Pagan Christianity? (2002, 2008, 2012), a book with a title clearly designed to shock the eye, systematically examines a series of routines inculcated in most churches, pointing out the pagan origins of many practices—and tacitly challenging the thoughtful, courageous reader to do something about them. A few days ago I posted some of this book’s thoughts about the preacher’s role and sermons.
Below are some strong words from Viola regarding tithing and clergy salaries, from pp. 171ff in the book.
[Malachi 3:8-10] seems to be many Christian leaders’ favorite Bible text, especially when giving is at low tide. If you have spent any time in the contemporary church, you have heard this passage read from the pulpit on numerous occasions. Consider the rhetoric that goes with it:
“God has commanded you to faithfully give your tithes. If you do not tithe, you are robbing God Almighty, and you put yourself under a curse.”
“Your tithes and offerings are necessary if God’s work will go on!”
(“God’s work,” of course, includes paying the pastoral staff and footing the monthly electric bill to keep the building afloat.)
. . .
Tithing does appear in the Bible. So, yes, tithing is biblical. But it is not Christian. The tithe belongs to ancient Israel. It was essentially their income tax. Never do you find first century Christians tithing in the New Testament.
. . .
Herein is the heart of God in Malachi 3:8-10: He opposes oppression of the poor. In scores of sermons I have heard on tithing, I was never told what the passage was actually talking about.
. . .
We are all priests now . . . all Christians should tithe to one another.
Long ago, I read an essay by one Charles Holt, who was from a Restoration church and was a friend of a friend. The essay was titled “Stop Paying the Bills,” and it rather forcefully, even belligerently, argued that serious Christians should simply stop financially supporting their congregations (and, by extension, their sects / denominations). That way, the un-biblical systems would break down, he figured. And it’s true: if enough people did this, some kind of change would be forced. However, it seems to me that few pew-packers will be influenced by extreme rhetoric, whether or not it’s on target.
Of course, most Yellow-Pages-identifiable churches assume, and/or explicitly request, that their adherents contribute money regularly. Some make the assumption/request in a more palatable manner than others. For Restoration Movement churches, no exceptions to this norm, the offering/collection becomes another item in the list of musts—the list of ways that those who purport to serve God should act, in relation to the principles and laws in scripture . . . the problem being that no such principle or law can be found. Side note: Also in RM churches, one frequently encounters a feigning of separation—the silly declaration that the collection is “separate and apart” from the Lord’s Supper—when the reality was that it wasn’t separate at all, given how the acts were just performed.
I may be a little unique (read: odd) in some ways, but I am run-of-the-mill in this: I always, always experience a surge of resistance when church staff members spend time publicly encouraging a higher contribution level. This M.O. 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.’” Aarrgghh.
However one feels about one’s specific church finances, the fact is, both the historical tithe proportion (10%) and the legislated action are Hebrew, not Christian.
For a couple of decades, I have not regularly contributed to a congregational “pot”—I find it to be a) a questionable use of limited funds, b) not requested by the Lord, and c) non-intentional and non-specific, and so, d) less meaningful. However, although I share Holt’s underlying frustration, I think his advice is stated a bit too vehemently, so I’m not making it convenient for readers of this blog to access his essay. The more calmly thoughtful, methodical approach offered by Viola in his Pagan Christianity chapter appears more likely to produce positive results in people’s minds, if not in their “church lives.” (Hint: in the last sentence lies an implicit challenge to you and to me.)
The simple fact that tithing is not a Christian thing ought to make all sober Christians stop and think about using their resources more purposefully, if nothing else.
1. Charitable, free giving is one thing, and one may certainly freely give to his/her congregation as well as to other good things.
2. The presumed perpetuation of legislated tithing is quite another thing, and the targeted words of 1Cor 16:1-4 aren’t directly related to tithing.
Next in this series:
“Affirming positives from Viola”
For more on the offering collection, here are two links:
https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/collecting-my-thoughts/, at which is found a longish essay
https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/inhospitability-considered-further/, at which I decry the inhospitable pressure put on people by handing them collection plates