By Howard Tundu
Being called in this time when many things or doctrines have been taught and embraced without scrutiny, I have noted that as ministers and believers we need to be very careful and not adopt everything as relayed to us by our predecessors. One area where the church has adopted different approaches is the giving or paying of Tithes.
In some cases, some churches won’t recognise certain believers as members of their churches if they would not tithe. Some teach tithing from gross income whilst some from net income. Reference is also made in some cases to the Book of Malachi where curses are pronounced upon non-tithers. I am going to briefly touch on major areas of argument when Tithes are being discussed and I have written a Book where a more thorough discussion can be accessed. I am now going into the major sections in brief by looking at particular incidences.
Genesis 14 gives an account of Abraham coming from conquering certain kings meeting Melchizedek the priest who then spoke words of praise and blessings and gave wine and bread to Abraham who in turn gave him a tithe of the spoils of war. The remainder Abraham gave to the King of Sodom and did not want people to say Abraham was blessed from this loot.
There is no scripture showing God giving instructions about tithes that time. It was a tithe given out of the spoils of war and at a time when Abraham was already blessed. The Bible only mentions this incident and no other accounts of Abraham giving a tithe. Research into pagan kingdoms around where Abraham lived shows that people were paying 10% of their land produce as tribute to Kings.
It is possible that Jacob got the idea of a tithe which he promised to give God if He would surely fulfill His promises and bless him from practices of tithes tribute to Kings in those kingdoms. This shows that our father of faith Abraham only gave his tithe as a free will gift whilst Jacob’s pledge was a bargain with God and there is nowhere the Bible obligates everyone to emulate this. In any case, the fact that Jacob made a pledge to give tithes if God would fulfill His Word shows that it was not an obligation in the first place since an obligation would have left him with no choice.
It is therefore very inadequate and improper to model the doctrine of tithes in the New Covenant from Abraham and Jacob’s incidences. Those who want to teach tithes basing on these incidences do not have scriptural backing to show that God required such kind of giving from believers. However, those who want to emulate and give as a free will or once off tithe can do so and not make it an obligation for other believers.
The Mosaic Tithe/ God’s Tithe Instructions under the Law
The Mosaic tithe was an obligation from God for the Jews during the law. The tithe was only from the produce of land and animals. It was in three forms (taken from Deuteronomy chapters 12 and 14) as follows:
Festival tithe: Tithers were to eat their tithes during festivals. They were to eat with Levites, orphans and strangers who had no land inheritance. The festival tithe was for the first two consecutive years’ produce.
The Levite’s tithe: This was the third year’s tithe and was meant for the Levites and strangers and others who had no land inheritance.
The Priest’s tithe: This was given by the Levites to the priests out of the Levite’s third year tithe. This is mostly the one referred to when in Malachi the Bible says bring the whole tithe to the store house.
Both the Levite’s and Priest’s tithes were not being given every year but every third year after the Festival tithe. An example in the current year would see tithes for years 2017 and 2018 being eaten by tithers whilst sharing with others who did not get land inheritance during festivals (people eating own tithes) then in the year 2019 it would be tithes for Levites and Prisets.
The Mathew 23:23 Jesus mentioned Tithe
There is a tendency to think that everything mentioned in the New Testament is for the Christians to practice forgetting that Jesus’ life is mentioned in the New Testament though at that time He came to people who were still held by the Old Covenant. These people were still required to observe all the requirements of the law; Christ cancelled and fulfilled the Law at the cross when His blood was shed for a New Covenant. Rom10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being religious in nature as they delighted in tithing whilst neglecting more important matters of the Law (Matthew23:23). He told them they had to practice everything of the law for their righteousness to be counted. People establish doctrine for believers from this rebuke of the Pharisees and this is a fatal mistake since we know these people were still living under the law when Christ came. They teach that Christ did not give an alternative way to the tithe yet the Bible is full of teachings and examples from Christ and the apostles about New Testament giving.
Jesus was simply commending on matters concerning the Law in Matthew 23:16-23, to people who thought they were right in their adhering to the Law. It is simply mentioned in the New Covenant because this is where we find Jesus’ Words but he was addressing people who were living under the Law and failing to uphold the more important matters of the Law. The preceding verses, Matthew 23:16-22, clearly settle any controversy with regards to Jesus’ teachings about the Law appearing in the New Testament. This is in the sense that Jesus pointed out how they had been supposed to observe the Law of Moses correctly:-
Mt.23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, `If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’Mt. 23:17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?Mt. 23:18 You also say, `If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’Mt. 23:19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?Mt. 23:20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.Mt. 23:21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.Mt. 23:22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
Jesus is highlighting that the Jews’ teachings on swearing and vows were erroneous and teaching them to swear correctly, even to swear by heaven. This appropriately contradicts Matthew 5 where Jesus was giving New Testament commands and says we should not swear at all, neither by heaven itself.
Mt. 5:33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’Mt. 5:34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;Mt. 5:35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.Mt. 5:36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.Mt. 5:37 Simply let your `Yes’ be `Yes’, and your `No’, `No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
It shows Jesus was not giving New Testament commands in portions of Matthew 23 but was simply exposing the erroneous beliefs of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law and showing them the correct way of upholding the Law. Thus Jesus was simply commending and addressing issues which were appropriate only as far as the Law was concerned and not the New Testament way. There is no any record where Jesus and the early preachers taught believers to tithe in the New Covenant.
They simply taught us to give liberally, to support gospel ministers, to give to the poor and do other charity works. The law was only fulfilled and done away with at the cross when Jesus’ blood was shed for a New Covenant. Even after that, the Jews sought to continue to observe the law and it brought sharp debates in the Church. Even the apostles themselves like Peter sought to identify themselves with the law when it was convenient and Peter was rebuked by Paul one of the days.
The Book of Hebrews seeks to enlighten believers that we have a better covenant and a high Priest Jesus Christ as compared to the Old Testament Levitical priesthood. God had promised in Psalms 110 that Christ’s priesthood would be after the order of Melchizedek in that it would be eternal and superior.
In proving that Melchizedek’s priesthood was higher and superior to the Levitical priesthood hence Christ’s is also superior, the writer of Hebrews argues that the Levites and all Israelites, who were in the loins of Abraham paid to a higher priest Melchizedek when Abraham paid that known once off tithe out of the spoils of war. The same happened when the tithes were paid to someone higher in Office, i.e. the people paid to the Levites, and then the Levites would also pay to the Priests in that order.
One can as well say all Christians who are now the sons and daughters of Abraham today paid that once-off tithe in Abraham when he paid 10% of the spoils of war to Melchizedek. The Book of Hebrews Chapter 7 does not say tithes have to be paid by Christians in the New Covenant but it proves the superiority of Christ’s priesthood and the doing away with Old Covenant laws and principles (including tithing).
Jesus never received tithes since He was from the tribe of Judah, only Levites would receive tithes. His profession did not require him to pay tithes since He was a Carpenter and not a Farmer. Jesus’ ministry was supported by gifts offered freely as in Luke 8:1-3; 9:1-6; 10:3-16; Matthew 10:1-10, Mark 6:7-11.
The Bible has no record of anywhere the apostles taught the issue of tithing. The Bible’s 2Corinthians Chapters 8 and 9 mention a lot about giving and this could have afforded Paul the opportunity to teach about tithing. The Apostles encouraged and taught believers to give liberally as the Lord would prosper them and as determined in one’s heart.
All the believers
It is also evident the Believers in the New Church were not in the habit of tithing; they gave as they would decide personally as reflected in the Books of Acts2:42-46; Acts4:32-35; Acts 11:27-30; Acts 20:33-35; Romans15:25-28, 2Cor. 8; 2Cor.9, 1John3:17-18 and others.
In the Book of 1Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul instructed Christians to save in order to contribute to the needs of the poor a sum in proportion to one’s prospering. Some people have assumed that Paul meant 10% and this is clear dishonest handling of scriptures. In all cases, people would personally decide on the sum to give and contribute. Ananias and Sapphira were punished for lying that they were giving everything when they had the ‘liberty’ to decide on what they wanted to give without being compelled.
Early New Testament believers pooled their resources and shared equally (Acts4:32-37 etc). Through the kind of liberal giving, early believers gave unselfishly, generously and without pressure. The result was; the poor were well provided for, the ministers’ needs were met, and abundant resources were distributed to the needy. Believers could even mobilize resources for the support of fellow Christians in other locations.
In the New Testament, all believers are now kings and priests together with Christ who is our high Priest. The apostles taught that we have to work for a living. It is true gospel ministers have the right to be supported. Paul also had the right to be supported but he sometimes resorted to his trade through which he supplied his needs and those of his companions when the churches were ignorant and needed further enlightenment.
However, the other apostles and the poor received support from enlightened believers. Their needs were supplied through the pooling together of resources in a liberal way synonymous with the liberal gospel of Christ. Christ owns us and everything we have belongs to Him, not a mere percentage. We also own everything together with Him.
The Book of Acts chapter 15 highlights some of the problems brought about by those people who sought to mix the Law and Grace. It is fortunate they never taught tithing though they sought to continue with circumcision and other ceremonial laws. Circumcision was given to Abraham as an everlasting covenant!
Ours is now spiritual circumcision of the heart not the one in the flesh. Note, it was a matter of choice for the Israelites who got born again in Christ to continue observing the law but preachers like Paul would strongly encourage them to embrace the full grace through Christ. Peter also said it is by faith in Christ Jesus we get saved and insisted that it would be improper to carry the yoke they and their forefathers had failed to carry.
How to Support Ministers Today
Those who are called to be gospel ministers in the New Covenant are fellow brothers with other believers and Jesus Christ advised they should not be lords in the Church. Where it is to support the gospel and these ministers, all believers have responsibility to put systems in place to support them in a way which is liberal. Where they are honored, it is not to carnally revere them but simply to treasure them as servants of God.
The church can agree on certain fund raising means to support the gospel and its ministers in a way which is liberal and believers should be taught that giving opens crucial doors for blessings. In Luke 6:38 Jesus says give and it will be given to you, the measure you use will be used unto you as well. It is this crucial statement that shows that those who give bountifully will receive in abundance whilst those who give sparingly will receive little as well, without any condemnation attached.
Believers are expected to give to God all the times or even set aside resources to finance the gospel work and to help others in a liberal manner as it is God’s will that everyone should support the gospel. The offerings, gifts, pledges, voluntary subscriptions, donations, and other form of voluntary giving or gifts will support the ministry work, God’s servants, and those in need and the less privileged.
We can stick to Scriptural ways of giving and God will watch over His Word and enable us.
Howard Tundu is a Pastor at Glory Assemblies of Christ and can be contacted at http://gloryassemblies.org