Phillip Walters www.backyardbelievers.com
For some time now I have wanted to tackle a practice which is such a sacred cow that to oppose it makes me feel a little like Martin Luther (just a tiny little) standing in front of the church door with a hammer in his hand.
It’s the modern practice of tithing, a practice that, while it has little or no foundation in the New Testament, stands in some churches almost alongside belief in the Trinity or the Virgin Birth. However it is my belief that it is a sacred cow that is made of much the same material as the calf that Aaron built and needs to go.
It is untouchable because much of modern church practice relies on it; and it has to go because, just as Aaron’s calf was a way of worship without relationship, tithing has become for many a similar substitute for being led by the Holy Spirit.
Before getting into dismantling your confidence in the tithe as a thoroughly New Testament practice, let me first give you some of my own background.
Tithing for me started not long after learning to sing ‘Hear the pennies dropping …’ a ditty that I sang fervently every week in Sunday School as I struggled to untie the penny that mum had tied up in the corner of my handkerchief. My parents, though not Christians, sent me and my brothers off to the local Salvation Army and thus my Christian walk began. Thank God for the Salvos!
And, being the good evangelical mob that they were, my youth was spent imbibing everything that was necessary to being a good Christian soldier, including tithing which probably started with my first pay packet (to the dismay of my father). I believed in it and finished up practising and preaching it through most of my adult Christian life, good times and hard times, up until four years ago.
And I preached it well – and not just because my income depended upon it. I preached it from a grace aspect and with no compulsion – well, unless you call the Malachi threat of a curse ‘compulsion’ … but I’ll cover that later.
When the recent teaching about the need to tithe to the one who represents Christ to you came along I was excited and embraced that as well. We separated tithes and offerings, with tithes going for the Ministry, the equivalent of the priesthood (?), and the offering going to pay for the new Worship Centre, the equivalent of the temple (?).
Did those equivalents unsettle anyone? No? Well let’s move on.
So what happened four years ago? I think what happened was I began to be uncomfortable with the way some were interpreting the importance of the tithe and what seemed like a dread of the consequences of not having the tithe into the ‘storehouse’ on time. A week late, it seemed, could seriously dry up the flow of God’s provision and a cheque that the office girl had forgotten to post become a dam to God’s supply, even to those who walked in a lifestyle of extraordinary generosity.
So the questions started. Was God as legalistic as this? Did this at all reflect his character? Where in the New Testament do we find such fastidiousness in giving – except among the Pharisees? What about the ‘grace’ of giving? It was these questions and more that led me to take another look at the tithe, and especially as it related to New Testament practice.
And my conclusion? Continue reading “BEYOND TITHING”