Sunday, March 04, 2007

Tithing Defined

Tithing is a perennial topic at my church. The tithe is always defined as 10% of your gross income. I remember using this definition before on this blog, but, last summer, I started searching scriptures on what the Tithe was, and what I found did not match the definition.

This morning, we were given an "Anonymous Giving Survey" in church, that officially defined Tithes and Offerings as:
  • Tithes - 10% of gross income. Tithing is the act of giving 10% of your gross income to the work of the Lord (your local church). [Seriously, can we get 10% of your gross income in one more time?]
  • Offering - Giving additional amount over and above the tithe to support the work of the Lord.
Using these definitions, you were then asked to fill out one of four surveys:
  • Group A: Regularly giving both tithes and offerings
  • Group B: Regularly giving tithes
  • Group C: Regularly giving something (less that 10%)
  • Group D: Not regularly giving (less than twice a month)
If you were part of the good group (A or B), your first question on the survey asks you "How long have you been tithing?" If you were in the bad group (C or D) your first question was "Do you understand the biblical teaching of tithing?"

The problem lies with the definition.

Most sermons on tithing are fairly predictable. Let me summarize the points that will most likely be hit upon:
  • 10% of the top, before taxes (ok, we get it)
  • God loves a cheerful giver
  • Bring your tithes and offerings into the store house and God will bless your socks off
  • It's all God's anyways, we are only his stewards
  • God doesn't need your money (my personal favorite)
What I would really love to hear is a good sermon that really digs into what the tithe was used for once Israel came "into the land". How the tithe was the first 10% of a harvest, or every tenth animal that passed under the rod. How the tithe went to God, but God gave the tithe to the Levittes , who had no inheritance from God. How there was a second tithe taken that was to be consumed in Jerusalem, and if you had to travel a long distance, you could purchase your food once you and your family arrived. And that there was a third tithe taken for the poor every third year.

Here is something to chew on: did the poor have to tithe? What if you were a carpenter or mason and did not have fields or cattle, were you expected to tithe?

For once, I would like to hear a sermon that encouraged the members to be good stewards of the money that God has given them, provide classes to teach people how to budget their money and how to become cheerful givers. It is hard to be happy about giving when you are in debt. Our churches need to start teaching Proverbs 22:7 - the borrower is servant to the lender. Teach your flock how to be good stewards, rather than just telling them to be good stewards. Give them the tools to be successful.

For years, I was in a category that felt uncomfortable with the messages on stewardship. I thought that if I just went ahead and gave 10% gross, I would be doing a good work, according to James. And to be honest, that was my motivation. There was no love in doing it, and definitely nothing cheerful. I even found myself a little bit scared (guilty) if I failed to give 10% gross. I was looking at a fairly sizable amount of debt, that I could not get knocked out.

I decided that I had to get my own financial life straightened out. I put to work the Baby Steps described in Dave Ramsey's "Total Money Makeover." I put our family on a budget, and I budgeted giving to my church right in there with the rest. Why? Because I plan to give. I confess that it is 10% of my net, not my gross. Am I tithing? No I am not, however I believe that I would not be tithing if I was giving 10% of the gross income because this is an incorrect definition of the tithe.


Rick said...

Giving is giving. There's a sacrificial side and a legalistic side of this and everything. I feel, knowing you just a little after all these years, that your heart will continue to grow in giving, where you'll focus more on sharing your resources well as God blesses you in order to bless others. In the end, it's all his, and we just keep rediscovering that over and over, I think.

Chuck said...

God wants to cultivate us to have hearts that give. I get a unnerved about redefining tithe to make modern application. It makes it seem more like a tax, and nothing can take the cheerfulness out of giving like a tax (of course, once God gave Israel a King, the tithe changed [1 Sam 7:14-17] as well as some of the job titles of the Levittes [1 Chron 23:3-4]).

I see giving as the only thing that we can do today. We can not tithe. By the definition of the old testament tithe, we just can not do it. We should be giving to support our local church and our missionaries. But, let's go beyond that and help people in our church who have real needs (James 2:15-16).

Rick said...

I actually think the opening idea of a tithe followed your thoughts on what it is now than the legalistic tax side of things. It really was just numbers to start allowing the people of God to become givers. We tend to dogmatize things like that - but Jesus comes through and adds, "you've heard it said... but I tell you" kinds of things.

Chuck said...

Opening Idea of my post or the institution of tithing in the old testament?

jbbaab said...

I wish there were more sermons on stewardship. But for some reason the only way our teachers think it can be taught is by tithing. It's apparent that commanding the tithe doesn't teach stewardship. So, I agree that we need more teaching on stewardship. You're right. How can the baby steps of stewardship be tithing when my financial discipline is a mess.