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Ten Percent

by Tim O'Hearn

Some churches make tithing an important requirement for their members. Everyone is expected to give at least ten percent of their income to the church. I even knew of a church in the Philippines that expected every member to declare their annual income. At the end of the year they would bill members for the difference between what they had already given and one-tenth of their income. If a person did not pay the bill, they were excommunicated from the church. When it comes down to it, such churches justify their requirement for a tithe (Middle English for 1/10) by the Jewish requirement to give a tenth of the produce of the field.

The first problem with such a requirement is that it applies one law where that law may not apply. Just because God required a tithe of the Jewish people does not imply that it is necessary for someone who is not Jewish. New Mexico has an income tax. Texas has none. I could not get away with failure to pay my New Mexico taxes by arguing that Texas has no income tax. Nor, if I still lived in Texas, would I expect the government to bill me for the equivalent of a New Mexico income tax. I would expect to pay under the law where I currently lived. So it is with the tithe. Those who were not part of the physical nation of Israel were never expected to pay a tithe. Nor should they be so required today.

A second problem with what churches require as a tithe today is that it even ignores the Jewish law. That law is expressed in Deuteronomy 14:22-27.

Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, Then shalt thou turn it into money, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household, And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.

Moses goes on to say that every third year the entire tithe is to be presented to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. That is, every three years it went to the local welfare system.

Two things are notable about the tithe. First, for two of every three years it was to be consumed by the one giving it. It did have to be eaten in a specific place, and for the specific purpose of praising God for all the good he had blessed the individual with during the year. While even part of that tithe was to be designated for those who had no income, the majority belonged to, and stayed with, the giver. Second, the tithe of the third year was used exclusively for feeding the poor. How many churches that demand a tithe today would put two-thirds of it back to be used for member pot-luck meals, and give the other third to a soup kitchen? Generally, they expect to use the tithe for operating expenses, paying the preacher and other staff, building expansion and maintenance, and countless other expenses, few of which have anything to do with eating. Their concept of a tithe has nothing to do with Godís requirement.

There is nothing wrong with giving a tenth of oneís income to the church, for whatever purposes the church uses it. While a Christian is to give willingly, and ďas he has prospered,Ē most do not give a tenth of their income. It would be good to give a tenth. It would be legalism to demand it because it was demanded of Israel. It is an even greater evil to require it and ignore the purpose God gave for the tithe in the first place. We should eat before God in gratitude. That was the purpose of the tithe. That is the attitude with which we should eat, anytime, today.