The Tithe That Binds, part 3

Having presented the case that Old Testament tithing is no longer binding as a law for New Testament believers, and having put forth the abiding principles of faith, sacrifice, and worship as the center of giving in the New Testament, I now want to present and answer the most common objections to my view that I have encountered over the years (some of which have already been addressed in the previous articles).

1) Some have said “Jesus commanded us to tithe”: This conviction comes primarily from Matthew 23:23/Luke 11:42.  About the tithing of herbs, Jesus certainly says, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mt.23:23), but we must remember that the overall context and the overall biblical theology of this phrase (i.e., how it fits into the entirety of scriptural teaching) must guide our interpretation.  Jesus is talking to Jews living under the Old Covenant system.  We should expect Him to command them to tithe, just as He would command them to circumcise their baby boys, eat kosherly, observe all of the feast days, and keep the Sabbath Day holy.

If we are going to insist that Jesus is commanding us to tithe from these texts, then we must be consistent in our interpretation of other such commands from Jesus.  For example, in John 13:14-15 Jesus commands His disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (emphasis added).  Admittedly, foot-washing is not an Old Testament law, but it does serve as a command of Jesus nonetheless.  It is the very Word of God just as much as His Word on tithing, but few Christians would say that foot-washing is binding on New Testament believers (minus a few groups here and there).

2)  Some have said, “I know that you have a seminary education but . . .”: I have to say that this one can be a bit disconcerting.  What does a seminary education have to do with anything?  Certainly, such an education can sway a person to my view on this issue.  But just as certainly, an education can sway a person to believe that the tithe is still binding in the New Testament.

3)  Some have said, “Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek before the Mosaic Law”: I have briefly addressed this in Part 1 of this series but want to say a bit more here.  While it is true that tithing predates the Law in the Old Testament, so too does circumcision.  Every orthodox branch of Christianity agrees that circumcision is no longer binding on God’s people under the New Covenant.  Some may object that circumcision was the sign of the old covenant.  Therefore comparing tithing and circumcision is like comparing apples to oranges.  I must respectfully disagree.  I do so respectfully because I do agree that circumcision was the sign of the covenant.  But I consider this a false dichotomy.  Even though circumcision was the sign of the covenant, this makes tithing no less a part of the Mosaic Law.  While tithing was not the centerpiece of the Law, it certainly was the major tool for funding the religious system that carried out the other laws and duties of the covenant such as circumcision.  In other words, the tithe “paid” for the procedure of circumcision.

4)  Some have said, “Won’t this encourage people to give less”: This may be the most frequent objection I have heard, that on one hand I consider to be the most reasonable.  It is the most reasonable because it can be the most natural response.  We might say this is man’s natural response to a financial issue.  I’ve noticed over the years that people get antsy when the money gets tight in the local church.  Our natural reaction to such a problem is usually law.  We tend to believe that laying down a standard percentage for giving and then teaching that standard a bit dogmatically will lead to more faithfulness.  But this misses the point of giving entirely.  Law-based giving lends itself to legalism and worry over whether you have met the “standard.”  Grace-based giving, however, lends itself to freedom in the Spirit.  The “standard” for giving in a grace-based economy leads to a deeper reality of worship.  The people that would use my interpretation of the tithe to wiggle their way out of “having” to give more money have already nullified God’s grace anyway.  Both legalistic giving and libertarian giving miss the point of the Bible: grace-based giving.

While this series of articles on the tithe may have left some things unanswered, I pray that it serves to help us understand God’s Word and to keep lines of communication between Christians open.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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4 thoughts on “The Tithe That Binds, part 3

  1. Jeremy, you and I are probably not that far apart in our understanding of tithing. We agree that New Covenant believers are not bound to the Old Covenant law of tithing. So, for one to say that New Covenant believers are COMMANDED to give 10% is to miss the difference between Old Covenant Israel and the New Covenant Church.

    We also agree that faith, sacrifice, and worship are key principles in our giving.

    Where we seem to disagree is over the continuing role of the tithe today in our giving. Forgive me if I’m mischaracterizing you (please correct me if I do), but you seem to be saying that the tithe has no other continuing role for the New Covenant believer other than as an example that we are to give of our wealth to God. For instance, you concluded at the end of “The Tithe that Binds, Part 2,” “In the New Testament, there is no law on giving but one: Give!” So, from your viewpoint, you seem to be saying that the tithe is only an example of giving and has nothing today to do with how much to give. As you said in “The Tithe that Binds, Part 1,” “Christians are free to give less than 10% of their income to the local church, or Christians are free to give more than 10% of their income to the local church. While tithing is no longer a law to be obeyed, it certainly remains a principle to be applied.”

    Here’s how I’d disagree with you. I would say that the tithe (an actual 10%) is the timeless principle of the starting point of worshiping God with our wealth. As you mentioned above, Abraham worshiped God before the Old Covenant by giving a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-20). We also see Jacob before the Old Covenant promising to worship God with a tenth of his wealth (Genesis 28:18-22). Furthermore, I believe we have to ask ourselves why God commanded a tithe (10%) when He cut the Old Covenant with national Israel. He could have chosen any percentage. So, although this is merely an inference and is nowhere explicitly stated, I believe it simply adds more weight to my contention that a tenth, a tithe, is the timeless principle of the starting point of worshiping God with our wealth. Certainly, the tithe was to fund the Levites and their ministry, but that was secondary. The primary function of the tithe under the Old Covenant was an act of worship to God. That’s why God told Israel at one point to stop (Isaiah 1:10-17). The Levites were being taken care of, but there was no worship, which leads me to conclude that worship of God was primary in God’s Old Covenant commandment of 10%. He was just legislating the timeless principle for Old Covenant Israel. Finally, nowhere in the New Testament is the principle of tithing replaced. Therefore, the tithe remains the timeless principle of the starting point of worshiping God with our wealth.

    As to objection 3 above in your article, I really don’t understand why you tie tithing and circumcision together. First of all, the principle of tithing predates circumcision (Genesis 14 and 17 respectively). Second, circumcision is not the sign of the Old Covenant although those under the Old Covenant continued it. It was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, which was replaced in the New Covenant with baptism. Tithing had nothing to do with the Abrahamic covenant. It was simply a principle of worshiping God with one’s wealth pre-law. Circumcision has been replaced. Tithing as a principle has not.

    So, are New Covenant believers commanded to tithe? Absolutely not. Through the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, we’ve been freed from the law of tithing to experience the freewill joy of tithing and more. We get to experience the joy of fulfilling God’s timeless principle of the starting point of worshiping God with out wealth! He’s totally worth it!!

    Jeremy, thanks for putting your thoughts out there and providing a forum for discussion. I pray we’ll continue to sharpen each other!

    • Ben, you are right to characterize my view as “saying that the tithe has no other continuing role . . . than as an example that we are to give of our wealth to God.” Therefore, in essence, I agree with you that the tithe is a “timeless principle of the starting point of worshiping God with our wealth.” For clarity, I would add that the principle is a good example of where to start rather than where one is expected by God to start. If we say that the tithe is the starting point of giving that God has laid down for us, then in essence that is a law from God. Therefore, it seems to me that your view is still leaning toward the law-bound side even though you use the phrase “timeless principle.”

      I also agree with you that the primary function of tithing under the Mosaic Covenant was worship rather than funding the Levites. But I would disagree that “The Levites were being taken care of, but there was no worship” (though I may be missing your point from Isaiah 1). Rather, I would say it was just as much an act of worship to fund the Levities. It seems impossible to separate the personal act of worship of tithing from the corporate act of Temple worship because both inevitably included Levitical ministry. If we look at the OT evidence of at least two tithes (if not three), then we see that the first tithe was given to the Levites (Num.18:21-24), the second was given to one’s self (Dt.14:22-27), and the third was given to the poor, widows, and the Levites (Dt.14:28-29). Again, my point is that personal and corporate worship through tithing can’t be separated because they are organically connected (i.e., a part of personal worship is the funding of corporate worship and helping other worshipers).

      My point of tying tithing to circumcision is that both have a starting point. There was a time when both were not. Therefore, they both have a beginning predating the Mosaic Law. I in no way meant to suggest that tithing has anything to do with the Abrahamic Covenant, except to say that they both predate Moses–circumcision as a law and tithing as a principle. Further, I would disagree that “circumcision is not the sign of the Old Covenant”. Certainly it was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, but it is reaffirmed in the Mosaic Covenant as the sign that separated Israel from the pagan nations (and the NT supports this as well).

      Finally, I agree that tithing as a principle has not been replaced. My contention, however, is that tithing as a law under the Mosaic Covenant has been replaced by free-will giving.

      In the end, we actually agree that tithing is still a solid principle of giving that has precedent in the OT. It seems that we disagree as to its application (e.g., is the principle the God-ordained starting point or is it a God-ordained example of a starting point?).

      Thanks for the dialogue,
      Jeremy

    • Jeremy,

      Thanks for the reply! You are always thoughtful and brotherly.

      I’d like to tease out a few more things with you if you are willing.

      1) You say, “For clarity, I would add that the principle [10% to God] is a good example of where to start rather than where one is expected by God to start.” Why is it a good example of where to start if it doesn’t really matter what percentage a person gives as long is it’s in faith, sacrificially, and worshipfully?

      2) You say, “… it seems to me that your view is still leaning toward the law-bound side even though you use the phrase ‘timeless principle.'” I’m not sure if you’re being gracious by using the word “leaning” when you really think that my position is “law-bound,” or you think my position is “grace-based” like yours but perhaps not as free as yours. Which is it?

      God can certainly put expectations on us, and our fulfilling those expectations can still be grace-based. In fact, He has done so in tons of areas of the Christian life. We are not Antinomians. At least, I know I’m not. Therefore, God can expect me to begin to worship Him with my finances at the timeless principle of 10%, and my meeting that expectation be grace-based. Grace doesn’t throw expectations away. It supplies the ability to meet the expectations and to do so with the right heart and the covering for when we fall way short.

      3) You say, “Again, my point is that personal and corporate worship through tithing can’t be separated because they are organically connected (i.e., a part of personal worship is the funding of corporate worship and helping other worshipers).” First, what corporate worship did Abraham’s and Jacob’s tithe support? While a tithe can be fully integrated into a religious system like it was under the Old Covenant with national Israel, it doesn’t have to be. It seems that you are simply equating the tithe to the Old Covenant law, and while it certainly was a part of that, it’s prior to that and bigger than that. Second, is there not a need still today for our personal worship to fund corporate worship and help other worshipers? In other words, is there not church ministry to be financed today? Absolutely there is, and I would argue even more so than in national Israel with our worldwide scope. We should take our giving even more seriously than Old Covenant saints did!

      Blessings to you, by brother!

  2. Ben, I only have a short time, but I’ll attempt to respond as best I can.

    1) I would not say that “it doesn’t really matter what percentage a person gives” in the since of it being insignificant. Quite the opposite, I would say obeying how the Spirit leads a person to give is extremely important.

    2) I always try to be gracious in all my comments (though I’m sure I fail more than I care to admit). However, if I thought your view is straight-up “law-bound,” then I would call it that. Rather, when I use the word “leaning,” I am saying that my view is more grace-based than yours.

    I too am no Antinomian. I thank God for His Law and the role it plays in my salvation. I agree that grace doesn’t throw expectations away. God certainly has expectations regarding the giving of money under the NT economy. My contention is that God’s expectation is no longer a literal tithe (whether 10%, 20%, or 23.3%) but free-will giving.

    3) You pose a good question here, but I’m not sure it is one we can answer adequately since any answer would be based on silence. But I’ll throw out a thought or two. Abraham’s tithe was to Melchizedek and not to a wholesale religious system, yet Abraham’s tithe might be considered corporate in that Abraham did not take his faith journey out of Ur alone. Rather, he was accompanied by all of his household. “For even where two or three are gathered” would be enough to make it corporate.

    Regarding Jacob, I’m not sure we have enough information to say either way (personal vs. corporate) because all Genesis tells us is that Jacob said he would give a tithe to God of all that he had. There was no Temple and not even a Melchizedek. In this case, perhaps the tithe was given to the poor, or to Laban, or maybe set aside for a special feast day dedicated to the LORD (similar to the second tithe; Dt.14:22-27).

    I agree that the tithe doesn’t have to be a part of a religious system, nonetheless the tithe must go to someone or something. Abraham’s tithe went to Melchizedek; Jacob’s tithe went to ???; and Israel’s tithe went to the Levites, themselves (for a feast unto the LORD), and the poor and widows.

    And yes, there is still a need today for our personal worship to fund corporate worship, but my view in no way contradicts this. I agree that the worldwide scope of the New Testament requires greater financial sacrifice. This is why I believe that we see something must grander than tithing going on in the early church:

    Acts 2:44-45–And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

    2 Corinthians 8:1-4–We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.

    Soli Deo Gloria,
    Jeremy

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