I was a sophomore in college when God began doing a special work in my life. I joined West End Baptist Church in Birmingham and jumped into all the activities I could work into my schedule. That’s when the minister of education made a false assumption about me.
Ron Palmer stopped me in a church hallway one day and said, “I’d like you to give your tithing testimony in church.” I said, “What is that?” He said, “Tell us your story, why you tithe your income to the Lord through the church.” I said, “What is this word ‘tithe’?” I could not remember ever hearing it before.
Ron explained that to tithe is to give one dollar out of every ten to the Lord through our church. I said, “Well, in that case, I can’t tell my story because I don’t do that.” At the time, I had almost no income–I worked Saturdays selling men’s clothing at the National Shirt Shop downtown. What little giving I did in church was infrequent and miniscule.
It was several years before I started tithing, and even then I struggled with it for the next decade. Part of the struggle was just doing it–when you’re in seminary or getting started in those early poor-paying pastorates, every bill that arrives in the mail is a challenge–and the other part was coming to terms with the doctrine itself. Is this something God expects of us? Where is this taught in the Bible? Since most all the references are Old Testament, wasn’t that Jewish and not Christian?
Recently on my website I reported talks given by two ministers to a small group of pastors and seminary students in which both happened to mention tithing. One church is in Texas and the other Georgia, but both require their teachers and staffers to tithe. One speaker had said his accountant does the tax returns of 600 ministers and had found that only one-fourth of them were tithers. The pastor had concluded a lot of ministers are not living up to what they preach.
In the “comments” section of our website, where readers can register their opinions and reactions to articles, one fellow exploded in anger, accusing me of hypocrisy of the worst sort. When I tried to respond, I found that his website was all about promoting his book against tithing and that his computer blocked my message. I also discovered some of my friends wanted to weigh in on the subject of tithing.
That’s the purpose of this little article. At the end, you are invited to tell us why you tithe or why you don’t. Disagreements and differences are welcome. Just be respectful.
It’s only fair that I go public with my own convictions on this subject. I am a tither, and I’ll be happy for anyone who knows my accountant, Larry Holmes, of Bourgeois and Bennett in New Orleans, to ask him. Larry reads this and I hereby grant him permission to answer anyone’s question about my tithing.
I could list dozens of points and insights on this–and you know that I am not a man of few words–but let me confine it to just a brief few, in no particular order.
1. Tithing is not “Old Testament law.” A long time before God gave the Law to Moses commanding tithing, Abraham was giving a tithe to God, via Melchizedek. (Genesis 14:18ff) (That’s not a major thing, but it’s worth noting.)
2. Personally, I do not “tithe legalistically.” I try to give more than a tithe, but when someone gives me a gift for a wedding or a funeral or a banquet or whatever, I do not get out my calculator and figure the tithe to the exact cent and make sure I get that into the church bank account asap. I usually write a monthly check to my church and make it large enough that it surely covers all the income I have received. In addition, I give to my seminary, to Billy Graham, to my college, and frequently to other pastors I know or to those in full-time ministry who depend on the generosity of God’s people.
3. Tithing is most definitely not just for rich people, as our internet critic claimed. The beauty of tithing is that everyone can do it, even the struggling seminary students or poor beginning pastors, or welfare recipients for that matter, and this system makes them giving the “same” as the richest in the church. It must really enrage our critic that Jesus applauded the sacrificial giving of the little widow lady in the temple treasury.
4. My college pastor–Rev. W. G. Burkett, now retired and living in Lexington, KY–used to teach tithing. He would say that most of those who oppose it are just looking for excuses to get out of giving. He taught that in the New Testament, we are expected to do far better than the Pharisees and Sadducees–they were tithers of the strictest sort–and that if anything, we should give far more than a tithe to the church. Tithing should be the bare minimum for Christians.
And yet, no pastor I know makes it a test of one’s Christianity. It might be a test of one’s growth and maturity–although not necessarily, because you can get saved today and tithe tomorrow and still be a baby in the Lord. So it’s only one element in the total picture.
5. The Christians I know who tithe never talk about it and would shy away from doing as my friend Ron Palmer suggested, giving a public talk about it. There is no pride in it, and I would surmise that many have done what I have, tithed for so long and tried to go beyond that standard, that they rarely give it a thought any more. They just do it as regularly as they read their Bibles in the morning.
Normally, we just “invite” readers to leave their comments at the end of these articles. But in this case, we are “urging” it.
Why do you tithe? What started you? What scripture on this subject means the most to you? Are you legalistic about it?
Or, why do you not tithe? And if you believe tithing is legalistic, do you have a different system? Do you personally give more than a tithe or less or does that not matter?
Let the discussion begin.