The tithe controversy – Part 1
I have followed the controversy about tithing with interest, and I have decided to share my own perspective on the ongoing debate. Historically, the controversy about tithing dates back to centuries, but like any other controversy surrounding the Scriptures, they all come and go with time. One of the beauties of Christianity is its resilience. Many have assailed the Church and its doctrines, but like Jesus said, “I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The practice of tithing pre-dates the Law of Moses and was carried over into the New Testament. In the Old Testament, tithes received from other tribes were used to support the Levites, who served in the temple. However, unlike in the Old Testament, where the command to tithe is very explicit, in the New Testament, there is only a tenuous reference to tithing (Mt.23: 23). Some have argued that the relationship between the Levites and the other tribes of Israel prefigures how Christians should provide for their ministers. This view of tithing, known as parallelism, gained prominence in the church around the sixth century.
Unlike during the Old Testament period, which was largely agrarian, we now live in an Industrial Age, where our efforts and worth is measured in monetary terms. Our earnings represent the sum total of our efforts, skills and worth. When we pay our tithes from our earnings, we are simply saying to God, “Thank you for the strength and wisdom you gave me to work and earn a living.” The whole idea of tithing or offering is giving back to God a little of what He has given to us.
Collin Hansen in his article, The Ancient Rise and Recent Fall of Tithing, states that, “The early church’s expectation that every Christian would tithe found formal expression at the Synod of Mâçon in 585, which embedded the practice in canon law. A millennium later, the Council of Trent sharpened this law’s teeth: it provided for excommunication, if any Catholic declined to contribute his tithes… Post-Reformation Europe, however, didn’t do much better: in the centuries after Luther, secular governments often acted on behalf of the churches by collecting mandatory tithes.” Therefore, from this brief historical background, tithes, while not explicitly stated in the New Testament, is a Church tradition established to support kingdom work. Let me say that the current debate about tithing will not end with this generation, as it has always been there.
One of the greatest arguments in favour of tithing is the example of Jacob. At Bethel, Jacob vowed to give to God a tenth of his earnings, if God would be with him, keep him in his way, give him bread to eat and clothing to put on. The Bible describes Jacob’s action as a vow. It was personal and voluntary. Even in the New Testament, a vow is not anachronistic; it is permissible, voluntary, and not obligatory. Therefore, a tithe could be a personal commitment to God to give to him one-tenth of all our income.
Like any other doctrine of the Bible, you accept the teaching on tithing by faith.
You tithe as a show of your commitment or devotion to God and His kingdom work, not necessarily to man. The Bible teaches that all we own, including our lives, belong to God. We are mere stewards of His treasures given to us by grace. Therefore, when we tithe, we are simply giving back to God what belongs to Him (Lev.27: 30-33; Num.18: 21-24).
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