By Dr. Jewel Azyamah
Giving material and financial support for religious purpose has become mandatory for many religions. For instance, in the recent years Hinduism has introduced the system of giving tithe for religious purpose which probably is adopted from Christianity. On the contrary to other religions’ practice and development on tithing, some Christians, after faithfully practicing tithes for some millennia, have questioned against the authenticity of the teaching and practice of tithing by the New Testament (NT) Church. Thus, to tithe or not has become a debatable issue in the Christendom today. In the recent times, it has been exacerbated by the arrival of various opinions and interpretations brought and postulated by many Bible preachers and teachers. The contemporary Church has been divided into two groups based on this issue. There are several reasons why believers began to neglect the practice of tithing. The two most popularly known claims are: (a).Some Christians believed that NT Church need not tithe because tithing is an Old Testament (OT) law which has nothing to do with the NT believers. (b).There is no explicit command to tithe in the NT. Such exoneration had embittered the rift between the tithing believers and the non-tithing believers. However, let me boldly tell you this: church should tithe, it is biblical and a must thing for every believer who receives and enjoys material blessings from God. Many Churches and believers neglect tithe due to inadequate Bible knowledge. Such problems including the aforementioned challenges could be corrected by reading the Bible from five different perspectives in relation to the practice of tithe.
Firstly, reading the Bible from historical perspective will clearly show us the fact that tithing came into the biblical picture long before the Law was given through Moses. Two biblical passages merit our attention: the first mentioned of tithing in the Bible is found in Genesis 14:18-20 where it says that upon the victorious return of Abram from the pursued of Lot’s captors, he gave a tenth of all his booty. Apostle Paul perceived Abraham as the classic example of justification by faith (Rom 4; Gal 3), he was never labelled as legalist.
The other example of pre-Mosaic tithing is found in Genesis 28:20-22 where Jacob vowed to give the tenth from God’s blessings upon him. The important thing to remember in both patriarchal episodes is the common perception of tithing as a part of worship centuries before Mosaic legislation commanded it. Just as the patriarchs gave tithe before the Law without being branded as legalists, church should practice the same after the Law without the taint of legalism.
Secondly, in regards to the NT writings, those who oppose church tithing often cite Jesus’ teaching, and Paul’s writings, claiming that there is no explicit command to practice tithes for the NT believers. I call it an argument from silence. But if it were so, one could easily conclude that Jesus and Paul wholeheartedly endorsed the practice of tithe, because neither Jesus nor Paul commanded in their teachings not to tithe.
Let me stipulate the weight of NT pertaining to tithing from three different angles. Touching the teaching of Jesus Christ, Matthew 23:23(cf. Luke 11:42) expresses Jesus’ attitude towards tithe and legalistic scribe and Pharisees. Here, Jesus’ problem was not with the practice of tithing but it was with the attitude of scribes and Pharisees who meticulously exercise tithing and have “omitted the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith.” In fact, Jesus encourages them to practice it without neglecting the others (v 23b). This factually confirms Jesus’ position of confirming and commending the practice of tithe.
Non-tithing Christians often point out that Paul did not mention tithing a single time in any of his writings in the NT. They also claim that the Church should exercise Christian giving on the basis of the love for the Lord, willingness of one’s heart, and sacrificial giving which are often found in the epistles of Paul as the basis for believers’ material giving. But we should not forget that Paul used OT scripture, and thus, all those principles are derived from the OT concept of the labourers and their remuneration in Israel’s worship. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul argues for the rights of an apostle to receive remuneration for preaching the gospel. There is an analogy in this passage between the rights of those working at the altar and in the Temple who get their share (v 13), and those proclaiming the gospel who should be living from it (v 14). Paul’s passion is that, as a preacher of the gospel, he deserves to receive support to meet his needs from the community for which he was sent. Paul argues that, those who are employed in the Temple service get their food from the Temple, and those who serve at the altar share what is sacrificed in the altar. The basis of Paul’s argument is taken from both OT (cf. Num 18:21-28; Deut 18:1-2) and from the teaching of Jesus (1 Cor 9:14 cf. Matt 10:10; Luke 10:7).
The people in comparison are the priests and the Levites who serve in the Temple and at the altar in the OT time, and the apostles and preachers of the gospel in NT. Just as the priests and the Levites received their portion from the Temple and the altar ministry, the preachers deserve to receive assistance from the believers. The portion of the priests and the Levites includes tithes. Thus, it is obvious that the concept of the continuation of tithing is already in the mind of Paul. Although Paul does not explicitly use the term tithe, the principle of supporting the ministers of the gospel in the NT is derived from the OT principle of tithing. In the OT time, people of YHWH brought tithes and offerings, so that the altar and Temple ministries could be continued, and the poor and needy be fed. God cursed the people of Judah because they rob God in tithes and offerings (Mal 3:8-9). They neglected giving tithes and offerings of God. As a result, the ministry of worship in the Temple was neglected, and the relationship between God and the people was deteriorated. To God, such an insane negligence is a true robbery that caused him to retort with a curse.
In the NT, believers continue to practice tithing so that the needs of the ministers of the gospel might be met, and the poor and needy be fed. Paul used Torah as a guide for Christian conduct. The scripture informs his conviction that Christian leaders have right to be supported in their ministries. Nevertheless, in the NT, the concept of tithing and giving the Lord’s portion are presented in a more flexible manner. Unlike in the OT instruction, there is no mention of regular giving of proportion of ten per cent of one’s income. The gift was to be brought on the “first day of the week” (1 Cor 16:2). However, there are two stable principles that stand out in both the OT and NT. First, giving is based on the blessings of God. Second, one should give out of the willingness of heart.
Theologically speaking, tithing is an act of acknowledging God as the benevolent God, the One who provides our needs. The acknowledgement of God’s ultimate ownership of all possession is accomplished through the tithe. Ethically, it is an act gratitude and expression of obedience to the revealed will of God. It also shows our concern for the poor and needy, which is also one of the primary concerns of Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry. Therefore, tithing is biblical and it is theologically sound to practice for the Church today. If we do so, our Pastors, preachers and teachers would be supported well, our personal relationship with the Lord will grow to maturity and be strengthened. Tithing is one of the most equitable arrangements in the world. The poorer believers who have lesser income tithe lesser but the richer believers who have more income tithe more. Thus, tithing gives dignity to every believer, no one is too poor to tithe.
The practice of tithing was duly in effect during the NT era. There is no fresh explicit command in regards to tithing because the practice of tithing stood unopposed. Nevertheless, its aim and meaning are worked out anew in different contexts. Thus, it is appropriate that the tithing principle can be incorporated into the New Testament’s strong and clear teaching on radical generosity. The norms of giving to the Church for God’s work is elaborated and presented more precisely in the NT (e.g. 1 Cor 9; 16:2; 2 Cor 8-9 etc.).In resemblance with the OT principle of tithing, the basis of Christian giving is the blessings of God. I wish and pray that the church tithe so that the needs of the ministers of the gospel can be met, the indigent believers in the congregation can be fed, and other necessities for the Church ministries shall be met, so shall the church prosper, and God’s kingdom shall continue to grow till the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church should tithe, Tithing is beyond OT law, is it is firmly supported by OT, and stood unopposed in the NT. Tithing is an expression of one’s gratitude and love for the Lord. Tithe not because you are coerced by your Church Pastor and leaders but because of your love for the Lord and his mission. Tithe not to buy blessings but tithe because you are blessed. Tithing could be the believers’ starting point of giving to the Lord, we can go beyond tithe by giving cheerfully, and sacrificially according to how we decide in our hearts.