I was recently asked by a church if Grace Church requires their pastors to practice tithing. This is my response to that email:
The word tithing means giving ten-percent of income to the church. I do not teach or practice that approach to money. I think that is based on a faulty understanding of the Old Testament practice, and creates and propagates a wrong understanding of God’s relationship to our money.
In the OT, the Israelites were living in a theocracy, and everything they owned really belonged to God. God drove that point home by making them revert their land sales and free their slaves every 50 years. Tithing in this system served as a form of taxation. While God owned everything, he required his people to fund the Levitical system (Levites were priests, and thus generally were not farmers, merchants, or shepherds) with a tithe collected annually (Deut 12:2-19; 14:22-29). Leviticus 27:30-32 reiterates this tithe, and applies to livestock as well.
In the NT, the tithe goes the way of the Levites and the temple curtain. As the Baker Bible Encyclopedia says, “Tithing is mentioned in the New Testament only critically.” The fact was, Pharisees loved the tithe, because it was easy to enforce, said nothing of the heart, and had little to do with actual love for God. Not only that, but religious leaders were the recipients of it, and in exchange all they paid was ten-percent (to themselves!).
Beyond that, tithing propagates the idea that we own our resources and can do with them as we see fit, as long as we give 10% to God. But the reality is that everything we have belongs to God, and we are simply stewards of it. We will be judged and rewarded by God for how we use his resources (Luke 19:16-25, 2 Cor 5:10, Rom 14:10), and so we are best served when we use our money for the purpose of evangelism and the furtherance of the kingdom (Mat 6:19-20; Luke 16:9). When a church uses its resources for the furtherance of the gospel and kingdom work, then the church becomes a good investment for her members. By using money for missions and the daily work of the church, the church gives an opportunity for the members to put their money to good use through giving it to the church. If the church leadership is trusted by the congregation (as they should be), this giving will probably exceed 10% anyway, but unlike tithing, giving that comes from this heavenly mindset is actually a reflection of the heart of the giver.
This is why the NT can command a joyful giver (2 Cor 9:7), as well as the illustration that generous giving is rewarded generously (Luke 6:38). The expression “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48) applies to much in life, but specifically to giving of finances apart from a tithing system.
Finally, the NT commands that pastors be paid (1 Cor 9:8-14; Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:18). Paul also implies that an offering should be taken weekly (1 Cor 16:2), and this presupposes generous giving from the congregation. It seems obvious that pastors themselves would participate in this giving, and that is simply not connected to any uniform percentage rule, biblical or otherwise.
So in short, the concept of a tithe belongs to Israel and a theocracy. But a Christian should want to invest as much of his money as possible in eternal things, and it would seem that a good church is doing eternal work, and thus would present a good investment of the pastor’s money.