The following 2007 book by the dean of Vanderbilt Unvierssity traces the methods used to finance churches in the United States. It is extremely reveaing and proves that tithing was neither taught nor practiced in the United States until the very earliest year of 1873 when it ws first suggested.

In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar,

James Hudnut-Beumler, 2007, Vanderbilt Univrsity

Key statements selected by Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

(2) 1750: Though community funds have built the church in one way or another and rates (taxes) have brought monies in support of the minister, the pews are likely rented to families according to rank to assure a place for their members. … Other prominent pews are auctioned or assigned to leading lay leaders who contribute generously and represent the prominent and wealthy members of the town.”

(3) The minister was a public man in yet another sense, for his income was in all places a public matter. In New England the Congregational minister was called by his church members but employed by the town.” Jonathan Edwards received 840 pounds in 1748 ($72,000 in 2000).

(4) The Colonial revivals starting with the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s liberated the conscience of women and men to follow and support ministers of their own choosing.”

(4) These practices of differentiation would figure prominently in the 1785 debates in Virginia over whether to continue the long custom of state support.

(9) 1776: As the Revolution began ten of the original thirteen states had some form of tax-supported religion.

(5) In the middle colonies some taxing of the town to support the local church continued but the exceptions and disputes between townspeople increased … The Bill of Rights (1791) ratified the existing state of affairs.”


(6-7) 1830s: In the 1830s Lyman Beecher’s … most lasting contribution came when helped elevate fund-raising [for new churches] to an art form by imbuing it with a religious soul.

(9) In 1833 with the final elimination of commonwealth support for the Congregational Church in Massachusetts every religious group was left to its own resources.

(9) During the nearly two centuries (1633-1833) while religion was understood by early Euro-Americans as a public good deserving public support a variety of means to finance religion evolved, much as a hodgepodge of user fees, licenses and taxes is used to this day to pay for public goods. … In the case of religion there were poll and property taxes which could be quite high. As late as 1838 Connecticut congregations were taxing their members nearly 0.26 property value each year … Massachusetts taxed pew holders. Annual poll and head taxes were used … Some churches used pledges.

(10) In the south land or slaves belonged to church and were rented out.

(10) Anglicans in New England and Presbyterians everywhere began to tax their members and pay their clergy regular salaries.

(10) Quakers, Baptists, Universalists and early Methodists tended to stress the value of voluntary contributions … None of these groups were served by a clergy which expected to be paid like gentlemen officers of the state.

(10) Baptist ministers most often worked without set expectations as to pay at all, receiving the “freewill offerings” of their hearers instead.

(10) Indeed voluntary contributions and the rhetoric that cultivated them would become the NORM in the American churches after the earliest years of the nineteenth century.

(15) What disestablishment did was, in effect, to turn every pastor, however willing or able, into a development officer among his own people.

(15) The antebellum eastern seaboard of the United States was filled with [professional fund-raising] “agents” crisscrossing the land asking for funds and asking for the time in the meeting of congregations to place before the people a case for support.

(19) AGENTS: There is money enough in the hands of pious men for all of our objects … All we have to do is afford them such instruction in the duty of giving upon system, and to effect such a change in the organization of churches that these funds shall be spontaneously poured into the treasuries of mercy and goodwill. Pharcellus Church, Baptist.

(19) 1825 American Tract Society founded.

(19-31) 1855 Tracts circulated 35 years to 1890.

(19-22) The Divine Law of Beneficence, Parsons Cook, Presbyterian. “You will observe that these gifts were all freewill offerings. … no law imposed a fixed rate of contribution.” [1 Cor 16:2 was Cook’s favorite text.]

(22-25) The Mission of the Church, or Systematic Beneficence, Edward Lawrence, Congregationalist. “A man’s charitable contributions should be proportionate to the vastness and importance of the objects sought in beneficence.” “Vast because the job to be done was vast.” [1 Cor 16 and 2 Cor 8 favorite texts]

(25-28) Zaccheus, or The Scriptural Plan of Benevolence, Samuel Harris, Methodist.

(26) Compared to Lawrence and Cooke, Harris was less confident that a biblical case would convince his readers.

[Paul and Corinthians favorite texts]

(27) Beneficence tends to promote prosperity.

(28-29) Prottsman articles, Methodist.

(30) [Promoted conferences along with financial assessments.]



(47) Chapter 3: Reinventing the Tithe and Discovering Stewardship 1870-1920

(48) The Apostolic Treasury, 1870, Edward P. Gray, Episcopal priest.

(49) Gray: All church finances ought to be underwritten by freewill offerings paid by rich and poor alike according to their ability.

(49-50) -Episcopalians and Catholics pushed for diocese to own property as a solution to poor finances.]



(50-51) Protestant churches in Ireland, Scotland, Whales and England preached the necessity of voluntary giving as part of a vast missionary enterprise that began with a recognition of one’s duty to God.

(51) 1878 Essays: The Ulster Prize was given for the best essay advocating voluntary plans of support.

(51) The Measure of Christian Liberty (tenth), Henry Constable, an Episcopal curate.

(51) The Scripture Rule of Religious Contribution (tenth), anonymous.

(51) Tithing was attractive as a source of funding to the degree that clergy could convince themselves and others that it was a spiritual law. … But the advocates of tithing were not prepared to accept anything less than a tenth.

(51) 1878, The Christian Treasure, or The Church’s Source of Income, C. P. Jennings, made things utterly clear that had only been hinted at earlier. Dean of St. Andrews Cathedral, Syracuse, NY. Tithes plus offerings.

(52) What had been a better more biblical means of finance for mid-century writers was becoming, at least in the view of Protestant clergy, U. … The tithe is to be paid before any other debt. … It is a debt to be paid before anything else can be called a gift, or freewill offering to Christ.” Jennings

(52) The primary methods of church finance employed at the beginning of the century were now, in the last quarter, being pushed aside for the methods bearing more fruit and sustained by a rhetoric of righteousness.

(52) One-Tenth for All, or Proportionate Giving God’s Rule, anonymous.

[Using Leviticus and Deuteronomy, one tenth is the proportion God has always expected. ] This is a transitional moment in thinking …

(53) 1873; On the Gospel Self-Supporting, Alexander L Hogshead and John W Pratt, Presbyterian. “A tithe of ten per cent is God’s everlasting minimum expectation.

(54) [Northern Presbyterians complained] in that stage of the science of applied Christianity [stewardship] there is not a single branch of the church that has taken hold of this matter in a scientific way or put in operation a system worthy of the or worthy of the age.

(54) Hegstead was offended by the previous statement. “Christ and Paul endorsed Moses insofar as Moses represented the moral law which was not abrogated …

(54) In Hogstead’s hands 1 Cor 9:7-14 became Christ’s plan for the support of his ministers. … The church and its ministers were to receive a tenth part of the proceeds. … [This use of the law] was characteristic for Calvinists. “It is not surprising, therefore, that Presbyterians were among the first to rediscover the perpetual obligation of the tithe. Nevertheless, in another respect, in the way they exegeted the body of scripture with inconvenient omissions they were like other evangelical interpreters of the Bible in the late nineteenth century. [To objectors Hogstead would say] “the increased privileges and enlarged work of the new dispensation demanded a standard of freewill offerings, supplemental to the fixed law beyond the ordinary measure of the Jewish freewill offerings. The old fixed law of tithes, embracing firstfruits adapted to all times and obligatory under all circumstances, as the minimum standard, was unchanged.” The fixed measure then was a minimum. This idea would prove enormously resilient, offering as it did, a hope of a great increase of church support without having to beg for it except as an obligation to God.

(55) If the Bible provided authority for an enhanced flow of compulsory tithes and voluntary gifts to the churches, it was ritual practice that sealed giving. During the closing years of the nineteenth century the institution of the offering was recovered and enlarged in the life of American churches and afforded a central place in liturgy of most Christian bodies.

(55) [However] In American Protestant and Catholic congregations alike, therefore, the collection was not where the ordinary finances of the church were supplied.

[In 1875 the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York was taking a public offering for the poor and was collecting tithes in the form of pew rentals.] Yet in other churches freewill offerings was becoming the ordinary means of church finance.

(55) By the 1890s the offering was everywhere becoming a weekly ritual whereby parishioners would present their “tithes and offerings” before the Lord.

(56)_ J. W. Pratt emphasized that tithing from Genesis 14 was prior to the law. … Must have been in compliance with pre-existing divine ordinance. .. For Pratt the inference from these reflections was inescapable: “Tithes to God were ordained by God Himself and had become a law for every worshipper of the Most High God before the time of Abraham.

(56-57) Pratt furthered the case by quoting Genesis 28:22 concerning Jacob. … “The tithe was not caught up in the morass of Mosaic legislation but belonged to the UR-religion of the first true followers of the one true God.” Pratt deals with this eternal obligation in a characteristically American way by assuring his readers that the claim for a tenth could not be enforced by any constraint of law. …” Thus it was proven that “he law of tithes belongs to the domain of morals and not to that of ceremonials. “

(57) Pratt’s essay introduced “Will a Man Rob God” which would be used extensively in the tithing literature for the next half century. … Failure to give at least a tithe to the church was tantamount to “robbing God.” Malachi, a Hebrew prophet writing in the fifth century BCE became the model for the advocates of tithing… The whole of the tithe needed to be given to the church, or storehouse. This contrasted with the emerging practice of systematic benevolence in which individuals gave to a variety of philanthropic causes directly. Finally the reward for tithing was “overflowing blessing.” … Tithing businessmen began saying “How can I afford not to tithe.”

(1) robbing God; (2) storehouse giving; (3) overflow blessing.

(58) Not all the church finance literature at the close of the nineteenth century was theological in flavor or took the tithe one as its subject.

(59) Pew rents continued into the 1920s.

(60) More common in Methodist and Baptist churches and in rural churches more generally at the turn of the century was the subscription [pledge] book.

(60) Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, Josiah Strong, American Missionary Society, 1891.

(60-61) Stewardship (Not Tithing) Social Gospel Advocates like Strong:

Although they were as serious as the tithing advocates, they located Christian obligation, not in legal formulas, but rather in the whole of life. … Wealth came in capital invested in ideas and machines. … These two figures of the Social Gospel, Washington Gladden and Josiah Strong, nicely reflect the spirit of the age that lasted from approximately 1885 to the end of Word War I [when Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt and J. P. Morgan were teaching the same thing].

(63-64) 1910: Our Christian Stewardship, John Wesley Duncan, Progressive Era.

[In his teaching of tithing] Duncan knew he was up against doubters. Doubters ask ‘How does it happen that we are just finding out that tithing is taught in the Bible?’ He replied that it was born before history was born and practiced by peoples of this world for centuries before the Christian era and during the Christian era until the time of Henry VIII.” It remained for Henry VIII ‘this adulterous and covetous’ ruler to remove the tithe from the civilized world. The church was to receive the whole of the individual’s giving.

(65) 1914: A Man and His Money, Harry Reeves Calkins, stewardship secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

(67-68) Christian Stewardship, Mary Askew, Presbyterian.

(69-70) 1910s-1920s: Ralph Spalding Cushman, Methodist Episcopal.

(71) 1926: The Call to Christian Stewardship, Julius Earl Crawford, Methodist, a book to bring Christians to the tithe by any means possible.

“Eternal law of God.” A law remains in effect until repealed.

Clearly however these arguments had failed to persuade two generations of American Christians who were becoming increasingly resistant to “the Bible says” commands from their leaders.

(72-75) Tithing had little success in the churches.

(74) In fact tithing has, in most cases, simply moved highly committed and generous church members to become marginally more generous.

(76) As dangerous as a “hireling ministry” may have seemed to Protestants like Roger Williams and early American Quakers, most have preferred to have a paid leader.


1895: Tithing was first introduced to the Southern Baptist Convention on May 11, 1895. The convention urged state conventions to educated the people. And the system was REJECTED by the people. E. Y. Mullen was among those who supported this recommendation. He was also a SBC President and the leader of the committee which did NOT insert any tithing texts into the 1925 SBC Faith and Message. The article was published in the New York Times on May 12, 1895, titled Recommended the Tithing System.


(97) In the 1920s despite growing domestic prosperity, missionary agencies at home and abroad began to notice significant declines in receipts.

(98) Great building programs of the 1920s were depleting foreign mission giving. …Total Southern Baptist indebtedness of $44 million in January 1927 exceeded the prior year’s receipts for all purposes by over $4 million. … Spending pledge before they had been paid had given the Southern Baptists a crippling debt load.

(99) 1923: The Deeper Meaning of Stewardship, John Versteeg, Methodist, thought that the meaning of stewardship had been stretched beyond recognition and particularly so when it simply meant tithing. … He sought to push stewardship away from an ironclad proclamation of the tithe and toward an understanding of stewardship as the Christian attitude toward material things.

(100) Versteeg attacked their most cherished and basic claim that tithing was God’s law and had actually been consistently practiced during the biblical era. Versteeg’s view was the first stewardship book to be written from a historical-critical hermeneutic. “With singular unanimity biblical scholars agree” he wrote “as to the confusing touching the tithe,” and he cited the great biblical exegetes of his day to the effect that the data simply did not support any consistent account of the tithe in biblical times. Versteeg accused tithing advocates of twisting the evidence maintaining that “in the face of this men should assert for the tithe binding authority seems incredible! A fair perusal of Scripture fails to bear out their claim.

(100) Versteeg: “Tithing itself is not Christian; only the viewpoint of Jesus can make it so.” Rejecting the ‘Bible-as-laws-and precepts’ hermeneutic for what might be called the Jesus hermeneutic …

(100) Versteeg sought to be biblically honest … and his book was the first to offer theological reasons of generosity beyond the older legal obligation view.

(101) 1930: Christian Century article, Is Stewardship Ethical?, Reinhold Niebuhr.

Niebuhr: While stewardship sounded good in theory it was not insisted on in practice. Forty years of practicing the doctrine had not made [Christians any better morally than non-Christians in factories.]

(113-115) 1928: Herbert A. Bosch, Lutheran pastor.

He did not begin with the Old Testament or the writings of Paul, but rather with the teachings of Jesus and the interactions between Jesus and his disciples. Bosch’s stewardship metaphor was not the tithe put away in the storehouse but rather the pearl of great price for which someone would sacrifice all to obtain.

(116) 1928: Church Finance: Raising, Spending, Accounting, William Leach, Methodist. Religious leaders might agree that the Bible taught the stewardship of wealth, but church history revealed no evidence that the primitive church had any fixed idea of the tithe or an approved plan for dividing wealth for the support of the church. Leach allowed that this was probably less a problem for the early church since there were no salaries for preachers or expenditures for church buildings.

(119) In a direct counter to the storehouse tithing movement of a generation earlier, Leach … “it is an unwise church which insists on receiving the full tithe.”

(122-123) 1928: George Morelock, Methodist. If the person were to give from a sense of coercion, or out of the desire to popularity, or to pay for something, or to do his share, or grudgingly, then the giving, in Murdock’s view, could never be spiritual.

Conclusion: The idea of tithing did not even emerge as a discussion in American churches before the 1870s. It is a relatively new doctrine.