Ask The Thoughtful Pastor: Recording The Tithe

Ask The Thoughtful Pastor: Recording The Tithe April 19, 2018

The church in the US exists as a voluntary institution operating without state mandate (as opposed, for example, to the Church of England, still supported by taxes on landowners). It actually has no right to the “tithe” as the basis for it has passed.

freely offer the titheDear Thoughtful Pastor, Matthew 6:4 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) reads: “Give your contributions privately. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.” According to this scripture, is it wise to put your name on the offering envelope?  I know for tax reasons you need to so the church knows who is giving the tithe. My wife is a paid employee of the church. What would you do in our case?

Matthew 6 is part of a what is often known as “The Sermon on the Mount,” a collection of sayings that speak to the core of ethical Jewish practices. In these, we see Jesus reversing many of the normal religious and ethical practices of the day and calling people to a much higher standard of living.

In Matthew 6, Jesus speaks specifically of three expected practices of every faithful Jew: giving, prayer, fasting. In each case, he reminds his listeners to perform those practices in a way that does not bring attention to themselves. Give so freely that your left hand doesn’t know that your right hand already handed out something. Pray with such quiet humility that no one knows you are praying–and be sure and forgive the trespasses of others while doing so. Fast, i.e., refrain from food, in such a way that observers cannot witness any bodily discomfort.

When you read the entire sermon (Matthew 5,6,7) carefully, you’ll see a series of essentially impossible standards.

So, what’s the point here? None of us, not a single one, has ever lived up to them. That doesn’t mean we have the right to ignore them. In these words, Jesus describes the ideal of the kingdom of heaven: righteousness quietly practiced, goodness evident to all, and love transformational to the world around us.

Every culture needs to find a way to integrate those kingdom of heaven values.

So, should you put your name on the tithing envelope?

First the “tithe.” Traditionally, it comes from the practice of giving 1/10 of household income (be it animals, plants, or actual cash money) to one particular group of Israelites: those from the family or tribe of Levi, one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Alone of all the tribes, the Levites had no inheritance of land. Always remember: in ancient economies, possession of land meant wealth. No land, no crops, no animals, no nothing.

But the Levites were set aside to serve the entire community as teachers and religious leaders. They occupied a position of privilege and one of considerable responsibility. Their work supported the health of the community. Thus, the community supported them in return.

At that point, politics and religion were the same. As we live in a democracy (rule by the people), they were to live in a theocracy, rule by God. The priests, Levites, scribes, etc. were to interpret that rule, speak for God and ensure that people lived by that rule.

In the ideal theocracy, there is no tax, just the tithe along with many other offerings for special purposes. For Israel, a nation routinely conquered by foreign nations, they had both internal tithe and externally-imposed taxes, leaving most fairly impoverished.

Now, we do not live in a theocracy, although some would like to take us back to that direction. (Note: don’t go there. Not one has turned out well and they are very oppressive societies). Instead of the required tithe, we now pay income taxes, sales taxes, real estate taxes, gasoline taxes, cigarette taxes, etc.

The church in the US exists as a voluntary institution operating without state mandate (as opposed, for example, to the Church of England, still supported by taxes on landowners). It actually has no right to the “tithe” as the basis for it has passed.

They do have a right to offerings–gifts freely given to support the missions and ministry of the church. Pastors should be paid for their hard, relentless work of guiding congregations, shaping disciples of Jesus, proclaiming the word of God, caring for the sick, comforting the grieving, shaping the future of religious thought. Buildings need care and upkeep, and good financial records must be kept for the sake of accountability.

Local churches often have transformation wonderful impact on their neighborhoods. They survive and thrive by voluntary offerings. Many give 10% because there is just something freeing about that number: It’s a weekly, monthly, yearly reminder that, yes, the work of God should be supported and to be a part of that support is actually a great honor.

For you, if you do itemize your taxes, put your name on your giving envelope so you’ll have adequate records. However, don’t present your gifts such an ostentatious manner that you end up taking the kind of glory that belongs only to God. That will keep you faithful to God’s word.

Photo credits:
Pixabay, Creative Commons
HM Revenue & Customs on / CC BY

The Thoughtful PastorThe Thoughtful Pastor, AKA Christy Thomas, welcomes all questions for the column. The print version runs twice a month in the Denton-Record Chronicle. Although the questioner will not be identified, I do need a name and verifiable contact information in case the newspaper editor has need of it. You may use this link to email questions.

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