing is used as an arm-twisting measure to see to it that the coffers are kept full, particularly when there is a building program looming. You have all heard the routine- scriptures (ALWAYS taken out of context) are preached to make you think that if you don't pay the tithe you're robbing God, and you are opening the door to the curse. But if you are the good little obedient Christian, then tithing will open the door to God's blessing in your life. And we all "amen" this quite vigorously, absolutely sure that we are being told the truth of God's Word. This is sound, biblical doctrine, right?

Let's look at this. Right off the bat, you can see that the curse is something that is essentially held over your head if you are disobedient. Well, we wouldn't want that. So we have dutifully paid out our tithes to avoid being rebellious and to avoid the curse, forgetting that Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). Once born again, the curse has no place in a believer's life, tithe or no tithe. Period. We have bought into this line of thinking without really thinking.

In one church I attended, and I swear this is the truth, the pastor preached that you cannot curse what God has blessed on one Sunday, then started a series of sermons the very next week on tithing and how the curse is lurking around the corner if you don't. And the "amens" came from all over the congregation, and I would have been in there right along with the rest of them not too long ago. (Of course, they were heading into a building program.)

What bothers me more than anything is that this doctrine is employed with a very heavy hand in churches that either are abusive or tend to lean that way. Pressure to give is constant, and the threat of the curse if you don't tithe is always hanging there in the air to condemn those who don't. They use it as a method of control and manipulation. This is truly a "sacred cow" that needs to be slaughtered! Here is a quote from cultwatch.com- How Pastors Get Rich.
This is the big daddy. This is their sacred cow. This is the beating heart of their evil empire. The crown jewel. The Death Star. The one ring to bill them all. The pot of gold. Their matrix (into which they want to plug you). Their Wizard of Oz. Their magic spell. Their special power. Their secret recipe with the eleven herbs and spices. Their Golden Goose. The very air upon which they breathe! Question this doctrine and watch these money hungry pastors bare their fangs. This is a teaching that they will bear no compromise on. Tithing, or at least their own version of tithing, is their one true love.
"Thinker" is free photo from Wikimedia Commons.


Should the Church Teach Tithing?
by Russell Earl Kelly

This is an absolute must-read.  Kelly examines why the tithe was instituted in the first place, and why it is no longer law for the Church.  This book is also available as a free download, but I prefer a hard copy I can mark up. Find it at amazon.






Works vs Grace
Earning the Blessing?

Second point- this doctrine turns giving into works for which the blessing is the reward. If you are born again, you are blessed, no works required. We all know that salvation is by grace through faith and that not of works; it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8), but somehow it's so very easy to slip back into a works mentality once you've been saved. It's honestly hard to believe that so very many born again Bible-toting Christians truly believe that paying tithes will qualify you for the blessing of God. Grace goes out the window when you buy into this. And isn't this the whole point of Christianity? It is the message of grace. No more works required. Nothing we do can qualify us for the blessing, and that includes paying tithes.

Gary Carpenter (link below) has quite a few free articles available at his site that I encourage you to read for a balanced approach to the prosperity message. In these articles, he stresses the grace aspect, working to free us from a works mentality where our giving is concerned. Thinking your blessing is dependent on your giving is religion, it is works and it is false doctrine.

Worker sign is free clip art from clker.com.


Abraham and Melchizedek
Noah's Son Shem, or Pagan Priest?

Tithing is just simply not taught in the New Testament. The only reference generally used is that of Melchizedek in the book of Hebrews. This was a one-time tithe off the spoils of war, not a regular thing in Abraham's life. And according to Russell Earl Kelly, PhD, author of Should the Church Teach Thithing?, Melchizedek was more than likely a pagan priest, not Shem, one of Noah's sons, as I was led to believe. He believes that Melchizedek was actually a pagan priest of Salem, a Caananite city, not Jerusalem. He offers plenty of information to back up this conclusion.

This changes all the reasoning used to justify tithing in the New Testament. Abraham simply gave a one-time tithe to this pagan priest; there is no record of Abraham ever tithing again, and it was on war spoils, not his property or income. So if his example is to be followed, then a one-time tithe (assuming you have war spoils) should cover it!

Abraham is free clip art from Christians Unite.



Paul and Giving
Willingly, Not Grudgingly

Paul never taught tithing. New Testament giving is to be done with a willing mind, according to what is purposed in the heart, and according to ability, not according to law:
Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Acts 11:29 KJV
Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. 2 Cor. 9:7 KJV
Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. 12 For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. KJV
New Testament giving was always out of a willing heart and according to ability, not according to formula. Giving was indeed a very important aspect of Christian life and still should be, but to relegate it to a law and a formula is just plain wrong. The New Testament is replete with scriptures that exhort the believer to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan. We are to give as the Spirit leads directly to those in need, not through the institution that church has become. Consider what Jesus told us in Matthew 25:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. Matt 25:31-37 KJV
This should be the basis for our giving, not pressure from the pulpit to give ten percent whether we can afford it or not. Giving should be from the heart, not out of arm-twisting from the pulpit, not out of a legalistic conformity to the traditions of men, and certainly not out of fear of the curse. Giving should be out of faith, as the Spirit leads, cheerfully and according to ability, and no other way. Every community has plenty of charities that will gladly take your donations that will go directly to those in need.  Look for a local food bank or samaritan center, for the Red Cross, or the Salvation Army. There are plenty of ways to give to those in need. My post Righteous Judgment has more on this subject.

Paul is free clip art from Chrustians Unite.


See
Modern Day Church
at
Done With Religion
for more on the tithing doctrine. This is a short, to-the-point post that pulls it all together very nicely.



Tithing- Biblical, but Not Christian
Proof-texting at its Finest

Tithing IS biblical in that it was instituted as a tax system to support the Levites who had no portion otherwise, and to support the poor, the widow, the stranger, etc. It was a system that was necessary back then but was strictly for that day. You can find out all about that in the references listed below.

So when did tithing become a doctrine of the Church? According to Ken Westby at The Journal, tithing was instituted by the Catholic Church at the Synod of Macon in 585:
"Early-church history shows that, just as the Catholic Church, by its own authority, made other far-reaching changes that have been carried down in the Christian-professing world, that church is responsible for much of today's misunderstanding on the subject of tithing. The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge explains that, when the tithing concept was adopted by the Catholic Church, it was voluntary in nature. But, at the Synod of Macon in the year 585, payment of tithes was made compulsory under threat of excommunication. Secular authorities were then used to enforce this demand."
So tithing was introduced hundreds of years after the first century Church to support its burgeoning budget of buildings and paid clergy. The Catholic Church at the time was supreme authority, so the common man had no recourse but to accept what edicts were delivered. The tithe was essentially a tax that was established to feed the institutional system that the church had become.

But since that time, the Body of Christ has come to accept this without question. We have been fed a doctrine that has, over time, been justified by "proof texting", or taking isolated scriptures out of context and slapping them together. The truth of God's Word can be found as it is read in its original context and by praying in the Spirit. It takes the Holy Spirit to reveal the Word and its true meaning:
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Pet. 1:20-21 KJV
Much error has been propagated in the Body of Christ for years, error that has placed believers back into bondage to rules, laws, religion. And religion bewitches; it blinds those that yield themselves to it, bringing them into deception. Kenneth Hagin wrote a book The Midas Touch in order to bring balance back into the prosperity message and correct error that plays into covetousness and greed (link below). Many ministries, and the Word of Faith movement in general, have fallen prey to this. The doctrine of the tithe as a requirement for Christians is error, it leads to a religious, works-oriented mindset and leads to bondage to law. Jesus died to set us free from the curse of the law.

For detailed examination of scriptures used to back up the current prosperity doctrine, check out the resources listed below. They have all done excellent jobs of refuting this teaching with a balanced look at those scriptures in context.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Gal. 5:1 KJV
Bible is free image from pixabay.com.


Recommended Reading
Balanced Teaching IN CONTEXT

You may find some of these books in your library, and if not, there is always the option of buying used books through amazon.com. I have a fair sized collection of books now that I built by buying used books that were in either very good or like new condition, and I've kept my costs very low that way.


Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola
Viola goes into the tithe issue in chapter eight.











 Should the Church Teach Tithing by Russell Earl Kelly, PhD.
The history of the tithe is examined with arguments against using this doctrine in the Church today. Very thorough and very convincing work. This book is also available as a free download at the link below.









God's Guarantees for Giving by Ron Knott
This is a great book with plenty of scriptural support for the argument against the tithe.








What Preachers Never Tell You About Tithes and Offerings by Eric M. Hill.  Another great book that blows this tradition of man out of the water. He also explains the New Testament model for giving that we should all be following, rather than being tied to a legalistic, mandatory formula that pulls believers away from faith and back into works.






The Midas Touch by Kenneth Hagin
In this book Hagin explains the errors that preachers have fallen into with the prosperity message, though he still adhered to the tithing doctrine.





Red Flag Churches is a book recounting my experiences in an abusive church and all I've learned since leaving. It is available as a free download in several formats at smashwords.com.









Online References

The Tithing Debate
Over the past thirty years most Christians have heard, numerous times, the arguments for tithing being law for Christians today. TithingDebate.com is dedicated to bringing you the other side of the story. The side a portion of Christian leaders would rather you did not hear.

Gary Carpenter Ministries
Carpenter provides free articles that provide explanations of scriptures used to justify the tithe; he puts them into context to bring perspective into the issue. There are precious few nationally known preachers I still trust, and Gary Carpenter is one of them.

Should the Church Teach Tithing?
This is Russell Kelly's website where his book Should the Church Teach Tithing is available as a free download. The hard copy version is available at the link above.

The Exhaltation of the Tithe
"The subject of the tithe is always a touchy issue among believers. Many of us have not yet been set free in that area. Receiving your blessing has everything to do with what Jesus did. There have been countless teachings, blogs and articles on tithing and offerings. However, I just wanted to share something that has been on my heart for quite some time and I find to be quite troubling."


Blog Posts

Red Flag Churches

Red Flag Churches
The Spiritual Covering Doctrine
Spiritual Abuse Is Not Obvious
Hold Fast to the Head
What Does a Wolf Look Like?
Making the Decision to Leave an Abusive Church
Be Not Deceived- Learn to Test the Spirits


The Dechurched and the Next Move of God

The Dechurched, the Wilderness Experience and the Next Move of God
Liquid Church- The Shape of Church to Come
Boxed Christianity
Church and Spiritual Abuse
Clergy- Invitation to Idolatry?

Quill pen is free clip art from Wikimedia Commons.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for providing the perspective you do in this blog.

    I note your perception of what makes a church abusive, together with your affinity for Word of Faith doctrine.

    Many would want to lump it all together under the 'abusive' label. But while promoting a 'faith' message' you warn against those who use it to further their own ends.

    I have had a lifelong appreciation for Kenneth Hagin's teaching and love 'The Midas Touch'. Like you, I am no longer convinced by the tithing argument.

    I have just left a small abusive congregation and am in the process of being shunned and accused by what I thought were my best friends. Painful.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Chris. I am sorry you have had to deal with an abusive church too. It's been over 2 years since I left the one I was in, and it still thoroughly affects my thinking on everything spiritual. Let's pray that those "friends" will come to see the truth eventually.

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