On bill-paying (follow-up)

Rachel writes, in response to my post September 25 post “On being inhospitable,”

Does this mean the 10% tithing is for Old Testament only, and now we are only “required” to “be charitable and support the Lord’s work”?

My home church has a pretty good system for taking the collection, in my opinion. Not wishing to guilt trip people into an instantaneous and non-thought-out decision, they place boxes near the entrance/exit so that those who choose to may give, and those who don’t wish to give don’t feel awkward or forced into putting something in! Some churches might not want to do this because they feel they wouldn’t get as much money this way, but it seems to work just fine.

I think you have hit it on the nose about that system of church contributions — it’s much more hospitable, although it probably doesn’t bring in as much cash.  If the church is confident in the relative psychological “investment” and contentment of its members with what’s going on, boxes near the doors ought to work well. But if people aren’t on board with the church programs, the establishment is in trouble if it wants to keep funding the programs, regardless.

I once read a booklet written some 40-50 years ago by someone a lot more upset than I about contribution practices and the tyrannic momentum of church business. The booklet was called Stop Paying the Bills!  There’s an assumption inherent in the title that the system, the church programs, etc., are not inherently God’s, so if one stops funding them, there is no irreverence to God’s will.  On the surface, I agree and feel the demurrence is well placed, but I don’t feel quite that vehemently radical about it.

Yes, tithing itself is about supporting the religious professionals; I’ve found no New Covenant corollary to regular, measured giving called tithing since there are no Levites.  What we are told to do, instead (and this is so stated only in one verse, so perhaps not nearly as essential to weekly Christian living as church staff members make it out to be), is to save so that we can support Kingdom work financially when needs arise.  Dozens, maybe hundreds of times I’ve heard the KJV phrase “lay by in store” from 1 Cor. 16 quoted as though it means to drop stuff in a collection plate on Sunday morning.  Rather, it means (and this is clear in any translation, it seems to me) to save so that one has resources laid aside when they’re needed for God’s work.

A new surge of resistance rises in me when preachers and other church staff members spend time publicly encouraging a higher contribution level.  This seems so obviously self-serving that it embarrasses me for them. “Give more money, please, so I can continue to draw my salary or maybe even get a raise….  And remember that the Lord said, ‘Bring forth the whole tithe.’  And He also said to ‘test Him’ to see if He can’t be more generous than you are.  And He also said that He loves a cheerful giver, you know, so smile as you drop those checks into the plate!” Aarrgghh.

It has been years since my family put all our available financial “stock” in local church collections.  Other recipients have included the World Bible Translation Center, Camp Shiloh, Camp Manatawny, another church that’s helping a family with distinct needs, Wellspring Ministries, Fillmore Powerhouse, United Way (designated for such things as youth programs and agencies that work for adoption of unwanted babies), Red Cross (designated for victims of natural disasters), and individual missionaries engaged in what I perceive to be indigenous methodologies.  Our intent is to give much more to individual mission works in developing countries and in urban settings in this country. P articularly purposeful giving may not be specified in the NC scriptures, either, but it surely makes sense to my 21st-century (partly late-blooming-Boomer, more-Gen-X-ish, with some postmodern sensibilities) mind.

Not at all suggesting that all congregational offerings, or all Christians’ contributions, fall into this category, I do resist thoughtless, obligatory, perfunctory, blind giving to a plate (or a box, for that matter).  The more purposeful, and the less the money goes to “overhead” and professional salaries, the better … for my conscience, at least.  At the core, my Ekklesia ideal does not depend on professionals, so my heart does not do well when “forced” to fund them.  Not that professionals are all bad; on the contrary, most of them in my personal experience have their hearts generally in the right places and want to do God things.  But the momentum of the system can easily be an impediment to true Kingdom work.

As to amounts, .04% or 4% may be the right %age for some, or 7.2%, or 10%, or 11%, or 32%, but 10% is not legislated. Having a generous spirit is encouraged.

As with many personal statements in various arenas, it’s quite possible that a bit of personal bias has entered the picture here.  Among other possible biases, I would like to acknowledge that New York State taxes have put unexpected pressure on our family finances.  Giving more generously is something I think our family might benefit from — both spiritually and financially — but at this time, because of burdensome taxation and a couple of other factors, 10% isn’t a viable option, and I think God understands.

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