Some people don’t like talking about money, and some people don’t like talking about church. What happens when you talk about money, church, and the tithe? People tend to get squirrely and suddenly remember that they have to give their cat a bath.
It’s understandable and not even a sign that your theology on tithing is wrong. Yet, it is becoming more common for church members and even leaders to ask the question, “Do I have to tithe to the church?”
In fact, half of protestant churchgoers believe tithes can go to any Christian ministry. Some think tithes can go to individuals in need. Many are not even sure if there is a Biblical command to tithe at all. 76% of NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) members said it's fine if you want to give part of your tithe to another ministry. On the one hand, as long as funds are making it to worthy causes we should be happy. Right? Well, that depends not on what we think, but on what the Bible says.
It takes 4 walls to build a house, and 4 main points to support the argument that tithes don’t belong exclusively in churches. In this post, we will examine, consider, and ultimately topple those walls one by one.
Wall #1 - Tithing is an Old Covenant Command
We start with this one because it is arguably the most controversial and most misunderstood. It’s also tricky to move on to the next argument without tackling this one first. We will look at two areas of scripture surrounding the tithe; Genesis 14 when Abram gives a tenth of his wealth to Melchizedek and in the teachings of Jesus in the book of Matthew.
When Abram is victorious in rescuing his nephew, Lot, Melchizedek the king of Salem blesses Abram and praises God for the victory.
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
Genesis 14:19 (ESV)
In response, Abram gives him a tenth of all his possessions. It is important to note that these events occur before the old covenant Law was given. So arguments that the tithe was part of the Law and thus fulfilled in Jesus don’t address that Abram offered a tithe outside that time of his own free will. By giving this offering, Abram is showing that his heart believes what Melchizedek said, that God had blessed him and is Most High.
Abraham is the father of our faith. While we don’t have the space to get into Melchizedek, most biblical scholars and pastors agree that this was an Old Testament type of Jesus (a “type” is the term used when a character in the Old Testament represents one in the New Testament in some way) . How could something established by the father of our faith with Jesus himself be Old Covenant or temporary? (Cambell, 2021)
Next, let’s look at Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament. Jesus speaks on money a lot, but we will specifically focus on an instance where he teaches on the tithe.
'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." Matthew 23:23 (NASB)
Here we find the Pharisees in a bit of hot water - being hypocritical and getting called out by Jesus. He states that the Pharisees keep the tithe down to the most granular item but neglect other parts of the Law. When he says, “but these are the things that you should have done without neglecting the others.” he is not saying they shouldn’t tithe, but that they also should be seeking justice, mercy, and showing faithfulness.
He validates the tithe while pointing out that the selfish hearts of the Pharisees were in contradiction to the heart of the Father.
We see in other parts of scripture where Jesus sets the record straight on what parts of the Law don’t apply any more (see Mark 7:19). However, here we see Jesus upholding the tithe to his followers and all listening.
Also, consider that the blessing and grace we have through Christ is far greater than that of the Israelites under the old covenant. If ten percent was required of them, how much more could rightly be required of us for the abundant grace found through faith in Jesus? A close relationship with Jesus inspires generosity that comes from trusting the word and submitting to its authority.
Michael Morrison at Grace Communion International sums it up like this, “The old covenant gave us condemnation; the new covenant gives us justification and peace with God. How much more should we be willing to give freely and generously so God’s work can be done in the world?”
Wall #2 - I Can't Trust the Church with My Tithe
From the moment sin entered the world and corrupted the first garden temple, every temple and church since has been, and will continue to be flawed. This does not justify sin or take away past hurts, but we should remember that the church is made up of imperfect people.
The tithe is a way that we show that we trust in God for our provision and that we submit in obedience to His word. If you are a member of a church, and you have reason to believe that funds aren't being used wisely, have a gracious and honest conversation with leadership.
Most churches do, and should, keep a transparent record when it comes to how they spend funds. Also, just because a church isn’t spending money the way you would like them to, doesn’t mean they are being poor stewards. Search your heart, pray, and read the word to determine if this is an issue you need to pass to God. If you determine that you need to go to leadership, vocalize it in an appropriate way (hint - don’t put a church on blast via social media).
While the church isn’t perfect, God is. He sees the heart of every giver. As 2 Corinthians 9:7 states, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (ESV). Remember that your giving is to the Lord, and not to man.
Keeping a soft heart doesn’t mean having a brain of mush. Use discernment, but know that God will advance His kingdom and get resources where He needs them. Refusing to tithe because some churches are poor stewards ignores the majority of churches who get it right or faithfully try their best.
Wall #3 - The Church Doesn’t Need My Tithe/I Can Serve or Give My Time Instead
It is God’s will that his Kingdom would grow and expand here on earth. God uses money as a resource to do this. Each giver becomes a part of this mission. On a practical level, the tithe enables those called to ministry to devote their time and efforts to the church. In 1 Corinthians 9:3-14 Paul calls this a minister’s, “right of support.” Additionally, Galatians 6:6 says, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the instructor.” (Source)
On a personal level, the tithe is an indicator of the state of our heart not only toward the church but toward God. In Genesis 28:22 Jacob said, “And of all that you give me, I will give you a tenth” (emphasis added). God does not only own the tenth and then leave us free to do what we want with the rest. It is all His, and our tithe is us acknowledging, as Jacob did, that he is the one who gave us everything.
There is inadequate biblical precedent for time or talent being given in place of financial giving, but hear me out. God loves you whether you give money or not. You are justified through faith in Jesus with or without the tithe. When people walk through seasons of unemployment and struggle to make ends meet, this is when the church, powered by the generosity of its members, steps in to care for you. That season will pass, and when it does you will be able to rejoice in being the hands and feet of Jesus for others walking that same, hard road.
Wall #4 - I Can Tithe to Any Worthy Ministry
Now we come to the crux of it. Maybe you agree that the tithe is biblical, that it is helpful, and that churches don’t need to be perfect to be worthy of our money. However, there are a lot of worthy ministries, some even operated within churches.
Randy Alcorn of EPM says, “Giving need not end in the local church, but it should begin there.” It is true that believers are often led to support ministries doing amazing work throughout the globe. God may call you to give to great causes, but this won’t typically replace your tithe.. Offerings in this manner are different from the biblical command to tithe.
Churches will always be distinct from philanthropic organizations. Churches are described as the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ. It is God’s ultimate plan for humanity to spread the Kingdom into all the earth. Charities are amazing and serve a very specific purpose, and giving to them should be encouraged, but they are not the church.
For more about this topic, read this blog by Tithely on parachute ministries.
Raising the Roof
We hope that these points helped you either feel better about tithing to your local church, or at least curious to dig into the scriptures for yourself. Our tithes faithfully sown advance the Kingdom by the means Jesus gave us - the Church.
We do not give to receive, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). We can rest under the covering that we have aligned ourselves with the Father’s heart in the matter of our finances.
"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." 2 Corinthians 9:8