Tithing Or Free Will Offerings?

Often, this writer has found that people are greatly surprised by the fact that churches of Christ do not teach or practice tithing today. Tithing to most religious people, means to give ten percent of one’s income to a religious organization. Most people in Protestant denominations have been taught that it is their obligation to tithe. Because the emphasis on tithing is so great and so constant in Protestant denominations, most people are greatly surprised to learn that tithing is neither taught nor practiced in the church of Christ.

Of course, tithing was commanded and otherwise referred to numerous times in the Bible, in most cases, in the Old Testament. The first reference to tithing is in Genesis 14:20 in which Abram voluntarily paid tithes to King Melchizedek. This is referred to in Hebrews 7:4.

Numerous laws requiring the payment of tithes to God were common to the law of Moses. At Sinai, three specific tithes were bound upon the Jews as part of the Law of Moses. These three were (1) The Levitical tithe for the support of priests (Num. 18:21,24), (2) The Festive tithe for the feast days (Deut. 14:22-27), and (3) The third year tithe for the support of the poor (Deut. 14:28-29). They were also required to leave their land idle one year out of every seven and to forgive all their debts each fiftieth year, a year of jubilee. They were to leave the corners of their fields so that the poor might glean from them. In addition, there was the regular giving of animals for certain special sacrifices. Later, when the kingdom was established, they had to give another tenth to the support of their government (I Sam. 8:15-17).

When all of the things which they were required to give is added up, it is estimated that from thirty to fifty percent of everything that came into a loyal Jew’s hands was to be returned to God. Thus, from the Old Testament, we gather examples of people giving ten, often thirty, and up to fifty percent. Which one of these, if any, is our standard today?

Generally, modern religious groups have bound a 10% tithe on their membership. But there is neither example nor command in the New Testament for tithing. Since tithing was a part of the Old Testament command and practice and since the authority of the old law was taken away with the death of Christ (Col. 2:14), there is now no scriptural authority for tithing. It is because we rely upon the New Testament for our religious authority, that we do not teach or practice tithing. To bind the tithe or any portion of the Mosaic law on Christians is to fall from grace and be severed from Christ even as did those who bound circumcision on the saints in the first century (Gal. 5:4-6).

There are at least four different arguments which have been used to try to justify tithing today. First, it is argued from Hebrews 7:4 that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. The question is asked, “If Abraham, a type of the Christian, paid tithes to Melchizedek, a type of Christ, how can we who are the seed of Abraham not pay tithes to Christ?” But that question is not Paul’s argument in Hebrews seven. He was not trying to prove that Christians should tithe. The gift Abraham paid was voluntary. If this manmade argument is correct, it just proves that Christ does not demand a tenth, but if the Christian voluntarily gives it, He will accept it.

Second, it is argued that since Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek before the Mosaic law was given, it is an eternal law and carries over to us today. But that argument does not account for the fact that when the law of Moses was taken away, all of the good about it was brought into the new covenant, the law of Christ. In fact, all that was good and right in all former dispensations was brought into it. But the law of tithing is absent in the New Testament. It was not a law repeated in the New Testament, and therefore, it is not binding on us today.

Here is a third argument which some use to try to justify tithing today. Some would go to Matthew 23:23 which says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” During the ministry of our Lord, the eagle-eyed Pharisees searched constantly for wrong in Him, but never once criticized Him for failure to tithe, though this was immensely important to them, even to the tithing of the smallest of garden and medicinal herbs. Jesus approved their tithes, but denounced them for omitting the weightier matters of the law. But friends, it is a poor argument indeed to bind the tithe on the basis of Jesus’ practice, for He kept all the other ordinances of the law as well, including animal sacrifice. We are under a different law today than either He or the Pharisees.

Fourth, many turn to Matthew 5:20 and try to find justification for Christian’s tithing there. Matthew 5:20 says, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Some have twisted this verse and interpreted it to mean, “the Jews tithed. They gave a tenth, and our righteousness must exceed the Jews by giving more and doing the same thing- therefore the Christian must tithe plus.” But this is a misapplication of the text. Tithing is no more a part of Christianity than any other element of Judaism. The Bible commands free-will offerings, but it does not command tithing. Paul wrote two whole chapters on giving (2 Cor. 8 and 9) and did not write one word on tithing. Why is that?

Friends, the truth is, the righteousness spoken of in Matthew 5:20 is self-righteousness or self-justification. The Pharisees were trying to save themselves through their own system of so-called righteousness. Paul speaks of how the Jews “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). Jesus Christ brought into the world a system of righteousness which differed from that of the Pharisees and exceeded it not in degree, but in KIND. It was the righteousness of God, God’s own system of justification through the gospel. Without this righteousness, no man can enter the kingdom of Christ. That is what Matthew 5:20 really teaches. What is lacking in all four of these popular arguments for tithing is actual authority for the practice.

What does the New Testament teach concerning our giving today? “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2). Here we see we are to give (1) periodically- “upon the first day of the week,” (2) personally- “Let every one of you”, and (3) proportionately- “as God hath prospered him.” “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Here we see we are to give (4) purposely- “as he purposeth in his heart,” (5) pleasantly- “not grudgingly or of necessity,” and (6) plentifully. “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). We should give plentifully.

There is no set amount or percentage of one’s income that a Christian is commanded to give. Christ has placed us on the “honor system” in our giving, and expects us to give generously in proportion to our God given prosperity.

— Mike McDaniel