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01 December 2014

Examining the theology of giving

Examining the theology of giving

Last Friday saw a dramatic rush on shops and supermarkets across the UK, as 'Black Friday' landed in a big way from the US. This is the first year that it has been wholeheartedly embraced over here, by both shoppers and companies. Over on threads, Paul Robinson has written an interesting article on how we might respond as Christians, pointing out the absurdity of sandwiching a day dedicated to giving thanks for all we have between days assigned to getting more. It does not say much for us, that we can so easily be marketed into devoting another day to shopping, despite the fact that we don't observe Thanksgiving itself.

Attempting to redress the balance, tomorrow has been designated as 'Giving Tuesday', a global day of giving financially to causes and charities across the world.

The world – and sadly, often Church too – presents Christians with a multitude of misleading, pseudo-biblical, misapplied messages when it comes to giving and receiving. Give, and God will 'honour' you by giving you back much more money, money is the root of all evil, Christians should sell all their possessions. Concepts originally rooted in scripture are shortened or taken out of context.

In theory, giving was simpler in the Old Testament. Tithes, ten per cent of produce and animals, were required by law. We know that Christ's death and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament law, even that "Christ is the end of the law" (Romans 10:4). Yet we also know that the majority of Old Testament law is reinforced in the New Testament and subsumed into the new covenant, not thrown out and ignored.

In the history of the world, tithing has a complicated position. Throughout various periods of time, the concept of tithing has been used by rulers to extort money in an effort to control populations and raise funds, funds that were then often used in questionable ways. This corruption led to rebellion against the concept, most notably from the Quakers. Tithing has waxed and waned in different denominations throughout the centuries.

Varying views on tithing and giving generally are reflected in today's Church;while many have rejected tithing as a cultural Old Testament practice, some evangelical circles have returned to tithing – or tithing as a minimum – as a useful discipline.

Two things are for sure. Firstly, statistics suggest most Christians give away two per cent or less of their income, with a small percentage of Christians never giving at all. Secondly, the New Testament sets a standard for giving that is above and beyond a ten per cent tithe. Give to everyone who asks you (Luke 6:30), freely give (Matthew 10:8), anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none (Luke 3:11).

This standard appears to have been lost in much of contemporary evangelicalism. The sad fact is this: where the doctrine of tithing has been thrown out, often so has generous giving altogether. Conveniently, no compulsion to tithe has resulted in Christians adopting a far lazier approach to giving. Undisciplined as we generally are, yet again we seem to prove that we don't do well when given freedom to respond to general principles, and that rules are sometimes for our benefit. If we can't be trusted to adopt the radical giving modelled in the New Testament, a requirement to tithe might be a good starting point.

The tithe is not supposed to be the goal, the point at which we can sit back and enjoy the rest ourselves. The tithe is only the starting point, the absolute minimum. It's the amount that was enforced on a people who were frequently resistant to giving anything. The immeasurable gift of Jesus to us should result in a desire to give generously to others, and therefore, back to God. But the truth is, and the statistics back this up, most of us aren't giving much at all. We're giving in a haphazard, 'as and when' fashion. Perhaps we intend to set up that tithe, but only after we've finished paying off that debt/after that pay rise at the end of the year/once the children have left home.

Giving is a bit like worship: we should do it whether or not we feel like it, and whether or not we receive in return. We should approach it as a discipline. We should not wait for a 'call' to do something we should already be doing in any case. It should not be based on our circumstances or a lack of substantial income, which is the value of using a percentage to establish giving. In fact, the New Testament suggests that the sacrifice of giving more when you have less is of value in itself, as in the story of the widow in Mark 12.

#GivingTuesday is a great opportunity to establish a proper, disciplined method of giving. Why not use part of your giving to help the Evangelical Alliance continue its vital work? We currently need supporters to help us by donating just £3 a month