An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"
Should the Church Teach Tithing?
A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Every man as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, nor of necessity; For God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7)
From the New Testament it is clear that Christians should give, even sacrificially, to meet the needs of the mysterious living organism, the Church, the Body of Christ, in which they are called to serve. Christian giving is an important part of the "new nature" believers have in Christ. Christians give, not because of any commandment or threatened curse for not giving, but because giving is a part of their new nature.
This book fully supports such giving as a freewill offering and a faith response from the heart motivated by love and the Holy Spirit. However, the author is equally convinced that preaching a mandatory ten per cent (so-called tithe) of gross income, regardless of circumstances, is unscriptural and causes more harm than good to the body of Christ.
Many churches teach that tithing is mandatory and Christians must give ten per cent of their gross income to the church. Others teach that principles of New Covenant giving do not include a compulsory giving of ten per cent of gross income. Those who teach tithing often scorn those who disagree with them as either not believing the Bible or else not being mature Christians. Positions of leadership such as pastor, deacon and Sunday School teacher are often denied to those who do not teach tithing, even though they may be well qualified and excel as soul winners.
For far too long tithing has been treated as a "taboo" off-limits subject among many conservative churches. Too many informed seminary professors silently observe while persons in lower echelons write the denominational literature which promotes tithing. Their proof-text literature ignores accepted principles of interpretation. While general agreement has been reached among evangelicals concerning the inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of Christ and the plan of salvation, active discussion continues concerning modern prophets, the role of Israel in prophecy and spiritual gifts. However in many conservative, charismatic and evangelical churches none dare question that tithing is commanded for the Christian church.
In May 1999, in answer to my question concerning material and books on tithing, Dr. J. David Carter, Lead Stewardship Specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, suggested that I use Partners with God, Bible Truths about Giving, by Bobby Eklund and Terry Austin "as a platform for the additional research you do in designing your paper." According to the copyright page "This book is the text for Course 05-104 in the subject area Baptist Doctrine in the Church Study Course." Note: Letter to Russell Kelly, 17 May 1999.
Partners with God has 142 pages and only devotes pages 63 to 79 to tithing. Eklund began his discussion of tithing by attacking those who disagree with his position. On page 63 he introduced the section on tithing with a true story of a mother who killed her two young children and then committed suicide because she mistakenly thought she had terminal cancer. Eklund then wrote "This tragic and extreme story illustrates an important truth: believing a lie always leads to sorrow and destruction." "The lie [of Satan] simply states that tithing is an Old Covenant practice which is no longer valid for the New Covenant Christian. This deceit has confined many Christians to financial bondage and plundered a sizeable portion of monetary resources from the Church." Note: Partners with God, Convention Press; The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1994.
Again it is past time for conservative Christians to openly discuss and research the doctrine of tithing using proven biblical principles of interpretation in order to reach an agreement on this vital doctrine. What are we afraid of? Is not discovering and acting on the truth of God's Word of paramount importance for church growth? Surely the Holy Spirit does not want the church to ignore this issue!
Since there are many very large successful soul-winning churches on both sides of the issue, I am convinced that evangelism, and not tithing, determines the financial success of the church. As previously stated this book by no means should be interpreted to diminish the importance of Christian giving of freewill offerings to help meet sound New Covenant needs. It addresses the question "Is church giving of law, necessity, exactness and compulsion OR totally a faith response entirely from the heart?"
From scripture it is clear that knowing the truth sets us free from error (John 8:32) and acting on that truth brings us closer to Christ (John 3:21). By avoiding this issue the church is missing out on God's blessings and sanctification (John 17:17). As with every other Bible doctrine, each Christian has an individual responsibility to know what God's Word says personally. Such is the purpose of the book and total stewardship is beyond the scope of this book.
Every text from Genesis to Revelation which refers to tithing and its equivalent, the tenth, is included. This is followed by a look at concepts of "law" and "covenant." Next the New Covenant principles concerning the giving of money and goods are examined. A very important survey of the early church before the Council of Nicea is included with many key quotations from accepted church historians on the subject of early church organization and giving.
The following list includes every Bible tithe text.
1 Samuel 8:14-17
2 Chronicles 31:1-12
Nehemiah 10:37-38; 12:44; 13:5, 12
Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42
Ralph Bartlett, the God-called evangelist to whom this book is dedicated, has won literally thousands of precious souls for the glory of God. Like myself he grew up under the teaching of churches that agree with the basic premise of this book concerning the law and tithing. How very sad it is to discover that this great man of God is not considered qualified to teach a Sunday School class merely because he believes that tithing is not a New Covenant doctrine! What a terrible waste of God's gifts and calling which He has placed in His church for its edification. The church of God across this nation and world is suffering because of the sin of not using its gifted talent. Perhaps this book can right that wrong.
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD, 2007