Early Non-Pauline Christianity
A Review of F.F. Bruce: "Men and Movements"
The Jerusalem Council and Tithing
Wednesday, May 9th, 2007
Why didn’t the Jerusalem Council in their response to the gentile churches mention tithing since this is such a old church tradition? (From Keith in Dothan, Alabama)
I assume you mean since it was an important Old Testament concept.
I don’t go into this in the section that covers the Jerusalem Council because my answer brings up issues that are not basic, that is, not 101 level. Luke is giving us a sanitized version of the events. Many scholars believe (as I do) that Paul is describing in Galatians 2 the same events that Luke describes in Acts 15.
You can see that Paul does refer to the same issue (the mission to the Gentiles) that came up in Jerusalem:
2:9 James, Peter, and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.
2:10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
You might remember that in almost every Pauline ecclesial letter, he mentions the offering for the church in Jerusalem. This was an important thing for Paul as is indicated by the fact that it appears in several of his letters. There is not complete agreement among scholars on this issue, but the prevailing opinion is that the Jerusalem leadership (led by James) wanted the Gentiles to contribute the "Temple Tax," a tax paid by all Jews for the upkeep of the Temple (at least that is my understanding). Most believe that this offering from the Gentiles to the Jerusalem church was important to Paul for the following reasons:
1. It gave some validation of the outreach to the Gentiles - their financial support helping to support the struggling Jerusalem church.
2. It proved to his critics that Paul was NOT somehow against the Jewish congregation, nor was he in complete rebellion against the Jerusalem leadership (although he openly disagreed with them on the Gentile issue).
3. It illustrated one of Paul's key messages - that God had made Jews and Gentiles one body.
What is interesting, as your question states, the Jerusalem Council did not include the tithe in their "essentials" for the Gentiles. In all of Paul's references to this offering for the Jerusalem church, he only mentions "tithing" one time (1 Cor 16:2) when he says to "set aside" your gift (whatever you can afford). But this is not tithe as in "tenth," but [Greek, titheme], "to put, or to place," and wrongly used at times because of the linguistic similarities for the classical concept of "tithe."
The tithe is an OT concept. The NT ethic is that 100% belongs to God, not just 10%, and He can ask/tell you to give it away whenever He so chooses.
If you will permit me to make another questionable request that has been unsatisfactory to me for some years back now. The issues of tithing has been a topic that i do not understand the way i should. How important is it to my life and what exactly is the book of Malachi referring to by saying we have robbed God in our tithe and offering.
is there any way you can help me to have a full message on tithe.
- Adewale Oladunjoye (from Nigeria, I think)
This is my OPINION and I am sure many will disagree with me.
I do not think tithing is a New Testament principle. There is not a clear NT command to tithe. Jesus speaks about the tithing of the Pharisees and indicates that they indeed "should" do this AND not neglect the greater things (like mercy), Matt 23:23. This is Jesus (a Jew living under the Law of Moses), speaking to Jews living under the Law.
Hebrews 7 speaks of tithing when Abram gives a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek, but again, this is retelling an OT story. Notice the writer does not then say, "so you also should tithe."
The NT does teach the following:
- being generous with God's blessings to you
- give to the poor
- when you give, not IF, give what you feel in your heart, not under compulsion
- God will be generous to you in the same measure as you are generous to others
- you should contribute to those who teach you spiritually (my opinion of what Gal 6:6 says)
For the most part I have tithed for over 30 years. While I do not think Christians are required to tithe, I do think consistent, disciplined financial giving is a good thing.
When you ask about "robbing" God in Malachi, my first response is - this is Old Testament and should not be seen as a direct statement to New Covenant believers. Having said that, I do think it says something about a person's values if they earn $100,000 a year and they give $3,000 of that to their spiritual "base." If I were attending a church where the average family earned $100,000 and we paid the full-time pastor $35,000 I would be more inclined to apply the words of Malachi...Or if the church could not afford to replace the broken heater unit, or had old, tattered furniture while the average member lived in VERY nice houses with nice furniture. I think Malachi speaks to this.
At the same time I was the guest speaker for a church (more than once, actually) where the furniture in their "green" room equaled a year's wages for me. I remember this put me off a bit. I do not like the church spending God's money on the "riches" of this world. Do we really need to spend God's money on $50,000 worth of furniture when $10,000 is fully sufficient? I would hate to attend that church and find out that we had several families struggling to keep their heat on without getting any help from the church. [For all I know that church may have been paying the electricity bills for several church families, so we must be careful when we judge. They MAY have been renting that furniture for a small monthly fee, who knows?]
So I think we must be open-handed with all God's blessings to us. Be generous to your family, to your friends, to strangers, to those more needy than you, and to your spiritual leaders and/or church. Giving and being generous helps us to discipline ourselves from spending too much on "self." Giving of our money illustrates our confidence that God will take care of us - that was part of the rationale for taking one day a week to refrain from work.
Why is there such a conflict of opinions about this topic of tithing among Church leaders? I have listened and continued to listen to great preachers on both sides of the fence, when we maturely know that the modern church needs to be supported, not for the sake of seeing who can build the greatest empire but to minister to the needs of people. Why can't we come together on this?
Recently I have been challenged because I love my Pastor and Church family but disagree with them on this issue of "store house tithes". I have a problem when people are being admonished to not pay their bills but tithe first and God will reward this. I believe there are verses in proverbs which tell us to pay our bills. I also believe we are to give happily with out grudge. If you give grudgingly how will God receive it. What do you say without becoming divisive?
All good questions.
I am going to respond, but let's remember that I am just giving MY opinion.
Conflict of opinions is not new and is not something we will be rid of anytime soon. A time came for me when I had been ordained and working in ministry for several years when I decided not to sit quietly when someone said something I disagreed with. Obviously, I typically did not say anything in a public setting, but I began to confront people who presented opinion as settled doctrine. I can tell you that I started earning respect
from some, but scorn from others. When I was departing my ministry post to pursue PhD work some gave me heart-felt affirmations and some let me know they were happy to see me go. Oh well.
The concept of tithing is sensitive because the men/women who lead the church depend on people giving of their finances. That used to be me and I respect that. I have no problem with leadership teaching financial stewardship. I used to ask my people to make a financial commitment, write it down and hand it in - the church needed an idea of what the budget was going to be. I asked people to be reasonable - do not commit to more than you really believe you can do, but make a commitment. All of us have to budget for paying for all expenses. The church needs to know what it can count on.
I tried to never badgered them. I never said things like, "If you are not giving your tithe to this church you are robbing God."
First, if someone is not giving they have a reason. I would do better to ask people to come see me if they would like to discuss their financial situation. Some people commit to individual missionaries or other Christian organizations. I never wanted to make my people feel like they were cheating me to do this. I ALWAYS asked them to be financially committed to our church, but never told them a tithe was the only acceptable way to do this.
Now, being on the other side is not easy.
If leadership or someone in the church is pushing me I tend to just state my position and let it go. I have never been asked to serve in any serious way in a church and this might be part of it. Many leaders will not ask someone to serve who does not show a significant financial commitment. I have never asked because quite frankly I have my own areas of spiritual ministry-giving that I have developed over the years. If my pastor or others were too pushy on me about this issue I would probably find another church.
Now for a story to illustrate what I do not like.
I attended a church for several years. We had purchased an existing church building. It was not the greatest, but it served our purposes. When we first purchased it there was such rejoicing that we had a building! After maybe a year or so I began to notice that almost EVERY single Sunday at some point the pastor would apologize for our building. This usually happened while he was welcoming visitors. For some reason he felt
embarrassed about our physical surroundings. The church was growing and I think was a good church, but every week we would hear him say something like, "We are not hung up on our building as you can see, but we thank God we have a church building." Or, "We are the church. Thank God this building is not the Church."
I grew weary of hearing this. People came to the church knowing full well what the building was like. Visitors that would not return because something about our facilities turned them off...not sure we should worry about them. My opinion.
It also was like telling me that I must be an idiot for attending a church that met in such a crappy building. You can see that this kind of presentation just bugged me.
One morning this pastor got up to begin his message and announced that God had spoken to him that we were commit ourselves to upgrade our facilities. We would begin a push, a campaign of extra giving so we could bring the building God had given us "up to speed." His message centered around our need to fulfill our commitments to be the people of God. To his credit I do not remember him pushing tithing.
That was my last Sunday to attend that church, but not because the church pushed tithing or even the concept of giving. I had reason to think that perhaps the pastor had not heard from God, that perhaps his own insecurty about not having a nice building had bugged him to the point where he convinced himself that God had spoken to him. Now, I could be wrong, no doubt. And this was not the only problem I had seen/heard/felt, so I left.
Did I go explain to this pastor why I was leaving? No.
I realize that many people think we owe it to the pastor to tell him/her why we are leaving, but I do not agree with this theory. IF he had asked I MIGHT have told him, but usually I find this line of action is more about telling off the pastor than it is a true desire to fulfill our commitments.
When I was pastoring I had several members over the years come to explain to me why they were leaving. It was usually a time to complain and for them to tell me what they did not like about me. I usually just allowed them to do this without a fuss. They had already made up their mind and trying to persuade them would have been useless. Every now and then I was given some good criticism - I would acknowledge this, sometimes ask for forgiveness and move on.
Well, there you go.
I do think we should avoid doing/saying things that lead to division.
I hope this helps.
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