‘Do you tithe to the church?’ a new worshipper asked. ‘No, tithing is OT thingy and we are under grace. So I give heartily whatever amount my heart desires,’ the regular worshipper replied. Another overheard and joined in, ‘Well, I give too but to para-organizations instead. They need it more and it is still for the kingdom.’ The new guy was confused. ‘But didn’t the pastor say that Christians should tithe to the church?’ ‘No, we should give to God, not the church!’ both shot back in unison.
How would you answer the poor chap? The theology of tithing is becoming more confusing these days with the proliferation of views and interpretations offered by various people with different agendas. So some churches practise tithing strictly according to the book and they tactfully remind members when they fail to keep to their law. Some practise giving heartily in the spirit and they graciously remind members to do the same. So what? Must we tithe? What does the Bible have to say about it?
It is hard to prove from the Bible that Christians are compelled to tithe a tenth to the church but it does not mean that this practice is therefore unbiblical. So allow me to share my thoughts and the best place to begin has to be Malachi 3:10 where God challenged his people to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. This verse also serves as the basis for church tithing. But many argue that this was based on the law and applied strictly to Israel and not the church. I agree in principle that it does not apply to us according to the letter of the law, i.e. we do not bring the grains and animals according to some preset time and ritual. But because it is the Word of God revealed to teach his people how to live and conduct their lives, I believe it is still applicable to us according to the spirit of the law, i.e. the purpose that tithes serve in God’s kingdom perspective.
Well, the law required the Israelites to store the tithes collected in each town and used it to feed the Levites, widows, orphans and aliens living among them, i.e. those serving the ordinance of God and those in their midst who were in need. When the law made way for grace, caring and providing for the poor continued to be strongly enforced in the NT. And Paul also reminds us in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 that those serving the ordinance of God need to be cared for too. So this principle of giving obligatorily for kingdom’s sake continues in the light of Christ’s revelation and has not been abolished. The form may change but the guiding principle remains. But must I give my tithe to the church or can I give to whom I desire? Well, if Israel was instructed to function as a community where tithes were gathered at a common place in each town and how the early believers in Acts did likewise, I strongly believe that it is through the local church that God desires for the tithes due him to be channelled into and dispensed out for his great kingdom work. And the word used for church in NT also has the same root meaning of a local Jewish gathering or community in OT.
So I see tithing to the church as implicitly taught in the Bible. This brings us to the next question, i.e. must I give a tenth or whatever amount my heart desires as suggested in 2 Corinthians 9:7. We need to know that this passage is not about tithing but giving to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. It was a special collection arranged by Paul and it is in this context that the apostle exhorted them to give cheerfully and not grudgingly. It is like the special collection arranged by the English Presbytery for disaster relief in another country. And it is in this context that we should give whatever amount cheerfully and not under compulsion. So I believe this verse deals more with voluntary giving and falls into our context of offering instead, which we also give on top of our regular tithing.
But a tenth was the amount that Abraham, the father of faith who lived long before the law was instituted, tithed to Melchizedek in recognition for who he was. It might be customary in those days to give a tenth but the important thing is that God anointed such a practice before the law was given and later turned it into a law. And so I believe it is a good biblical guideline for his people living after the law to tithe a tenth to God in recognition for who he is. Therefore I do believe that tithing a tenth to the church is biblical so that the church may function and serve God’s purposes. But some will disagree with my theology just as I disagree with theirs that grace forbids us to impose a law and that we should give more in order that God will bless us more.
Now I recognize that there are some who may be burdened for certain charitable organization and so channel their tithes there instead. Is it wrong? Wouldn’t all good deeds bring glory to God? Well, as I have shared earlier, I believe it is the role of the church, on behalf of God and the local congregation, to bless others with our tithes and offerings. Woe to us if we channel all the money to improve the physical church for the sake of our comfort and convenience and neglect the more important things. True Way therefore had initially undertaken to set aside 10% of our annual collection to give to para-organizations and this was in addition to the other expenses incurred for kingdom work. Subsequently, we raised this amount to 12%. But we are not able to cover all para-organizations and so many will be left out. You may therefore need to give to the organization of your desire on top of your regular tithing.
Finally, I trust that as long as we continue to keep kingdom work in our perspective, God will be pleased to bless others through our tithes and offerings. Therefore as a pastor, I willingly subscribe to the good old tradition of giving a tenth as tithe to the church. It is biblical. And on top of this, I also strongly encourage all to give to those who are in need, cheerfully and without compulsion as the Lord so blesses or burdens us. It is pleasing to God.
[It was first printed in June 2009]
Rev Ronnie Ang
January 13, 2019