What About Tithing?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 10:37am
THE QUESTION: Does the Bible say anywhere that all of one’s tithe has to go to the local church, or can it go to other organizations?
MY REPLY: First, I have some reservations about the view that the tithe is a requirement in this NT era (see below). But assuming for the sake of the question that the tithe is the standard, I will answer thus: nowhere does the NT say that all of our offering (10% or otherwise) must go to the local congregation. In fact, much of Paul’s writing about giving has to do with the offerings he collected on his missionary journeys to take to Jerusalem for benevolent purposes (see Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 & 9). This is in fact the bulk of the NT teaching on giving.
I do believe, however, in view of the local church’s great need, and also in view of the fact that we do support many missionaries in other places with our local giving, that the greatest portion of our giving should go to the local church. I also believe, in view of the fact that some people are very naive about who would be worthy recipients of non-local giving, that anyone who wants to give part of his or her tithe to a non-local organization ought to seek the wisdom and guidance of the missions committee or some other knowledgeable leader as to the worthiness of that organization. Too often we have well-meaning people sending their offerings to Calvinist or faith-only ministries, or even to quasi-secular organizations.
(On a personal note, a large portion of my family giving goes directly to mission groups of all kinds all over the world. After teaching for 40+ years, I have a lot of former students who are new church planters, missionaries, Bible college teachers, etc.; very often they solicit funds from their old teachers!)
FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: But does not the OT practice of tithing mean something? Did not the practice of tithing precede the Law of Moses? Should it not then be our model for determining our giving as a NT church? Should we not use the tithe as a gauge for the “least we could do,” i.e., as our “minimum” benchmark, while taking into consideration 2 Cor. 8:8, where God is testing the sincerity of our love for him and the desire to do MORE than what is expected? Is that not a valid way of looking at it?
REPLY: In many ways this makes perfectly good sense. Though the tithe was part of the Law of Moses (Deut. 14:22ff.), which no longer applies in this NT era, it is true that the tithe actually preceded the Mosaic Law (Gen. 14:30; 28:22; Heb. 7:4-10). Does this not mean, then, that it transcends the Mosaic Law and covenant distinctions? Not necessarily. Other practices that preceded Moses’ Law and were sanctioned by it are not considered binding in the NT era, e.g., the levirate marriage (Gen. 38:8ff.; Deut. 25:5-10), and the consecration of the firstborn (Exod. 13:1-16; Num. 18:14-19). Thus without specific apostolic instruction or sanction, I cannot conscientiously bind the tithe on Christians today.
Some may cite Jesus’ words in Matt. 23:23 as NT sanction for tithing: “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others [ESV].” The problem here, though, is that Jesus speaks these words to Jewish leaders who were still under the Law of Moses, where the tithe was still an obligation.
For determining the amount of one’s giving, I start with 1 Cor. 16:2, which instructs that one should give “as he may prosper” (NASB) or “in keeping with his income” (NIV). In this I find the principle of PROPORTIONAL giving, i.e., that giving should not be a random and variable amount, but that each one should determine a specific percentage and stick to it, with the percentage increasing as income increases. I agree that the OT concept of tithing (10%) should be the guideline or benchmark at which we begin. After all, if it was good enough for God’s people in the OT, it should be even better for his people in the NT era. My only point is that we cannot make this a law or rule (i.e., part of our law code), since it simply is not included in any instructions on giving in the NT. If someone who is jobless and barely making ends meet says 5% is as much as they can spare, I will not put a guilt trip on them.