On a post below, the reader "If All Else Fails, Read" asks me about tithing.
I don't have any sage advice. But I'll take a modest stab at the topic.
First of all, I think the legalistic tithing requirement went the way of the ceremonial law. Those few cases where it is mentioned in the New Testament (e.g., Matt. 23:23, Luke 18:12, Heb. 7:5) refer to people living under the law. For Christians, it has been replaced by a New Testament requirement, that our heart is our judge and we are to give cheerfully:
Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2Cor. 9:7)As in all things, we can abuse our liberty and drift toward antinomianism. Anyone using this passage as an excuse to avoid giving is in need of some self-examination.
The guidelines really are "your heart." So what does your heart tell you to do?
I absolutely despise how some churches make giving legalistic again. (Do they just ignore the "under compulsion" part of 2Cor. 9:7?) I am not kidding; I was once presented with these guidelines:
- You must tithe.
- It must be on your pre-tax dollars (no special instructions for those living in Sweden at the height of Scandinavian socialism, when tax rates could go above 90%—d'oh!)
- The church will be donating monies to missionaries—so any extra you want to give to missions/charities not directly supported by the church cannot count toward tithing.
I guess if I had to suggest a guideline it would be this:
- Although tithing, as strict requirement, has been done away with—it was an amount chosen for a reason—so I would take it as a baseline goal. (And, in my opinion, use after tax dollars—the question here is clearly what are you, as a Christian, prepared to give-up (with a cheerful heart) in a material sense, in order to help fund the church and evangelistic activities. The example of Sweden demonstrates how the "before tax" requirement is nonsensical.)
- As with being freed from the law in other areas, while on the surface it sounds like a windfall, it actually is a tougher standard. Under the law, adultery was adultery and murder was murder. Freed from the law, lust becomes adultery (yikes) and anger becomes murder (yikes2.) No doubt that applies to giving: If ten percent is very easy, then you probably should give more.
- On the other hand, if ten percent means you can't feed your family, then feed your family.
- Remember the cheerful giver requirement, and if you can’t meet it, work on it.
- In terms of distributing your giving, I am sympathetic toward the view that it is the sum of your giving that matters. However, I would suggest that it is wise to stay informed as to the financial health of your church. If you can't pay your pastor, then I would suggest directing more to the local church. First things first. (On the other other hand, if the church is generally sound, but wants to buy a $100K pipe organ—well that’s a different matter.)
- Also, if you have missionaries/charities that you support, you might get involved in the missions committee, and lobby for church support. That way the thorny question of dividing your money might become less problematic. And there may be enlightening reasons as to why the church declines to support a given missionary group or charity.