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Thoughts on Tithing

Posted by Matt Postiff July 18, 2017 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology  Church 

Should I give a tithe? NO.

The tithe, or 10%, was a law in the Old Testament. Christians are not subject to that law today. This becomes even more clear when you realize that the tithe in the Old Testament era was not a single tithe, but multiple different ones. Further, in the Old Testament there were legally required tithes, and then there were offerings. The New Testament never legislates 10%. It directs a grace-based approach in giving, more like the free-will offerings in the Old Testament and not at all like the legally required tithes.

To make a longer story shorter, your offerings should be offered willingly, sacrificially, generously, proportionally, and joyously (2 Corinthians 8-9). And you might decide that in your budget, 10% works well. But that is a fairly arbitrary number...maybe 9% or 15% or 17% fits and helps you to accomplish the goals for your giving that Paul sets forth in 2 Corinthians.

Should the church give a tithe of its offerings to missions? NO.

Well, it could do so if it determines that works well for it in the particular situation it finds itself. But it does not need to do that to follow any Biblical command.

Should I promise to give before I have the money? NO.

Some have called this "tithing in faith." It is more commonly called "faith-promise" giving. 2 Corinthians 8:12 is explicit here: "it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have." In other words, do not make a promise like this: "I promise to give $X00 dollars every month toward missions." You simply do not know if you will have that money to give. You could be injured or lose your job or an emergency could arise. Instead, when you receive income, take a look at what you have, and give out of that amount. If you receive a regular salary, then it is fully acceptable to plan this giving in advance using a budget, but you should not vow to do so since you do not know the future.

Must the church wait until it has a certain amount before it gives any money to missions? NO.

Since I was just speaking about budgets, a church needs to have a budget. The leadership should know to a certain extent how much they normally take in offerings per month and per year, and then they can make conservative plans based on that. Then, a plan to use that money should be formulated. That plan should focus on the Great Commission responsibility of the church.

Suppose the church would like to take on the responsibility of supporting a missionary at $300 per month. That's a nice goal, but maybe that is a bit aggressive at the present size and financial health of the church's offerings. So maybe back down to $200 per month. Still, the church does NOT need to have $2400 in the bank already to support the missionary. Why? Because: the church, when it takes on a missionary, is not making an irreversible vow to support the missionary forever. It is understood that the money can only be sent as the church is able. It may need to quit due to unforseen circumstances. The church must give proper attention to the grace of giving and careful budgeting, and this will reduce the future possibility of having to drop support to a missionary.

Should the church support a missionary while our pastor is financially struggling? NO.

The pastor is the first "missionary" supported by the church. You might object by saying, "He's a pastor, not a missionary!" That neglects the fact that both missionaries and pastors are agents charged by God with fulfilling the Great Commission. One does so overseas, say, and the other does so locally. There is no appreciable difference because of location.

Of course, the definition of "struggling financially" has to be answered by the church leadership and the church itself. But if the pastor is making significantly below what an average middle-class family is making in your locale, then there is a problem. It is not a virtue to "keep the pastor poor," which is just a way in which the congregation tries to lead, control, and lord it over the pastor.

What about multiple priorities? No problem! Big line items in your church budget may include your building expenses, your pastor, and a missionary. If after a while you find that you have some more income than you budgeted for, then adjust the budget so that you split the extra between your priorities. You might not be able to fully fund the building project or the pastor or the missionary, but make a reasonable attempt to allocate the resources God gives you to accomplish His purposes. The church leadership and the church body are to be good stewards over their collected resources. You cannot just sit on money without a purpose.

Does this type of giving include faith at all? YES.

I get the feeling sometimes that some people believe if you are not "edgy" enough in your budgeting, or if you have a budget, then you are not spiritual and not exercising enough faith. My take on that kind of approach is simply this: faith does not require foolishness. If you have 10 people in your church and you think you can support 10 missionaries and your pastor, you have a serious lack of wisdom—not a superb amount of faith! Similarly, if your budget is $4000 per month and you want to support a missionary for $1000, you very likely need to re-evaluate the wisdom of that idea. Faith does not put God to the test. If God has given you a certain amount of income, be happy and thankful. Work hard to use the finances effectively and see more people saved who can provide further finances.

So what exactly is the difference between giving in faith versus presuming upon God? Faith consists of belief in God and, as a corollary, obedience to His Word. It is not defined by how outlandish your hopes may be for your budget. I believe faith-promise giving is presuming that God will give you a certain amount in the future when you are not promised that He will do that. I believe that a typical middle-class person giving 90% of their salary every payday is presumptuous, because they have responsibilities to feed their family and carry their own load which they will be unable to fulfill with that kind of giving. In other words, faith is always realistic even at the same time that it trusts in God.

An individual designs and executes his giving plan in faith when he trusts that God will provide his every need, and gives in January expecting that God will provide the needs in February even though he doesn't have the money in hand just yet. He may even have—if he can—a three-month emergency savings account in case the Lord has other plans.

Similarly, a church designs and executes its budget in faith when the leadership and the body trusts that God will provide through their own giving enough to meet the needs of the church in upcoming months. They don't have December's money in hand yet, but they plan to keep on going for the Lord, and continue supporting missionaries and their pastor and other needs each month prior to December.

A couple of audio resources. In 2015 I delivered a couple of short Bible studies on tithing. They are available here:

The Tithe, part 1

The Tithe, part 2

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