Post-Tithing: David Croteau

From David Croteau, and his address can be found at the bottom of this post. Pastors and leaders of local churches have focused on tithing, in part because it is measurable and a good lever, but one must wonder why the NT never brings up the tithe. Is it because the NT knows that tithing was a very exclusive kind of offering? Here’s a good set of ideas and proposals and responses to issues surrounding those who propose tithing today.

The Post-Tithing View: Preventing Robbery, Not Endorsing It

In nearly every church I’ve been to, eventually they come around to collect the tithes and offerings. But have you ever thought of what it means to tithe after the cross? That is, in this “post-tithing” era. Is there such a thing? I believe that the standard of giving for Christians is not the typical “10 percent of income,” but a totally different paradigm. The concepts of giving in the New Testament are not a lowering nor a raising of the standard, but the transformation of that standard in consideration of the gift Christ has blessed us with.

What do you believe about tithing?

When I published my first book on the topic in 2010, the subtitle referred to “post-tithe giving.” I noticed that Scot McKnight used the term “post-tithing” in a blog post in January. I was pleasantly surprised for I had never heard someone else use that term. Why use this phrase you ask?

First, the typical term given for the alternative view that Christians are required to give 10 percent of their income to their local church is “grace giving,” a phrase used by Christians like Lewis Sperry Chafer, Ray Stedman, and John MacArthur. However, in recent years pro-tithing advocates have redefined that term saying that Christians should be giving 10 percent, then they would encourage the “grace giving” concept as an extra offering. Therefore, using that expression — grace giving — now could be confusing since it has been imputed with new meaning.

Second, there’s a common misconception that the Mosaic Law defined the tithe as giving 10 percent of a person’s income. They actually gave about 23 1/3 percent of their produce from the land and cattle. Now, I have no problem with someone giving 10 percent of their income. I think for some people 10 percent might be a very appropriate application of the principles for giving outline in Scripture.

Third, the prefix “post” means “after” or “subsequent to.” So does my view make someone an “anti-tithing” promoter? Sort of, if you plan to put your grain, tomatoes, sheep, and oil in the offering plate on Sunday morning. I think it could get quite messy and, to tell the truth, I don’t think that’s what our pastors need to run the church. The Levites needed it during the Old Testament times. The tithe was part of the Old Covenant which has been fulfilled by Christ. So, what is expected after the fulfillment of the Old Covenant?

I love the idea that the New Testament promotes principles that are building off of the Old Testament commands. I don’t see much discarding of the Old Testament in the New Testament, but more of a digging under and building off of.

You may say: “Well, isn’t giving 10 percent of my income a good idea?” It could be, all depending upon the specifics of your financial situation. But I have a suspicion that John Piper’s thought might apply to many of us:

“My conviction is that most middle and upper class Americans who merely tithe are robbing God.”  ~ John Piper (who, in contrast to me, appears to believe in a tithing mandate)

One of my concerns is that this is true of many American Christians. The most common verse used to advocate tithing for Christians is Malachi 3. Many preachers that say that when a Christian fails to give 10 percent of their income to their local church they are robbing God, so people adhere to this 10 percent rule and give 10 percent. No more. No less.

Since the standard has been transformed, we need to reconsider giving. When well-off Christians reflect deeply on the biblical principles for giving, they find that giving 10 percent of their income is woefully short of what God desires of them. We rob ourselves of opportunities when we limit ourselves to only 10 percent. The driving forces underlying all giving should be the grace of God, our relationship with our God, and love (for God and for others). This is the “post-tithing” concept. When we dwell on specific details involved in giving (such as who, when, where, etc.) we can rightly evaluate our motivations, our attitude, and our thankfulness or lack of thereof. If we are giving grudgingly instead of cheerfully, we have missed God’s best for us.  The legalistic mindset of the enchanted 10 percent rule hinders our unity with one another and intimacy with God. We are able to worship unconstrained when we are willing to sacrifice absolutely everything to bring Him glory, honor, and praise. Indeed, our treasure is where our heart is.

Charles Ryrie was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and editor of the popular Ryrie Study Bible. His warning should be heeded: be careful of settling for 10 percent because you could easily get stuck in a 10 percent rut. It is so easy to give 10 percent, that if you think, because of previous teaching, that giving 10 percent at least gets you to the place where you are “okay with God,” then you’ll never ask the right questions.

These are questions dealing with motivations and attitudes, rather than amounts. I exhort you to practice the principles from Scripture to guide your decision making process in your giving (for more on this, look for my forthcoming volume later this year called Tithing After the Cross). You must think, use wisdom, and search your heart on the matter as you contemplate on the gospel and the God that’s done so much for us. The New Testament does not drive us to a calculator to decide our giving, but drives us to our knees and to our God Himself.

 

David A. Croteau

Associate Professor of Biblical Studies

Liberty University

www.slaveoftheword.blogspot.com

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul

    I would be curious where the idea that “tithe is the first 10% and offering is anything beyond that” come about. I hear this all the time amongst Christians and wonder where this is based? Ideas?

  • Courtney

    could you comment on the common preaching that the “tithe” is meant to be given at the local church? And if you want to give to some other ministry that is fine, but that is not your tithe and must be in addition to your tithe.

  • http://www.simotasia.com/words/ Collin Simula

    Our church has a “host-guest” model instead of a typical member/non-member model. This concept makes tithing make so much more sense to me. If you’re the host, you pay for dinner. Tithing keeps the whole thing moving and allows for more hospitality to keep advancing the Kingdom.

    It changed my whole view on the tithing thing, as I was indoctrinated to the whole Malichi 3 thing.

  • Damien

    “Who” you give too is very important. Supporting the local church is a good idea, the workman is worthy of his hire, etc., but, at one point, there might be too much money chasing too few valuable expenses. Perhaps, at least for some people, this is one of the reasons why they are unwilling to contribute more to the church budget. Pronouncements from the pulpit about how giving less than x% to the church is robbing God, etc. are not very effective and can easily give the impression that the church is obsessed with money. It’s even more bizarre when all sermons about money focus on how we should not love money and that those who do will never have enough.

    Why not focus on needs? Let’s explain clearly WHY more money is needed, which programs are not working properly due to lack of funds (as opposed to lack of volunteers, poor training of volunteers, etc.), which expenses cannot be made for lack of money, etc. This seems much more effective than basically telling people to give more money so that we can figure out how to spend it. If it looks like everything is going well, that the church is operating properly with its current income, then calls to contribute more will just fall on deaf ears.

    Then, if you can’t find any expense that is vital to the mission of the church, encourage people to give to other entities. Is it more important to add a couple big-screen TV to the worship center, or help believers in an LDC have a proper church building? Is it more important to have a new asphalt parking lot or that homeless people in our communities be fed? It would seem strange if someone who gave 10% of their income to be spend on frivolous things were hailed as a shining example of Christian generosity, while someone who merely gave 5% of their income to the church but an extra 10% to various charities were scolded for robbing God because their giving did not show up in the church budget.

  • Nathan

    I have heard it referenced to Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek, where he gave 10 percent as a tribute on his return from battle. The illustrations are that Melchizedek is a archetype of Christ, and Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Therefor, since Abraham recognized this in some way and presented 10% of his plunder as a tribute, that is where we get that number today.

  • Paul D.

    “The New Testament does not drive us to a calculator to decide our giving, but drives us to our knees and to our God Himself.”
    That’ll preach! I think I just found a theme for our annual stewardship campaign. ;-)

  • phil_style

    @Damien – #3 I was about to post a comment similar to your won. To “whom” are we giving?
    To a church organisation that has large self-maintenance costs.. or to s community in need of food, shelter medical care and social support?

    I have two friends who dropped everything (church roles included) to move to Kenya and work in orphanage and slum projects. What they do there needs my “tithe” a hundred times over what my local downtown church did (who could afford to hire the 5000 seater city hall every Sunday for their high-production value services).

  • Robert

    If a church insists on everyone paying their tithe, and the result is that a family struggling on an inadequate income goes short, then I think Malachi 3:5 would be relevant (these people really ought to read the whole text!) as well as Jesus’ reported comment in Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47 about the ‘devouring widows’ houses’. then if someone is wealthy, and pays their tithe, that doesn’t reach the Gospel standard either. The Rich Young Man was keeping the commandments, so presumably he was tithing. Yet he had to give the rest away as well before he could follow Jesus.

    I think John Wesley had it about right; keep what you genuinely need, and give all the rest away. He lived all his life on £28 a year, and everything else was given away.

  • http://slaveoftheword.blogspot.com David Croteau

    Paul (#1),
    The earliest person I could find advocating tithing was Clement of Alexandria (d. 215). He put tithing in the same category as the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee. Though he didn’t view these as compulsory, he thought they should be done for the well-being of the Christian. Tithing was not very popular in the pulpit in America until the 1870s when three men, all in the same year (1873), published books advocating tithing: A. W. Miller, Alexander L. Hogshead, and John W. Pratt.

  • http://slaveoftheword.blogspot.com David Croteau

    Courtney (#2),
    I don’t believe that any “tithe” is required, therefore, the idea that “it” would have to be given to a local church does not fit into my paradigm. I believe that supporting the local church should be one of the top priorities for Christians, but that doesn’t mean “a certain percentage” has to go to the local church, nor that all your giving must go through the local church. Hope that helps!

  • http://slaveoftheword.blogspot.com David Croteau

    Nathan (#5),
    The Abraham-Melchizedek passage is one that many tithing advocates point to … good point. I few thoughts to consider. First, Abram (in Genesis 14:18-24) actually gave 100% away, not just 10% … though he only gave 10% to Melchizedek. Second, Abram gave it from the plunder, from the spoils of war, not from regular income. Third, the Mosaic Law prescribes a certain amount must be given from the spoils of war in Numbers 31:28-29: 1/500. So Abram was not following the rules that would be written into the Mosaic Law. Fourth, Abram’s tithe was connected to a vow he made (cf. Genesis 4:21-24). Leviticus 27 seems to say that tithing and vows should not be connected. Finally, there is no pattern of Abram giving a tithe. That’s not to say that he couldn’t have done it consistently, but that we are not told that he did. To take the story as told in Genesis 14 as a command today could be considered falling for the “description equals prescription” fallacy in interpreting Old Testament narratives.

  • http://slaveoftheword.blogspot.com David Croteau

    Robert (#8),
    I love the John Wesley story and I’ve told it many times. I don’t think that it’s required, but what a great testimony he had. I thought his sermon “The Use of Money” was extremely edifying. It had three points: earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. He said Methodists were good at the first two (earning and saving) but not so good at the last one (giving).

  • Kenny Johnson

    Giving has never been my strong suit and I honestly couldn’t imagine giving as much as 10%. I never have.

    A 10% tithe on my gross would be A LOT of money, but even on my net it would be impossible — and yet I’m probably considered middle income. You might say that I’m not sacrificing enough then and you might be right… However, this is the part that always makes me struggle. . . We rent a small (800 sq ft), old (needs work) house, drive used, paid for cars, don’t have cable/sat, use pre-paid cell phones, etc. By the world’s standards — I understand we’re probably quite wealthy!

    However, among my peers, not so much. I have quite a few friends who own houses — that are much larger than our rental, drive newer/nicer cars, have expensive cell phone plans, have cable, etc. People I work with are even much higher on the income-chart than we are: driving bmws, lexuses, etc. and live in large houses in expensive neighborhoods. Yeah, I know I’m not supposed to be keeping up with the Jones’, but its really hard for me to try to lower my standard of living even more than we have just so we can give more to our church.

  • Patrick

    I don’t think Abraham “tithed”. To be accurate, Abraham gave 10% to Melchizedek. Tithe = TAX. Paid into the treasury of a theocracy. It wasn’t a donation, it was a tax. That was only during and for Israel the state.

    For our giving , Abraham is our faith pattern, why not a giving pattern? I figure he was motivated by God to do that. For a starting point anyway. “Give as God prospers you”, “God loves a cheerful giver”.

    “Don’t muzzle the ox while he treads the corn”.

  • http://drawntotorah.wordpress.com Jon Phillips

    I’ve wrote a very extensive treatment on the whole subject of tithing from the origins in the Torah all the way to the NT. http://drawntotorah.wordpress.com/tithing/

    There is ample evidence from biblical text, history, Christian, and Jewish sources that tithing is something we as believers should be doing. In fact, tithing is one of the subjects that Judaism and Christianity are in complete agreement on.

    The big takeaway from my study is that there is no biblical claim that any organization, church, synagogue, or ministry has that can obligate a person to give a tithe to. It’s important to give, and we are free to choose who to give to, whether it’s directly to a person or family in need or into the collection plate on Sunday morning.

  • Aaron

    I’d really like to ask what post-tithing looks like for the barely-scraping-by family of five who went to Bible college and seminary to serve the Lord, giving everything they had to that cause, and are now strapped with $60k in debt, who want to be faithful and give, but who know that giving a tithe (10% of course) would make it impossible to pay the bills. We give lots of time and energy in teaching and leadership in the Church, but when the conversation comes up, no room is given for giving anything but cash.

  • Mike M

    Our experience is that the most wealthy members of the church are the most vocal advocates of 10% tithing. Why not? Giving $50,000 to the local church still leaves you with $450,000 of discrentionary income while $4,000 from a family of four that nets $40,000 means the difference between eating Ihealthy and eating garbage. Forced tithing (whether through guilt or false promises via the God-as-a-vending-machine approach to theology), is violent and anti-Christian yet we see it at work every day.
    Malachi includes instructions on paying taxes as well as tithes. So I think if you are stuck in the 15% bracket, your “share” should be 8.3%. Or, if you want to follow Jesus, you can invest your time and money into causes he thought were important: Our experience is that the most wealthy members of the church are the most vocal advocates of 10% tithing. Why not? Giving $50,000 to the local church still leaves you with $450,000 of discrentionary income while $4,000 from a family of four that nets $40,000 means the difference between eating healthy and eating garbage. Forced tithing (whether through guilt or false promises via the God-as-a-vending-machine approach to theology, is violent and anti-Christian yet we see it at work every day.

  • Ron C.

    If my memory is serving me properly, tithing is only mentioned 8 times in the N.T and five of those occur in the epistle to the Hebrews. These 5 are stating historical facts attributed to the old covenant and in no way command the tithe. The three others are located in the Gospels before the beginning of the new covenant.

    Years ago I heard a pastor say that the reason the N.T. is basically silent regarding the tithe is due to the fact that the Jews knew it so well. I considered his comment for a couple of months: then I experienced one of my few “light bulb” moments. I realized that Paul mainly went out to the Gentiles and they knew nothing of O.T. tithing. Paul was very serious about giving. However, it was an issue of the heart and not law.

    This convinced me that tithing is an O.T. concept that did not carry over to the new. To preach the tithe today would be similar to preaching circumcision or keeping the festivals. If this is true, then many “churches” across this nation have been deceived.

  • http://nowthinkaboutit.com EnnisP

    I think “grace giving” as you’ve explained it can be far more legalistic than “tithing” and John Piper’s remarks illustrate the point. Anything done by grace doesn’t need to be coerced.

    I also question the idea that the Old Testament tithe ended up being 23 1/3 percent. Many have suggested this but never with reasonable arguments to sustain the idea.

  • Alison

    I think the alleged 23 1/3 % included everything required to keep the nation going. It was a combination of taxes, giving to the poor, taking care of the widows, taking care of the tabernacle – everything. Since I currently am in the 25% tax bracket (yes, as a single secretary with no home and no dependents, I pay a higher percent of taxes than most rich people), I’m wondering if someone owes me a rebate. Seriously though, the idea most churches promote that it all goes to the local church (my pastor can point to a verse at the beginning of Acts that “transfers” the tithe from the Old Testament to the local church – I wish I could remember what it was) is just plain wrong.

  • http://nowthinkaboutit.com EnnisP

    @Alison

    I’m familiar with the arguments justifying a 23 1/3% OT tithe and I agree that it initially sounds plausible, until you realize the idea is predicated on the same Jewish scholarship that transformed the Sabbath – a day intended for rest and relaxation – into the most stressful, dreaded day of the week. It isn’t a stretch to think the same mindset would transform other clear teachings into camels no one can swallow.

    I agree that a portion of the tithe (10%) covered some expenses usually paid for by taxes (e.g. education) but government was minimal in those days. 10% was more than enough if every one participated.

  • Mike M

    EnnisP: for a good reasoning behind the 23 1/3, see ch. 8 of “Pagan Christianity.”

  • Tim Atwater

    Good discussion. I wonder still though about Jesus remarks in Matthew 23 and Luke 11
    where he says essentially the Pharisees are right to tithe, but the greater by far issue is tithing justice, mercy and good faith (Mt) and/or love and justice (Lk)?
    I don’t think it is a sure thing that this means everyone else is also supposed to tithe — since Jesus gives stronger counsel to the rich man who asks what he must do to inherit than he does to wealthy Zack who climbs a tree and makes an offer of fifty percent down and four-fold reparations —
    But i hear more tension in the word re law and gospel than a simple
    ‘its all fulfilled’ post resurrection.

    Wesley was a bit of an economics fundy but i still symp w him. He read Acts 2 and 4 as normative and Acts 5 as a big NT fall story…
    I don’t think Jesus (or Wesley) would be rigidly pro-tithing for those lower down on the economic scale.
    But i do think we tend to place ourselves lower on said scale than where we may actually be.
    And we may tend to be more selective in the parts of the law that we hear as still in play. (I am guilty on this point, though i think struggling to get it better…)

    Re how much of a tithe (or offering) should go to the local church, i think it is situational, case by case. Lots of good examples given already above. Deut 14 is interpreted variously by various parties, but seems to call for some for the Levites, some for the poor, some for one’s own spiritual pilgrimage (including eating and drinking of the tithe). A wholistic notion of the tithe, which i think Jesus is down with, probably seeing some of this in Levi’s party for him… etc etc..

    thanks all
    blessings

  • Progresivo

    I’m going to go out there and say it: a 10% tithing (whether a requirement or an expectation) is LEGALISM.

    With that off my back, I think we need to quit bickering over what small percent Jesus wants from us, after which we can do what we want with “our” money, and realize that Jesus wants our ALL.

  • http://nowthinkaboutit.com EnnisP

    @Progresivo

    It would be legalistic to DEMAND someone tithe but it is no more legalistic to TEACH it than it is to say “Jesus wants our ALL.” In fact, the grace giving approach – I’m assuming that’s what you mean by Jesus wants our ALL, pardon me if it isn’t – is far more demanding – daunting – than tithing, especially since it is usually presented with very little in the way of budget guidelines and often implies more than a tithe. When someone does take the time to put it in the format of a budget it looks like tithing.

    Does anyone have the right to imply giving more than 10% (coercive) or the authority to reduce it (presumptuous)?

    God requires your obedience not your generosity. 10% from a meager – hand reaching mouth only at a stretch budget – is just as significant in God’s eyes as 50% of a billionaire’s budget.

    God has promised to bless percentage giving (10%), nothing more, nothing less. Whatever you give above that is not required, should be given without announcement and invested using only the wisest financial council. Otherwise the person giving may become the person needing in the future and what is the point of that.

    God has NOT promised to bless giving generally speaking, generosity or even sacrifice and on top of that, the laws of giving don’t trump the laws of money management. Yes, I used the word “Law” twice. The laws of giving and money management, like gravity, can’t be diminished and the consequences can’t be avoided.

    If I misunderstood you, please say so. If you care to elaborate on “Jesus wants our ALL,” I would appreciate that.

  • http://slaveoftheword.blogspot.com David Croteau

    EnnisP (#25),
    How do you back up the statement “God has promised to bless percentage giving (10%)”? Where is the promise that if someone gives 10% of their income they will be blessed?


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