The issue of Tithe and financial giving is only one aspect of the larger issue of Stewardship. Stewardship goes beyond financial giving and includes how use our time and other resources at our disposal as well.
What follows is simply some notes as I read through Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears’ book “Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe” and process specifically the subject of tithe and giving in the modern American church.
How Much Should Christians Give?
I was raised with the concept of Tithe. We give to God 10% of what we earn. My parents taught me to set aside 10 cents of every dollar and put it in the offering plate. The concept comes from the Old Testament (OT).
In the OT, tithe refers to the people giving the first 10% of their income to fund the Levite’s ministry. There were other tithes and offerings commanded for festivals, care for the poor, community/society events, etc. In actuality, “mandatory” giving was closer to 25% of a family’s total income…before any civil taxes. (Numbers 18:21-29, Deuteronomy 12:10-11, 17-18; 14:22-29, Leviticus 19:9-10, Nehemiah 10:32-33.)
In the New Testament (NT) giving isn’t based on percentages, but on people’s heart as they respond to God’s grace and unimaginable generosity. Tithe is only mentioned twice in the NT (Matthew 23:23 & Luke 11:42) when Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. They were meticulous in observing the law of tithe, but neglected to give God their hearts. They obeyed the letter of the law while missing the spirit of it.
We need to understand that when we talk about tithe or any kind of giving, we’re determining not how much of our resources we ought to give to God, but how much of God’s resources we are keeping for ourselves. It is imperative that we realize that we own nothing. We are merely caretakers of someone else’s property. At most we are leasing without the option to buy. (Psalm 24:1)
2 Corinthians 8 & 9 has, perhaps, the longest and most comprehensive teaching on giving in the TN. I don’t agree with everything Driscoll and Breshears stated in their book, so here are some notes as I process this.
A person after God’s own heart gives generously.
- Generous giving is sacrificial (2 Corinthians 8:3 ESV).
- Generous giving is an act of love in response to Christ’s great love for us (2 Corinthians 8:8-9 ESV).
- Generous giving means being God’s means of grace to pass on the financial blessing he has given some to those who are impoverished and struggling (2 Corinthians 8:13-15 ESV).
- Generous giving is about the gospel. Prosperity theology teaches the more money we give to God the more money we’ll get back. Generosity theology aims to invest (or sow) in ministries that will reap a spiritual harvest of souls for the kingdom (2 Corinthians 9:6-12).
- Generous giving is one of many evidences that someone is truly a follower of Christ. Remember we give generously because Christ generously forgave us our sins. If someone is not generous perhaps they have not experienced Christ’s generosity in their own lives and are still trying to earn their salvation (2 Corinthians 9:13-14).
- Generous giving promotes the worship of Jesus as God (2 Corinthians 9:11-15).
Under the new covenant we are not commanded to give. My opinion is churches should not teach tithe as if it were a religious law still in effect or something to work up to. Believers need to be taught Biblical stewardship of all resources and trained to develop a biblical Kingdom orientation to their finances.
As the New Covenant is far superior to the old, so NT believers ought to give more generously out of gratitude for God’s generosity. For God’s people 10% ought to be the starting point of our giving, not the ending point.
So How Are We Doing?
Driscoll and Brashears, citing various sources, reveal the following:
- 1/4 of American Protestants do not give anything to their local church.
- From 1968 to 2005, giving to Protestant churches declined from 3.1 percent of income to 2.6 percent of income.
- The median annual giving for a Christian is $200.
- Only 27% of evangelicals give away 10% or more of their income.
- About 5% of Christians provide 60% of the money to churches and religious groups.
- 20% of all Christians account for 86% of all giving.
What would happen if professing Christians who attended church at least a few times a month actually gave 10% of their after-tax income? According to Driscoll and Breshears, who in turn cite Smith, et al. in Passing the Plate, we (American churches) would be able to fund:
- 150,000 new indigenous missionaries and pastors.
- Triple the resources being spent on translating and distributing Bibles to the 2,737 people groups who still have no Bible in their native language.
- Finance the organization and infrastructure of a major Christian research and advocacy group fighting against economic and sexual slavery worldwide.
- Quadruple total resources being spent by all Christians on traditional cross-cultural mission endeavors.
- 5,000,000 micro-enterprise economic development projects per year in developing nations.
- Eradicate polio globally
- Prevent and treat malaria globally
- 1,000,000 new clean water, well-dripping projects per hear in the poorest countries.
- Provide food, clothing and shelter to all 6,500,000 refugees in Africa, Asia and the Middle East
- Quadruple the budget for Habitat for Humanity
- Double the budget of World Vision.
- Sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide, providing them food, education and healthcare.
- Quadruple global Christian medical missions work.
- Provide financial and debt management training 200,000 U.S. Christians per year who are deeply in debt.
Generally, between 1959 and 2000, while the financial giving by American Christians was declining, the personal consumption expenditures of Americans increased for eating out in restaurants, toys, sports supplies, live entertainments, foreign and domestic travel by U.S. residents lottery tickets, casino gambling, photography, sports and recreation camps, and other entertainment expenses.
Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money by Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson, with Patricia Snell, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 171
It’s not that we don’t have enough to give, it’s that we’re selfish with what we have. I include myself in that indictment. Stewardship is something I’ve been wrestling with intensely the past few months. I don’t know that I’ll ever resolve the issue in my own life. The tension causes me to constantly evaluate and reevaluate my own practices. As a pastor, this section of “Doctrine” has made me look critically at myself. Am I leading by example (rhetorical question).