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A View from the Altar / Using a hornet nest for a piñata
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Using a hornet nest for a piñata

My opinions on tithing have shifted around over the years.  Okay, so I’m unstable and I admit it.  But one thing has remained stable since I read Deuteronomy 14 a long time ago.  The average Christian is shocked, shocked when he discovers what the Bible actually says about tithing.  He is even more shocked when he comes to the point of realizing what the Bible never says about tithing.

The Old Testament practice of tithing originated with the patriarchs who, for reasons not stated in Scripture, settled on the figure of 10 percent as a benchmark for giving.  That figure remained constant until the advent of the New Testament when it was changed twice, the first time to 100 percent (Ac 2:44, Ac 4:32) and the second time, much later, when numerical figures were abolished and the standard become what a man has “purposed in his heart.” (2 Co 9:7)

What’s stated above should not be controversial, but it is.  What provokes the outcry is the notion that the practice of giving has somehow changed.  I think churchmen perceive a threat in the dispensational idea that the rules about giving have shifted, thinking that holding onto the present custom of putting 10 percent of one’s income into the offering plate is holding on to an ancient thing that harks back to Abraham.  To state it another way, they think the best defense of the modern custom of tithing is to argue that God’s people have always done this.  Maybe it makes them feel a bit more confident about the financial situation of their churches.

But it’s clearly mistaken to take Abraham as the pattern for tithing, and one need look no farther than Abraham himself to see this.  His gift was a one-time offering of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, the priest who lived in Salem (Jerusalem).  No preacher wants his folks thinking tithing is to be done once in a lifetime, nor that it should be derived from some kind of windfall as Abraham’s tithe was, nor that it should be given to somebody like Melchizedek about whom we know precious little.  No, the Abraham pattern won’t do.

And neither will the pattern from the Law of Moses suffice.  The words speak for themselves.  Try to imagine this doctrine being taught on Sunday morning just before the offering plate comes ’round:

22 “You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year.23 And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.24 But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you,25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses.26 And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.  (Deut 14:22-26)

So they used tithing to finance a national block party where they spent their own tithes on pleasures for themselves?  (Hint: That’s what the text says.  The KJV is even more intense on v26 as it says “strong drink” rather than “similar drink.”  Go figure.)

On and on this goes until at last the Bible student tires of combing his way through the Old Testament trying to defend the custom on the basis of its antiquity.  He betakes himself to the New Testament to defend this cherished doctrine and comes up — dare I say it? — empty.  Brethren, it’s just not there.  This is the real shocker to folks who honestly dig into modern customs about tithing.  People have the impression that tithing is one of the easy, simple, straightforward doctrines of the Bible, and when they discover that there is not so much as a textual inference to hang it on, they’re flabbergasted.  And to be honest, I’m not sure I have the guts to say this to Baptists any more.  It’s like using a hornet nest for a piñata.  Been there, done that, got the grief to prove it.

But does this mean Christians are relieved from any responsibility to contribute to the work of the Lord?  Well, no, not at all.  It just means the basis for it is all different now.  Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to all who believe  (Ro 10:4), and that means people are going to need a different motive.  It also means there may be new directions for giving.  Heaping it up in the storehouse may not be the best use of our resources while there are orphans around or Haitians sleeping in open fields.  Just a thought.  More to come… when I catch my breath again.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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  1. A View from the Altar / Tithing, part 2 on 25-Jun-10 at 21:22 pm

    […] Part 1 is found here.  There were three distinct systems of tithing under the law of Moses.  The first system was […]

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