25 February 2013
Should I tithe?
For some Christians, tithing is an important part of the expression of their Christian faith. For others, giving 10 per cent of their earnings away is an Old Testament practice which we no longer need to follow.
We asked a few experts what they think...
Michael O’Neill, CEO of Stewardship
The other day my son Declan, six, told me he wanted to be poor this year. Puzzled, I asked why. He replied: “Because that will mean I gave everything I have to the real poor people.” Declan never asked ‘how much?’. For him, giving was an act of worship and was an outward manifestation of his heart for Jesus and for the poor. For him, and for us, the question is not ‘should I tithe?’ The question is ‘what is my passion?’ Once we identify our passion, our treasure naturally follows. Those who understand stewardship, and understand that all we have comes from God also understand that the answer to the question ‘do I tithe’ is very easy. It’s yes! What we tithe is sometimes a more difficult response and depends upon the extent of our passion. Thankfully, Declan knows Jesus gave us everything, and he wishes to respond in kind.
Alan Wilson, doctor of ministry student
Should you tithe? Perhaps. The principle of tithing is clearly taught in the Old Testament, in fact even predating the Mosaic Covenant. What we sometimes miss is that there are several Old Testament tithes which, if taken separately, amount to 23 per cent rather than the basic 10 per cent. There is little mention of tithing in the New Testament. Jesus refers to it in his blazing critique of the religiosity of the Pharisees, but the question of whether he intended the practice to be mandated on his New Covenant people is not necessarily resolved there (should Christian gardeners tithe their daffodils?) and the emphasis in the rest of the New Testament is on a generosity that is inspired by the self-giving of Jesus. At the end of the day, is it not more important to realise that - like a Patek Philippe watch - none of our wealth is really ours to own? Regularly setting aside 10 per cent may help to remind us, but it should hardly be the sum total of our giving.
Redina Kolaneci, stewardship and fundraising consultant
It seems to me that throughout the Old Testament, the New Testament and history of the Church tithing has been part of the biblical writers’ and Christians’ response to the dilemma voiced by the psalmist: “What shall I return to the Lord for all His goodness to me?” (Psalm 116:12) In the Old Testament, God asked His people to bring the tithe to Him because He knew that excessive attention to wealth and possessions would hinder them from developing an intimate relationship with Him. The same is true of us today. That’s why I believe that tithing is a discipline that curbs our obsession with ‘money and stuff’ and frees us for a closer relationship with God.
Israel Olofinjana, team leader, Catford Community Church, and author of Reverse in Ministry and Missions : Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe
This is an interesting question with answers shaped by our theological and cultural understandings. To argue from an African and Caribbean church perspective, tithing is not optional but mandatory. This is based on the Old Testament practice of Jewish tithing. The affinity and similarities between the worldview of the Old Testament and that of many Afro-Caribbeans means that tithing is valued and seen as an important means in building our church community. Part of this understanding is what makes some African Christians dance for joy while giving their tithes! I am aware that the New Testament does not demand tithing but talks about generous giving according to our capacity. However, as an African whose worldview does not separate the Old from the New Testament, giving through tithes or other means is important.
Myles Wilson, author of Funding the Family Business
If we see tithing as a required activity we can slip into a legalistic response of ‘what’s the least I can give to be accepted?’. Better to start on a grace basis of ‘what’s the most I can give in response to God’s overwhelming love for me?’ Instead of giving 10 per cent and assuming we own the other 90 per cent, why not recognise that God owns 100 per cent? He graciously allows us keep what we need for our family needs with the rest available to invest in His Kingdom, using passages like Matthew 6 to guide what we keep and what we give.
Ched Myers, activist, theologian, biblical scholar
Tithing is misunderstood as just another churchly obligation. Biblically it is meant to be, like any sacrifice, a joyful response to the initiative of God (see for example Genesis 28:20-22). In the cosmology of grace, divine generosity animates gratitude, which in turn responds by circulating the gift of commonwealth. Thus tithing in Israel was originally a form of social mutual aid adjudicated through the cultic system (Deuteronomy 14:22-29); the Temple apparatus was a redistributive system in which surplus was shared with those in need. This is why priests who took more than their share of the tithe were labeled “robbers” (Malachi 3:8-12). Christians today can reinhabit this tradition through practices of gifting and mutual aid, best when organised through a church body.