A good friend asked, “God says not to worry about money, to count on Him and He will provide. I’m okay with that. I count on Him all the time. But, why do the churches want 10 percent of my gross earnings? I’m confused.” That question and the following answer were printed in the Dec 22nd, 2010, Louisburg Journal newspaper.
The Bible does not require Christians to give 10 percent of their gross income. Pastors and churches teach this based upon a misreading of the Bible, and a need for your money (in order to make budget). To help you see where churches go wrong in this, we need to go back to the Old Testament.
The Old Covenant was a national charter given to Moses on Mt. Sinai for Israel – Israel being the nation that once was. Each member of that nation paid taxes in tithes (10% increments) as follows:
A. The annual 10 percent to support the priest-class / Levites (Lev 27:30-33; Num 18:21-28)
B. A second 10 percent was brought to Jerusalem for festival purposes (Deut 12:5-6,11,18; 14:22-27)
C. A third 10 percent was required to assist the poor (Deut 26:12-15; Deut 14:28-29)
Adding up A B and C, one can see that these three tithes turned out to be a single hefty national tax – a tax for the citizens of the nation of Israel. The third one, C, may have been given less often than annually.
Pastors and churches make two mistakes when trying to apply all of this to Christians.
First, in claiming to follow the bible, they extract one tithe without realizing that there were three. In the worst instances, they speak boldly of God’s personal displeasure against those who do not give 10%. In this, they are mistaken, and they speak loudly of “the tithe”, as if there was only one. Often, they quote Malachi 3:10 (a document that called Israel to pay its taxes) as if it applied to Christians who are not under the Old Covenant.
Second, they appeal to a unique war narrative as if it were normative for Christians. That narrative is in Genesis 14. Abraham, who was not under the Old Covenant, gave 10% of the spoils of war to a king (the booty which was stolen from someone else entirely). That episode is not a command but a narrative. Great care is needed here: a war narrative is not to be uncritically turned into a command that has binding power on Christian worship.