Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Tithed Alive

I sat through a very polite discussion on tithing, screened this evening with mainly Pacific Island Christians participating. In Pasifika congregations tithing tends to be the norm, and then there often are further financial obligations laid on (mainly poor) members. In one Auckland Tongan church the pastor has just handed down instructions that each family is expected to donate a thousand dollars to a special cause. To then fail to do so would be to lose face. In a number of churches the weekly offering is read out in services. Not the total, but what each family gave that week. Not even my former affiliation, which had honed tithing to an art form, approached that degree of brutal, manipulative crassness.

It wasn't too much of a surprise to hear the same sad old proof texts trotted out, especially Malachi 3:8-12. One woman actually asked a Palangi pastor on the show whether she would go to hell if she failed to tithe!

It continues to amaze me that this discussion is relevant in the twenty-first century. We know that the Malachi text is talking about the Jerusalem Temple with its grain silos. We know that tithing never meant "ten percent" in a culture that knew nothing of decimal points. We know that tithing was on the agricultural increase, not on paychecks (which didn't exist then.) We know that Jews outside Palestine were under no obligation to tithe - and in fact were not permitted to tithe as such. We know that Jews today do not tithe, as there is no temple and therefore no legitimate place to tithe.

Pastors who preach rigorous tithing today are either ignorant or deceitful. There isn't much middle ground between those two options. It simply isn't possible to tithe biblically today. Talk of a "tithing principle" is complete nonsense. You could argue, based on the fact that income generated outside Palestine was not tithable, that the "principle" then determines that today no foreign investments are tithable. Frankly, I've yet to see a tithe-farmer teach that, but why not?

(Coincidentally, today a work colleague remarked that she was amazed when attending a wedding recently, to discover that the church had a prominently displayed eftpos terminal installed. She was so surprised in fact, that she took a photograph!)

Perhaps the saddest part of the program was when a Pasifika Labour MP suggested that, faced with the thousand dollar ultimatum from the pastor mentioned above, anyone unable to comply should simply go to the Big Man, cap in hand, and plead their extenuating circumstances. This amounts to abject grovelling, reinforcing the imaginary power of the pastor. Bad advice. Better solution, find somewhere else to go. That may not be so easy when your family and cultural ties are invested heavily in a particular church. Even better solution, laugh openly at the suggestion, ignore it, and encourage others to treat it with the disdain it deserves.

The only power totalitarian preachers have is that power that is given to them by people who abdicate their personal responsibility and autonomy. That's easier to appreciate in an individualistic, Western worldview, though it might also blind us to the strong features of Pasifika culture. However, if nothing else it's good to see these issues being addressed. As one participant observed, if God blesses the faithful tither, Pasifika New Zealanders should be the most affluent section of our society, not among the poorest! Hopefully this kind of dialogue is a harbinger of change.


  1. This is a photo a friend took of me during the last sermon I heard the minister speak of the "tithing principle" click here

  2. That's excellent. If I was preaching tithing the Haka would scare me for sure.

  3. While I do disdain this sort of preaching and teaching, tithing (in the modern sense) is an incredibly rewarding practice. Returning to God what God has given us, allowing the church (if it's a good one) to continue it's ministries of Word, Table and Helps, is important. Relinquishing that which binds us (for many it is money; not wanting to give it away, etc.), is part of the Christian life.

    I am not a pastor, yet I would encourage anyone to tithe (at least 10% if not more). It is a practice of giving for the sake of others that changes one's heart.

    That said, I wouldn't give a church that does anything described above a dime.

    (The one thing missing in your rail against tithing is what the New Testament has to say about giving. Those who have anything worth giving are encouraged to give by St. Paul in several Epistles - that money is given to other churches and not directly to "the poor". What do we do with that?)

  4. "Those who have anything worth giving are encouraged to give by St. Paul in several Epistles - that money is given to other churches and not directly to "the poor". What do we do with that?"

    Ignore it. Eusebius and Constantine were trying to get an empire off the ground, of course they were going to shill for it through the interpolation of (already-suspect) texts, written pseudepigraphically.

    "That said, I wouldn't give a church that does anything described above a dime."

    Oh, really?

  5. Someone once said "Why does God need money?"

    Its purely a human concept.

    My beef with tithing is it equates a human organization with the deity. They are not one in the same.

    Why don't churches just be honest and say they need money from their members?

    Give up the dishonest claim that by giving to them you are giving to God. Its got NOTHING to do with God.

  6. Eric,

    Unless a church is operating a food bank, soup kitchen, free clinic or other such community help programs, tithing becomes dues to a private club. The more money it take in, the more lavish the facilities are.

    Oh, and money collect to "convert the heathens" or do "missionary work" is wrong on so many levels, I don't even know where to start. Basically sponsored religious fascism.

  7. This topic is one of the things with which I wrestled, as I began to understand the New Covenant, and became enlightened to believer status.

    As a business owner, and as an investor, I have to say that it is indeed very difficult if not impossible to tithe strictly. Quite a bit is expended in order to gain any sort of increase, and it becomes very difficult to identify factors which would diminish from one's tithe. Also, if an investor were to have gold holdings, the gold has absolute value, but the currencies into which it can be redeemed can fluctuate upwards or downwards. Imagine attempting to calculate tithes based on this!

    I believe that the general principle taught in the New Testament is freewill offering. It's been suggested that such offerings amount to at least 10% as God's minimal guideline. I've found that many churches which teach tithing also require the signing of a covenant membership document, some of which mandate that the tithes go specifically to that church. But, I enjoy sending offerings to the folks who are distributing shoes, medical supplies, and providing wells and education for some of the poor African countries, and also contributing to an organization which provides wheelchairs and spiritual nurturing to the handicapped. I'll also include offerings to the church where I regularly receive spiritual nourishment, but I deliberately refuse to budget all of my offerings to them soley.

    At WCG, I was deeply troubled by the tithing system in a few very poignant ways, but since returning to belief, have come to appreciate the opportunities to help others, and to spread the gospel.


  8. People in ancient Israel didn't get paychecks? Of course not, but then, many people worked for wages, and received those wages at the end of the work day.

    The wealth came from the land, and from the land came the tithes. There wasn't this dishonest method you see extant in various countries where the same wealth is taxed every time it changes hands. Once was enough for God...

    No man or church has the right to alter Scripture or its application. Only the ignorant (and this would seem to be a forced ignorance) and wolves would dare do so. Teaching a Christian community to tithe is theologically about as low as you can go, given the comments in Acts 15.