Should the Church Teach Tithing?
A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Southern Baptist Encyclopedia: tithing
Southern Baptists everywhere — reject this false doctrine of tithing! Our leadership will not defend it because it cannot be defended honestly in context from God’s Word! Speak up in your churches and conferences. The denomination is slowly trying to make this a mandatory doctrine for membership. It is pure legalism. They will not allow discussion. Help me change this with God’s blessings.
Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, Vol 2, pages 1418-1420Comments by Russell Earl Kelly, Ph.D., author of Should the Church Teach Tithing? www.shouldthechurchteachtithing.com firstname.lastname@example.org
“IN RELIGIOUS USAGE, A TENTH OF ONE’S PERSSONAL INCOME which is devoted to the support of the church, or through the church to specifically Christian ministries. Historically, some form of proportionate giving has been an integral part of nearly all systems of religious practice. The tenth, the basic proportion in Hebrew-Christian religion, is also basic in quite a number of other traditions. As Christians understand it, the tithe is instituted by God and, as rightly practiced in all ages, is NOT RELIGIOUS LEGALISM. Tithing is NOT, except derivatively, A PLAN FOR RAISING MONEY. It is rather a RITUAL ACT through which man testifies to, and at the same time celebrates in himself, the spiritual dedication of which the overt giving of money or goods is but the adequate and impressive symbol.”
COMMENTS: (1) This is a secular dictionary definition of tithing and is not the definition found in God’s Word. One should read every biblical use of the word to determine this for himself/herself. (2) Thorough research reveals that the majority of Christian theologians (not their graduate pastors) “understand” the tithe as “religious legalism” and most denominations do not teach it as a necessary doctrine. (3) Try telling the Southern Baptist Convention today that tithing is not a primary “plan for raising money.” (4) If tithing is a “ritual act,” then it cannot be an “eternal moral principle.”
“Tithing existed as a widespread practice even BEFORE it formally became a part of the law of the ancient Hebrews. The presentation of the tithe was a part of religious observance long BEFORE the time of Moses, as is seen archetypically in the offering of first fruits by Cain and Abel, and quite definitely in Abram’s gift to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20: “And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine and he was the priest of the most high God … and he [Abram] gave him tithes of all.” The EARLY OBSERVANCE of the tithe coming, as it did, BEFORE THE LAW was formally given, WAS NOT BASED ON ANY REQUIREMENT, but is EVIDENCE of the FACT that the giving of tithes is a part of the BASIC MORAL NATURE OF MEN who genuinely worship God. The incorporation of the tithe into the Scriptures recognizes it as a part of the ENDURING MORAL LAW OF GOD, which applies to all those who would do the will of God in every century of time. Therefore, it is a part of the religious DUTY of all Christians.”
COMMENTS: (1) The use of “before” gives the wrong conclusion that none of the pre-Hebrew cultures who practiced tithing did so because of pre-existing laws. This is simply not true; in reality, PAGAN tithing laws and customs controlled and mandated its practice–including that of Abram in Genesis 14. (2) A review of several commentaries on the meaning of Genesis 14:21 will illustrate this point. (3) The SBC implied “principle of interpretation,” or “hermeneutic,” is: “If something is very ancient and found in many early cultures, this is evidence of the fact that such action is part of the basic moral nature of man and is part of the enduring moral law of God.'” (4) If true, then, this “principle” would also include, along with tithing—idolatry, worship of the heavens, nature, and animals, child sacrifice, temple prostitution, and numerous other very early and very common practices.
“In the Scriptures, after the time of Abraham, the tithe was observed then written into Hebrew law. Later, neglect brought condemnation from the prophets, and Pharisaical corruption led JESUS to reinterpret the tithe as a SPIRITUAL PRIVILEGE instead of a material duty. The following examples illustrate the scriptural development.”
COMMENTS: (1) The first statement is pure fantasy. There is no mention of regular Hebrew tithing before Moses. The Levitical priesthood did not exist and land and animal tithes could not be holy until they were in God’s holy land. Including Genesis 14 and 28, there is no Biblical evidence that tithing was practiced for any other reason than because it was a common Semitic or Arab tradition and law. Before the Mosaic Law, each household had its own priest who was self-supporting. Tithing was not incorporated into the Mosaic Law until AFTER the patriarchal priesthood was replaced by the Levitical priesthood and the Levites were denied land inheritance. (2) Jesus did not re-interpret the tithing law. He reinforced the duty of the Jews to obey the extremes of their recognized interpreters of the Law — the Pharisees.
“To JACOB the tithe was involved in a covenant made with God. Awakening from his vision at Bethel and overcome with the realization that God was present, he made a vow: “If God will be with me and will keep me in all this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then shall the Lord by my God; … and of all that thou shall give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee” (Gen 28:20-22). When Jacob failed to keep his promise, God reminded him of it (Gen 31:13). ”
COMMENTS: (1) God had already promised to bless Jacob BEFORE Jacob promised a tithe. Jacob’s mention of a tithe was a rash vow and is definitely not an example to Christians. He told God that that he would tithe only AFTER he had been blessed and returned home safely. (2) As the patriarchal priest of his household before the Mosaic Law, Jacob (like Abraham and Isaac) very likely gave whatever tithes he chose to give directly to the poor. (3) His tithes (if ever given) were NOT holy produce off God’s holy land to a holy priesthood.
“Later MOSES declared to Israel in the wilderness: “All the tithe … is the Lord’s; it is holy unto the Lord” (Lev 27:30).”
COMMENTS: (1) This partial quotation leaves out the basic fact that every text in the Bible which describes the “content” of the true biblical tithe limits it to “food” from God’s “land of Israel” by “Israelites.” In all of Israel’s recorded Biblical history “tithe” NEVER went beyond “food” to include money or precious stones. (2) Tradesmen and craftsmen, such as carpenters (Jesus) and tentmakers (Paul), were not required under the strict definition of the law to tithe—therefore Jesus and Paul did not tithe. (3) Although “commanded” in the wilderness, tithing did not begin until Israel entered their holy land (Deu. 12:1).
“When sin corrupted the lives of the Jews and they failed to keep the laws of God, the prophets denounced their waywardness and graphically reminded them of their obligations. The prophet MALACHI said: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee’ In tithes and offerings” (Mal 3:8). But the rebuke was accompanied by a promise, one of the great invitations in the Scriptures: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that they may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal 3:10).”
COMMENTS: (1) Continuing context from the book of Nehemiah, and according to Malachi’s first two chapters under Nehemiah’s protection as governor, the priests of Malachi already had the tithe and were keeping the best for themselves. (2) The thieves in Malachi are the priests, not the people (1:6; 2:1). The curse of Malachi 3:9 (answering the priests’ question of 2:17 and 3:7) is primarily placed on dishonest priests who had violated the ordinances of the Mosaic covenant. (3) They selfishly kept the tithe and did not take care of the needy in 3:5. Therefore God promised severe judgment on the priests from 1:6 to 3:7.In Nehemiah 13 they had stolen the tithe from the Levites. (4) The curse of the law cannot fall upon Christians who are no longer under the curse of the law. (5) Malachi 3:10 has been greatly abused. None of the three tithes went to the storehouse: the first went to the Levites in their cities; the second went to the feasts in Jerusalem; the third stayed at home for the poor. The tithe went to where the great majority of the Levites and priests lived — outside Jerusalem. The only portion of the tithe which eventually went to the Temple was to feed the 1 of 24 courses ministering there for one week at a time See 2 Chron 31:15-19; Neh 10:35-39; 12:44, 47 and my book.
“JESUS also supported the tithe, for it was a vital part of the law. He clearly stated, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt 5:17). It was motive that concerned Jesus. Prompted by love for God and fellow man, Jesus’ followers would surely obey the law. But their standards should be beyond the minimum legal requirement. To a strict, law-abiding Pharisee he said one day: “Woe unto you. Pharisees! For ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Luke 11:42).”
COMMENTS: (1) Jesus’ mention of tithing occurred because he was supportive of the jurisdiction of the Pharisees and encouraged full obedience to all aspects of the law before Calvary. The “weightier matters of the law” endured as moral imperatives, while the cultic and ceremonial elements of the law, such as tithing, ended at Calvary. (2) The idea that the tithe was the “minimum legal requirement” is unscriptural. The tithe was only a requirement from the increase of those who were farmers and herdsmen. Tradesmen and craftsmen, for example, were never included in this so-called “minimum.” (3) Why do so many churches say that Christ did not abolish tithing, but did abolish almost every other “holy” and “most holy” thing in Leviticus? The “moral” aspects of the Old Covenant were re-entered to the Church in the New under the terms of grace and tithing was not included.
“Significantly, mention of the tithes is not limited to the Scriptures alone. Throughout ancient secular history there are accounts that tell of the dedication of a tenth of one’s possessions. The Assyrian ruler, TIGLATH PILESAR, presented a tenth of the pillage of war to his gods, Ashur and Ramman after a victory north of the Tigris River. Other accounts tell of AHMOSES, an Egyptian military leader giving a tenth of his slaves, cattle, and precious metals to be used in enlarging the temple of his cult. Records also show that this custom was persistent among the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. Seemingly, this belief in dedicating a tenth to religious purposes is BASIC IN THE NATURE OF MAN.”
COMMENTS: Since this argument has previously been given, then my reply will also be repeated from the first paragraph. If tithing is “basic in the nature of man” because it existed in so many earlier cultures — then is this true of all the OTHER things also found in those early cultures, like idolatry, worship of the heavens, nature, and animals, child sacrifice, temple prostitution, and numerous other very early and very common practices?
“The Christian church has had various attitudes toward the tithe. The Scriptures record that the EARLY Christians SIMPLY SHARED their possessions as needs arose (Acts 2:44-45).”
COMMENTS: Read four or five different seminary textbooks for the course, History of the Christian Church. They usually agree that the early church leaders for over 200 years all had SECULAR jobs. The preaching and teaching was shared among those who had those gifts. The leader was usually an administrator. Asceticism by leaders meant that it was virtuous to be as poor as possible. Also, the events of Acts 2:44-47 describe that church as Jews first and Christians second with continuing financial obligations to the Temple as seen in Acts 15 and Acts 21.
“Later, but still early in the Christian era, ministers began to devote ALL their time to preaching and THEREFORE were in need of financial support. Gradually, THEREFORE, the early church began to re-emphasize the old tithing law. Christian preachers were COMPARED by the church fathers TO the JEWISH PRIESTS and Levites of the Old Testament, and MANY church fathers gave their support to re-instituting among Christians the Jewish practice of tithing. CLEMENT [of Alexandria] and CYPRIAN [died 257] were especially outspoken. The church continued to face difficult tasks as Christians withheld their tithes.
COMMENTS: This article seriously omits the context of its statements. The “later” and “still early in the Christian era” means over 200 years later. (1) As the priesthood was gradually taken away from the believer, (2) as the priesthood was becoming centralized in clergy over laity, (3) and as the communion table became a sacrificial mass — the church leaders incorrectly compared themselves to the Old Covenant priests and wanted the tithe! However, as the next paragraph proves, Cyprian’s tithe reform failed to become church law and Cyprian only spoke for his area of North Africa.
“In AD 585, at the Council of Macon, in Lyon, France, the payment of tithes was declared DIVINE RULE, and those who did not pay were excommunicated. Similar action was taken by other councils. Not until AD 778, however, was payment of the tithe LEGALLY ENFORCED by Charlemagne (Charles the Great). Legal enforcement did not change hearts, and the custom was a long time in gaining support. Pope Hadrian in AD 785 imposed tithe payments on the Anglo-Saxon church. Payment was not legally enforced, however, until AD 967 during the reign of King Edgar, son of Edmund. After this time the practice continued.”
COMMENTS: This paragraph is not complimentary. It reveals the emergence of tithing with the emergence of the Church as a political authority. None of the other purely Roman Catholic doctrines which had crept into the church are praised here — except tithing!!!
“As clerical corruption and abuses became apparent, people felt that the money was being misused; for this reason as well as selfish ones, they began to chafe under the legal obligation to pay tithes. WYCLIFFE openly complained to King Richard II that the clergy put tithes to wicked use. Many people claimed that the clergy used church income for their own pleasure or gave it to laymen as a reward for favors. Another complaint was that the tithes were being sent out for the country to the treasury in Rome.”
COMMENTS: Nothing new here. Politicians enforced tithing. How many scandals occur today because of the greed of rich church leaders? As in ancient times, the poor are often abused by teaching tithing while the church leaders live in luxury.
“The COLONISTS who immigrated to America brought harsh memories of enforced tithes that were collected by the state church. Soon, however, several colonies resorted to the same expedient, and required all residents to pay a tax for the support of preachers of the state church. This tax was especially unpopular with BAPTISTS and other groups who had their own ministries, and it was opposed with great determination but little success until about the time of the American Revolution, when the established colonial churches began to lose their special privileges.”
COMMENTS: The first Baptist statement in 1649 made it clear that Baptists believed in a ministry in which their leaders held SECULAR jobs. They did not oppose tithing merely because it went to the Church of England. They also opposed it because they did not believe that tithing was New Covenant.
“During all this time [when Baptists were resisting paying the tithe-tax to England] Baptists and other extra-legal sects paid little attention to voluntary tithing, doubtless because they were so much occupied with opposition to religious taxation [I.E. TITHING]. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE 18TH CENTURY ALL OTHER CONCERNS WERE ENGULFED IN A VAST AND SUCCESSFUL PERIOD OF REVIVAL, WHICH ADDED GREAT NUMBERS TO THE CHURCHES, BUT WHICH LAID MUCH GREATER EMPHASIS ON EVANGELICAL FERVOR THAN ON SYSTEMATIC BENEVOLENCE. Many church, in fact, were definitely opposed to what they considered a ‘hireling ministry,’ and paid their preachers (when they had them) nothing. Preachers who were supported at all usually received food or farm products such as tobacco, or, occasionally, whiskey, which could be exchanged for money. At least until the beginning of the nineteenth century, most Baptist ministers worked at secular jobs in addition to preaching. The attitude of John Courtney, for 40 years (1784-1824) pastor of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Va., was CHARACTERISTIC of many other Baptist ministers of his day.”
COMMENTS: From 1649 until 1963, over 300 years, the Baptist confessions did not even include tithing texts. It seems that the underlined sentences state that better church growth comes from emphasizing evangelism rather than stewardship.
“Working as a carpenter, he accepted no regular salary—only a “hat collection” each Sunday. In his sermons Courtney often quoted a couplet that characterized his beliefs on ministerial support, “No foot of land do I possess, Nor cottage in the wilderness.” In 1809, after living many years in a rented house, he was given a deed to this house by the church in the morning service. That night, in preaching he began to quote his beloved lines–but stopped! The next day he relinquished his property, saying, “I’d rather have my lines than the land.””
“With the advent of the mission movements, tithing earned more prominent support. Missions and tithing have always strengthened each other. The New York Missionary Society, formed in 1796, sent missionaries to the Indians in the South. The Triennial Convention, formed in 1814, was a distinctive Baptist mission movement. Its need for stronger financial support helped to foster among Baptists a new attitude towards giving and greater willingness to support all phases of religious work. In the 1890’s the Laymen’s Movement, started by Thomas Kane, swept the country with its major emphasis on TITHING FOR SUPPORT OF MISSIONS.”
COMMENTS: It appears that the first failed real emphasis on tithing in 1890 was for support of missions, and not for support of the local pastor. Yet today, mission funds are in addition to tithes for support of the local church workers.
“Southern Baptists about this time were also concerned about tithing and systematic giving, and adopted a recommendation at the Southern Baptist Convention in 1894 “that the Special Committee of seven … be appointed to CONSIDER THE SUBJECT of urging church members to give at least one-tenth of their income to the cause of Christ.” The committee reported the next year that “full relief NEED NOT BE HOPED FOR UNTIL our church members individually and voluntarily adopted the Scriptural systematic plan of paying God at least one-tenth of his income.” THIS THE CHURCH MEMBERS DID NOT DO. LITTLE REAL PROGRESS WAS MADE UNTIL THE TIME OF WORLD WAR I, which was a period of financial drives. Tithing was emphasized with strong fervor, and soon various PROMOTIONAL MOVEMENTS were launched. Disciples had the Men and Millions Movement. Presbyterians had the New Era Movement. Southern Baptists had the 75 Million campaign; and Methodist Centenary Celebration which had for a slogan A Million Tithers in Methodism.”
“Tithing was emphasized strongly throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and, in 1921 a campaign was set to enroll a half-million tithers among members of the denomination. It was recommended that the Laymen’s Missionary Movement, the Women’s Mission Union, and all the agencies of the general boards and of the state boards unite in this effort. There was great achievement for several years; then during the depression of 1930-33 the churches were severely handicapped because of the low income of their members and because of their debts from overexpansion during the previous era. Three plans for increased giving found popular support. Two, the Lord’s Acre Plan for rural areas and the Lord’s Hour Plan for city dwellers, stressed general stewardship. The Belmont Plan, started by Belmont Presbyterian, Roanoke, Va., projected a three-month adventure in tithing. As the region’s economy gained strength and prosperity came with war, Southern Baptists launched a series of stewardship campaigns. In 1917 a crusade was inaugurated to enlist a million Southern Baptist tithers for Christ. The tithers’ enlistment visitation plan was presented in 1950 and subsequent years. Later, a school of stewardship in every church was promoted as part of the Southern Baptist advance in stewardship, and stewardship study course books stressing tithing were being taught extensively. Stewardship revivals were promoted in 1954, and every church was encouraged to have a one-night stewardship conference in 1955. In 1955 there were 1,019,973 tithers reported in the Southern Baptist
World Missions Week, encouraging churches to contribute to world missions through the Cooperative Program, was the plan for 1956. This was to be followed with emphasis on a forward program of church finance, increasing the promotion of tithing and benevolence through detailed and effective methods.”
COMMENTS: One can trace the evolution of the doctrine as its clergy proponents gained more and more influence, but the laity refused to accept the doctrine. Omitted several times is the fact that, in 1925, the Baptist Faith and Message did NOT include a single tithing text under “Stewardship.” Evidently some high-ranking Baptist leaders opposed tithing in 1925. Either the texts were voted down or else the committee realized that the churches were not yet ready to accept the new doctrine. The revised 1963 and 2000 statements are the FIRST to include tithing texts. This evident change is a COMPLETE reversal from Baptist statements dating back to 1644.
“These various programs of promotion have helped greatly to raise the standard of giving among Southern Baptists. Though tithing is far from universally practiced, there exists a significant and growing awareness on the part of church members of their financial responsibilities both to their own local churches and to the wider interests of the whole denomination. In principles at least, the tithe is accepted as the IDEAL MINIMUM STANDARD; many avoid it, but THERE IS NO OPPOSITION BASED ON RELIGIOUS REASONING.”
Comments: In reality, tithing has become the “taboo sacred cow” about which leaders have thus far refused to discuss and enter dialog. The boldness to defend every other Baptist doctrine indicates a fear and inability to defend tithing using proper hermeneutics.
“For those who do tithe some questions remain. Many wonder where the tithe should be given, reasoning that since various charitable works now carried on by civic agencies were once functions of the church, they may properly share in Christian tithes. For most Southern Baptist churches at least, the admonition of Malachi, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse,” is clear indication that ONLY the church can properly be considered the recipient of tithes.”
COMMENTS: This is illogical. While the church is not a storehouse and is not responsible for carrying out the total welfare mission like the priests in Malachi, the SBC says it is still due all of the tithes! Malachi’s “storehouse” was considered government property; tithes were collected, protected and redistributed to the poor under the supervision of the governor or king. Now, they say that most of the tithes can be used for salaries, sanctuaries and gyms and the government should not intrude.
“Another pressing question, on which there is real and honest difference of opinion, concerns the computation of the tithe. Many Southern Baptists insist that the tithe is one-tenth of a person’s gross income before taxes. Others, feeling that money distributed as taxes from a person’s salary, over which he has no real control, is not to be considered a part of his tithe-able income, compute the tithe on the basis of gross income after the deduction of such taxes. On this point there is no specific guidance from Scripture. Both methods are widely used, and each person’s decision must be determined by his own CONSCIENCE. It is true, however, that the deductibility of religious contributions from taxable income has encouraged some to increase the level of their giving.” By Howard Roshee
COMMENTS: This is, at least, an honest answer
“TITHER’S ENLISTMENT VISITATION (page 1420)
A program developed by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention for the enlistment of tithers through personal visitation using as the basic tool a turnover chart with 22 pages, 10 x 13 inches in size. Two trained visitors who are tithers visit in the homes of the membership. With the aid of the turnover chart, they explain what tithing is, what the Bible says concerning it, why one should tithe, and what happens when one does tithe……”
“The turnover chart, professionally displayed in two colors with display art work, INCORPORATED THE BEST EXPERIENCE IN THE BUSINESS WORLD and in church budget promotion in the preparation and plan of its use. …”
“TITHES, VIRGINIA (page 1421)
“From the founding of the colony until 1776 the tithe-tax was levied for support of the Established Church. The earliest record of this tithe in Virginia is 1624, when ministers were allowed “ten pounds of tobacco and a bushel of corn per poll, provided the whole allowance did not exceed 1500 pounds of tobacco and 16 barrels of corn.””
COMMENTS: Notice that tithes were food.
“Opposition to the tithe by dissenters … came to a head in 1776. …from 1776-1779 the issue was hotly contended in every session of the legislature. … Final revocation of the tithe-tax was accomplished in 1779, although a determined effort was made in 1784 to pass a law assessing every citizen for the support of his church, but it was abandoned the following year. “