JAMES KENNEDY, PH.D. AS REVIEWED BY RUSSELL EARL KELLY, PH.D., edited 12-22-2006
From Russell Kelly:
IMPORTANT: This document was requested and received by mail from myself in 2000. Dr. Kennedy’s position may have changed since then. It is my conclusion that, although he appears to teach tithing, his allowances and other statements make him in much more agreement with myself than with the majority of tithe-teachers today. Dr. Kennedy reveals more “heart” in the entire discussion than is usually revealed by others. Especially note the underlined portions.
CORAL RIDGE MINISTRIES (TRACT; UNDATED)
DR. JAMES KENNEDY, PH. D.; P. O. Box 40; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 33302-0040; (305) 977-9661; FAX (305) 969-9187
The subject of tithing is very important in our Christian life. There are several principles which we must remember in order to understand the tithe and its application to our lives.
1. Tithing is explained in Deuteronomy 14:22-29. The tithe was for the Levite (minister of God’s Word) and the poor and was to be one tenth of each year’s profit.
COMMENTS: Deuteronomy 14 is far from being the best tithing text. The extremely detailed tithing “ordinance” itself is Numbers 18 and Leviticus 27:30-34 is equally important. Neither of the two tithes mentioned in Deuteronomy went to the Temple. They were either consumed at the three yearly festivals or were given to the poor every third year.
2. Those who are poor do not give tithes, but receive them either directly from neighbors and friends or through the ministry of the clergy. Any gift given by a poor person would be a freewill offering, not a tithe. The tithe is God’s tax required for those who make a profit from their labor. It is not required from those who are on welfare or from those who are living from their savings.
COMMENTS: Dr. Kennedy says that the “poor do not give tithes, but receive them.” This is much more in agreement with the OT and myself than with the typical tithe-teacher. He also agrees with me that at least some of the tithe (in Deuteronomy 14) could be given directly to the poor and the poor. These statements would draw much criticism if made more public.
3. Our first economic duty is to allow for the essential needs of food, clothing and housing for our families. The tithe was not intended to prohibit us from providing essential, physical support for those who are members of our household (1 Timothy 5:1-8; Matthew 15:3-9).
COMMENTS: Dr. Kennedy is to be highly applauded for this honest statement. He places the urgent needs of the family first, not the church. The typical tithe-teacher wrongly equates tithing with first-fruit and teaches that the tithe should go first to the church regardless of other urgent needs the family must meet. Again, he agrees more with me than with the typical tithe-teacher.
4. Our tithe can be given to support our local church as well as any Christian ministry. Some of our tithe, however, should go to support out local church since it is teaching us the Word of God and helping us in our spiritual growth.
COMMENTS: Again Kennedy disagrees with the typical tithe-teacher. He says that only “some” of the tithe should go to the local church.
5. In a household where the husband is unsaved and is in charge of finances for the family the wife is not required to tithe. If the wife does have any private income which is not under the control of the husband, she may want to tithe from this.
COMMENTS: This fifth point concludes his basic discussion of the tithe. Again, although the word “tithe” is used, it is far from the typical definition used by most. There is some illogic when he switches from “required” to “want.”
We trust these comments have helped you in understanding tithing. In addition, I want to share a few more thoughts about some of the scripture on tithing….
First, concerning tithing, this is an ethical requirement today for the churches. For a helpful study on this subject, see Tithing and Dominion, by R. J. Rushdoony and Edward Powell.
COMMENTS: I notice a lot of inconsistency and/or hesitation in the following informal expansion of Kennedy’s original comments. From his initial comments, he does not believe that tithing is an “ethical requirement” for the poor and later comments will reveal that he does not believe it is always an “ethical requirement” in every situation. He later applies “situation-ethics” to determine when and how to tithe.
The feasts connected with tithing in the Old Testament are not required of us because they were all a part of the symbolic system of worship which centered on the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. That whole system has been rendered obsolete with the coming of Christ whom the system pointed toward. Hence, for example, we no longer sacrifice lambs because Jesus, the Lamb of God, has been sacrificed once for all for our salvation (Heb 10:1-18).
COMMENTS: This is why Kennedy should have mentioned Numbers 18 and Hebrews 7. He discards two-thirds of the indivisible Law which would have been unthinkable for the typical Hebrew. Tithing (Numbers 18) is the very foundation of the obsolete system because tithing replaced the priesthood of every believer with a limited priesthood (compare Ex 19:5, 6 with 1 Pet 2:9, 10). Tithing also replaced land inheritance for tithe-receivers which is not practiced today. See also Heb. 7:12, 18, 19.
Second, concerning the curse mentioned in Malachi 3:9it is evident from the context (Mal 3:7) that the nation was being disobedient and rebellious against God and this was manifested in their neglect of the tithe. As a result the Israelites suffered the result of poor harvests (Mal 3:11). Today few tithe. As a result, instead of the churches taking care of the widows and orphans (James 1:27), the civil government does at much greater cost: income taxes are twice to four times more than the tithe. If we ever seriously want lower taxes, we must get the church to resume its historical ministry of caring for the poor and that will require a return to tithing. Indeed, if we want the church to prosper, we must tithe (2 Cor 9:6-11).
COMMENTS: Although his intentions are good, his confusion is self-destructive. Kennedy needs to teach all of Malachi and not merely chapter three for its context of wickedness and thievery among the priests. Malachi’s culprits were punished because they had agreed to abide by the Old Testament curses (which is not true of the Church). He points out that “today few tithe” but does not logically extend the curse to today’s non-tithers. In fact the farmers of many Christian nations are greatly blessed although they do not tithe. This fact should prove that the principle is not in effect today!
Third, concerning Galatians 3:10, the apostle Paul is refuting the error of the false teachers in Galatia who taught that one must keep the Law in order to be saved. Instead, said Paul, no one can be saved by works of the Law; one must have faith in Christ as Lord and Savior (that he died for our sins and rose again) in order to be saved. Those who have genuine faith, moreover, will manifest it by their obedience to Christ, what Paul calls “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6), as the Spirit produces His fruit in the believer (Gal 5:22-23). Therefore, a believer in Christ tithes, not in order to be saved, but as a result of being saved, out of gratitude and love for Christ.
COMMENTS: Although I highly respect Dr. Kennedy, this is double-talk! He correctly says that Paul was teaching that we cannot be saved by works of the Law. However Kennedy forces his conclusion — “obedience to Christ” and ”faith working through love” means that the “Spirit produces His fruit” which results in Law-keepers who tithe! First, Kennedy is redefining “Law” to reject two-thirds of it. Second, Paul in Galatians 3:5 disagrees when he says “He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and works miracles among you, does he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Third, Paul does not agree in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” The “law of love” produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit does not restore the ceremonial statute of tithing which enabled the Levitical priesthood to replace the priesthood of every believer.
Fourth, concerning the heavy burden some feel the ministry they sit under has placed upon them, man’s commandments can indeed be a burden, but “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Please allow me to illustrate in the case of tithing.
COMMENTS: Having unexplainably discarded two-thirds of the whole indivisible Law, Kennedy now equates John’s phrase of “keeping the commandments” to resurrecting tithing from his previously-discarded ceremonial statutes and ordinances of the Law. Also unexplained is how the tithe-receiving Levites who were required to give up land and property inheritance are now replaced by the elite pastor-teachers (above the vast priesthood of believers) who are allowed to receive the tithe AND own property.
(1) It was the Pharisees with all of their extra rules and unbiblical interpretations of the Law of God that placed burdens on people (Mt 23:1-4). But Jesus’ yoke and burden is easy and light (Mt 11:30; 1 John 5:3). So Christians are to keep God’s commandments (Jn 14:15), but those commands are not a burden. I say this to encourage you.
COMMENTS: Kennedy needs to reconcile “So Christians are to keep God’s commandments” with his previous statement “The feasts connected with tithing in the Old Testament are not required of us because they were all a part of the symbolic system of worship which centered on the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. That whole system has been rendered obsolete with the coming of Christ whom the system pointed toward.” He has taken the prerogative of removing tithing from the “obsolete symbolic system” and making it an eternal moral law written into the conscience of mankind. Yet an exact 10%, like the exact 7th day, can only be known through special revelation as it was only revealed to national Israel.
(2) It is important to understand that sometimes one command from God will take priority over another. That is, we are to keep all of God’s commands as an expression of gratitude for His saving us, but we are not able to do all of the commands, all of the time, nor are they all required of us at the same time. We are responsible to do what God has commanded for each situation.
For example, we are commanded to exercise hospitality towards strangers (Heb 13:2). If, however, your neighbor is in serious danger, the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” would require you to go to his aid instead of spending time at the moment in hospitality. We all do this every day. We do the particular commands of God which apply to our particular situation and to changing situations as they arise.
COMMENTS: This is called “situation ethics” and is usually severely criticized by conservative Christians. Kennedy’s illustration is absurd because it implies that saving another person’s life is not part of showing hospitality!!! Thus letting him die would be the polite thing to do! His ultimate purpose of using this absurd illustration is to argue that one can stop paying tithes under certain circumstances without incurring sin. I would guess that many tithe-teachers would strongly disagree with him here also.
(3) Therefore, if one cannot both give his tithe and provide for the necessities for his family, then the warning that not providing for one’s family makes one worse than an infidel (1 Tim 5:8) would indicate that God wants you to assign a high priority to taking care of your family needs. After all, an infidel is not even a believer. Would God be pleased with a tithe offered by one who is worse than an unbeliever?
COMMENTS: Kennedy is much more in agreement with me here than with the typical tithe-teachers who insist that one must FIRST give the tithe to the local church before applying First Timothy 5:8 “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” James 1:27 “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
(4) A faithful Christian will never be allowed by God to fall into a “catch 22”situation where there is no way to avoid sin (1 Cor 10:13). There are a number of legitimate godly options when you cannot pay your tithe in cash. Here are some suggestions: You can keep tally of your back tithes that you were not able to pay, and when you prosper again, you can pay them then. Or, it is certainly legitimate to pay your tithes in ways other than in cash. In the agricultural society of the Israelites, tithes were paid in grain, fruit, sheep, etc. In our modern money economy tithes are usually paid in money, but there are other ways to pay.
COMMENTS: The tithe was paid on the “increase” and, if there is a ”negative” cash flow (no increase) because of honest medical, sudden death, severe weather or other disasters, then there is no such thing as owing “back tithes.” Think about it! Kennedy’s logic is legalistic and somewhat scary. Our God is not that kind of god!
For example a good friend of mine with a large family always tithed. One month he came up short because of unexpected medical bills. He couldn’t tithe on his paycheck and provide the medical care too. So he did what God says and cared for his family. He also tithed by giving his time. He did needed repairs at the church and kept track of his time and calculated the dollar value of his labor at a rate definitely advantageous to the church. This was all private between him and God (except for the fact that the church leaders helped explain what kinds of work was needed at the church) although the church noticed and benefited from the very excellent work he had done. So you see, the Lord’s law is infinitely good and wise and not burdensome.
COMMENTS: Again Kennedy differs from the typical tithe-teacher. The typical tithe-teacher would remind this person that he should have given that work for free anyway because God demands tithes of money, time and talent! Besides, the deacons and other members should also do it for free. They would often say “You still own back-tithes of cash.”
Also it is important to note that the tithe is on the increase, the profit. Thus if you make a gross of $500 and it cost you $400 to do the job, your profit is $100 and your tithe is $10. Taxes help to pay for government and police which help make business possible, so that is part of your operating expenses. You should thus tithe of your after-taxes income.
COMMENTS: Kennedy is now using the same argument which I just used against him. He also again seriously disagrees with the typical tithe-teachers who want tithes as first-fruit from GROSS income before taxes.
In light of these Biblical principles I encourage believers in Christ to tithe. If they get into financial difficulties due to unforeseen emergency expenses, they can tithe in other ways. The Lord knows our hearts. He doesn’t require us to do what lies beyond our power but He does require us to do what we can do.
COMMENTS: Here is the key to understanding Kennedy’s position. He first wants his audience to read the previous statements which, very honestly, do NOT place him in the tithe-teaching camp at all! He says “In light of these Biblical principles I encourage believers in Christ to tithe.”
1. The tithe was only from profit (no profit means no tithe). #1
2. The poor do not pay tithes. #2)
3. The poor receive tithes. #2
4. Those who have no increase are not required to tithe. #2
5. Welfare recipients and those living off savings should not tithe. #2
6. Our FIRST economic duty is to pay family essentials. #3
7. Tithe-payers can give it directly to the poor if they choose. #4
8. Tithe-payers should only give SOME of it to the local church. #4
9. Situation ethics determine whether or not tithes should be paid (2)
10. “God wants you to assign a high priority to taking care of family needs. (3)
11. Churches should allow tithes to be paid in the form of work performed (4)
12. Tithes are only on what is left after necessary expenses and after taxes. (4)
13. “In light of these biblical principles, I encourage believers to tithe.” (4)
The Israelites in Malachi weren’t tithing because they couldn’t, but because they put other expenses as a higher priority. So do many Christians today. They spend money on stereos, automobiles, etc., get themselves locked into payments that consume all their income and then say they cannot tithe. Then they complain because the church doesn’t grow and is always too short on funds to do needed ministry projects. God knows our hearts and His commandments are not burdensome but a blessing.
COMMENTS: I agree with Kennedy that most of us should give more than 10% to either the poor or to mission work. I only disagree when he calls it “tithing” when it is not.
Tithing is God’s requirement, to which we should respond with love and gratitude for His grace in Christ. Too many Christians worry themselves whether they give enough when God has given the standard to us. If they tithe, they meet God’s requirement and they are free to give above the tithe as the Lord prospers and as they desire. The tithe and offerings represent all we have and all we are and are to be given willingly and joyfully. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). But not many give even a tithe and hence they do not really give offerings for an offering is anything over and above the tithe. When the tithe is given, then true offerings are given as well. May our giving be always joyful with thanksgiving.
COMMENTS: After having made 12 statements which seriously disagree with the typical tithe-teacher, Kennedy now seems to be trying to appease them by mimicking their “standard” arguments. He is wrong when he says that offerings can only be given AFTER the tithe has first been given. There are scores of Bible texts which easily prove this is wrong. Offerings were given long before tithes were required and the poor always gave offerings as Kennedy pointed out in #2 (to contradict himself here) “Any gift given by a poor person would be a freewill offering, not a tithe.” The only time when it could be true would be when the giver was giving of things which he had previously tithed in the form of his farm or herd increase.
With Paul let us say “Thanks be to God for His indescribably gift” (2 Cor 9:15). May these comments be a blessing and encouragement to you.
From Russell Kelly: I have received written permission to quote Kennedy’s article in its entirely before my dissertation was published in 2000.