OK, so this is a summary and postscript to all the tithing-related status updates and notes I have been writing. I have been thinking a lot about all these issues, and trying to put my thoughts together to get to a consistent way of thinking about the whole thing.
A confession: when I put my hand up in church to indicate that I did not agree that tithing was a Biblical commandment, the truth is that I did not fluently know the ins and outs of the argument against tithing. The reason why this is important is because I had not had a chance to think through all these issues, to establish a consistent stance for myself. It is this stance that I explain in this article.
All I knew was that I had read enough to convince me overwhelmingly that, no indeed, despite all that I had been taught, this thing is simply not a commandment, the way I had been taught it. I had read the arguments against tithing, a few months previously, but I had never really dug deep into the Bible myself about the subject. I had initially written an article then, and posted it on my Bible blog, but it was not about the real argument, rather considering what the church could look like without tithing.
Why I wrote my (second tithing) article
The main reason I wrote my article (re)titled “Refutation of Tithing as a Biblical Commandment” was so that people would not think I was a heretic. When I was growing up, to disagree with tithing seemed to be regarded almost as seriously as disagreeing with the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (which IS a heresy!). It was the kind of thing that was spoken of in shocked tones, with sharp gasps – “WHAT? She doesn’t believe in tithing?!!” (No, she doesn’t) . The reason I wrote my article was so that if anyone would read it with an open mind, and reach for the Bible, and objectively study the passages themselves, they would see that actually, the biblical argument against tithing is rock-solid.
This is also the reason why I posted the video of R. Renee on my profile. My articles and notes can be a little long and wordy, but I reasoned that it would be easier to watch a video. R. Renee makes pretty much the same points in her videos that I made in my article. Perhaps that is because these are the points that anyone who actually reads the Bible scriptures will see. Now who is R.Renee? Before I came across her videos on YouTube within this last week, I had never heard of her. (Obviously, she’ll never have heard of me either!) However, she demonstrates one of the points that I made in my article that the validity of the Word of God does not depend on who is demonstrating it from the Bible, or on whether or not they are world famous, or “Christian celebrities”. It all comes from the Bible itself. So if she can clearly demonstrate that this is what the Bible says, then her argument must be listened to, not because she is the world’s best known preacher, but because she is irrefutably showing that this is what the Bible says.
In short, to summarise the whole of this characteristically long article, I want people to know that I am right. I know that it is a very bold thing to stand against possibly 90-95% of the pastors of the world. This is why I issue an open challenge to anyone, to read my tithing article, to refute my argument. However, despite this, I understand that most churches preach tithing as a biblical commandment. I am not going to stand against this. I am not going to encourage people to give less to their churches. If anything, I hope that after reading this you will be convinced to give more.
I have had to honestly examine my own heart. What is my real agenda in all this? Why am I going on about this so much – especially when I have already said that I would not go on about it? By God’s grace, I believe I have come to a place of peace in my own mind regarding how to approach the topic.
It’s not because I do not want to pay the tithe
One obvious accusation that people will make against me is that I am talking so much about this because I do not want to pay a tithe myself. Actually, when I first became convinced that it was not a commandment, yes, I had a few heady months of not paying – “You mean I don’t have to do this?! Hallelujah!” However, just to demonstrate that this is absolutely NOT the reason why I am talking about this, I have made a commitment to carry on paying 10% of my income – my whole income – pre-tax – to charity. Obviously, it would be very straightforward to redivert those funds back to paying the tithe to church. Therefore, whenever someone says: “It’s because you yourself don’t want to give..”, I can immediately respond “Actually, I do systematically give 10%…” And on top of that, I’m going to continue giving to my church. So clearly, this is not an issue of my own desire to give, or otherwise.
It’s not because I don’t want you to pay
I want you to know that I honestly do not have any desire to stop anyone paying to their church. I honestly do not mind whether you give 10%, or 20%, or whatever you find appropriate. I honestly do not even mind if a church encourages their congregation to give 100%. (There is a difference between encouragement and pressurising, or manipulation). I believe that we are to give our whole selves to God, including our financial resources. In an ideal world, the church would be the conduit for that giving. (OK, maybe in an ideal world everyone would be the church, or there would be no need for giving…). What I have an issue with is when the church says that tithing is a commandment, that the Bible itself commands this. This is not true.
If you have always struggled to tithe, if you have always had to fight against your flesh or your own inclination to do it, but you regard successful tithing as a triumph against your flesh, then please do not think I’m trying to hold up a seductive theory to encourage you to surrender to your flesh. I am not encouraging a lesser commitment to God, or to reading the Bible, or to prayer, or to winning souls for Christ. I am simply saying that tithing is not a commandment. If you suspect that for you this might be the first step into a cooling of your faith, or if you have always enjoyed the discipline and sacrifice of tithing, why not make a commitment to pay more? Why not say “OK, I understand that this is not a commandment. However, to make sure that I am not going to use this as an excuse to be less committed to God, I am going to give more!” This is what I would do. Could you stretch your giving to 11%? Or to10.5%? Or even to 10.25%? This way, when you read the Bible arguments, and you see that truly, tithing is not a commandment, then you can assure yourself that it is not your flesh that is trying to convince you. Or if ever you need to explain to people that you now understand that it is not a commandment, you can say “Actually, I now give more than 10%”…
You may also now have to give even more than ever to compensate for those people who have been looking for the slightest excuse not to give, and have grabbed my argument as that excuse. (You’ll know these people because they’ll generally demonstrate a low commitment to Christ anyway. They are the ones who will always be too busy for prayer meeting, who will clearly have little relationship with the Bible or its teachings (apart from the popular verses/sayings/ cliches that everyone else might quote), use Christianese incessantly – and inappropriately – (“by God’s grace!” “Thank the Lord!”) and also make excuses to absent themselves from any tasks that require humble, unseen, thankless service.)
Another reason why I am not trying to encourage people to stop paying their tithes, is because I know that so many churches are dependent on this format of giving. If everyone was to stop giving their tithes all at once, then everything we have been used to, everything we enjoy in church – the worship and the nice musical instruments, the nice hotels or auditoria, the refreshments after church – would all end abruptly. This would be a disaster for me as much as for anyone else. The rhythms that we have grown accustomed to, that have underpinned our church attendance would be broken. Churches might not be able to afford their nice locations, so we as church members might not be able to meet together as we have been doing. A lot of people might be upset, confused, disoriented. I might have successfully enforced the fact that “I am right” but in the process it would hurt a lot of people. I have absolutely no desire to do this. I am not going to embark on an aggressive campaign to get people to stop paying their tithes.
However, as sensible as these considerations are, they do not change the fact that this is not a biblical commandment.
What this is about is the Word of God. It is also about these questions: To speak out, or not to speak out? A question of submission?
Permit me, if I may, to insert an analogy at this point. Imagine, for a second, that your pastor starts to preach that Tuesday, rather than Sunday is the day that people have to come to church. Now, this example is supposed to be quite outlandish. I don’t know why anyone would do that. But let’s imagine that he did that. Would you speak out? Would you write an article on Facebook giving the biblical reasons for church on Sunday, and publish it so everyone who goes to that church could see it? Now, the thing is that it is not sinful to go to church on Tuesday. You will indeed be blessed if you go to church on Tuesday, as you would be if you went to church any other day. It is not about the day of the week, but rather it is the going to church itself that matters.
Now, imagine that your pastor started preaching that you would go to hell if you did not go to church on Tuesday. Again, is it the day itself, or the going to church itself that matters? Now would you speak out? Would you challenge him? If people need to go to church anyway, and if the actual day of the week does not matter, can it be so wrong that he preaches that people should go to church on Tuesday? Is it so wrong that he associates this with going to hell? What if you absolutely knew that all the Biblical arguments support “Sunday”? Does the Christian doctrine of submission mean that you should just sit down and keep quiet and submit to whatever your pastor is saying?
These are the questions I am asking myself about this tithing thing. Except that of course, it is not about which day of the week that you go to church, but rather about whether tithing is a commandment. Instead of only one pastor teaching that tithing is a commandment, most of them do – overwhelmingly most of them (in my experience). And yes, it may be rare to hear this associated with going to hell, but I have heard this preached not just from a televangelist, but even from a local pulpit in a local church.
I guess everyone has their different opinions on what it means to submit to pastoral authority. On one hand, yes, I believe in standing up for biblical truth. But pragmatically, things are on a sliding scale. No church is perfect, after all. There are many things you would have to balance out when deciding whether or not to speak out or to put your hand up. When discussing tithing, there is the simple fact that so many churches teach it. So if you were to bother to disagree with your pastor when he teaches that tithing is a biblical commandment, where would you hope to find another church that would NOT preach this? And then you could also consider the pragmatic issues that I have discussed above – paying for church rents, and musical instruments and nice cakes and biscuits. And then there is also the fact that frankly, you are happy to give more than 10% anyway. Plus you also have a number of friends in the church, you’ve invested time, effort – and money! So on balance, it may be one of those things that you let go by you. You know that it is not true that it is a biblical commandment, but for pragmatic considerations you quietly sit and accept it week in, month out.
So in a church there could be a number of people who have made this pragmatic decision. This is not just about tithing, it could be about any doctrinal issue. Other people in the church might not even be aware that this is not true biblically; they may not have invested the time to study this particular issue. (This is where I was on tithing until a few months ago.)
This is how, in my opinion, some quite clear untruths or errors manage to get entrenched in the church. It is not as if some people do not know that these things are not true; in my opinion if anyone grabs a Bible and concordance and systematically goes through every occurrence of the word tithe or tithing, plus if they also google the subject, and objectively analyse the arguments, then they will come to the same conclusion that I have, that tithing is not a commandment. I am absolutely sure that there must be some people who have known for a lot longer than I have that the whole thing is not true. I am even sure that there are some pastors who will have long understood this. I’m sure that some of these pastors are even now in the number of people loudly proclaiming this false commandment. So why am I the only one speaking out? (Of people I know). I am sure it is for pragmatic reasons given above – it is easier to not challenge the pastor (obviously), it is more comfortable, more peaceful – and more submissive – to submit!
So for these reasons, some false teachings can get established in the church to the point where to deny them is regarded as heresy. They have been taught week in, week out, for years on end. Those people who know they are wrong say nothing for their own reasons. Everyone else accepts that they must be right, as they have no reason to doubt their pastor, and, after all, no-one is speaking out against them. This is, in my opinion, how things are with tithing.
However, what if your pastor were now to start preaching that people would go to hell if they did not tithe? Now this tithing thing has by now been thoroughly and systematically entrenched, so to now start denying it is tantamount to heresy. And yet, for me, to start using the threat of hell is to cross the line. This is the point where the need to stand up for the truth overcomes the pragmatic considerations of the convenience and comfort in keeping quiet. Once again, this is not just about tithing specifically, but standing for the truth of God’s Word.
This needs to be boldly addressed to stop it from deepening even further, or getting even worse. If a false doctrine was tolerated while it was not hurting anyone, this is the point where it needs to be challenged, and exposed. And the quickest way and easiest way is to demonstrate this from the Bible. If tithing itself is not a commandment, then obviously it is ludicrous to suggest that someone could go to hell for failing to obey a non-existent commandment.
The Bible has over the last 2000 years been used to justify a wide range of things which to us would seem shocking and clearly unbiblical, utterly against the nature and character of God. Like slavery. Or South African Apartheid. I always wonder what the Christians of that day were doing, how they allowed these fallacies to get so thoroughly entrenched. I know that some people MUST have known that these teachings were wrong. Why did not one person speak out? Or utterly denounce these actions? I always like to think that if I had been alive then, I would have spoken out, loudly, and incessantly. I always like to think that I would not have allowed people to “get this past me”. To me, this tithing issue – actually the whole issue of money and materialism in the church – is a small scale version of this.
Who knows where this tithing thing could go if it is not stopped? I think that now it has become dangerous. Firstly, it is completely not true, at all, in the first place. But to now associate it with the threat of hell? No, no, no and no!
Moving forward, the attitude I will cultivate to tithing
So I think I have made my stance clear. And yet, I still have to go to church, and be a member of a church, so what to do? I do not believe that this is a commandment. I have demonstrated my argument, (quite forcefully in my humble opinion), from the Bible. And yet I know that most churches preach tithing. I do not think that this is a big enough issue to leave a church over. I am not going to challenge the pastor about this – except if asked, as I was a couple of months ago . Yes, I have often considered the possibility of forming my own church, to address this and other issues I have confronted in other churches. However, even if my church was theologically strong in these areas, there would be other areas in which it would be weak. Furthermore I think “independent” churches are inherently dangerous because of the lack of accountability over the pastors, and I don’t particularly feel the calling to be a pastor. So it is only something I would do if I felt I absolutely had to do. Yes, the doctrine of tithing is flawed, but in most churches it has not reached a level where it is intolerable, at least not for me. So moving forward, I believe I have made my views clear, and they are available for anyone to view. However, I’m not going to push it, I’m going to give money to the church, I am in every way going to be a participating member of church life. So then they could say “Well they say she doesn’t believe in tithing, but somehow I believe she may still be a Christian…”
PS – on CREFLO DOLLAR
OK, this is an apology to all fans of Creflo Dollar. I posted a video on my Facebook wall featuring him, propounding quite extreme views in favour of tithing. Now, I obviously have an argument that I am trying to promote, however, I believe in fighting fair. I HATE it when for instance, atheists try to pull down the claims of all Christianity by finding the most weird or ridiculous “Christian” claims, or supposed adherents of Christianity, to somehow suggest that all Christians are stupid, or cranks, or have crazily outdated practices.
So if I were to try to denounce the arguments in favour of tithing by finding the most outrageous pro-tithing rhetoric (like on Creflo’s video), that would be unfair. The outrageousness of the video in itself does not prove that tithing is not a biblical commandment, it just shows that Creflo was being a bit extreme in the way he was promoting it. (By the way, I would encourage you all please to watch the video – for the reason I will outline below).
A second way in which it might be considered unfair to post the video, is that it might not be representative of Creflo himself. This might be the very worst that he has ever done, he might have been having the very worst day imaginable. God Himself is perfect, His Word the Bible is perfect, but no human being is perfect or can be expected to live up to standards of perfection. It would be totally unfair to discard someone who might otherwise have made solid contributions to the modern church, or to our understanding of faith, because of one isolated example like this.
And yet. I will here admit that I have never been the biggest supporter of the ministry of Creflo Dollar, because to me it has always seemed so incredibly materialistic. The reason I posted this video was not only because of the dreadful things he said to encourage tithing, but rather because of the part at the end, where he and another minister were actually dancing all over some money that had been placed on the stage as offering (or tithe?) by the congregants. I was repulsed.
Actually I do not think that the video was unrepresentative. I think it reflected a culmination of what Creflo had cultivated in his heart (as expressed in his words), his teaching and in his ministry for years on end.
Ultimately I think it is legitimate to post this video as part of this debate because Creflo Dollar is someone that is so influential in the modern church, especially the modern Black church. He is someone esteemed as having a “successful” ministry, as someone to look up to. Many pastors will model themselves on him, as well as on other influential “Men of God”. And yet, in this video, the heart that was operating in him, at least on those two occasions, came out so clearly. (The one video represented, I believe, 2 separate occasions). I said it on my Facebook comment on the video, I say it again here, there was NOTHING of Jesus, of love, of God, of sacrifice, of Christian faith in what was displayed on that video. And this is the man that so many people emulate, or want to be like. If he shamelessly promotes a Christ-less Christianity, then is it so difficult to believe that anyone who is ambitious to be like him, who considers him a model, might also go the same way, might also consider it acceptable to use his kind of language to achieve his kind of aims?
A final note in favour of Creflo – my Mother is an ardent supporter of Creflo Dollar, and she claims that he has changed a lot in his message. Sure enough, when I happened across his teaching on TV sometime last year, or possibly the one before, he was preaching a message on the Fruit of the Spirit, namely love. I almost fainted. Then he said “It’s not all about the prosperity, you also have to have character” (or something like that), and I almost fainted again. I guess this shows that with God, truly, nothing is impossible, anyone can change. 😉