What does it mean to tithe?

As a devoted follower of Christ, I am in many ways saddened by the state of the Christian Church as an institution, and I will be addressing some of those issues in upcoming blogs.  There are many who share my thoughts.  On Monday morning I listed my status on Facebook as “Frustrated with Organized Religion.”  For the next day my email inbox sounded like popcorn – I was peppered with responses from people who wholeheartedly agree with that statement.  These people aren’t atheists or people of other religions, they are fellow Christians.  Here are some of the comments:

  • “…constructs of men (mankind) will never measure up!”
  • “Preach it, sister.”
  • “Good news Amy, you have that in common with Jesus!”
  • “I understand how you feel. I tell people I’m still in recovery from organized religion. I don’t miss it at all.”
  • “To my way of thinking, and I could be wrong, “organized religion” is an oxymoron. I doubt Jesus ever said ‘stand up, organize’ so much as “come to me however you can.” I hear your frustration and raise you a dismay.”
  • “I think the saddest thing which could also be considered ‘organized religion’ is just the fact that there being so many denominations. Which has caused so much division among believers/ And many have distorted the truth about what it is rally about! Not just show up, stand up and sit down and now I’m good for another week. Yes…Jesus does say-’Come as you are-you don’t have to impress me…you are mine..I made you and I know you-just be real’
  • “Your profile status and the comments it elicited struck a sensitive nerve in me. For the past year and a half, my husband and I have been unlearning the organized religion part of our faith in an attempt to reach people who won’t have anything to do with it.”

If Christians are angry and bitter about what’s going on in the Church, imagine how outsiders and seekers must feel?

What prompted me to make the statement “Frustrated with organized religion?”  Sunday after church, my husband and I had a frustrating disagreement with one of our pastors about, among other things, the practice of tithing.  We have very different concepts about what constitutes tithing and it developed into a rather heating and awkward exchange.

In my mind, Christians are to not only to support the local church, but the broader church and overall human condition.  That means supporting other ministries and worthwhile charities beyond one single church congregation. Likewise, if we attend a church outside of our local area while traveling, that congregation receives our tithe for that particular week.

The issue arose when this pastor suggested that it was not biblical to give a portion of our tithe to an organization other than our home church.  Our first priority was to pay administrative costs etc. so that our congregation could stay afloat.  A full 10 percent of our gross income was to be giving to the church; any additional giving beyond that would be sacrificial.

Ironically, we had just watched a video on Compassion, and thinking beyond ourselves to care for “the least of these.”  There are beautiful souls around the world that are struggling for survival and live lives of complete despair. The poverty is real and heartbreaking.  In my mind, caring for them is at least as important as making sure the heat is on in the church building.

I decided to delve more deeply into the issue of tithing by referencing the instruction manual, the Holy BIble.  This is what I found:

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (New Living Translation)

The Giving of Tithes

You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God.

“Now when the Lord your God blesses you with a good harvest, the place of worship he chooses for his name to be honored might be too far for you to bring the tithe. 2If so, you may sell the tithe portion of your crops and herds, put the money in a pouch, and go to the place the Lord your God has chosen. When you arrive, you may use the money to buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Then feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and celebrate with your household. And do not neglect the Levites in your town, for they will receive no allotment of land among you.

“At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town.  Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.

While Scripture clearly states that we are to support the Church, the last few verses also state that a portion of our tithe should be given to widows and orphans.

I’m certainly not trying to nickel and dime our giving; on the contrary, my husband and I donate far more than 10 percent whenever possible.  Obviously, if people don’t give generously to their local churches, they will cease to exist.  But I think this argument is a symptom of what’s wrong with the Church at large and what turns so many off from Christianity. What’s at stake here is far larger than how much money lands in the offering plate.  This is an issue of legalism and boxing in the Gospel.

I’d love your comments.  What constitutes a tithe according to your interpretation of Scripture?  Does it really matter where we donate our money as long as it is helping others?

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About Amy Hagberg

Amy Hammond Hagberg is an author, ghostwriter, editor, and speaker. She is the author/coauthor of seven books, including her latest release, "Facing the Dragon" with coauthor David Parnell. Amy collaborates with subject matter experts on a variety of topics and ghostwrites memoirs. She also provides manuscript evaluation, copyediting, and book doctoring services to other writers. She is a frequent contributor to publications around the world on subjects ranging from marriage and parenting to spirituality and lifestyle pieces. She specializes in personality profiles and research-intensive stories. A sought-after speaker, Amy gives keynotes and facilitates retreats for groups around the country. More details can be found on her website: www.amyhagberg.com.
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6 Responses to What does it mean to tithe?

  1. Veronica says:

    I agree with what you say. I also think that it is a Christian’s duty to make sure there money (tithes) is spent in a way God instructed. Throughout the New Testament God said to give to the poor and needy. I feel guilty giving my money to a building to keep it up and people are starving. What is so suprising is that most churches do not even have an outreach program. If they did and a portion of the money went to it then I can deal. I am also very careful of the charities I give to. There are thousands of charities out although millions are pump through these organizations yet hunger is not eradicated . I know the Earth at present makes enough food to feed every man, women and chiild 3000 calories daily so why are we still dealing with world hunger? I know it is more complicated than that but not as complicated as they want us to believe. God has provided. Sometimes food can not reach the people due to wars etc… and some of the money is not given to the cause. I only particpate in charities that give at least 80% to the cause. We have to be stewards of our money and make sure we are educated and doing the rigth thing.
    Although I am one of the believers that do not think tithes is a commandment in the New Testament I do believe it is the model in which we can follow with our giving. God does expect us to give and 10% is a good start. I give by what is in my heart. Sometimes 5%, sometimes 10% and sometimes 25%. I never want to be below 10% weekly but sometimes it just does not work out that way and I do not feel guilty about it. I gave by my heart. If I feel that I need to give more than 10% to an organization then I do and I do feel I have the right to brag. I thank God at that time I had it to give.

  2. Joel Turner says:

    Sir: First of all GOD does not need our money, for he owns all things. What the problem is about tithing, it goes into the preacher’s pocket. God said if I needed something to eat I would not have asked of you. Jusus plainly instruced his deciples to go out and preach, DO not take shoes for your feet, nor money for purses, for a workmen is worthy of his meat.So preachers who read this : Why take something that GOD told you not to? It is just a job for many, if down the road you get a better offer to take care of another church,just walk away and leave the congeration sunday morning for they mean nothing to you . For the love of money is the root ao all evil. Little sheep, fear not {the lord] will provide.

  3. Deloris says:

    Actually from everything I read above, the tithe does not indicate giving to God. What the scripture speaks to is being thankful for your harvest and using a part of the harvest to celebrate with the Lord. He does not want your tithe, he wants you to celebrate with him, but he still wants YOU to eat what you have earned. In both verses, it clearly states to go to a place the Lord has choosen and eat the tithe (crops, cattle, wine etc.) in his presence where does it say give it to God? That being said, I donate to the church, (of my choosing) because I understand that in this society money is the currency used to keep the economy going. I also see nothing wrong with preachers earning money, because they do provide a service and many of them do not have another way to earn income.

    However, what I give is– a donation. I do not give 10% of my salary and I have not seen evidence in the bible that I am required to do so. The problem I have is A: the church forcing membership and insisting one must have a church home. B: the church not acknowleging that there are many ways to give. C. The church using scare tactics and guilt trips, in order to “encourage” giving money. I give of my time, my heart my skills. I am happy to say I am truly blessed and thankful for my blessings.
    All in all I see the church as a business that provides a service and rely on loyal and repeat customers.

  4. Dan says:

    Statistically, less than 2% of “Christians” tithe or give offering. thats a problem when we’re discussing thankfulness. We live in a society that states “action speaks louder than words” I believe there is a lot of truth to that even in our Christian walk as individuals and corporately as a group of believers gathered in the name of the Lord (Church).

    Aside from where our heart is and how we offer to present our tithe before the Lord, the issue you seem to be struggling with the authority of church leaders and the lack of trust in their leadership. You must remember that though there are many false prophets/teachers it is our christian duty to do our research in those areas with the holy spirit and the word of God as our counselor. Secondly, when the leader is deemed authentically chosen by God, then it is our responsibility to trust that God will lead that person.

    Church membership is important also, because you see in the bible there are many believers who are associated with a specific church. it is a way to keep another brother and sister accountable.
    the church has the role of getting to know each member and instructing them and even disciplining the member, without such membership how can you ask someone to be committed to you?

    if you think that an acquaintance will keep you accountable, the reality is strangers do not regularly lend a hand or even a minute to talk to someone.

    Another controversy I see regarding pastor’s salary is that they need to be supported. We see in the bible that Pastor’s primary role is to teach the word of God, that is their primary vocation, and as believers we need to provide so that they can have ministry as their primary vocation. Imagine a chef that has to wait tables and do the dishes. Furthermore, pastors are well deserving of a high salary whether they seek that or not is a separate issue. If you base a person’s postion in a company based on credential’s a pastor has a minimum of a mater’s degree. Many theses days have a doctorate or a phd, how much is that worth in a corporate world?

  5. Margaret Feige says:

    This is an interesting discussion. A friend and I have been having an argument about tithing.

    To me, tithing is not just to the church I attend, but to God’s universal Church — so tithing includes giving to my home church, giving to missions, giving to BSF, giving to Christian help organizations, and occassionally giving to Christian friends in need.

    My friend (who is Lutheran) says tithing is just to your home church, that the other things are good and we are definitely called to do them, but they should be done in addition to giving your home church 10%.

    Going by my friend’s definition, I have not always been giving 10% to my home church, although I do feel I have been generous. What do you think? Is tithing to the church, or to the Church?

    • Amy Hagberg says:

      Margaret – I am in 100 percent agreement with you. My husband and I split our time between two churches – one for the preaching and music and the other for fellowship. We give to both and are generous with Christian charities. I’m sure if we added it all up, we are giving far more than 10 percent of our income. To me, the “Church” is God’s people, not a building. After all, in Christ’s day, there were no megachurches. I would rather feed a starving child through Compassion International than pay for cushy sanctuary seats. I will say, however, that it is critically important to support local churches; staff need to be paid and programming needs to be supported. If you look at Old Testament law, the concept of tithing to the temple is very specific. The New Testament, however, seems to emphasize giving to those in need.

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