I believe tithing is an unbiblical topic that churches try to slide into our ethos because it is convenient. I don't say beneficial, because that would imply that there is a nefarious motive and, except for televangelists, I don't think that is usually the case.
So what is a tithe and where do we get the idea? Simply put, it is the notion that 10% of one's income should be given to God in some way. Some churches teach that it is a general number to be given charitably overall, while others teach it should be given directly to the church (anything you give outside of the church should be a gift above your tithe).
In the old testament, tithing was the way given for supporting the priesthood, the holy places, and the poor. At the time, there was no king so the priesthood served many of the functions of a government. Most notably, it was their responsibility to care for the poor (Churches have mostly abdicated this responsibility to the government... yet they still want a full tithe). In addition, tithe usually didn't refer to income... it was crops (to feed the priests and the poor). A person didn't sell his crops and then tithe the money, he just gave a portion of his crops. So is a person contributing his talents still tithing?
How does tithing apply to the New Testament? I would submit that it does not.
First, if God wanted tithing to be established in our churches, the apostles would have taught it. However, for all of their instruction, Paul never brings it up, Peter never brings it up, James never brings it up, John never brings it up.
Second, tithing was to maintain the priesthood. Who is the priesthood now? Peter says that all believers are now priests before God with One mediator. The veil has been torn in two and the temple now resides within the believer. There is no longer a specific priesthood to maintain.
So what is the pattern for giving for the church? There are principals given, but I think the apostles were intentional when they gave no number.
The ideal was set in the beginning of Acts where no believer considered anything his own and gave to everyone as he had need.
Whew! Anybody ready to rev up to that one?
However, you do not find Paul repeating that ideal as he established churches. What he did indicate was that:
- There should be financial equity between the churches. If one church had plenty, they were to share with any churches in want.
- People who preached the Gospel had a right to earn a living from the Gospel. Paul at times chose not to use this right, and supplemented his living by working. However, people who received a spiritual blessing had a duty to provide a material blessing to the giver.
- Generosity had spiritual benefits. Sparing sowers would reap sparingly, generous sowers would reap generously.
- Every believer would choose their own amount of giving.
So why do churches encourage their members to tithe?
- 10 percent is easy to remember
- 10 percent is easy to calculate
- 10 percent is a great number to push folks toward... it would make for a fairly large church budget. (In fact, few churches contribute anywhere near 10 percent. Most move along at 1 to 3)
- If you don't put a big goal out there, church giving will shrink.
Second, I have always wondered why churches don't spend a Sunday as a body looking at the budget. What if the finance guy got up and said, "Here is what we spend on this, this, and this. Here is what it takes to presently run our church. If we want to add this or this, we would need to increase our budget. So, based on that, we would need everyone making roughly this much to contribute this amount to maintain and this amount to grow." Give everyone an idea of how much they would need to contribute "in keeping with his income" to maintain and/or to grow.
Paul said to contribute "in keeping with [your] income". He wanted people behaving responsibly. Should a single person living alone making 50 thousand and a family of 6 making 50 thousand be held to the same standard of monetary giving? Where does Paul state that any church is given authority to hold anyone to a financial standard?
In conclusion, I believe even a cursory study of scripture works against the modern church view of a tithe. I know tithing is mentioned in scipture, but I feel modern churches pull it out of its context. There are dozens of Old Testament vows, behaviors, and callings that would be out of place to put on a Christian. Why do we grab tithing while stepping over so many others? Our overall unquestioning acceptance points to a bigger issue in our churches... scriptural illiteracy.