In the Absence of Law?…

I’m going to talk about money this week at our Sunday gathering – more specifically the whole issue of generosity and giving and how we go about this.

I’m not one of those people who gets ancy about the topic of money and avoids speaking on it. I actually reckon its the critical topic if we are going to make disciples in 21st C Australia. If we can’t help people become disciples in the area of finance then we are probably going to limp along as the church and actually make very little difference in our world – not because we won’t be able to ‘pay our pastors’ (as if that were the critical issue) but simply because we don’t come to grips with our own Achilles heel and our primary cultural dysfunction.

We love money – at least we love what it can do for us – and to give it away just seems absurd. Last week I heard that most people fantasise more about money than about sex!

Crikey… I gotta tell you I am not in that crowd.

So my objective on Sunday is not to compel people to give more in the offering bag, but rather to challenge us to look critically at how we view money, how we use our finance and to think seriously about why we give what we do and where.

My hope would be for a church where there is incredible generosity and where we are known as absurdly generous people.

Since spending a fair bit of time studying the whole issue of tithing I have become convinced of its irrelevance to the church today. Stuart Murray Williams was probably my most significant read in this area, but there are others also who are questioning whether this is a practice we should continue with at this time.

One of my big concerns is that we muddy our theology again with tithing. You know when we welcome people to the ‘house of the Lord’ we revert to an OT ‘temple theology’ and when we advocate tithing we pick up on OT worship practices that are not intended for today.

One of the original tithes was for the priests and levites and I hear that as a primary argument today – to pay our pastors – but – and maybe its just me – I am concerned for how that morphs the ‘pastor’ into a NT priest.

Aren’t we all priests now?…

If we go this route aren’t we sending some muddy mixed messages theologically?

Interestingly – while we equate the tithe to 10% the OT tithe was actually quite different. Biblical tithing was based on a person’s produce from the land and was done annually on a seven year cycle. Three separate tithes were instituted. The first was the Levitical tithe of 10% on everything for the first six years and was given to the Levites and priests. The second tithe was the Festival tithe of 10% on the 90% remaining produce after the Levitical tithe. This tithe had to be eaten in the presence of the Lord and was collected on the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th years only. The third tithe was the tithe for the poor to be collected on the 3rd and 6th years only. No tithe was collected on the 7th year or Sabbatical year. The farmers were to let the land rest in that year.

And as well as tithes the OT people were also required to bring various kinds of offerings to God.

From that Old Testament base we have for the most part concluded that to honour God with our wealth today we need to give back to him 10% of our income. Which is kind of ironic, because if you add it up they were actually giving around 17% for 6 years and nothing on the seventh.

So why do we preach tithing?

There is no rocket science required to figure that one out!

I think we generally feel that people need a marker to aim for so we set 10%. Its much more of a pragmatic argument than a theological one. If we don’t set out for 10% then maybe the people won’t give enough…

But they don’t anyway.

During my study on this I read a survey that cited the average giving by church members to the church offering to be around 2% of their income. And my own experience over 20 years of church life would suggest this is spot on.

Most people don’t tithe!

In churches the 80/20 rule is alive and well with 20% of the people funding the activities and resourcing the other 80%. Its a pretty sad situation really – quite lamentable – but it opens bigger questions of where should our money go anyway? And why is this the case?

The NT has a lot to say about giving freely and generously,about everything being God’s (rather than 10%) but nothing to say about a tithe…

Lets move on.

9 thoughts on “In the Absence of Law?…

  1. as i wrote in a prose piece a few years back

    I don’t care if you pay tithes and offerings to your local CSP [church service provider],

    or how much you donate to charities or other tax-deductible organisations.

    I want to know how the other 90 percent of your income is spent.

    Your generosity in all of life speaks more to me of who you are and what kind of God you serve.

  2. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9

    The phrase “use worldly wealth to gain friends” really impacted me. It caused me to start giving to people, instead of tithing to the “church”. I give to the church members. What I mean is, we are the church, individuals not a corporate organization. How can I use my worldly wealth to make friends if I give it to an organization that spends it on buildings. Instead I give it directly to my brothers and sisters. To the brother who can’t pay his mortgage, to the sister who is strapped for cash and can’t pay the electric bill.

  3. Hi mate

    This is a great summary of a thorny issue. Stick a fork in it, cos I think your sermon is cooked! You are so right about our love of what money can DO for us. But don’t worry about me Hamo, I’m sure I fantasise about sex WAY more than I do about money, so I’m alright then.

  4. I’m curious where you read that stat about fantasties. I’d like to read it. It certainly doesn’t fit me, either. Wonder if it was a majority of women giving the information.

  5. I’m wholeheartedly with you on this one hammo.

    But in response to a few of the comments (and taking any opportunity to speak on a subject i’m deeply passionate about), removing the concept of tithing doesn’t remove us from a responsibility to the church. the church is the vehicle which has taught, trained, loved, encouraged and enabled the advance of God’s kingdom on earth. Christianity doesn’t exist apart from the community of the Church, as we are united to God through Christ and to each other in Christ. Without the Church, the Gospel wouldn’t have travelled through space and time to reach us today here and now. We would all be living in hopeless darkness. Not to mention the immeasurable good works of love and kindness that have been done in the world as a fruit of lives changed. I think we will find that 99%+ of the good work done by Christians in history, was done by Christians who were nourished, fed, taught, trained equipped and loved by the Church.

    So for us today, and for the wider world tomorrow, if we care about such things, we will long to give to the church that the Kingdom of God might continue and increase. How much to give? I can think of no better use of my money than to pour it into the church and the work of the church. So how much? There are two ways to ask that? how much do I have to give? – obligation (no- wrong) How much can I give? (desperate desire to be part of God’s eternal work – yes good).

  6. I am interested in this topic Andrew after having been “pro” tithing most of my life and then adopting a similar line of thought to yourself and most of the people commenting so far.

    The thing that I come across more often then not is people preaching an anti tithe message because they are stingy. People who are offended by “rules” are often offended because they are not playing by them rather then being concerned about setting others free from them.

    Byron I don’t know you but I disagree with your outworking of that scripture.

    If you attend a christian community that releases people financially to minister and you are happy to receive that ministry it seems not only right and biblical but ethical to support that ministry financially… as well as giving where you see a need. This would be truly generous as opposed to simply “buying favor” with the people that you choose.

    I believe putting into a collection is good for the very reason that it remains anonymous and your giving is less likely to earn personal points with the people that you deem fit.

    There is also a biblical (NT) president for putting money into an “collection” for distribution to the needy.

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