A CLOSER LOOK AT TITHING
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
The Bible commands us to watch our lives and doctrine closely because the time will come when many will not adhere to sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 4:3). In modern mainstream churches, however, there are many leaders who have adopted the opinion that they are beyond challenge and rebuke; believing they have the exclusive authority and proficiency to interpret the scriptures of the Bible. According to God's word, such a vainglorious consensus is invalid. While it is important to respect and submit to those in authority in the Church (Heb. 13:17), the Word of God also instructs each and every believer to study, test, rebuke, and correct all teachings regardless of the status of anyone who claims to be called into the ministry (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16; 1 John 4:1).
The Apostle Paul was the most prolific writer of the New Testament. Nevertheless, despite his greatness, the Bereans "searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things (which Paul taught) were so" (Acts 17:11). These people, who were of noble character, were praised for examining the scriptures for themselves rather than blindly assuming that Paul's interpretations were scripturally accurate. The Bereans proved to be an exemplification of people who were diligent in studying and upholding the truth of God's Word.
Following the Berean paradigm, I have discovered that many doctrines taught in the modern church consist of an inter-mixture of truth, human traditions, legalism, and false doctrines. One such aberration is the indoctrination of monetary tithing for the new covenant believer. For many years numerous leaders in the church have subtly and flagrantly misapplied the laws of Old Testament tithing by strategically using isolated parts of scriptures inappropriately to redefine the context and statutes of the biblical tithe. Tithing has now become so thoroughly entrenched in the vast majority of Christian churches that it is popularly accepted as a foundational truth without a careful study of the biblical and historical facts.
What We Will Study
This informative publication takes an in-depth look at many of the common misunderstandings about tithing. With theological precision, it will be shown that there are some dramatic distinctions between Old Testament tithing laws and today's tithing principles that are taught in our modern churches. We will examine the historical facts about tithing; the practice of tithing before the Mosaic Law; tithing during the law; whether tithing was enforced after the establishment of the new covenant, and much more. It will be proven that the indoctrination of monetary tithing as a law or guideline has no legitimate standing within the new covenant church.
As you study along, I highly encourage you to brush aside any preconceptions … and like the Bereans, carefully weigh the evidence and verify scripture in context. Many of you will be staggered beyond your imaginations by the routine omission of key historical and biblical facts by numerous leaders in the church. It will become evident that tithing as taught today is misleading and fraudulent.
While there are many deceitful men who come in the name of God, let's not use this argument or any resentment as a reason against responsible giving. As believers in Christ, we should have an attitude of generosity towards those who are truly in need; including those who have been legitimately prepared and sent to preach and teach the gospel.
Oppositions to the Truth
Those of us who are earnestly seeking the verity of God's Word should rejoice in the truthfulness of the scriptures without objections. True and humble men of God do not become fearful or "stiff-necked" when someone challenges their teachings. And it is my hope that readers of this article will humble themselves and rethink their views if they currently support monetary tithing.
Realistically however, by reason of man's Pharisaical devotion to traditions and love for money, there are many who will oppose my teachings on this issue in spite of the crushing facts. Consequently, I anticipate some sneering, grumbling, and other forms of push-back from haughty false teachers who are intentionally propagating error for personal financial gain (Isaiah 56:11; Micah 3:11, 2 Cor. 2:17; 1 Tim. 6:9-10; 2 Peter 2:13).
On account false teachers are increasing in number and influence, I foresee similar disparagement from their loyal supporters … particularly from those who tithe pompously (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Moreover, from my experience communicating with many tithing proponents through personal dialogue, emails, and social media, it is my expectation that a significant number of individuals will ignore the truth by engaging in cognitive dissonance.
What is cognitive dissonance? For the purpose of this publication, "Cognitive Dissonance" is a reaction where people purposely shade their eyes to any biblical evidence that opposes their preferred doctrines. Those who engage in cognitive dissonance use one or more ego-defense mechanisms to rationalize and preserve their core beliefs. Many people would rather live in biblical error than reexamine and retract their previous held viewpoint. In the words of Frantz Fanon, he states:
"Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable …. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief." (Frantz Fanon, "Black Skin, White Masks")
The love of money is the primary motivating force of cognitive dissonance among false teachers. Their objective is to continue to disseminate erroneous doctrines onto compliant ears. They just want to be let alone; hoping not to get challenged with intelligent questions that expose the inconsistencies in their teachings.
Unlike false teachers, however, not every pastor or minister who teaches tithing is secretly seeking financial gain. While their motives may be sincere, they are functioning out of their own heart … presuming to have been appointed by God to the pastoral position.
Many of these pastors who have subscribed to a bogus tithing system accommodate cognitive dissonance while suppressing quality judgment skills. They are usually very fearful and biased. And thus, they are reluctant to discuss the facts about tithing. They do not believe their congregations will give sufficiently to support them in addition to meeting the financial cost of maintenance. They teach Christians to have faith in God, yet lack faith themselves in the area of receiving support. Therefore, a forced tithing system is taught as a matter of self-preserving expediency. In the words of R.C.H. Lenski, he says:
"A large number have had no faith or too little faith in complete voluntariness. They fear that this will not bring the needed and the desired sums. So they devise substitutes, all kinds of systems, schemes, and methods that seem to promise more than the giver’s own entirely free volition. Instead of depending wholly on such volition and stimulating it by means of pure gospel motivation as Paul does here, they use a little or great deal of legalism which acts as pressure, or they stoop to worldly, often rankly worldly, methods. So Christian voluntariness declines more and more. The odor of legalism and of worldliness makes the 'gifts' so obtained nauseating in the nostrils of God. The harvest of real blessings is lost? Tithing is Jewish. Applying a little Christian varnish changes nothing. Paul was reared as a Jew. If tithing could have been Christianized, the man who could and would have done it was Paul, and no better opportunity offered itself than this great collection which he planned for all his churches simultaneously. Paul shunned tithing. All the apostles shunned it. Not one word of Jesus favors it. His very mention of tithing is severely derogatory (Mat. 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:12). The only other mention of it in the New Testament is purely historical (Heb. 7:5-9). Is this not enough? More than enough! ‘Each one just as he has chosen for himself in heart!'" (Lenski, R. C. H., "The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians", Pages 1170-1172)
Pride … an ego defense mechanism of cognitive dissonance, is another factor among self-appointed teachers. They have been teaching tithing for so long that it is difficult to face up to the truth and find the humility to admit they are wrong. The notion that "I've made up my mind and nothing you say will change it. So don't confuse me with the facts" gives the impression that accepting correction will be a very complicated, if not an unfeasible task. They will judge the errors of others; but when their own errors are exposed, they engage in cognitive dissonance.
How Essential Is the Issue of Tithing?
There is a segment within the Christian community who acknowledge the misunderstandings and contentions that exist with the issue of tithing. However, they believe tithing is a nonessential doctrine; and thus, it should be a question of one’s personal convictions. If a believer elects to give ten percent of his income, he gives it to the Lord. If a believer elects to give any amount, he still gives it to the Lord. As such, we should therefore set aside our differing viewpoints and remain united in the faith.
Is that a valid conclusion? Would God agree? Should we invoke Romans 15:3 -- ("Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.")?
I will respond with an emphatic "No!" to those questions. Why? Because, if tithing is studied objectively and in proper context, it can be easily understood that it is not an issue that is applicable to the new covenant church. Moreover, contrasting the issue of monetary tithing with Romans 14:5 proves not to be a legitimate comparison since "church tithing" does not remotely resemble true biblical tithing.
Among other modifications, leaders in the church have changed agricultural products (Lev. 27:30-32) to monetary income. Changing, adding to, and subtracting from the Word of God are very serious matters.
"You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." (Deut. 4:2)
"Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it, you shall not add to it nor take away from it." (Deut. 12:32)
"Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar." (Proverbs 30:6)
In addition to indifferently and unashamedly changing God's old covenant tithing laws, many leaders in the church are using today's reinvented tithing scheme to frequently abuse their members. As a result, many church members are enduring undue psychological, emotional, and financial bondage.
Some churches put-on as if failing to tithe is a hazardously aspect of one’s relationship with God. There are a number of pastors who go as far as teaching tithing as a means of getting rich and gaining salvation. For any leader in the church to purposely butcher the scriptures and/or withhold the truth with the intent of manipulation and acquiring funds for any reason is guilty of theft by deception. Such an act is a moral crime. Therefore, this is an essential and extremely important topic that desperately requires confrontation and clarification.
Let's now examine tithing as commanded in Scripture and compare it to the modified teachings that suit the various purposes of false teachers and self-appointed ministers in numerous mainstream churches. We will commence our study by examining tithing before the Mosaic Law.