An ill-conceived brochure on tithing

I invite readers to consider churchianity’s affirmation of the practice of tithing.  While tithing per se is no longer applicable to believers, some form of this practice is assumed by nearly all established churches.  Certainly, generous giving can be a good thing, yet God’s purposes can also be subverted by greedy institutionalisms and doctrinaire concoctions related to tithing.

Some might not understand the energy with which I pursue this topic.  In my mind, at least, it is not a “hobby” (see introductory last post here); rather, it is a real concern that should be considered by more serious believers.  Why not just be nice boys and girls and give money to your local church, not worrying about whether it’s considered a tithe?  Again, there is much to be said for simple generosity and for supporting bona fide benevolence, outreach, and teaching efforts with one’s money.  However, the problems related to tithing per se run deep, and they call for elucidation.  Here, I hope to facilitate consideration and growth in understanding.


Last fall I was in a large, contemporary church building for a couple of events, and I happened to amble over to a rack full of brochures.  One of them was called “Guidelines for Giving,” and I should never have picked up a copy.  Or maybe I should have.  The brochure was replete with a hermenuetical error, not to mention some other carelessness.  The fundamental error, seen in its best light, is a lack of discrimination that melds Old Covenant Torah law & the Levitical priesthood with the contemporary Christian church’s M.O.

Here is the inside of the brochure, with a few of my markings:

givingbrochure

Depending on your device/computer and its applications and settings, you may be able to click on the image and see as much as you’re interested in.  Essentially, my highlights and notes acknowledge that sincere love may be seen in giving.  They also point out that most of the proof texts employed are found in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament).  When God told (past tense) ancient Israelites to do something, that telling cannot logically be pressed into the Christian age without a hermeneutical jump or gyration of some kind.   Moreover, I would suggest that the author of this brochure manifests a rather flat, non-granular view of scripture.

Now, here are some separate bits from the other page of this tri-fold, with commentary below each insertion:

tithe2The make-believe dialogue hits me as . . . well, made up.  Who really asks, “What if I can’t afford to tithe?”  Not as many people as the institutional church wishes, I’m sure!  When a church fabricates this question, it makes for itself an opportunity to say, “Give to me!  This church!  Give to us!”

I don’t mind that this denomination used and defined the expression “spirit of poverty,” but I don’t find it to be a particularly scripture-based phrase, and I wish the brochure had acknowledged that fact.  Furthermore, connecting a monetary contribution to the notion of “stepping out in faith and obedience” risks an improper tie between a denomination or its pastor on the one hand and God on the other.  In other words, obeying a denomination’s or pastor’s whims is not tantamount to obeying God.  (The difference between the notion of papal infallibility and hierarchically induced accountability to a protestant pastor or creed is a matter of degree.)

The advice set off between the bold lines (ahem . . . besides having a word missing) perpetuates the ignorance by presuming 10% is (still) some sort of magical God-ration.  In terms of general financial stewardship, it’s obviously a good idea to have a budget and not to overspend it.  I’ll give them that, BUT … being “faithful to tithe” is an Old-Covenant idea, not to be equated with Christian obedience.

tithe3

They go on.  I can hardly believe someone had the uneducated gall to put that assertion in print.  I beg to differ that “the Bible is very clear” here.  The church that was distributing this brochure meets in Missouri, so I demand, as if a good Missourian, “Show me!”  I counter-assert that there is no such passage in Christian scripture that says any such thing.  Not only is there no clarity on this; there is no solid information at all, really, and precious little hint.  The very phrase “the local church” above has taken on an identity beyond mere locale, suggesting an institution and a building with doors—doors that, by the way, wear out and need replacing, remember, so we need your money to buy new ones.  The idea of contributing to your local church is rather obviously not inherently bad, but neither is it a topic of scripture.  Further, the notion that any kind of giving is an “act of worship” is an extension of worship ideas at best and an adulteration of them at worst.  It would have been better to say something like this:  “The heart that wants to worship God vertically will also likely want to give money horizontally in order to help people—perhaps first in one’s own locale, but also beyond.”

Below is my own paraphrase of 1Corinthians 16:2.  (For more detail and translations of the surrounding context, see this blogpost.)

2 On the first day of the week, each one, put some money aside—saving it up (according to your financial prosperity)—so a focused collection effort as such shouldn’t be necessary when I get there.

Here, individuals are to set money aside, planning ahead for a specific need.  While there is some room for alternate translation, interpretation, and follow through here, it should also be said that the above text is really the only one in the Christian scriptures that suggests anything remotely connected to an institutional offering.¹  The connection is ostensibly negative:  Paul doesn’t want to have the hassle of a collection later.  We might surmise further, then, that a regular collection would not have been normative in Corinth, or else he might have just used that method-in-place when he got there.  No, the collective funding he was after was no regular occurrence but a one-time thing.  There is no ongoing, institutional common treasury suggested here; the picture painted is rather one of specific purpose, of a timely response to a need in one particular time period.

#3 offers helpful procedural advice, but it is a trifle self-serving for a church organization to be saying such things.  It comes off to me like salesmanspeak:  answering potential objections, closing the sale.

One can find good reason to contribute.  There are psychological/altruistic reasons to give charitably, and theologically based ones, and community-based ones.  Sure, give $ to your church collection plate if you want to, but don’t do it because it’s a “tithe” (originally a tax to support the Levites).  The simple fact is that habitual, institution-supporting weekly giving to a church treasury is not explicitly supported—or dealt with at all—in canonical Christian scripture.

Thus ends what some may feel was a ride on a hobby horse.  In the future, should I feel like yanking the ol’ gray mare down from her hook to take a spin, maybe I’ll have the restraint simply to refer to this post.


¹ I suppose the “widow’s mite” story could be seen as positively connected to institutional offering, but that was an observation in Jewish context.  Moreover, the lesson to be learned here may be primarily, or even exclusively, a negative one about the pharisees rather than a positive one about the widow.  Consider the surrounding context in Mark 12 and Luke 21.

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3 thoughts on “An ill-conceived brochure on tithing

  1. Brian Casey 03/20/2017 / 7:47 pm

    Comment via Facebook:
    Edward Wilson More or less random points: 1. Tithing originally also included Israel’s tax system, so was critical to operating their theocratic political system ( in theory, because that system did not remain very constant over time). 2. We do not give as we should. Many do not give at all due to budget constraints, though even the poorest of us are rich by ancient Macedonian standards. 3. Frankly, a somewhat simplified approach is necessary in a tract, because, as a practical matter, most people cannot/will not analyze things the way you can. So a more complex approach will simply confuse and be ineffective. Need a tract that is both simple and accurate in reasoning. 4. You certainly can outgive God, in the sense of destroying your budget inappropriately. Many a preacher has induced people to enrich himself while exacerbating their own poverty. 5. The actual giving advice in the NT tended to be directed outside the home church, e.g. Collection for relief of Christians in Jerusalem. 5. Making it easy to tithe is a good thing, in accord with current financial practices and realities. I just started using a special account for giving, that lets me collect funds in a tax efficient manner and then disburse by bill pay as needed to any 501-3(c).

    Brian Casey Right on with mention of tax and theocracy in #1. #2 and #4 — also agreed. #5 — fine, but I prefer caution in representing that the NT includes much “giving advice,” because that tends to get immediately translated to “tithe.” On that point, I really like your adaptive practice of the separate account for purposed giving, but I wish you hadn’t used the word “tithe.” 🙂

    As for analysis and simplified approach in #3, I absolutely recognize that I go into this (and other things) more than most people want to. The pamphlet I saw could be said to be fairly simple, I suppose, but even its simplicity was rather extended and fatally flawed. I’m not sure how to be simple in refuting it. I’m bad at that. I doubt I’ll ever have much opportunity to say such things to the real masses, but I continue to appreciate that you take the time to read. 🙂

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  2. Brian Casey 03/20/2017 / 7:48 pm

    Via Facebook:
    James D. Wallace Well ill-written track aside, I would be cautious about throwing out the more general concept of tithing (baby) with the specific Mosaical interpretation (bathwater). For many of us the definition of tithing is somewhat watered down, but useful, moniker that we attribute to ritualized giving. Personally I use it to describe what I have purposed as a means to give back to God a token of what he has given to me. Indeed Paul does make the connection between material giving and spiritual seeds being sown (I Cor. 9:11-14). While not the only way, I think contributing to the congregation, whose eldership I serve under, would be a legitimate way to honor this more general principle. Certainly, a particular percentage is not given and should never be commanded. However, it is food for consideration as I ponder ways to serve God. So percentages should be put aside and indeed for those have been blessed extensively consideration of the classical tithe should be dismissed entirely (Ro 12:8). I don’t think we disagree on any of these points and want to thank you for giving me pause as to why and what I purpose to give back to God.

    Brian Casey There was a time in our long history that you were crazier than I. I think now that I’m the rebel. 🙂 A word is just a word, but the word “tithe” is so charged with presumed (false) authority that I recommend against its use. Sure, a thoughtful guy like you can take and apply a principle, but if you use the word “tithe” around others that are less discerning, it could lead to less viable interpretation and practice.

    Thank you for taking time to read and think with me, by the way!

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  3. Brian Casey 03/20/2017 / 7:48 pm

    Via Facebook:
    Matthew William Bassford Most churches like tithing as the baseline for giving (Mosaic connections aside) because they think they will get more money that way than if they leave the amount to the members’ discretion. They like to do this not because they’re greedy per se, but because of the vast array of activities they support that have nothing to do with the gospel. The tail is not merely wagging the dog; it has outgrown the dog.

    Brian Casey Well said! I think the dog thing is probably more accurate than the greed in most cases.

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