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Tithing – Its terrible history

This is the second of a 3 week series that looks at the issue of tithing in our church. Last week I gave you a heaps of Bible references and mentioned how there is no basis for ripping the vague concept of a tithe out of the OT and applying it to us today. Today, I want to begin with raising 3 of the many problems there is with tithing.

1) Tithing tends towards legalism – “I have given my 10% and nothing more”. Sadly it has been used by “preachers” to compare the failure to give 10% as being the same as the original sin;
2) Tithing relies on a poor use of the Bible, especially in what else it says concerning financial issues. It fails to understand the full picture of financial giving in the whole of the OT and it especially fails to listen to anything the word of God says regarding giving in the NT; and
3) Tithing is unjust – Tithing is bad news to those who are poor, it is definitely not good news for them. For example, it is easy for a person on $1 million per year to live pretty well off the $900,000 they have left after their 10% is given away. But it is pretty hard for a person on $10,000 to live off the $9,000 left after they have given their 10% away. In other words tithing actually favours the rich.

Ever since Christendom began (when Rome made Christianity the official religion), the concept of tithing was gradually twisted from its OT context and applied literally to the followers of Jesus as a tax for the church (and government). Without going into the details here, the collection, administration and distribution of the tithing tax was used by the church for greed, wealth accumulation and power. And then more recently, as society moved from agricultural to industrial economies the legal basis for the tithe became more and more unjust as it was only applied to the agricultural sector.

In the book I read it said that this misuse and misunderstanding of the OT tithe was responsible for enormous resentment toward the church, a resentment that is clearly echoed today when people still claim the church just wants our money. What is sad to see is that it was only in 1996 that the Tithe Act in the UK was fully and completely abandoned. No wonder there is still strong resentment.

Sadly, after many years of trying to rid tithing from being a tax the church applied to Christians, it has recently begun to get renewed support from those in the less traditional churches who were once the ones most deeply opposed to it. Once again, those who are promoting it today are simply ripping a literal 10% giving figure out of the OT context, without any thinking being given to the topic from the words Jesus spoke on this or the NT context in which they were said. Today, this thinking is often coupled with the false teaching of the prosperity gospel but that is for another time.