November 16, 2011

Pastors and Tithing

by Jesse Johnson

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.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA.
  • http://twitter.com/CrackedPot_40 Barbara

    Just an honest question: what do you do with the last four words of Matthew 23:23?
    Thanks.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      The scribes and Pharisees were ostensibly under the Levitical OT law, and thus they should have been paying tithes. Jesus’ point is that they loved to pay them, because not only were they propagating their own system, but the tithe says nothing of the heart. They were doing that while exploiting widows and orphans. Bad news for them. But that passage is not instructive on how giving should take place in the church…except in this way: shame on a church member who thinks they are doing their part for God by giving to the church, while not pursuing godliness in their life in other areas.

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  • Mob31

    You wrote that the NT commands pastors to be paid. Isn’t 1Cor 16:2 mainly speaking of collecting for the impoverished saints in Jerusalem not for “pastors?” (Although, I am sure the elders there would also have been impoverished.) You also referenced 2Cor 9:7 commanding a joyful giver and it encourages us to be that– as this would benefit us……and I see that prior to that in 2Cor 8:8 Paul says he says all this as not a command.

    I love this portion of scripture that shows the generosity of those with more supplying the basic needs of the saints who were impoverished. Yet we, each one, gives as we determone in our hearts.

    Thank you for your article.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, 1 Cor 16 is about collecting for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. But Paul is clearly referencing a weekly offering/collection in the church. But I agree that passage is not talking about paying pastors, except by inference that there is a weekly offering. The previous verses listed, but especially 1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim 5 are the main verses that describe the moral imperative of paying pastors.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Henry/1508816201 Michael W. Henry

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but although the gist of your answer is no, I don’t seem to actually find a yes/no answer to a yes/no question. I agree with the faulty understanding concept, however, it is practically ingrained in our Church cultural DNA.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks for the comment Michael. It was my second sentence where I wrote: “I do not teach or practice that approach to money.”

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  • http://twitter.com/Shinar_Squirrel Gene Clyatt

    In Matthew 23, Jesus was speaking to Israelites who were still under the old covenant and subject to the Law of Moses. Their tithing wasn’t the issue, but their neglect of the other things. Jesus was also pointing out their belief that, by tithing, they were obligating God to them, when in fact it was they who were obliged to God. Their legalistic pride was false, as they were not keeping the whole law.

    Matthew 23 concerns Israel, not the Church.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Well said. And I think the main lesson that applies to us from that rebuke is to be on guard for the tendency to think we do our bit for God by giving to the church, while neglecting the pursuit of actual affections for Jesus.

      • http://twitter.com/CrackedPot_40 Barbara

        Okay, but still not to forsake the tithe. Jesus is clear about that. I gather it’s not an either/or, but rather a both/and.

        • http://twitter.com/Shinar_Squirrel Gene Clyatt

          It’s like this: They (the Pharisees Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23) were part of Israel. Israel under the law was required to tithe. The church is not Israel, and nowhere is the church commanded to tithe.

          Who the commandment is issued to is just as important as what is commanded.

          Jim McClarty did a great video series on tithing a while back. Here’s a link to part 1: http://youtu.be/FtCbkIgNoSo

          • http://twitter.com/CrackedPot_40 Barbara

            Okay, well, while I would disagree with you on the church vs. Israel, still, what do you do with Matthew 5:19?

          • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

            However we interpret Matthew 5, it’s got to be in a way that acknowledges that the Law commanded a tithe, Christ didn’t abolish the Law, but we no longer tithe. Or, perhaps a more agreed-upon issue: the Law commanded animal sacrifice, Christ didn’t abolish the Law, but we no longer offer animal sacrifices. However we interpret Matthew 5:17-20, it’s got to be in a way that doesn’t render what I just said as some kind of double-speak.

            I think the answer is understanding that Christ didn’t come and break the Law, but fulfilled it. And that fulfillment is not, “I kept the Law, so now you keep the Law too.” He is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom 10:4), such that those of us who are united with Christ had to die to the Law and be released from it, in order to be joined to Another, by whom we could bear fruit (Rom 7:4-6).

            So, we keep in step with Matt 5:19, not abolishing the Law or nullifying the commandments, by understanding their fulfillment: namely, (a) that the Law of Moses which commanded tithing is fulfilled in Christ, (b) to see His sufficiency there and worship Him for it, and (c) obey the instruction on giving that He gave to us, His body, the new man, the Church (Eph 2:15, 20), which is laid out most fully in 2Cor 8-9.

            And this is in no way a substitute for Squirrel’s (hopefully forthcoming) reply. I look forward to his response as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/ Karl Heitman

    Thinking practically here, I have 2 questions:

    1) What if a man, let’s say for a season, can only afford to give little (way less than 10%) or no amount at all. Is this brother sinning?
    2) To sum it up, are we saying that the NT does not prescribe that a brother give a specific amount, no matter how little or how much as long as he gives cheerfully from a pure heart?

    This is a common question. I was saved at a church that really pressed the tithing thing. And I’m surprised how many evangelicals still teach it as a mandate for the church. Thanks for sharing.

    • Diane

      Karl-

      Read 2Cor 8:1-15. Paul is speaking of giving generously. Look esp. at verses 12-13.
      Paul says give according to what a person has. It is not the amount-it is the heart that matters. It is not good to give with a reluctant heart–to give if it is a burden and you resent it because you cannot afford to do so. It is NOT a sin to not “tithe.”

      2Cor 9:6-15 tells us to give cheerfully and in verse 7 tells us each is to decide in his own heart what to give. There is no specific amount. This portion of scripture admonishes us to be generous– as it is to our good to do so, and God is pleased.

      • Mommybrownf

        The good news in the new covenant eradicated the religionistic laws of the OT inclusive of tithing, The good news of the NT states that Jesus Christ is the good news. He came to eradicate the old religious practices of legalese/law.
        God came in the flesh to introduce Christianity in the way of JESUS CHRIST. Jesus offered his amazing grace so that we would be in dwelled with faith, love, peace, hope, etc., (in dwelled with Him) which would automatically prompt us to do his goodness. Faith in God automatically gives credence to us being cheerful givers. And though nowhere in the NT is there mention of percentage. I believe this would be a natural way to proceed with giving because if people give in love, faith and gladness we would more than often excel the percentage the OT mandated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=564295599 Trey Rose

    I think this theology is faulty (according my study.) However, my theology would be faulty according to your study. I do appreciate your passion, my friend.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks for commenting Trey,

      Jesse

  • http://www.facebook.com/seth.rima Seth Rima

    This is one of those topics that always seems to tongue twist me when I attempt to explain my thinking on it, but I’ll give it a college try.

    I agree that the demand to tithe is not something that we as Christians are under. I also believe that the only reason the Macedonians in 1 Corinthians are spoken of so highly by Paul is because they are an example for Christians to follow. They were giving generously and beyond their means. I agree that we should not give out of a reluctant heart, but, and this is where I have difficulty explaining my thinking, if we have a reluctant heart when it comes to our money, there is something much deeper going on.

    Of course we all have financial issues that crop up throughout our lives, but this passage seems to be a call to reject our earthly troubles as an excuse to store up for ourselves the necessary funds to live more comfortably. Of course, I don’t hold to any specific number, and although I do call my giving a “tithe”, I don’t do it religiously. It changes very often based on many variables. I definitely do struggle with worry at times, but I have found that if I remain focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the grace that God has shown me through that, I am inclined to give not necessarily “beyond my means” but rather, without my means in mind at all.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that, like all things, we are most faithful to God in giving, prayer, and every other aspect, when our heart is squared up on the Gospel and God’s redemptive, undeserved grace in our lives. Without that deeply rooted, our giving will be bound to our fallible human emotions and the worries of this temporary world.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      That is well said Seth. I hereby award your “college try” an honorary degree.

  • Gary

    NO ONE, absolutely NO ONE pays the Biblical tithe today.

    THE FIRST TITHE
    Leviticus 27:30-33 defines this tithe as a tenth of crops and animals in herds and flocks.
    Numbers 18 gives the ordinances, or instructions, for this tithe, and commands this tithe be taken to the Levites.
    Purpose of this tithe: to support the Levitical Priesthood.

    SECOND TITHE
    Deuteronomy 14:22-27: aka The Festival Tithe – a tenth of crops, plus add to that the firstborn animals, and take for the yearly feast.
    Purpose of this tithe: “that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always”

    THIRD TITHE
    Deuteronomy 14:28-29: aka The Three-Year Tithe aka The Poor Tithe – a tenth of crops, kept at home, and invite the Levites, widows, orphans, stranger to eat.
    Purpose of this tithe: to feed the poor.

    When God gave the Israelites the promised land, he RESERVED, for Himself, a tenth of the crops and every tenth animal. They NEVER did belong to the Israelites. In other words, the tithe was from God’s increase of FOOD, not from man’s income. It was a way to distribute FOOD to the Levites and priests who did NOT inherit any land.

    No one, not even the farmers, tithed on their income.

    The farmers made their income by SELLING and/or barter-exchanging their crops and animals but did NOT tithe on that income.

    Today, ALL born-again believers are priests. ALL of us are called to be deciples of the Lord. No one of us is higher than another. Our bodies are the Temple where the Spirit dwells. According to the scriptures, priests do not tithe.

    When you understand the Biblical tithe, it makes sense, and it is plain to see that it makes NO sense to try to tithe today.

    If anyone thinks they are following any of God’s tithing commands, they need to read those commands again. Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18, Deut. 14.22-29. NO ONE is following those commands today.

    Church leaders have deceived church goers since 1870 when they, the church leaders, not God, decided to CHANGE the teaching of the tithe from crops and animals to man’s income, and from taking the tithe to the Levites to taking the tithe to the church. How every sad so many Christians are lied to week after week, month after month, year after year.

  • Gary

    Regarding Matthew 5:

    Matthew 5:17-18 states Christ came to fulfill the law and not abolish it.

    This is where some education in law is useful. What does fulfill mean? What does abolish mean?

    Let me give an example. A legal contract is enforceable under the law. Let’s say you hire a contractor to build a swimming pool in your back yard. Once the contractor has completed the job, and everything in that contract has been completed, the contract has been fulfilled. The contractor’s job is to fulfill the contract, not abolish it. He fulfills it by completing the terms, bringing it to an end.

    Consider:

    Hebrews 8:13 (KJV) – In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

    Colossians 2:14 (KJV) – Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

    Galatians 5:18 (KJV) – But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

    Galatians 3:19 (KJV) – Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

    Until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. In other words, until Jesus came and fulfilled the law.

    Galatians 3:23-25 (KJV)
    23But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
    24Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
    25But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

    Galatians 3:10-14 (KJV)
    10For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
    11But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
    12And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
    13Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
    14That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

  • Steve Meister

    Thanks, Jesse. That’s helpfully concise. Amazing how often I still get that question…. my first response is usually along the lines of: “When our church starts offering sacrifices and garrisoning troops, I’ll let you know about the required tithe.” Probably not the most pastorally sensitive, but what can I say?

    My favorite is when the question comes from someone who goes out of their way to deny any continuing (moral) relevance to the 4th Commandment.

    Maybe consistency is, in fact, the hobgoblin of simple minds.

  • Eli Hu

    “The word tithing means giving ten-percent of income to the church.”

    10% of what income?
    Or putting it differently: What means of income is exempt from 10%.
    Much has been discussed about gross or net…which I feel leads to support of the notion that so-called tithing in America is utterly wrong…although I cannot find much at all, if anything regarding this idea of exemption.

    ~

    “Paul also implies that an offering should be taken weekly (1 Cor 16:2),”
    Are you insinuating that regardless of a church’s/pastor’s need, a weekly offering is commanded? I’d like some more direct textual support for that generalized (not just when specific saints are in dire need due to their previous offering for other needy believers, as in the 1 Cor passage) assertion, if you wouldn’t mind.

    It seem as though correcting one aberrant piece of tithe-teaching is insufficient if one still borrows from possibly-faulty admonitions regarding a so-called mandatory, weekly offering.

    Cheers!

    -Sarkasmos in IL

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Hey Eli,

      Sort of my point was that in the OT there were actually a few different tithes (listed in the comment thread). That is actually one of the many problems with seeing tithes in the NT. I’m saying all means of income is exempt from the 10% rule, because there is no NT 10% rule. Hope that helps.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Hey Eli,

      Sort of my point was that in the OT there were actually a few different tithes (listed in the comment thread). That is actually one of the many problems with seeing tithes in the NT. I’m saying all means of income is exempt from the 10% rule, because there is no NT 10% rule. Hope that helps.