26 June 2015
Should churches tithe?
by Charlie Osewalt
On 8 March I was asked to speak at a church in Cambridge. They are in the midst of raising £7 million for a new church building. On each of their building giving days a portion of their offering is presented to another charity. The day I was speaking they presented the first fruits of their building fund offering to Tearfund. They do this whether they are above or below their building goal. They believe in generosity. Additionally, they are following Paul's instruction to all the churches he planted, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: "Regarding the relief offering for poor Christians that is being collected, you get the same instructions I gave the churches in Galatia. Every Sunday, each of you make an offering and put it in safekeeping. Be as generous as you can."
Practically – so churches can budget and plan, pay the electric bills and the staff and also we can worship as a community – we are to give our first fruits to the church each Sunday. When teaching about giving in his letters to the church in Corinth, Paul then is not talking about tithing. Paul is talking to the church and others about something much more - something of the heart. He is speaking about generosity; he is speaking about grace in giving.
His answer to how we should give as communities is: be as generous to others as Christ was generous to you. Overflow in your generosity and it will cause overflow to you. Therefore, churches are called to radical generosity. Tithing is not the same as generosity - although it may help as some form of indicator. But if the tithe is thought of as only "giving money" – as opposed to people, staff time and resources – then truly, tithing is a poor indicator.
Here is Paul's description: "Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colours. They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could — far more than they could afford! — pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.
"This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives. That's what prompted us to ask Titus to bring the relief offering to your attention, so that what was so well begun could be finished up. You do so well in so many things — you trust God, you're articulate, you're insightful, you're passionate, you love us — now, do your best in this, too" 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (MSG).
Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth has two parts. The first seven chapters speak about the church's struggles and how their love refreshed Titus, who had just returned to Paul. The second part of the letter is mainly about the Macedonians' churches.Titus is bringing the above letter to the church in Corinth. Previously, they promised to give a special offering to the Jerusalem church, but had not completed the promise. We have it today because they finished well; they gave generously.
On the surface, the Macedonian churches couldn't be more different than the church in Corinth. Macedonia had many small churches in what was basically a rural community; whereas Corinth was a large, diverse church in a sprawling city. What both churches had in common was an understanding of grace. Grace is another expression of generosity. Macedonians first gave themselves totally to God and then, in a new community, they gave to others. Facing severe trials and extreme poverty, the churches pooled their resources together and gave a rich offering to the plague stricken community in Jerusalem. They didn't give a number or a percentage of the net or gross. They gave all they could – and more. They did not tithe. The Macedonian churches worked together to model generosity. They gave their best.
We are under grace, not the law; love, not obligation; generosity, not the tithe. God wants us to give out of our understanding of His gift - His son to us.
Should churches tithe? No, but they should be generous with all their hearts. Why? Because of His heart; because of His indescribable gift: His son Jesus.