Passing on the Plate: Why Your Congregation May not be Tithing
- Monday, February 11, 2008
Do members of your church seem reluctant to tithe? Do you know why? For many Christians, the issue of money is a touchy one. Mark Leeson of Fontana, Calif., says he tunes out whenever a pastor discusses giving. Part of his distaste stems from hearing televangelists who prescribe giving as the way to gain riches. Too often, says Leeson, these personalities link failing to give with a lack of prosperity. "Do we really need to buy God's blessings?” he wonders.
Marcy Peters of Nashville, Tenn., understands that giving is a biblical mandate, but she questions whether a 10 percent “tithe” still applies to Christians today. "Isn't tithing an Old Testament concept?" she asks. "I don't think Paul ever talked about tithing."
Peters is not alone in her confusion. In 2006, Ellison Research surveyed 1,184 people who attend Protestant churches at least once a month. Only 36 percent of respondents said they believe there is a biblical command to tithe 10 percent to their local church.
Another 23 percent believe there is a biblical mandate to tithe, but not necessarily to the local church. Twenty-seven percent feel the Bible commands Christians to give, but not a set proportion or amount, while 10 percent believe Christians are under no mandate to give anything.
A quick Google search on tithing pulls up numerous websites that blast the concept. TithingDebate.com, for instance, states that it is “dedicated to bringing you the other side of the story. The side a portion of Christian leaders would rather you did not hear.” One section contains a tithing rebuttal by Russell Earl Kelly, an author who studied at Covington Theological Seminary, and who runs his own website titled “Should the Church Teach Tithing?”
Almost every tithe teacher begins at Malachi 3:8-12, writes Kelly. However God began the specific condemnation in Malachi back in Malachi 1:6 and Malachi 2:1 where he addressed the priests with the pronoun “you.”
If you follow this pronoun from 1:6 to 3:12, Kelly continues, it is evident that it does not change. It is the priests, not the people, who are cursed four times in Malachi 1:14 and Malachi 2:2 because they had stolen from God. The priests’ question in Malachi 2:17 is answered with a severe chastening in Malachi 3:1-5.
“There is no legitimate textual reason to conclude that Malachi 3:6-12 is not a continued rebuke of dishonest and greedy priests,” reasons Kelly. “Malachi is speaking to dishonest Old Covenant Israelite priests and is not speaking to the New Covenant church.”
Dan Barker, a former Assemblies of God pastor, also stands against tithing. “There is nothing in the New Testament in favor of tithing,” according to Barker. “Neither Jesus nor Paul commanded believers to give 10 percent to their local church, or to go to church at all. Jesus mocked the scribes and Pharisees who tithed (Matthew 23:23), and denounced a self-righteous Pharisee who boasted about tithing (Luke 18:9-14). The writer of Hebrews, who observed that the old tithe was collected by the Levites, Hebrews 5:1-10.”
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