Tithing rooted in tradition, guided by faith
How much do you owe God?
Christian A: “Everything.”
Christian B: “Everything, just don’t ask me to tithe.”
Apparently they don’t owe God that much.
Tithing, the practice of giving 10 percent of your income to your church, often kicks up emotions. And now churches are competing with a consumer culture in which items such as cable television and cell phones are considered necessities rather than luxuries. And many churches are losing the few tithers they had.
“The World War II generation was more likely to tithe,” said the Rev. Steven Ekblad of Good Shepard Lutheran Church in Janesville.
The loss of income means many mainstream congregations find themselves struggling to meet their budgets.
Tithing, Old and New
The notion of the tithe comes from a variety of spots in the Old Testament: Leviticus 27:30, Number 18:26, Deuteronomy 14:24 and 2 Chronicles 31:5 all refer to or support the practice.
Money generated from the tithe was used to support the temple, pay for pilgrimages to Jerusalem and support the poor. In modern times, the tithe is used to support the church and its ministries.
The New Testament doesn’t mandate tithing.
In fact, in Acts 15, it says Christians don’t need to take on the “the laws of Moses,” Ekblad said.
And in Matthew 23, Jesus rebukes those who scrupulously follow the law, but neglect “justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
But there are other examples in the New Testament where Jesus lauds people who go financially above and beyond.
In Luke 19, Zacchaeus gives half his possessions to the poor; in Mark 14, Jesus holds up the example of the impoverished widow who gives everything she owns.
When Ekblad cited those examples, he laughed and said, “So much for only giving 10 percent.”
That’s the way the Rev. Todd Pope sees it, as well.
“The tithe is a beginning step,” said Pope, family minister coordinator at New Life Assembly of God.
The whys and why nots of tithing
Pope sometimes helps families with financial management. The church currently is running David Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” series on Sunday nights.
Ramsey, a radio talk show host and financial guru, stresses the importance of being debt free and saving for the future. He also encourages people to tithe, even in tough financial times.
“If you cannot live off of 90 percent of your income, you cannot live of 100 percent,” he tells his radio listeners.
He also encourages people to do it out of love, not out of guilt.
For Pope, tithing is a part of financial health.
“People say ‘we want to tithe, but we can’t afford to,’ Pope said. “And my response is ‘you can’t afford not to.’”
Tithing is a form of worship and an act of faith that brings its own rewards, he argued.
“I fully believe that 90 percent goes farther than 100 percent,” he said.
Giving helps people re-examine their priorities, live a more thoughtful, and ultimately more satisfying, life.
People find that tithing brings unexpected blessing, Pope said.
He cited the example of the couple who were in deep financial distress but began to tithe anyway.
“He received a promotion at work that included a $1,200 raise,” Pope said. “It doesn’t always work that way, but in this case it really did.”
Pope argues that the biblical injunction to tithe should be taken literally—and not to do so is “robbing God.”
“This is not a judgmental thing towards others, but for me personally,” Pope said.
He cites Malachi 3:8-10, where God requests the people to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,” (NIV).
Part of the challenge is that tithing requires a leap of faith.
“Tithing is really a reflection of faith,” Ekblad said. “You have to be free enough to believe that God will take care of you.”
Real life examples
It’s difficult to get tithers to talk about their decision to give.
“I don’t want to seem like I’m better than anyone else,” was a common response.
One woman, whose income ranges between $700 to $900 a month, explained how she makes tithing work for her.
“I just take it off the top,” she said. “I don’t figure out what my bills are first; I always give first. It becomes a way of life.”
She has managed to get by on her meager income without using such local social services such as ECHO. Her 14-year-old car is paid for, and occasionally a family member will drop off a bag of groceries.
She insists, “God always provides.”
“If I’m short $30, someone will come along and say, ‘hey I’ll give you $30 to do this for me,’” she said. “I’m not kidding you, it’s always in the amount I need.”
The bottom line?
“It’s all God’s money anyway, and I’m a little embarrassed I can only give 10 percent back,” she said.
Bible documentation on tithing
The notion of the tithe comes from a variety of spots in the Old Testament: Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:26, Deuteronomy 14:24, Malachi 3:8 and 2 Chronicles 31:5 all refer to or support the practice.
Here are the specific passages from the New International Version of the Bible.
Malachi 3, 8-11: Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
But you ask, “How do we rob you?”
In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
Leviticus 27:30: A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.
Numbers 18:26: Speak to the Levites and say to them: “When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering.
Deuteronomy 14:22: Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.
2 Chronicles 31:5: As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the first fruits of their grain, new wine, oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything.
Asking for the tithe
Ministers tend to be reluctant to talk about tithing. Nobody wants to hear that a congregation’s monetary troubles might be connected to their personal lack of giving.
One local pastor noted in his newsletter: “From what I have observed, the reaction to the IRS is calmer than the reaction received from the church when people’s stewardship practices are discussed.”
Even the Rev. Steven Ekblad of Good Shepard Lutheran Church, Janesville, who usually is the soul of cheerful openness, worried about the response to his comments in a newspaper article.
“What needs to be lifted up is that churches are about mission, not about maintenance,” Ekblad said. “I believe God has endowed every congregation with resources that are needed.”
That’s not based on statistics or demographics, but faith, Ekblad said.
Woman’s view a testament
Naomi Nelson, parish assistant at Good Shepard Lutheran Church, Janesville, reluctantly allowed her name to be used in a story about tithing.
“I don’t want to seem like a goody-two-shoes,” Nelson said.
Nelson is a widow with two adult daughters, Jessica and April. Her husband, Lanny and son, Chip, are deceased.
She e-mailed her comments about tithing to The Gazette.
Here is her statement of tithing—or rather, her statement of faith.
A tithe-plus from my employment earnings goes to my church. A tithe from some additional income goes to the Navajo Evangelical Mission in Rock Point, Ariz., in support of a child attending the mission school. With any other monies that comes my way, I automatically give 10 percent to a current need that I become aware of.
A long time ago, though I had already been practicing growth giving, I considered tithing. This was a huge step in faith for me. I asked the question—do I give 10 percent of take-home pay or of the total amount before taxes?
I struggled with that for awhile and then came to the conclusion that God had provided me with income through employment and other means—all of which gets divided up for taxes, church/charitable giving and in support of my needs. Therefore, it made sense to me to consider the whole amount.
I have since decided that medical and pension benefits could be included. It is the whole package I receive from my employment.
I have found that tithing is very liberating. It has strengthened my faith and trust in God. When the decision is made to tithe, there is a sense of freedom from being bound by money or the worry of not having enough. One is also free to be generous above and beyond as the Holy Spirit moves you.
I don’t have to tithe. It is the free response of my heart in my journey with Jesus, my Lord and savior and servant king. I am called to be like Him and follow his example. Every day, I fall short but with Jesus’ love and forgiveness I hope to become more like Him as I continue this journey.