Should you tithe to your church?

Evangelicals disagree about how the Old Testament law functions as a normative ethic for Christians. Has the law been abrogated? Fulfilled in Christ? Is it still morally binding? When it comes to the ten commandments, nine of the ten are directly reiterated by the apostles in the New Testament, so the binding nature of those commands is a no-brainer. Some controversy still exists about keeping the Sabbath since it isn’t reiterated in the New Testament in so many words.

One other issue that sometimes comes into contention is the tithe. Under the Old Covenant, God’s people were required to give a tenth of all of their increase. Some people believe that this tithe is still required of Christians today, and others do not think that it is required (since the law has been abrogated). Which view is correct?

Kevin DeYoung has some wise words on this question that point the way forward, even if we don’t all agree on the way that the Old Covenant relates to the new. DeYoung writes:

Whether the Old Testament requirement is a binding prescription or not, I find it hard to imagine that Western Christians who have seen the glory of God in the face of Christ and enjoy great prosperity, would want to give less than was required of the poorest Israelite. Statistics consistently show that Protestants give less than 3% of their income to their churches. A tithe, for most churchgoers, would be a huge step in the right direction.

He’s right. New Covenant freedom from the law (however you define it) should not induce us to do less than what was required in the previous dispensation. The glory of the New Covenant outshines the light of the old (2 Corinthians 3:10-11), and it makes sense that our response in giving would be commensurate. Let’s give liberally, and let the starting-point for our stewardship be a tenth of what we gross.

Acts 2:44-45 “And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”

2 Corinthians 9:7 “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

17 Responses to Should you tithe to your church?

  1. David McKay November 25, 2011 at 12:07 am #

    I’m with Kevin and you on this one, Denny.

    It has always seemed cock-eyed to me to say “The Old Testament taught tithing, but the New Testament teaches grace-giving. Whacko! That means I can give God a really small amount.”

  2. Jennifer November 25, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    I don’t have an issue with teaching tithing. What I do take exception to, though, is teaching that one’s money is cursed unless they tithe the first 10% of their income; that one should tithe before paying their other bills; and that one is condemned if they do not tithe.

    • Derek November 27, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

      Jennifer,
      I’ve given this a lot of thought and prayer over the years and the main question is this, I believe – are we giving God our first and best or what is left over? I’ve been convicted over the years that if I am not intentional about giving God my “first fruits” in terms of not just treasure, but also time and talents, then I inevitably give God what’s “left over”. I have also been greatly impacted by the book of Haggai, which I believe should convict 99% of American evangelicals. The book addresses Jews whose priorities were “upside down” and is one of the most relevant books in the OT (for modern day evangelicals).

    • Derek November 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

      Here’s a particularly relevant passage from Haggai, Jennifer:
      “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the LORD. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the LORD Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

      We could argue about the particulars of tithing, but even in the OT book of Haggai, God is much less concerned about the particulars of how tithing is done than the state of an individual’s heart and priorities. So I don’t believe that we can carte-blanche say that a non-tithing person is “cursed”, but I do believe that if we make a habit of giving God what is left over and are pursuing our material pursuits while God’s work and house (the Church) is a secondary or tertiary priority in our lives, we should not be surprised if God “withholds the harvest” from us. Maybe just to get our attention, as this passage clearly demonstrates.

  3. Andrew November 25, 2011 at 12:23 am #

    Wasn’t the tithe a tax in the OT? I’m with you on calling people to give generously and liberally, but in the OT, there was no separation of church and state… Just a thought.

  4. John November 25, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    Old Testament adultery = Physically committing adultery. New Testament adultery = Mentally committing adultery. Jesus brings grace, but requires us to be better than the OT law. With this in mind, what makes anyone think Jesus’ requirements for finances would get “easier” than the OT 10%?

  5. Bart Barber November 25, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    Andrew,

    Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek in Genesis 14 can hardly be considered a tax. Although Melchizedek does seem to have been both a religious figure and a political figure, he was not a political figure with any sovereignty over Abram. The entire chapter is an account of Abram’s interaction with kings, some of whom he defeated in battle, some of whom he defended in battle and with from whom he declined riches, and one to whom he tithed. His tithe to Melchizedek seems strictly to have been a matter of his personal choice of gratitude and obedience in faith.

  6. Bruce H November 25, 2011 at 7:37 am #

    To believe a truth is not to just have knowledge of it, it is to know it. Application is the best teacher. With God, the application isn’t in receiving, it is in the giving. There is a great difference in obligation and love. “For God so loved, that He gave” Because God is love it would be considered robbery if He didn’t give. The greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor as ourself. It is when we don’t love that we rob God and wound to poor.

  7. John November 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Regarding the quote of Acts2:44-45, why don’t churches today teach to hold all things in common, for the common good, rather than keeping possessions private? Is that a western culture idea?

  8. Robin November 25, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    You did not answer your own question of whether it is “required” or not. What I choose to do and why is a moot point if I am required to give a tithe.
    The tithe went to maintain the tabernacle (and later temple) priesthood, and national offerings.
    Christians are no where commanded, as a group, to build buildings or hire pastors. So the tithe was no longer needed.
    We could all be part of house churches without need for any funds except missions and evangelism.
    RLS

  9. Larry Thompson November 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    Just a small point: the Acts passage is not about giving to the church but giving to each other as there are needs.

  10. Don Johnson November 26, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    There are 6 distinctive tithes in the Bible, so talking about “the” tithe is ambiguous, one should at least mention which of the 6 is meant. What usually happens way too often (such as with DeYoung’s article) is a “drive by” teaching that gives a few aspects without context, instead of actually teaching the details of the 6 tithes and how they worked, so that one can see whether and how any of the 6 might apply.

    The tithe most often attempted to be mapped to believers in the new covenant is the food tithe from the Israelites to the Levites. This was ONLY for food grown on the land of Israel as either plants or domestic animals, it was NOT a money tithe except by the decision of the tither and then it involved a 20% surtax or 12% in money when substituting.

    If food was grown outside of Israel, it was not tithed. Fish were not tithed since they did not meet the qualifications of items to be tithed, so Peter and co. as fishermen did not tithe fish. Rabbis who accepted offerings did not tithe, since they did not grow it, so Jesus did not tithe. Taxes also were not tithed, so Matthew did not tithe from his income. Tithing on any of these things would be a sin, as it would not be following Torah. This is why Jews today do not tithe, as there is no way to follow the Torah in doing it.

  11. Bruce H November 26, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    The leadership in a church I was a member of was well trusted because of the following:

    1. The handling of the money was based upon saving and proper distribution practices. Policies were in place to prevent improper use of the money. No extravagance. Income always exceeded the outgo.
    2. There was no single source leadership (CEO).
    3. Salaries were very reasonable and not excessive. Raises were not automatic.
    4. No politics.

    Even though we knew that all of our resources are God’s, we could sense it more because God’s money was handled as though it was really His. We learned to manage our own money based upon the way the church managed God’s money. We learned patience in lieu of presuming upon the future. That is how grace giving works, and it works very well.

  12. Ryan November 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    Ahh, see, I read the initial question differently. I saw the emphasis on “to your church.”

    What about dividing your tithe (or fifth, or twentieth, or whatever) to support the work of your local church, personal friends in ministry or need, missionaries with organizations outside of your denomination, adoptions / orphan ministries, etc.?

    Even in the recent messages on the topic at our church, I can’t recall particular teaching to this question.

  13. James November 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek, multiple tithes in the OT, Malachi and other passages that are used to argue for tithing as a New Covenant requirement are thoughtfully handled in two well written articles by Dr. Andreas Kostenberger and David Croteau. They, in my opinion, convincingly demonstrate from the scriptures that tithing is not required under the New Covenant. The article also raises interesting questions about the church requiring only 10% when Isrealites were required to give 20% to 30% depending on the year.

    Anyone who wants to sift through the biblical material on tithing would be helped by reading these articles. They are work the effort.

    I was surprised by how many of my (and the churches) reasons for requiring tithing are based less on the biblical texts than on tradition.

    http://www.biblicalfoundations.org/pdf/pdfarticles/bbrtithing1.pdf
    http://www.biblicalfoundations.org/pdf/pdfarticles/bbrtithing2.pdf

  14. Derek November 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    One other way we can look at this topic is to consider if giving rates of evangelicals were 10% instead of 2 or 3%. We could triple or probably even quadruple our missionary efforts here and overseas. I have family members who are missionaries and they would be floored to even consider what is possible with a 3 or 4 fold increase in missionaries and funds.

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