Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD


By Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

July 15, 2008

Heb 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

There are many church pastors who quote Hebrews 13:17 to control church members by denying them any questions about the pastor’s behavior and doctrine.

God’s Word teaches that (1) youth should submit to those older than themselves (1 Pet 5:5), (2) wives should submit to their husbands “as unto the Lord” (Eph 5:22), (3) Christians should submit to “every ordinance of man” (1 Pet 2:13) and (4) believers should submit themselves to God (Js 4:7). However, rather than accept these statements as commands to be obeyed without question, we must take into consideration the context and all other texts which relate to them.


In AD 67 there was no central church authority. There would soon be church focal points in Jerusalem, Caesarea, Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus and Rome with Constantinople and others being added after AD 300. Each church had its only local elder(s) and theology was in its infancy. The church councils of the next 1000 years would define orthodox doctrine such as the deity of Christ, the person-hood of the Spirit and the Trinity. Much of what is called “heresy” by most Protestants today would become orthodox church doctrines such as the worship of saints, the sacrificial mass by a hierarchical priesthood, adoration of Mary, mandatory infant baptism for salvation and salvation only accessible through the church organization.

Therefore, if “submission to the authority of a church elder” included his theology then the Spirit would be guilty of teaching that we must submit to error.


The modern church has well over 200 denominations. These include the Baptists, Congregational, Disciples, Methodists, Nazarene, Presbyterians, Reformed and at least three major Charismatic denominations. They also include the Christian Scientists, Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists –not to mention the quasi and non-Christian religions.

Therefore, once again, if “submission to the authority of a church elder” included his theology then the Spirit would be guilty of teaching that we must submit to error.

Hebrews 13:17 cannot possibly include the theology of the church leader. God is not the author of confusion. For example, God would not tell a Catholic to submit to the theology of the Pope while telling Baptists, Charismatics, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists to submit to the theology of their church leaders. The explanation of “submission” must be found elsewhere.


1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;

1 Peter 2:14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.


Moses submitted to Pharaoh until Pharaoh refused to allow Israel to worship as God instructed. Jesus submitted to Roman rulers and paid taxes to Caesar. Jesus submitted to the Sanhedrin and was compelled by the high priest’s oath to reveal his heavenly identity. Peter submitted to the Jewish law but not to its interpretation of the Messiah on the day of Pentecost. Paul submitted to the church elders in Jerusalem but did not submit to their false theology concerning the law and its relation to the Gentiles (Acts 15, 21).

Differences in theology caused Moses to break his submission to Pharaoh, Daniel to break his submission to the king of Persia, Esther to break her submission to the king of Persia, Jesus to break his submission to the Sanhedrin, Peter to break his submission to historic Judaism and Paul to break his submission to the church in Jerusalem. Submission ends when false theology is involved!

Just as Hebrews 13:17 cannot include theology, neither can 1 Peter 2:13-14 include theology. The Roman emperors demanded that Christians submit and worship the emperor as Lord. Since Rome ruled and since all power to rule comes from God, then Christians were commanded to be honest, law-abiding citizens of Rome as long as they were not forced to compromise their faith.


1 Tim 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

1 Tim 5:18 For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

1 Tim 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

1 Tim 5:20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

Church leaders are far from theological inerrancy. And, like it or not, they are also far from being irrefutable. Those ideas may have been in place in the early Old Covenant when the priests and Levites were commanded to explain the law but they failed and God sent prophets to rebuke them. Read the prophets. You will see page after page of God using prophets to correct the priests and Levites rather than submit to them.

In the New Covenant a lot of things have changed. The elders (bishops and pastors) have not replaced the Old Covenant priests and Levites. The priesthood of every believer has replaced the Old Covenant priesthood. The New Covenant elders (bishops and pastors) function more like the Old Covenant prophets. Their responsibility of equipping believer-priests does not negate the believer-priests’ responsibility to worship God directly without the elders as intercessors.

Rather than submit to their theology, Jesus rebuked and corrected those who were technically his superiors on earth — the Sanhedrin, priests, scribes and Pharisees. Yes, but Jesus was God and had that authority.

What about Paul? Even though he submitted to the elders in Jerusalem as far as organizational protocol was concerned, he (along with Peter and James) rebuked their theology of the law (Acts 14, 21). His letters to the Romans and Galatians rebuked and corrected the false theology of the Jerusalem Christian-Pharisees.

The epistle of James is a rebuke and correction of the elders of the church. The apocalypse of Revelation is a rebuke and correction addressed to the seven elders of seven churches.

First Timothy 5:17-20 (above) instructs ordinary church members on the protocol for rebuking and correcting church leaders who err. First, be extra cautious; the church leader is worthy of double honor (or double caution) when being rebuked.  Second, make sure your have at least two witness. Third, do not rebuke them in secret –do it before the entire congregation. “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”  The text accepts the fact that even church leaders “sin.”


Heb 13:17 “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves…”


(1) Nobody is forced to become a member of a particular church organization. Having freely joined, one has an obligation to submit to its rules of order.

(2) Since 90% of what we call orthodox theology today did not exist when this was written and much variation certainly existed then the text cannot be interpreted as a submission to theology beyond the basic proclamation of faith.

(3)  Since submission to every ordinance of man (1 Pet 2:13) cannot be interpreted as a command to worship the Roman emperor neither should submission to a church elder be interpreted as a command to accept all of his theology.

(4) Early church leaders were usually administrators who kept the church in order. The local hierarchy was at the very least 100-200 years away. Many gifted believer-priests expounded the Word and intense discussion followed. There was no elder-theologian to limit the discussion to his own views. It is wrong to read into first century Hebrews 13:17 the context of a modern church organization.

(5) Jesus Christ is the head of the church and the individual believers constitute the body (1 Cor 12). There are no superior body parts between the head and body which function as mediators (1 Tim 2:3).


Other Relevant Texts:

The behavior of many pastors in seeking to demand submission while not making themselves servants is appalling and totally contrary to Jesus teaching and the apostles doctrine! (Chris)

Matt 20:25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them

Matt 20:26 Yet it shall not be so among you ; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 

Matt 20:27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave”  

Matt 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  NKJV

Matt 23:11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant .

1 Cor 4:9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.

1 Cor 4:10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.

1 Cor 4:11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place;

1 Cor 4:12 And labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:

1 Cor 4:13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.

1 Cor 4:14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.

1 Cor 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

1 Cor 4:16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. KJV [imitate me]  

1 Cor 4:17 For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. NKJV

1 Cor 9:18 What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may noabuse my authority in the gospel.

1 Cor 9:19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more;

Acts 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

Acts 20:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

Acts 20:31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.

Acts 20:32 And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

Acts 20:33 I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.

Acts 20:34 Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.

Acts 20:35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

1 Peter 5:2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;

1 Peter 5:3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;  NKJV