A member of our cellgroup asked me for my opinion of the article, and lent me a copy of the magazine. I thought I would post my response on my blog for the benefit of all my readers.
I have read the article thoroughly and examined all the scripture references used. The author basically makes 11 main points in his article outlined below.
1. I'd have to sell my son on eBay to be able to tithe
2. People in the "word of faith" movement believe in tithing
3. Tithing was only a command for agricultural workers
4. Tithing was not required every seventh year
5. Other Old Testament laws no longer apply
6. Jesus has fulfilled the law so we don't have to follow it
7. New Testament references to tithing were not addressed to Christians
8. The instances of tithing before the Law do not establish a general requirement to tithe
9. Periods of tithing in church history have been sporadic - the early church did not tithe
10. Tithing is not biblical
11. Tithing is legalistic and hence stunts maturity
I shall address each point in turn.
Point 1: I'd have to sell my son on eBay to be able to tithe
If we overlook the flippancy of this remark, and give the author the benefit of the doubt, what he is really saying is that he doesn't have enough money to balance his budget and so the tithe has to go. He actually puts the article into a personal context of where he has recently had to reduce his giving to the church that he leads.
This is an excuse rather than an argument. You always have enough for the things you value. There are people in the same situations as us, who only get paid 90% or less of the income we do, and get by fine. They make adjustments, because they have to. You can learn to live on 90% quite easily whatever financial pressures that come your way.
By saying the tithe has to go, you have revealed that the other expenditures on your budget are valued more highly.
Point 2: People in the "word of faith" movement believe in tithing
I'm not going to be drawn on this one. Despite the objections that proponents of the 'word of faith' theology generate, not even their fiercest critics can assert they have it all wrong. This is a clear example of an ad hominem argument, where the attempt is to discredit a statement based on the nature of the people who propose it. As such it is a cheap shot, and not worthy of any more time in response.
Point 3: Tithing was only a command for agricultural workers
Not in my Bible! Where does he get this from? I have examined all the passages of scripture he quotes and can find no such statement. I have also looked at all the verses in the Bible where "tithe" or "tenth" is mentioned, again nothing.
All I can think is that he is referring to the fact that the tithe is frequently mentioned in terms of crops or animals. But this is a theme that runs all through the Bible. Is it only agricultural workers who are blessed in Dt28? Is it only agricultural workers who are provided for? Is God himself only an agricultural worker because he only owns the cattle on a thousand hills?
This is reading between the lines, something that is not there. Numbers 18:26 says that the Levites were to collect the tithe from "the people of Israel," no qualification is given.
Point 4: Tithing was not required every seventh year
Strangely enough this verse is missing from my version of the Bible too!
I guess he is implying that since the tithe was described in terms of crops, and the Israelites were commanded to leave their fields fallow every seventh year they would have no crops to tithe. This is a very different argument than saying they were exempt from tithing. Their animals would still give birth during the Sabbath years, and there is nothing to say that they were exempt from the tithe in this year.
This is clutching at straws, and is a very poor and tenuous reason to imply that "Tithing was never a universal principle."
Point 5: Other Old Testament laws no longer apply
I will try to curb my vexation over this one. Anyone who knows me at all will know what a dim view I take on this argument.
Basically his argument boils down to: "Deuteronomy says we should tithe, but it also says we should stone blasphemers. We don't stone blasphemers, so why should we tithe?" In one fell swoop, his Bible has just become one book lighter!
Jesus himself quoted from Deuteronomy and gave no indication that its authority was diminished. In fact when he was tempted in the wilderness every response he gave came from the book of Deuteronomy. The Devil missed a trick if he didn't realise Jesus was quoting from an obsolete book, and the implication that Jesus himself was misapplying the scriptures is absurd!
As I have said before, we cannot just dismiss any book or command of God, just on the basis of where it comes in the redemptive history of man. Each must be taken on their own merit on the basis of how they transfer to the new covenant in the light of Christ and his work on our behalf.
Point 6: Jesus has fulfilled the law so we don't have to follow it
Yes, Jesus has fulfilled the law so we don't have to follow it. But again, to turn the argument on its head, the reason we don't have to follow the law is because Jesus has fulfilled it. It is easy to see how the sacrifices are no longer necessary, because Christ is our sacrifice, once for all. Circumcision is no longer necessary, because the cutting off of the flesh is no longer done by the hands of man, but by the Spirit, and the fulfilment is found in baptism, and thus we could go through all the laws and legal requirements and show how Christ has fulfilled them for us.
But how has he fulfilled tithing? As I have explained in a previous post in some detail, I really don't buy the dispensational notion that all the commands of God given during the Mosaic Law are a package deal that was just for a period of time. It doesn't fit with 2Ti 3:16 at all.
Point 7: New Testament references to tithing were not addressed to Christians
This is a really poor argument. Alarm bells always start ringing in my ears when someone tries to discount New Testament teaching on the basis of who the words were addressed to. If you can only accept the words of Christ that are addressed to Christians, then you would have to cut out everything before John 20!
We must remember that all the New Testament books were written by Christians for Christians, for the purpose of instructing Christians in their Christian faith.
This argument really does not hold water! If theologies that dismiss sections of the Old Testament get me wound up, those that attempt to ignore sections of the New.... (let's move on swiftly!)
Point 8: The instances of tithing before the Law do not establish a general requirement to tithe
This is the point I have the most sympathy with. I think it is true to a certain extent. The instances of tithing before the Law are in isolation insufficient to establish the principle of tithing.
However once one has accepted the principle of tithing, it is natural to follow the principle back to its source. These pre-law instances convey valuable truth on the "heart" rather than just the "requirement" of tithing. I don't think anyone could argue it was just coincidence that Abraham and Jacob gave a tenth and it was totally unrelated to the principle of tithing established in the law.
Point 9: The periods of tithing in church history have been sporadic - the early church did not tithe
The belief in justification by faith has also been sporadic. Anyone want to write an article that the Reformers got it wrong?
As for the statement "the early church did not tithe," here is a quote from the Didache, the earliest non-canonical Christian writing:
But every prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support. Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have no prophet, give it to the poor. If you make a batch of dough, take the first-fruit and give according to the commandment. So also when you open a jar of wine or of oil, take the first-fruit and give it to the prophets; and of money (silver) and clothing and every possession, take the first-fruit, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment.
It is clear in this document, that the early church did indeed give the first portion of their goods to support the ministries in their midst, "according to the commandments" of the Old Testament. Now because tithe is not mentioned, you could argue that this portion might not have been a tenth. But what else would it have been? Tithes and first-fruits are closely related in the word anyway, and may actually be one and the same. (Matthew, care to comment? - also, what do you think about the practice of giving the first glass of every bottle of wine to the prophets? ;-))
[Incidentally the Didache also reveals that the early church still recognised the ministries of apostle and prophet... but that's another debate!]
Point 10: Tithing is not biblical
This statement beggars belief! Something cannot be both "a clear command in the Old Testament" and "unbiblical" unless the Old Testament is no longer in your Bible!
Point 11: Tithing is legalistic and hence stunts maturity
Are all the commands of God to be viewed this way? Is it legalistic to get baptised? Is it legalistic to break bread? Is it legalistic to do what God says because he has said it?
The author of this article seems to be proposing that it is better to sacrifice freely than to obey a command of God. This is precisely the opposite to what my Bible says! (1Sa 15:21)
I will let the author himself have the last word.
Most Christians don't need freedom from tithing - or even freedom from the guilt of not tithing - they need freedom from consumerism.
Money is the clear and present danger, par excellence, for all Christians in the west. An absorbing materialism and stupefying consumerism which diverts our energies, twists our morality, distorts our understanding and renders impotent our faith. We dare not 'move on' from tithing without 'moving into' a more truly holistic and biblical approach to money. Anything less is to run headlong into a greater slavery.
It is a great shame that in tearing into tithing, he offers no indication to what this alleged "more truly holistic and biblical approach to money" might be. Tithing may seem like foolishness to some, but it is God's foolishness. Do we really think we know better?