Tithing Ethos: The Habit of Giving in the Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian habits, church reform by Nathan Creitz on November 12, 2008


Some argue that tithing is not a New Testament Church concept. Others believe that if you are a true Christian you will set aside 10% (or more) of your income each paycheck to give to your local church. Most, on the other hand, feel caught somewhere in between. Regardless of your position on the matter, there is a study that shows a disturbing trend among American Christians concerning our giving. The study specifically deals with tithes in and through the church and I’m sure there is lots of giving that is done through other means (at least I hope so). Nevertheless, the information is troubling and we need to take a serious look at the habit of giving in the church.

But should we make the church a clearing house for all of our charitable giving? Is tithing, or giving of any kind in the church, mandated by Jesus and/or the apostles? What if your budget doesn’t include room for a tithe one month? Does God forgive you that debt? Or should you pay Him back later?

Seasons GREEDings

To begin with, let’s look at all the reasons Christians don’t tithe regardless of whether they believe it is encouraged by Jesus or the apostles. According to this study, there are five primary reasons for the fact that “the wealthiest national body of Christian believers at any time in all of church history end up spending most of their money on themselves.”

Basically, Christians in America don’t give because of:
€. Institutionalized Mass Consumerism.
(Translation: Greed, Worldliness, Selfishness, Independence, Christmas)
£. A lack of pastoral teaching on giving.
(Translation: Lack of communication / Pastor is scared of sheep)
$. A confusion about purpose, meaning, and expectations of giving.
(Translation: Lack of communication)
¥. A lack of trust in the elders or the institution of the church to spend the money wisely.
(Translation: If they spend it, it will be wasted…If I spend it, I will be able to buy 367 Starbucks coffees this year.)
¢. The privatization of the topic to the point that no one is held accountable in their finances.
(Translation: Lack of communication / Laziness / Embarrassment for our own greed)

It seems that greed and a failure to communicate are the two biggest reasons people don’t give. The study also confirmed that the 80/20 rule is still at work in our churches. In this case, 20% of the members are giving 86.4% of the total donations to the church. The average giving from all Christian church members comes out to about 2.9% of their total income being given to the church. What do we do with the rest? With Christmas just around the corner I’ll let you figure that out for yourself. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Help Me Spend My Money, Pastor!

One really interesting part of the research was what could be accomplished if people did tithe a full ten percent. In fact, if only the “committed” Christians (as defined in the research) would give 10% of their income there would be an extra $46 billion dollars a year for kingdom work in the American church alone. Again, regardless of whether or not you think people should tithe or that the church will actually be faithful to spend that money wisely…just think what that kind of money could do. A few examples given in the research reveals what that much more money could provide: food, clothing and shelter for ALL 6.5 million current refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East or enough resources to sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide. Is that what the church would spend the money on? Who knows? But it illustrates what could be done if American Christians were more generous.

Legalistically Tender

But none of that addresses whether or not we should tithe from a Biblical standpoint. Is tithing an unnecessary habit for those of us who do our best to tithe whether or not we think we’ve got the money to spend? Or is tithing a necessary habit for those who have given nothing to the church for years and just expect all pastors to have big inheritances that allow them to preach and teach for free?

Yes and No!

I refuse to answer those questions legalistically. I think the possibilities of what could be done if more people gave more to the church is a compelling argument for giving through the church. But should it be ten percent? I’m actually going to come right out and say a big fat “No” on that one. Should we give? Absolutely! But how much? That’s between you and God…but I would suggest that you talk about it with someone else too. The Bible doesn’t clearly mandate a tithe today but I think there are some people who know God is challenging them to increase their giving but they refuse God because of their selfishness. Take, for example, the story of the Rich Young Ruler who came to Jesus and said he had kept all of the commandments of God. Jesus perceived his heart and told him to go and sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Certainly we don’t believe THAT’s what we need to be doing is it? Probably not, but the point is that Jesus knew the man’s heart and knew his greed and corruption. Some people are very generous people and don’t have a problem here…but others need to take a deep look at their spending habits.

How Much Does It Cost?

Maybe instead of thinking we have to tithe ten percent to the church we should consider that everything we have belongs to God and is a blessing from God. Maybe we should take a look at our monthly expenditures and make two columns: “Spent on Me” and “Spent on Others” and see which one is smaller. Maybe we should ask the question, “Does my spending reflect my love for God and love for others or does it just reflect my love for myself?” Maybe we should become more transparent in our churches about our finances: pastors faithfully teaching, members faithfully responding, Christians holding one another accountable, etc. Maybe we need to first ask “What does the Bible say about money in general?” and then decide prayerfully about how much money, time, resources, and talents we should give to the church. Maybe we should be asking, “How much does it cost to follow Jesus?”

In the end, I believe the Bible tells us to give sacrificially. Sometimes we do that through the church. Other times we see a need and give to it. The Bible teaches a lot about money and giving so we don’t have to be stuck in a debate about tithing (notice I decided not to quote Bible verses for or against in this post. Study it for yourself!). Let’s simply give to the causes and to the people that mean the most in our lives and not just store up treasures for ourselves. No need for rules here, like what percentage is Biblical or do we tithe on gross or net income, etc. But when God’s love sweeps us away and we have a passion for the world and for the family of God we can’t help but give generously and sacrificially to others.

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7 Responses

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  1. atruefaith said, on November 12, 2008 at 12.20 pm

    Great article. Balanced and comprehensive.


  2. Helen Fuller said, on November 12, 2008 at 5.16 pm

    A thought provoking piece. Yes, Christians should be ‘tithing’ but what percentage that should be is open for discussion – some in the church can afford to give more than 10%, others can afford to give less. As you say it is between the individual and God. The principle of giving needs to be taught though; it shouldn’t be assumed that people know what to do, as if it was knowledge that was imparted at the point of salvation

  3. Jeremy said, on November 12, 2008 at 6.23 pm

    I came across this dealing with Tithing that I think is a good read for us all…

    Jeremy from

  4. Russell Earl Kelly, PHD said, on November 12, 2008 at 6.44 pm

    Good article. Thanks.\\1. Post-Calvary Christian giving principles in Second Corinthians are superior to tithing. (1) Giving is a “grace.” (2) Give yourself to God first. (3) Give yourself to knowing God’s will. (4) Give in response to Christ’s gift. (5) Give out of a sincere desire. (6) Do not give because of any commandment (8:8, 10; 9:7). (7) Give beyond your ability. (8) Give to produce equality. (9) Give joyfully (8:2). (10) Give because you are growing spiritually. (11) Give to continue growing spiritually. (12) Give because you are hearing the gospel preached.

    2. Abraham’s tithed in Genesis 14 in obedience to pagan tradition. (1) He did not “freely” give. (2) His was NOT a holy tithe from God’s holy land by God’s holy people under God’s holy Covenant. (3) His was only from pagan spoils of war required in many nations. (4) In Num. 31, God required 1% of spoils. (5) His tithe to his priest-king was a one-time event. (6) Not from his personal property. (7) Kept nothing for himself. (8) Is not quoted to endorse tithing. (9) Most commentaries explain 14:21 as pagan Arab tradition, it is contradictory to explain the 90% of 14:21 as pagan, while insisting the 10% of 14:20 was obedience to God’s will. (10) If Abraham were an example for Christians to give 10%, he should also be an example for Christians to give the other 90% to Satan, or to the king of Sodom! (11) As priests, neither Abraham nor Jacob had a Levitical priesthood to support; they probably left food for the poor at their altars.

    3. Although money was common and essential for worship for over 1500 years, biblical tithes were always only food increased by God from inside Israel (Lev. 27:30, 32; see site for all 16 texts).

    4. Since only farmers and herdsmen tithed, there was no minimum standard requirement for most. Tradesmen such as carpenters (Jesus), Peter (fishermen) and Paul (tentmakers) did not qualify as tithe-payers. The poor and Gentiles did not tithe.

    5. Tithing was only commanded to national Israel under the terms of the Old Covenant. Tithing was never commanded to the Church after Calvary (Ex 19:5-6; Lev 27:34; Mal 4:4; Mt 23:23 matters of the law).

    6. Those who received the first whole tithe did not minister atonement (Num. 18:21-24; Neh10:37b). Priests only received 1% (a tenth of the tithe) (Num 18:25-28; Neh 10:38).

    7. In exchange for receiving tithes, both Levites and priests forfeited all rights to permanent land inheritance inside Israel (Num. 18:20-26).

    8. Firstfruits are not the same as tithes. Firstfruits were a very small token offering (Deu 26:1-4; Neh 10:35-37; Num 18:13-17). Tithes were the tenth and not the best; only 1% of the tithes included the best (Lev. 27:32, 33).

    9. There were 4 O.T. tithes: (1) Government taxes (1 Sam 8:14-17). (2) Levitical (Num. 18:21-28; Neh. 10:37-39). (3) Festival (Deu 12:1-19; 14:22-26). (3) Poor tithe every 3rd year (Deu 14:28-29; 26:12-13).

    10. Tithes were often taxes used to support Levite [politicians (1 Chron, chap 23 to 26; esp 23:2-5; 26:29-32; 27:5). Tithes never supported mission work (Ex 23:32; Heb 7:12-18).

    11. OT Levitical tithes were brought first to the Levitical cities and not to the Temple (Num 18; Neh 10:37-39; 2 Chron 31:15-19). Most Levites required tithes in their Levitical cities where 98% stayed (Num 35, Josh 20, 21).

    12. Malachi 3 is the most abused tithing text in the Bible. (1) Malachi is OT and is never quoted in the New Covenant to validate tithing. (2) Tithes are still only food. (3) His audience reaffirmed the OT curses (Neh.10:28-29). (4) The blessings and curses of tithing are identical to and inseparable from those of the entire Mosaic Law (Deu 28:12, 23-24; Gal 3:10/Deu 27:26). (5) “You” in Malachi refers to the dishonest priests and not the people (1:6-14; 2:1-10; 2:13 to 3:1-5). (6) The “whole” tithe never went to the Temple! (Neh 10:37b). (7) The Levitical cities must be included in a correct interpretation. (8) The 24 courses of Levites and priests must be included. (9) The “storehouse” in the Temple was only several rooms (Neh 13:5, 9). (9) “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” only makes contextual sense if it is only commanding dishonest priests to replace the tithes they had removed from it or had failed to bring to it.

    13. The OT Temple and priesthood have been replaced by the priesthood of every believer. NT elders and pastors more closely resemble OT prophets who were not supported by tithes.

    14. Tithing was not legalized as a church law until AD 777. If was not introduced as a local regional law until the 6th century. See any reputable encyclopedia.

    15. NT giving principles are: freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, not by commandment or percentage and motivated by love for God and lost souls.

    From the book, Should the Church Teach Tithing?

  5. Nathan Creitz said, on November 12, 2008 at 7.09 pm

    Thanks for the comments!

    Brad – I appreciate your kind words.

    Helen – I’m glad you picked up on my subtle distinction between giving and tithing in the post. We should certainly give and if we decide to give 10% that’s wonderful. Giving sacrificially is what the widow did when she gave her last penny when everyone else was giving out of their abundance. That’s the kind of attitude we need.

    Jeremy, I only glanced through the article you linked to but what I saw looked thorough and convincing. I appreciate the link.

    Russell – What you’ve written ought to be in a book 😉 Seriously, you make a lot of great points. 15 is probably the most essential and rather than all the proofs against a “tithe” I would love to see some of your thoughts on why giving. To be quite honest, though I think we could steer clear of tithing language, I actually think the radical call to follow Christ will cost us more than a measly 10%. Not necessarily to or through the Church but joyfully giving to others is one of the calls of discipleship. Thanks for taking the time for this informative comment and I glanced at the link to your book and find that to be very interesting. Let me know if you would like for me to review your book on this blog.

  6. Austin said, on November 21, 2008 at 11.17 pm

    I think that tithing is a difficult subject because finances are not transparent in any level of our culture. Hence, it’s hard to get any real accountability on it without totally exposing your personal information. It’s also difficult to give when you are looking at bills that have to be paid. I don’t necessarily believe in a prosperity gospel where God is going to pay our bills. People that believe in Him and love Him starve every day and die. However, tithing is an act of faith and should be a fruit of our spiritual growth. The 10% can be used as a jumping off point, which is further developed through seeking Jesus through prayer. I agree that it is a link to being a disciple of Jesus.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on December 6, 2008 at 10.54 am

      Thanks Austin, I agree with you. I wish there were more accountability when it comes to our finances but I think it’s going to take people who are committed to Jesus to allow people to hold them accountable. This is an important topic and one that rarely gets discussed. We’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable to a mentor/disicpler for our own maturity in the way we spend our money. Thanks again for your insight.

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