Financing the Work of Christian Organizations
Let us notice what happened when Christians first began to organize in the first century. We are told in the New Testament that three thousand people became Christians on Pentecost in 30 C.E. A new Christian community then appeared on the scene. We read in the fourth chapter of Acts how the financing of that group came into existence.
"And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common ... neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."
• Acts 4:32–35
Clearly, this was no tithing system being used. Tithe was never mentioned as a means for financing these Christian activities. Yet, in many cases, what those people gave was far more than a tithe. Why did they do it? Simply because they saw that the work of God needed to be adequately supported, and they felt motivated by the Spirit of God to finance it. This communal action of the first Christians was not intended to be the standard for Christian groups for all ages to come. This is because those people who were then in Jerusalem had come to the feast of Pentecost from all over the Roman Empire and they wanted to stay longer in Jerusalem to hear the apostles speak about the Messiah and his teachings. This contribution of monies to support these people while in Jerusalem was a special case, but it was motivated by a desire to give the opportunity to these pilgrims to hear this new teaching that was coming forth from the newly invigorated apostles of Jesus. The people simply did not want to miss out on this important teaching. That is why they decided to sell some lands in order to stay longer than they originally designed because they ran out of money with which to keep themselves.
The Sin of Ananias and Sapphira
The most essential part of early Christian giving was a proper attitude they expressed in their desire to teach the Gospel to others. A lapse of such an attitude is given in the account of Ananias and his wife Sapphira. The couple decided to sell their property and donate the funds for the support of the new Christian community at Jerusalem. Again it did not involve a matter of tithing. Peter said to Ananias: "While it [his property] remaines was it not your own? and after it was sold, was it not in your own power?" (Acts 5:4). In other words, the money that Ananias had obtained by selling the property remained his own. It was not ordained that he had to tithe any part of that money. A problem emerged, however, when he and his wife held back some of it though he said he was giving it all for the work of the Gospel. They were, in a word, hypocrites.
The difficulty with Ananias and Sapphira was not in what they gave or did not give, but in their lying. They said they were giving all, when they didn’t. This incensed Peter. Peter said: "Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and keep back a part of the price of the land." He went on to say: "You have not lied unto men, but unto God." It was their lying that prompted God to strike down Ananias and Sapphira, not because they held back some of their money. The matter of tithing had nothing to do with the situation at all. In this matter, Peter took no tithe from the people. That was illegal to do in the first place. Peter was no Levite.
How Did Paul Finance His Work?
Paul never used biblical tithe to support his preaching of the Gospel. Paul was too trained in biblical law to suggest such a thing. It would have been illegal for him to take tithe because he was from Benjamin, not from Levi.
There is scriptural information that shows the manner in which Paul’s work was financed. He was by trade a tentmaker. He even exercised the trade while preaching the Gospel and to some extent supported himself by working at tentmaking. In the funding of his work, Paul tells us in a number of places how it was financed and how he wished it to be supported. In Acts 20 are recorded Paul’s words of farewell to the Ephesian elders:
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood ... I have coveted [Greek: "desired"] no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, you yourselves know, that these hands have showed you all things [Paul supported himself and helped others by the labor of his own hands], how that so laboring [with your own hands] you ought to support the weak [Moffatt: "needy," Rieu: "poor"] and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"
• Acts 20:28, 33–35
Paul expressed a proper Christian attitude in his dealings with men—including members of the Christian community. He not only on occasion worked with his hands to support himself, but he had a little left over to help others in need.
It is revealing that Paul spoke many times about supporting the ministry and that Christians ought to give monies for the propagation of the Gospel, but not once did he refer to an Old Testament scripture about tithing to show authority for it. For many years when I was a member of a certain denomination, I thought tithing was a law for the Christian Church. But when I taught it, I always had to appropriate Old Testament scriptures (plus the mint and cummin example given by Christ) to sustain its supposed relevance. Yet I was always amazed that Paul never used such scriptures when he discussed the matter of monetary support. Why? Simply because he knew better. Those "tithing scriptures" of the Old Testament did not (and do not) apply to financing Christian activities and Paul knew it.
Paul, though, did need financial help to teach the Gospel. In 2 Corinthians 11:8 Paul wrote: "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service." It has been said by some ministers that Paul had been taking tithe from other churches in order to give a free preaching service to the Corinthians. Nonsense! If that is so, why does he use the word "robbed"? When the Levites of the Old Testament took tithe of other Israelites, the other tribes of Israel were not being "robbed." Paul’s usage of "robbed" was to prick the conscience of the Corinthians to let them know that others were paying their way for them while they paid nothing.
Furthermore, if the Corinthians were expected to tithe to Paul in the Old Testament manner, Paul would have been forcing them to break the laws of God if he refused to take their tithe. In fact, he did not want to burden them by taking money from the Corinthians. "And in all things have I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself" (1 Corinthians 11:9). Paul "kept himself" by working at tentmaking.
To say these scriptures written by Paul "prove" tithing, is a classic example of reading into Scriptures what is not there. True, Paul did give an Old Testament example in 1 Corinthians 9:9 that one should not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads the corn. But this had nothing to do with tithing. If tithing were an ordained method of funding the Christian ekklesia, why didn’t Paul merely quote Leviticus 27 or Malachi 3 which commanded tithing? Paul knew better! He could not legally quote those scriptures because they didn’t apply to any Christian activities.
Still, Christian workers needed to be supported. Paul continued on with 1 Corinthians 9:14: "Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel." This is fair enough. Just as an ox had the right to eat from the corn which it treads, so should proper teachers or ministers of the Gospel also be supplied with funds. But the ox did not get a prescribed tithe. He simply got a share of the work, and the ox deserved it!
With this, it should be no surprise why Hasting’s Dictionary of the Apostolic Church states,
"It is admitted universally that the payment of tithes or the tenths of possessions, for sacred purposes did not find a place within the Christian Church during the age covered by the apostles and their immediate successors."
Likewise the Encyclopedia Britannica records, "The Christian Church depended at first on voluntary gifts from its members." And the Americana says: "It [tithing] was not practiced in the early Christian Church." Even the New Catholic Encyclopedia, published by a denomination that later called on its members to pay tithes, states: "The early Church had no tithing system ... it was not that no need of supporting the Church existed or was recognized, but rather that other means appeared to suffice." These quotes are under the articles "Tithe" or "Tithing" in each case. There is not the slightest evidence in the New Testament, or in early Church History, to show that the Christian Church used the tithing system of the Old Covenant to finance its operations. After all, they were sensible enough to know that it would have been illegal for them to have done so. The early Christian authorities knew that they were not Levites.
The fact that the laws of tithing were no longer applicable for the Christian Church (because the Christian ekklesia did not need Levites and Priests performing the rituals of the Temple) now gave people the opportunity for providing free will contributions (that is, offerings of their own volition) for the upkeep of the ekklesia and the teaching of the Gospel of Christ to the world. Look at the advantage this gives the Christian. While an Israelite in Temple times when the sacrificial services required the Levites and Priests, the Israelite would not be giving free will offerings until he or she had paid the tenth to the Levites. Now it is different.
The rules are now changed. Since tithing is not applicable for members of the Christian ekklesia, all the money (and this includes all the increase of crops and animals) belongs to the Christian who produces the income. This means 100% of his or her income still belongs to the income producer as far as God is concerned. Now some of that money will go to pay taxes (and the Bible states that taxes should be paid—Romans 13:6–7), but as far as God is concerned, 100% of the money Christians earn is theirs. This means that when a Christian gives the first 1% of income to support the work of the Gospel, that 1% is from the start reckoned as a free will offering. If one gives 5% or even 10% (or whatever one gives), it is ALL a free will offering. But with the tithing system which was in force in the Old Testament, that 1% (or more) of free will offering only started after one gave the required 10% to the Levite. But with Christians, all the support is reckoned to be free will.
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