THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS A POST FOR MY WEEKLY FACEBOOK ARTICLE, CALLED SUNDAY NOTES, ON SUNDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2010. Apologies, I don’t think I realised how long it was as I was writing it…
Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
Well, I think I know what I would love to be writing a Sunday note about. However, last week, I asked people to tell me if they read my Sunday notes, and if they thought there was any value in relationship advice coming from someone as single and maritally inexperienced as I am. And the results were…Well! (Just realised that “marital” is an anagram of “martial” – haha! Love is war, baby!). In short, if you secretly read my relationship notes but were too shy to speak up, you’re gonna have to wait (till next week? Beyond?) because today, I’m gonna talk about tithing – oh yes I am!
Now before I start, please understand me. I am not telling anyone to stop paying their tithe. I am not even saying that I am going to stop paying my tithe. I’m not definitively saying anything. I am just examining a topic… Also, crucially, I am not going to present the Biblical arguments for or against tithing. I don’t want anyone to turn around and say “Tosin said….”. What I will say is that I read an article that presented what was to me a credible argument against tithing, and I’m sure that Google will turn up similar arguments for anyone who is genuinely interested.
What I do want to do today is consider what the church might look like without tithing. I know that this is deeply, deeply controversial, which is why I am reluctant to provide the arguments myself. However, let’s remember our faith is based on Truth, and our faith never has anything to fear from honest examination of truth. For me, it has made me think very radically about what church is, or is supposed to be. Ultimately, we may individually and collectively decide to carry on doing things exactly as we have been doing them before….? Also, I don’t want to suggest in any way that my opinion is definitive. Obviously it is not. I am only providing my own opinion. I hope that by God’s grace my opinion is as valid as anyone else’s and worth examining, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion, anyone is entitled to disagree with me, or to proceed as they see fit on the strength of Biblical evidence.
OK, about tithing then. The reason why this is so controversial, and I am being (uncharacteristically) careful, is because, in my opinion, tithing is the backbone of the modern church. I don’t mean in competition to God or Jesus or the Bible, but the structure of the modern church in my 30 years of experience is highly dependent on the concept of tithing. In every single church that I have been a member of, or visited, tithing has been encouraged as the default practice. Good churches encourage tithing. Inactive churches encourage tithing. Good pastors, Black, White…seriously everyone preaches tithing. My parents were pastors for 13 years as I was growing up, and my Dad as a pastor still remains for me a paradigm of ministerial excellence (not that I’m biased, or anything, naturally!) – and he definitely preached tithing! BTW, tithing for people who don’t know is the practice of systematically giving 10% of your salary/earning/wages/income to your local church. A tithe=a tenth and from that the money given in this way. Is this to be a tenth of the amount you earn pre-tax (gross) or the amount you earn after tax (nett) ? Well ask any pastor – I have never heard a pastor preach that the tithe is a tithe of your actual take home pay – it is to be a tithe of your entire earnings before tax has taken its own bite. So no surprises there then – although I guess it does make sense – if you’re going to pay a tenth, then pay a full tenth.
Now, this article (I read this week) is not at all the first time that I have come across people disagreeing with the practice of tithing. The first time was at uni, over 10 years ago (I believe I was in the first year) – a theology student by the initials of R.M – now a minister, and here on FB, had a little – ahem! public disagreement with our church pastors about this – I wonder whether he still believes the same thing? And since then, I would catch little excerpts of articles, or small references here and there offering arguments against tithing. However, I was able to dismiss them quite easily, because I thought “OK, it’s all very well to say “you don’t have to tithe”, but practically speaking, a church needs to pay for the rent or purchase and maintenance of of its building; gas and electricity bills, musical equipment etc etc – and clearly that money has to come from somewhere”. And 10% is a convenient amount that does after all have some Biblical justification. Thus far on that basis, I’ve been more than happy to pay my tithe. Also, the Biblical arguments in favour of tithing that I had been presented with also seemed quite convincing and sufficient. The case was closed. Simple!
However, I’m now thinking that with this week’s article, my viewpoint has changed somewhat. If, indeed, there is a Biblically valid argument that tithing is not, after all, a rock-solid commandment, as I have understood it, as I have been taught, then clearly we can still collectively decide to tithe anyway, for the sake of maintaining our churches as we have previously been doing.
But what if the focus on maintaining our churches is itself the problem? Who actually said that the church needs to have its own building, and microphones and cars etc? Without a doubt, these things are essential for church as we know it, or the status quo that we have all come to accept/promote . However, church as we know it might not actually bear any resemblance to the Biblical model. Now, there is no doubt that “giving” itself is absolutely essential as a Christian. The Bible says “give”. The Bible commands “give”. The Bible encourages “give”. The Bible teaches us to give of our everything: our time, our money, our food, our talents, our love, our service, our life. The Bible teaches that God is the One who gave us everything in the first place, so it’s all His anyway, so He can make demands of how we are to use anything He gives us, or He can claim it all back if He so wishes. He is God, it is all His, He can do whatever He wants. He can make us give it to wherever He wants. So it is not the giving itself that is an issue.
In the New Testament Church, which is our Biblical model for church, members of the church gave everything to one another and shared everything except husbands and wives. They lived for one another, they died for one another. What I think was crucially different about their church, compared to what we now think of as “church”, was that the church was the people. The church was not an entity in and of itself; giving money “to the church” was about giving it to specific individuals who were in need; either directly, or through the apostles who headed the church. In the New Testament, it does not seem as if there was a set amount on how much anyone should give – people gave everything, or people gave nothing – people gave as they saw fit, as they were able.
What we do differently is that now we don’t give money to one another, we give it to a central body. This money is not then distributed as necessary among the members, and it no longer belongs to the members – rather it belongs to the church, which is now a separate entity with its own assets and its own bank account. It is never again for access by needy members of the church This is the first way it is different from the New Testament model.
Furthermore, when you put an amount on how much someone should give, then I think it subtly changes the dynamics this way. It means that a pastor, or would-be Christian leader can now start making estimations of how much money is going to come into the church. Now there is the temptation that the focus could change from God, and what He can do; to money, and what it can do. It means that the pastor/leader can target people in certain socio-economic brackets, and think to him/herself – if I get x number of professionals earning between y and z, and 60% pay their 10% of that money, then the church should be receiving….That means that you can know what type of building your church can afford, what type of instruments etc. In this situation, would it come as any surprise if a leader were to desire to have more members for their church, as an end in and of itself, if that would mean having more people to tithe, and hence more money coming into the church? Then, would it not make sense to strive for ever more glitzy and glamorous trimmings to your church service, if this were to attract more people? All in the name of serving God, naturally.
In many human cases, money is synonymous with power, and sadly, in the church, this has also been true historically. If it is allowed that the church should be an entity all by itself, with its own assets, would it not make sense then that would- be pastors and leaders might be attracted to this as a career, not out of any desperate love of God or Jesus, or desire to serve, but rather from the potential of succeeding, and being seen to succeed? If your church is visibly seen as a success, with a large congregation, an excellent choir, a beautiful building etc, then by implication you too are a success, and you carry greater clout within the “kingdom”. I have often observed that in modern day Nigerian churches, this is the case. In fact, it is so obvious as to make you look stupid when you remark on it. Christianity, or what we have always understood as Christianity, has made such inroads into Nigeria or Nigerian society that people publically refer to God and Jesus everywhere. It brings a smile to my face to think of this. When I look through my Facebook Newsfeed, when I see people quoting from the Bible or making references to Jesus, a full 90% of the time these people will be Nigerian (or Ghanaian, where the same thing is largely true) – or at least Black African – and not only because I have lots of Nigerian/Black African friends. This is not a bad thing. The flip side of this is that the church (to my cynical analysis) now seems to be the preferred way of earning prestige and honour among Black Africans – and people do run after positions, not only because of the desire for service, but also because of more human and base desires for power.
For a pastor, then charisma has a very obvious way to triumph over character, as it now becomes a matter of who can draw and keep a crowd, rather than who will nurture their congregation through to true Christlikeness. None of this is good; looking at the tremendous sacrifice that the “Darling of Heaven” Jesus made for us by dying on the cross for our sins, none of this is even almost acceptable. But this has all been considered without looking at an extra element – ie that many pastors strive to be supported financially by the income from their congregations. When you allow this, you allow a free-for-all in pursuit of utter greed, with some pastors pocketing more income from their bigger churches as their rightful reward for their success. Now, not all pastors are greedy, many pastors are very, very holy and pursue true Christlikeness for themselves and their members; many pastors are supported financially by their congregations and nevertheless endorse and practise the highest Biblical standards of financial integrity. It’s just now “the other way” is now a real possibility, and a constant temptation. And it’s all about the money. Without the money, without the tithe, would so many people be attracted to be pastors? If there was no money, no fancy buildings, no glossy brochures, what would be the attraction, apart from being able to tell other people how to live their lives (which is admittedly, strong in its own right…)? Perhaps, then, as pastors you would get more people who genuinely pursue Christ and His claims for themselves, instead of wanting to be seen as successful, or calculating how much they could personally earn if only they had x members in their church…
It’s certainly worth a thought, don’t you think?
****At least in most White churches that I have been to, most people can concede that tithing is a matter of personal belief. But not so in most Black churches – there it is presented as absolute commandment… I guess if you were to “buy into” the whole “nice church” thing – having a comfortable church building with cutting edge multimedia displays etc, then you have to be willing to pay for it – so if you did want to “do away” with tithing, then all that would most likely have to go as well… 😉