by Hadley Robinson
Important core doctrines of Protestantism have been influenced by the godless Humanism embraced by key players in the Reformation. For example, the great scholar and Humanist Erasmus provided the Greek text of the New Testament that was used by the translators of that period -- including additions and changes by him (or someone close to him) that aligned not with sound Biblical doctrine but to his Humanist foundations. In particular, Erasmus established important traditions by which to look at Scripture.
Does the doctrine we are studying in the Bible result in man's greatest happiness? If not then perhaps either the Sacred Text has been altered or we are not understanding it properly.
While he did not actually say this, it is implied in his teaching. Translation traditions like this became established at the beginning of the Reformation and have not been challenged to this day except rarely and then only by fringe scholars in the Body of Christ. Some of the traditions are of little import such as names and places in the Old Testament e.g. "Isaac" instead of the correct Hebrew name "Yitzak" or "Eve" instead of "Chava". From the "King James Version" to "The Message", these traditions have stuck fast -- including the errors.
Anyone who knows Greek knows that the translators during the Reformation period referenced primarily an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic Hebrew text. They were largely ignorant of Hebrew, as a whole. The Septuagint, while an overall accurate work, is still not inspired by the Holy Spirit and is the work of men. Thanks to the errors in this translation, popular huckster, Bruce Wilkinson, got away with the heresies in his Prayer of Jabez with its "God-is-a-genie" doctrine. "If we massage God with the right verbiage and technique, he will deliver the goods to you!" Does this sound familiar?
So, what does this have to do with the Old Testament doctrine of the tithe?
Humanist doctrine requires a focus on the visible and tangible of this life.
Looking to Heaven for a future reward is, well, something and somewhere way off and a place we know little about. Discussion about it is best left to the theologians, priests, and pastors who are best suited to sort it out and ensure our participation. We must focus on the here and now.
The Western European understanding of the Greek word we translate as "church" is used almost exclusively of the here-and-now. It is a place where people who call themselves Christians meet. It may be a visible, tangible organization of such people.
This use of the word has nothing to do with the Greek meaning. Instead, it should be better translated as "the called-out-ones". It is a seismic shift to go from meaning "God's very own people known by Him alone" to a building on 10th Street and Main or some man-created organization. If the translators had used the phrase "the called-out-ones", there would not be as much widespread confusion within the body of Christ as we have. Words mean things. Is not that amazing?
However, if the primary meaning of this Greek word is some particular building, then it implies that a "church" can own property and that the organization and where it meets are one and the same. Jesus said that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the "Church" (Matt. 16:18). Then it follows that He will prosper, build, and preserve some particular earthly building/organization. Everyone knows that a building must have a roof and other amenities that requires money -- and lots of it.
This begs the Biblical question: Where in the New Testament does Jesus mention or imply the need for His people to build earthly structures?
The only words we have from Jesus about buildings are that they will be torn down so completely that there will not even be enough left to identify it. (Matt. 13:2)
If Jesus had been referring to structures in this world in Matt. 16, then it was lost on this city which was conquered and its inhabitants slaughtered or enslaved by the Islamists.
But sound doctrine is missing from the teachings of most modern Evangelical leaders whose primary goal is to mass-market the Gospel -- whatever it takes. Among other things, they have convinced themselves that the bigger the congregation, the greater the confirmation of what they are doing is right.
Naturally, this is the opposite of what Jesus said,
Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' Matt. 7:21-23
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matt. 7:14
And these are just a few of His words concerning the world and how the wicked distort and misuse the Scriptures.
If some earthly building is needed by God, how are we to finance it and pay for all the expense it requires? It follows that we need to invent some doctrine with which we can beat the Sheep and extract money from them. If we do not, they will not fork it over.
Worse than anything, the converted man must be convinced that his revulsion of such doctrine is due to his being greedy and faithless rather than the Holy Spirit testifying to his spirit that such doctrine is not the Lord's -- but man's. Consequently, the Biblical definition and purpose of the tithe has become distorted beyond recognition, just as Wilkinson distorted the doctrine of prayer.
Modern American Evangelical leaders and teachers are masters of misusing the Bible for their own purposes. They copy each other and refine their self-created doctrines, especially of the tithe and the content of Gospel. But the money and people pour in so they must be doing something right. An example is the popular leader and teacher Rick Warren who often abandons sound Biblical doctrine demonstrated by creating ingenious and popular distortions of God's Word, including that of the tithe.
Fortunately throughout history, there are others who have recognized that Jewish rules and regulations concerning the Temple worship and theocracy have been abrogated by Christ.
Too much Evangelical doctrine has become corrupted that a response to these outrages is necessary lest people think that all leaders and teachers in the Body of Christ are lovers of money and intent on building earthly kingdoms.
Reducing the Christian life to formulas encourages pride and works righteousness. According to the New Testament, giving is a grace, not a compulsory act or tax,
But just as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 2 Cor. 8:7
Similarly, salvation is a result of God's freely given grace, not something He had to give. It is not earned nor can it be bestowed by any man. If there was any passage in the New Testament
in which the tithe would have been promoted or considered, it would have been here in 2 Corinthians. The situation of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem at the time was desperate – they
had lost everything by becoming Christians and were suffering bitterly and needed help just to live. Many Gentile churches heard of their plight and offered to provide help. Paul wanted to give them directions on the best way to do it. The Jewish doctrine of the tithe was
looming in the background and Paul, of all people, had to address it, as he did in Galatians. It is implied here that it is not godly to require a man to submit to the tithe,
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2Cor. 9:7
The tithe is a remnant of the rules and regulations of the Old Covenant concerning the Jewish theocracy and does not (nor could not) be applied to the body of Christ. The tithe was a tax used to pay for the ordinary functions of government including the Temple ceremonies. In today's world, the tithe (10%) is a bargain for a functioning government and religious services.
To suggest that the Christian is subject to the tithe would also be contrary to the teaching
of Col 2:6ff., Gal 3:3 and, as we see below, in Matt. 6:1-4.
In general, Jesus opposed the use of formulas and here dismisses the notion of the tithe altogether,
Similarly, how many times am I to forgive my brother when he wrongs me? Is there a formula?
As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." - Luke 21:1-4
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. – Matt. 18:21-22.
In other words, the LORD rejects notions that go like this,
I've done such-and-such, now my duty to God is complete.
I've done such-and-such plus something-else so I have done double what God requires. Am I not a more obedient and better Christian than so-and-so?
In the Luke passage above, Jesus was commenting on giving in general in the following way (paraphrased),
So, one of you gave God 20% or 50% of your wealth and then commend yourself for being a faithful follower of God. That's nothing - if you want to really excel put in all that you have, like that widow over there just did....
Men love to think that they can please God and earn some sort of approval. Jesus repudiated this notion often. In Matt. 5:39 Jesus makes this assertion,
Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Three verses later He says (by the way), "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Give all you have? Allow yourself to be struck? Give in to evil? Be as perfect as God? Such things put into perspective our position as men before Him. We are in need of forgiveness and grace. If there is any holiness to be had, He alone gives it and then gives us the means to carry it out. Even if we have done everything, there is still no praise from God:
Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, `Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, `Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' – Luke 17:7-10
The danger of formulas and doing acts of charity in public is that human pride can go from a foothold in our character to a stronghold, as one pastor said. Formulas and public demonstrations of charity invite disaster. Acts 5 is an example.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet. – Acts 5:1-2
Ananias was subsequently put to death for trying to impress men at the expense of truthfulness. It is fortunate that many of us are not already dead....
Ananias wanted all to think of himself as a generous man. He was looking for the praise of men instead of from God. Perhaps he was hoping that his children would think that he was such a generous man by his public example and do the same – and also be struck dead.
Jesus explicitly warned against this attitude of self-praise.
In other words, if I win the esteem of men, it should be an accident, not by some design or purpose. But who would know which it is but the LORD who know every secret of the heart?
Jesus spoke about doing good deeds of one kind or another and this included the giving of money so that only God would know.
Be careful not to do your "acts of righteousness" before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. - Matt. 6:1-4
The earliest Christian catechism we have is the Didache (2nd century A.D.) It has a bit to say about giving, including a warning about throwing money at everyone who asks for it,
Let thine alms sweat into thine hands, until thou shalt have learnt to whom to give. Did. 1:5
In other words, our gifts must be carefully directed to the deserving and be given only to the local body for godly purposes. In the same passage, the catechist warns those who receive from others that they will be judged severely if they are unable to justify their requests before Christ at the Judgment. There is no mention whatsoever to submit to the tithe of the Old Testament in this catechism. But, sad to say, this is not important to modern American Evangelical Protestants who must fund their kingdoms by purchasing radio time, building gleaming headquarters, and sending their prophets all over the globe to hunt for more money.
From the earliest times, the Gospel has been peddled for personal profit and to build worldly
"Passing the plate" at meetings of the body of Christ is a public act. Is not this contrary to the LORD's command in Matthew 6 that such things must be done privately? It is to be so private that the "left hand does not know what the right hand is doing." If we like to impress others then we are open to being labeled as His enemies.
In something so disconnected as an essay on thermalling for soaring pilots (my vocation), one writer recently felt compelled to reference pastors who are anxious to pass the offering plate for purposes of enriching themselves and/or their ministries. Do not ask me how this is relevant to piloting an aircraft except that the disgrace of those who pretend to love God (but are really lovers of money) is well known. I am continually ashamed at the brazen requests these phony shepherds make. As it is written,
And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed. - Isa. 52:5
local bodies have gone so far as requiring that all gifts be in cash stuffed in a box at the rear of the church. This is a start but a better solution would be to put such a box in a location
where eavesdroppers could not observe someone dropping in something. With cash, no one will know where the money came from, especially church leadership who are easily corrupted by the
The disadvantage is that a donor will not be able to satisfy the tax authorities that he made a charitable gift and receive the tax deduction. The distortions that government imposes on our lives in this age of Marxism are ubiquitous. There is hardly a corner of our lives that the Devil's offspring have not touched, including our most intimate relations.
Is corruption of the Lord's shepherds some rare malady? It is commonplace.
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? - Jas. 2:2-4
Who has never showed deference to an obviously rich and powerful man? Who has not thought in his heart, "What can he do for me?" Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice
is replete with this vice, especially in the character of the local priest, Mr. Collins. His studied and obsequious behavior towards his patroness, the Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is a glaring
example of that which is well known to the world and for which the heathen mock -- and should.
Men should tremble at the following words and be gripped with terror if the left hand knows what the right is doing,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. - Heb. 4:12-13
Generally, urging people to pony up money denies the role of the Holy Spirit in leading His people. 2 Cor. 8:1ff. states that the Macedonians gave from their heart, not as a result of Paul or their pastor beating them on the heads with threats. As most organized bodies of Christians are awash with property and staff, they have intimate ties with this world. What will happen when the IRS yanks the tax exemption because the pastor publicly condemned homosexuality? If the history of German Christians during the Third Reich is any guide, 90% will capitulate to the demands of the State.
The Twelve Disciples and Jesus had a common purse for their needs but
even this modest necessity became the object of thievery by the group's treasurer, Judas Iscariot (Jn. 12:6). Is this not a warning against the world's system and how we must be on our guard
against greed of every kind?
Is it godly for a church's treasurer to share financial information with the people? In what manner? The best way might be to post it in a public place. Paul shared the needs of the Jerusalem Christians publicly (2 Cor. 8) but he had absolutely no interest in what was received on their behalf. He knew well that the Gospel was already being peddled widely (2 Cor. 2:17) and wanted nothing to do with such evil.
It is demeaning for godly pastors to beg for money from the people to support their ministry. Ideally, church leadership should not have the slightest bit of information on who gives and how much. The LORD knows – and that is sufficient. So, when the pastor discovers that Mr. Big-donor-to-the-church trolls the Internet for pornography or enjoys the favors of a woman other than his wife, he will not be as tempted to decide between perhaps getting fired and compromising himself. The rich are the greatest abusers of their fellow man among all the inhabitants of the earth, as both Jesus and James note. Men like Abraham and Job are rare.
Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked. - Prov. 25:26
Those who promote the tithe for New Testament Christians also benefit from it. This is a conflict of interest. Are all Christians so naive and foolish to believe that their pastors are more pure than the Apostle Paul?
The Apostle was so sensitive to the appearance of self-serving that he considered taking money for his ministry akin to stealing.
I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone.... --2Cor. 11:8-9
As Pastor Anton Bosch notes, “…if God can raise the dead, He can put it in the hearts of His people to give where it is needed.” Pastor Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church pointedly refuses to ask for money from the pulpit or mention the same. For people determined to give, Denton Bible puts little boxes in the rear of the meeting hall for donors to stuff in their gifts on their way out or at any other time.
According to some surveys, church people give just a few percent instead of the Royal Ten. Perhaps people are not impressed with the job church leadership is doing and are voting with their pocketbooks? If we look at the syncretism, the sloppy and careless teaching of doctrine, works righteousness, and the tolerance of immorality, adultery, and divorce, there may be an issue here. It is not godly for pastors to be more interested in promoting their own name and in building an empire than teaching and living the pure Gospel.
However, this raises the dilemma of Mr. Divided-man (1Cor. 7:33-34) who must have his foot on the dock and in the canoe. What is he to do? I myself am a happily married man, greatly thankful, but a divided man, nonetheless. My options for serving Christ are limited -- and rightly so, as God would have it. I am commanded to take care of and love my bride with everything that I have, my first duty to Christ.
There was good reason why church missionaries for over one thousand five hundred years were single men.1 The celebrated Protestant missionary of the 19th century, David Livingstone, left his wife and young family for years while he traveled in Africa. Who raised his children? Did he ask Mrs. Livingstone if she would be agreeable to no sex for many years? Where was she to get her support to live? She was taken care of – by others, lucky for her. Do the ends justify the means? When was the command to love your wife with utmost devotion nullified? During the Middle Ages married men could abandon their wives and families to join a monastic order. For the poor women, it was a disaster. But the men did it out of "love and service to Christ." How noble and heroic! No wonder the reputation of Christians continues to sink century after century after century. Even the gross heathen understand money, to the shame of God's Elect, as Jesus said.
New Testament references to the tithe (Matt. 23:23; Luk. 11:42; 18:12) are each rebukes of Jewish leaders who were devoted to formulas but denied the greater matters of love, mercy, and justice. The context of these passages is no different than Jesus' requirement to pay the temple tax (Matt. 17:24).
How do these passages apply to us as New Testament Gentile believers? There is no longer a Temple nor is there a Jewish theocracy encompassing the civil and religious order that must be supported. The old has passed away, the new has come. The tithe, as T. David Gordon notes, was exclusively the property of the Levites (Num. 18:21) and the manner in which the other eleven tribes could participate in the sacrificial system. It has been replaced by generosity, the heart of stone and its dead formulas with the heart of grace and love.
The use of passages in Malachi to apply Old Testament (OT) rules and regulations of the Jewish theocracy to the Body of Christ are misuses of Scripture. Are we to also stone to death rebellious children? What about requiring circumcision of converts? Should we become polygamists by marrying our brother's widow?
To suggest that God must enrich those who hand over money to leadership is more error. It is disheartening when pastors ask someone to stand up in front of the people and give some speech like this,
Now that I give my church my tithe, I have more $$$ than ever before, have better sex with my wife, and am the pastor's darling and example. If you were smart and godly like me, God will do the same for you. You give God $1, He will give you $5 -- it's written in His Word.
Hucksters like the late Oral Roberts grew wealthy taking retirement funds from widows through all kinds of promises and schemes. These people are still out there doing this fulltime in every hamlet and town in America and other places in the world, especially Africa.
Christian radio is filled with smooth-talking self-promoters who are experts at mining the pockets of widows and other people.
Widows should be helping their children, not enriching countless ministries
which have done little or nothing for the long haul to stop the collapse of the Church in America. Is there just one radio pastor anywhere in the world who does not beg for money -- who takes from his own labors and means the funds needed for supporting his message
or show? I do not know of one.
On top of it all, these lovers of money and power have the audacity to connect money with the advancement of the Kingdom of God – as if He needs two cents from anyone. What might change America is if men in the Body of Christ mind their own business, stay faithful to difficult or adulterous wives and exhibit grace and generosity to their neighbors – the things spoken of by St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words." Is not the epistle of James about people who talk it (the hypocrite) versus people who walk it (the true Christian)?
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. 1 Thess. 4:11-12
The notion of Paul admonishing Christians to give to their local body of Christ on a regular basis is mined out of this bit of Scripture,
Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.... 1 Cor. 16:1
As is overwhelmingly the practice, popular Christian leaders and teachers rip this out of context. Again, if the Apostle had any notion of the tithe, he would have mentioned it here.
But he does not.
The collection spoken of in this passage is not some proof-text for local Christian leaders to extract money from their flocks on a regular basis so that salaries and building programs can be financed. It solely had to do with providing food and clothing for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who were getting hammered by the unconverted Jews.
Our beloved Apostle was equally concerned that any monies would be scrupulously guarded and distributed by men of the highest character and, if the local bodies of Christ so desired, he himself would supervise the gifts.
Proxy giving as here is rare in the Bible for a reason. It is not only Mark Driscoll, Bill Bright, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, and Rick Warren, to name a few, who have built empires from the generosity of God's flock, but many others right from the beginning of the New Testament church. God does not need mammon to advance His Kingdom. But according to the "me-firsters", His Kingdom requires a chunk of the gold in a man's pocket (John 3). Paul took extraordinary measures to demonstrate that he did not make his living off the Gospel. He did so to set an example.
Our nation is in political and cultural ruins. Where is the fruit of all these popular Christian leaders and the millions and millions they claim to have led to Christ? Why are they such friends of the government officials of this world? Did not Jesus say, "All men will hate you because of me"?
Not one of them has anything to say about abortion being a hideous and brutal crime against the innocent. Billy Graham even said it could be necessary. And on it goes -- and the money continues to roll in to build earthly kingdoms that will not last, robbing widows along the way. As Jesus said, such men will be judged most severely (Mk 12:40).
If we are going to apply the tithe to the New Testament Elect, why just the tithe? What about mixing of fabrics? Should we stone adulterers? If we did, the local bodies would be emptied as so many have
acted treacherously against the wives of their youth and married the wives of other men. If the tithe is somehow unlike the other regulations of the OT, then why not apply it biblically?
For example, Deuteronomy 14:22 ff. commands us to take our tithe and, among other things, buy alcoholic drinks and have a great celebration for the LORD. Be sure to include the Levites in the party as well – wherever, whomever they are these days. Then, every three years we are to give the tithe to the priests. This equals a yearly giving of about 3.33% to their work. The tithe must also be available to the poor – whatever their needs may be. The whole truth about the tithe is rarely, if ever, taught. This is unfortunate. Most want one part of OT teaching but not others, and then only what suits them.
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1
The Galatians were being deceived by appeals that those who are His people must submit to Jewish regulations and rites, including circumcision. It is no different than requiring the tithe. Slavery is slavery – works righteousness is works righteousness. Requiring the Jewish tithe is just a heavy yoke for man's benefit, not God's.
"I already gave my tithe and have done my duty."
This writer knows someone who gave the equivalent of a year’s salary to help a needy pastor. The same brother gave a home to a needy sister who had lost hers. The LORD can require us to give everything. Again,
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. - 2Cor.9:14
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. - Matt. 11:30
When leaders of God's flock stand up and accuse them of not just being ordinary thieves but faithless thieves of God, is this not compulsion in the extreme? This is not pastoring the sheep but beating them.
Is it not hubris to equate one's earthly kingdom with the Eternal Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. However, the burdens heaped on the people by many leaders of God's flock are not only heavy but cruel.