Must Christians Pay Tithes?
CERTAIN religious organizations, as, for example, the Adventists, Mormons, etc., insist on taxing their members one-tenth (or tithe) of their annual income for support of their respective church systems. It is said that such demands are in accord with the tithing laws given to ancient Israel.
The first mention of tithes in the Bible is found at Genesis 14:20, where it tells about the patriarch Abraham giving Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God, a tenth of the victory spoils obtained in a particular battle. Since Christ was to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, and since the apostle Paul recounts this incident in Hebrews and shows the superiority of the Melchizedek priesthood over the Levitical priesthood, some people conclude that Christians should pay weekly, monthly or yearly tithes to the greater Melchizedek, Christ Jesus. (Heb. 7:1-12) To draw such a conclusion is to overlook some very important facts, namely, that there is only one recorded instance of Abraham’s giving a tithe. Hence it was not a regular thing with him, nor did he establish a tithing system for his descendants. The fact that his grandson Jacob voluntarily made a special vow to pay tithes on certain conditions proves that they had not practiced tithing.—Gen. 28:22.
In the expansion of the Law given at Mount Sinai, tithing taxes on the land, the fruit trees, and the herds and flocks, were taken for the support of the Levites, since they had no common inheritance in the land with the other tribes. (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:21-32) Out of this fund certain provisions were also taken for the comfort of strangers and orphans and widows. It seems that aid to the poor was to come especially from the third-year tithes. For two years the tithes must be taken to the tabernacle or temple at Jerusalem, but the third year the tithes for that year were to be paid in the villages locally and made available to not only Levites but also “the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow”.—Deut. 12:5-7, 11, 12, 17-19; 14:22-29; 26:12-14.
However, under the oppressive rule of Israel’s selfish and wicked kings tithing was either neglected or was misappropriated, and as a result the nation did not have God’s blessing. (Mal. 3:8-11; 1 Sam. 8:10-18) Good King Hezekiah during his reign restored the tithes for the sanctuary service. And again, after the Jews returned from Babylonish captivity, Nehemiah also set this matter in order.—2 Chron. 31:4-6; Neh. 10:34-39; 12:44; 13:5, 12.
Then came Jesus and the time for the ending of the old Law covenant. Born under that Law, while it was still in force, Jesus upheld and fulfilled every part of it, including its tithing provisions. However, his only commendation of tithing was a sort of left-handed one aimed at the formalistic and hypocritical tithe-paying religionists.—Matt. 23:23, NW.
LAW WITH TITHING ORDINANCE REMOVED
Search as you may you will not find Jesus recommending or commending tithing for his followers. When Jesus sent out his apostles and disciples to do missionary work from house to house and city to city, even unto the ends of the world, he made no provisions for their support through tithing. (Matt. 10:1-42; 28:19, 20; Luke 9:1-10; 10:1-17; Acts 1:8) Jesus came to fulfill and put an end to the Law covenant and all of its ordinances by having it nailed to his torture stake, and at the same time his poured-out blood set in operation a new covenant with superior arrangements. (Col. 2:14-16) Under such new system Christians are under new commandments that are summed up in total or complete love. They must therefore consecrate, not a tenth part, but everything they possess to God’s service and for the aid and comfort of good-will strangers among them.—Matt. 22:36-40.
Recall how Jesus commended the poor widow who gave two small coins, together worth about one-fourth cent. Not a mere tenth, but “all of what she had, her whole living”. (Mark 12:41-44, NW) The same principle was emphasized in Jesus’ parables, how a man finding a “treasure hidden in a field” sold everything, not a tenth part, and purchased the field. And again, how the merchant seeking pearls found a very costly one, and sold everything to buy it. (Matt. 13:44-46, NW) Jesus was not advocating tithing for Christians when he told the rich young man who had kept all the laws of Moses (including that of tithing) to sell the other nine-tenths of his wealth to help the poor and then follow Jesus so that he might have real treasures in heaven. (Matt. 19:20-22) Truly, Christians are under a superior law!
There are multitudes who, after giving one-tenth of their increase, might fare sumptuously every day, gratifying every whim, and living by the most lavish expenditure. How could they fulfill the law of Christ? or be self-sacrificing? Instead of being Christlike they would be pharisaical. The Pharisees were oh so exacting! in paying tithes of the very smallest seeds (mint, dill, cummin); but how selfish and far away from the Lord were their hearts! “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat but gulp down the camel!” (Matt. 15:6-9; 23:23, 24, NW) In fallen man under Satan’s influence there is always the tendency to substitute form and formalism for spirit and spirituality, rules for principles. It is so much easier to conform the conduct to a rule than to make a principle inform the whole life. Moses prescribed rules; Christ inculcated principles. Rules are for children; principles for men and women mature in Christian growth.
TITHING UNKNOWN IN EARLY CHURCH
After Jesus ascended on high do we find the apostles recommending tithing among Christians? Not at all! Paul, who was given the care of all the congregations (2 Cor. 11:28), declared that the provisions and ordinances of the Mosaic law were only a “shadow of the heavenly things”, of “good things to come”, and hence were not the very substance of spiritual things. “Let no man judge you” in connection with the invalidated Law. Christians are concerned about the substance, not the shadow.—Heb. 8:5; 10:1; Col. 2:12-17, NW.
Christians maintain no Levitical priesthood. No “clergy class” exists among them, for whom tithes are collected. “All you are brothers.” (Matt. 23:8-11, NW) Those given oversight of Christian congregations, therefore, are unpaid slaves, not hirelings, not lovers of money or greedy for selfish gain. (John 10:13; 13:15, 16; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pet. 2:16; 5:1-4, NW) This is why Paul, the overseer, instead of collecting tithes for his support, worked with his own hands making tents. (Acts 18:3; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9) Christians in those ancient times, in proving love for God and fellow Christians, made voluntary contributions for the needy, yes, but no oppressive tithing system was established.—Acts 11:29, 30; Rom. 15:26; 1 Cor. 16:1, 2; 2 Cor. 9:1-7; Gal. 2:10.
Unknown in the early church, tithing was not introduced until wolves had entered in and spoiled the simple purity of the Christian flock. (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29, 30; Rom. 16:17, 18; 2 Pet. 2:1, 3) Apostasy in turn spawned an oppressive and expensive hierarchy of bishops, archbishops, metropolitans, popes, etc., who placed heavy financial burdens on the necks of the people. Revenue for this drone class had to be obtained somehow, and so in the year 567 the Council of Tours made tithing obligatory. In 585 the second Council of Macon made its payment mandatory under pain of excommunication. The pope-crowned Charlemagne enforced tithing throughout the “Holy Roman Empire”, and in such countries as France the Roman Catholic Church continued collecting tithes until the Revolution in 1790.
Various Protestant denominations, while not insisting on the one-tenth under pain of death, and while not claiming that all the Jewish Law is binding upon them, certainly give the impression that the Mosaic tithing law still rests on Christians. They point to Abraham and Jacob who preceded the Mosaic law. By this device hundreds of thousands of dollars annually pour into the treasuries of the Adventists and Mormons. Tithing is often the main subject, the theme that is worn threadbare by the Mormons at their annual conferences. Like the Pharisees of old, “they bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of mankind, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Matt. 23:4, NW) Of the clergy who receive tithes today it may be asked, Do you pay tithes of your income to what you consider God’s cause? The Levites paid tithes of the tithes they received. Do you get all the tithes for yourself or for church work? The Levites did not keep all. Do you care for the poor in your congregation from the tithes received, as Israel did?
The Adventists try to justify their “take” in tithing with a barrage of misapplied scriptures. They cite Proverbs 3:9: “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase.” But this says nothing about honoring God with only ten per cent. Christians must consecrate all, and putting the Lord’s interests first in their lives, they give him the best, the “firstfruits”. Citing Psalms 24:1 and Ps 50:10, 11, and Haggai 2:8, etc., as the Adventists do, in no way sustains their flimsy tithing argument. Deceitfully they quote 1 Corinthians 9:11, 13, 14 in their book Bible Readings for the Home Circle, 1921 edition, pp. 657, 658. Read the verse they leave out, 1Co 9 verse 12, and you will see that Paul was not arguing for congregational support for himself, but was showing it was better to be self-supporting.
Let Seventh-Day Adventists explain this dilemma: They claim Israel’s Law covenant was in two parts, the Ten Commandments written on stone, and the ceremonial law later dictated to Moses. This latter part, the ceremonial rituals and ordinances, was the part done away with by Christ, they say. Well then, how does it come they harp so much about keeping the tithing law, seeing that it was no part of the Decalogue, but was part of the added regulations? Even by their own erroneous dogmatism they are thus hung!
Christians, begotten of the spirit of adoption, are sons of God, and as sons are under the new covenant, and they present their all to the Lord. (Rom. 8:14-17; 12:1) They are then made stewards in the Household, and must dispense their time, talents and material wealth in accordance with God’s perfect law of love. Let them therefore think, not in terms of tithes, but in the affection of allness, and thus gain entrance into everlasting abodes through their true Friends, Jehovah God and his Son Christ Jesus.—Luke 16:9.