The New Testament and Tithing
The matter of tithing in the New Testament has been misconceived on a grand scale. This is especially true in regard to financing the Christian Church (Greek: ekklesia, which means "congregation" or "assembly"). As most of us are well aware, some ministers have wanted to use the Old Testament tithing doctrine to support their fund raising enterprises. But the teaching of the New Testament does not revolve around the service of the Levites in the Temple. This has posed a problem in adopting the Old Testament tithe.
The New Testament shows a different set of legal precepts for financing Christian activities. True enough, when Christ was on earth he told his disciples that tithing was a doctrine still in force (even on the meagerest of substances), but this was before the ekklesia was established.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
• Matthew 23:23
Christ was not talking to members of the Christian ekklesia. He was speaking to the Pharisaical leaders of the Jews. And why not? The Pharisees were still within the Old Covenant system when Christ made his remarks. Even the Pharisees felt they were obligated to accept the Levitical regulations and Christ simply called their attention to those requirements. Jews at the time were supposed to pay the tithe.
Remember, while Christ was alive the Temple was still standing. The Levites and Priests were still performing their ordained functions and were then the legal recipients of the tithe. The New Covenant had not been introduced. Being under the Old Covenant administration at the time, it was only natural that Christ would tell the Pharisees to obey the law of tithing that Moses ordained. Indeed, before Jesus was crucified he even informed his disciples to offer animal sacrifices (Luke 5:14); to pay the annual half-shekel for the upkeep of the Temple (Matthew 17:24–27); and even to recognize the Scribes and Pharisees as sitting in Moses’ seat and to do as they commanded (Matthew 23:2–3).
All these requirements had nothing to do with the way the Christian ekklesia was later to conduct its activities. Only while the Old Covenant was in operation was it necessary to sacrifice animals, be circumcised, pay Temple tax, and (as Christ informed the Pharisees) to pay tithe.
But with Christ’s death and resurrection, the message of salvation was no longer centered on Moses and the Old Covenant. It was now focused on Christ Jesus and having faith in him. This brought in a whole new set of theological principles for people to believe and to practice. These new standards of belief had nothing to do with a physical Temple in Jerusalem, with physical sacrifices, with a physical priesthood, or with the physical tithe of the Old Covenant. The carnal regulations became redundant. They were simply "meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:10). Since Christ’s death and resurrection, all the physical ordinances of the Old Covenant (including tithing) were done away (2 Corinthians 3:6–18).
Some have assumed, however, that Jesus must have instructed those in the new Christian society to continue the use of tithing. This is not true. This would have been breaking the law of God’s covenant with Israel. The disciples were not Levites. They did not do service in the Temple. The Christian ekklesia was not governed by the physical rituals associated with the Temple services at Jerusalem. Even Christ did not use tithe money for any expenses he incurred while he was on earth. For example, Luke 8:3 says, as recorded in the Amplified Version,
"And Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered to and provided for Him and them out of their property and personal belongings."
Jesus and his disciples were supported by private funds from those who believed in his mission. Jesus was not a Levitical Priest and he could not legally receive tithe. The Book of Hebrews makes a major point of this. "It is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood" (Hebrews 7:14). Christ had to use personal monies for his work—not tithe.
Indeed, the matter of using free will offerings was insisted upon by our Lord. When Christ sent out the seventy, they were told:
"Go your way: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes ... and in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire ... and into whatsoever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you ... he that hears you hears me; and he that despises you despises me; and he that despises me despises him that sent me."
• Luke 10:3–16
At this early date in the ministry of Christ, the disciples were informed by Christ to take only that which was set before them. They were also instructed not to worry about operating some kind of major organization that depended on great quantities of money in doing the work. No large institution was then needed. Jesus said:
"Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment ... wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore take no thought saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink: or, wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek;) for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."
• Matthew 6:25–34
Christ did not concentrate on getting money. While he was preaching he admitted that he was so poor that "the Son of man has not where to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20). He was in poverty. "Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). And poor he was. He did not have enough money to pay the half shekel for the upkeep of the Temple (Matthew 17:24–27). And note this. He never had an overabundance of financial support. On one occasion Christ had about 5000 people following him (John 6:10). Had he taken as little as ten cents a day from each of them (far less than a tithe), he would have had $500.00 a day in our money for the use of himself and his twelve disciples. But our Lord took not a penny from anyone at this early date. Indeed, he did just the opposite. He multiplied five barley loaves and two small fishes into enough food to feed the 5000. He was more interested in giving people something than taking something from them. And as said before, both he and Peter were so "broke" that a fish had to fetch a shekel in order for them to meet their financial obligations to support the Temple.
Yet, one modern radio evangelist wrote that Christ was so well-off that his father had several businesses and homes over Palestine; that they had servants; and that they were prestigious upper-middle class citizens in the nation of Judah. What nonsense! This shows how far some people avoid the plain teachings of Scripture to support their erroneous opinions. The fact is (and let me make it plain), Christ was so poor from the materialistic point of view that the apostle Paul said that he had been in "poverty" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
The criterion that guided the mission of Christ in the matter of finances can be best summed up by Christ’s own words: "Freely have you received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). To the materialistic mind, however, it would seem ludicrous to imagine that any kind of work could function under such a system of "free offerings." Yet the ekklesia that Christ established operated quite effectively in accordance with such a principle. True enough, no gigantic religious organization evolved among the apostles as a result of this procedure, but strange as it may seem, the whole Roman world came to know what the Gospel was all about in a powerful way and (comparatively) it took so little time to do it. The work was done on faith, supported by the free will contributions of God’s people.
There are, however, some Christian denominations with strong central governments (and calling themselves "the True Church of God") that want none of this. They demand their members pay tithe monies for the service that the Church renders. They even go so far as to say that people are stealing from God if they do not send the tithe to them. Those who default are called "thieves." Non-payers are threatened with curses. They are told that God will bring them under financial or physical harm unless a full ten percent is given to the Church.
These types of religious organizations believe the role of the laity is to "sacrifice" for Christ, and for the ministry. They tell their people that their first responsibility is to the Church and the second is to themselves or their families. The truth is, Christ does not demand that people sacrifice the welfare of their families to pay him money. Christ said he desired mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 12:7). Why is it that some ministers today clamor for just the opposite? Some insist that people should sacrifice [sacrifice even their homes, their physical welfare, jeopardize the good of their families, etc.] so that they might obtain mercy from God. Such a principle is not only nonsense—it is absurd. Really, such a teaching is in real contrast with Christ’s commands that it hardly needs to be asked which system is "Christian" and which is that of "money-minded" men?
What will be shown in the next chapter is the fact that the Christian ekklesia should be given free will contributions by those who claim to be Christians so that the work of proclaiming the Gospel can be accomplished. In no way should the tithe of the Bible be used for Christian purposes, but the free will contributions that are given are all that is needed. They, however, can be a barometer to the giver to show the amount of love and concern he or she has for the work of the Father, for Christ Jesus, and for all in the world who need to hear the Gospel of Christ.
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