It is arguably the most pervasive doctrine of the Church, so well-received that even those who ardently decry any other form of abusive ministry will just as fervently defend this doctrine.
“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed Thee?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground, nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:8-11).
This one passage, very familiar to anyone who has attended church faithfully for a period of time, has done much to burden the Christian with something that doesn’t even apply to him.
Without going into a great amount of detail, the comparisons between the Old Testament law of tithes and offerings and the New Testament principles of giving contrast so sharply that it is virtually impossible to ignore the differences.
For one thing, the O.T. tithes were directed toward the nation of Israel. The above verse indicates that quite clearly. It was a physical demonstration of the Jewish people in covenant relationship with the LORD. It was both the individual Jew’s and the entire nation of Israel’s duty to tithe on order to fulfill the Law. If he/they didn’t tithe, they were cursed.
There is no such thing as a nation of Christians. Our covenant is one of the heart. Christ has already fulfilled the Law in us (Romans 8:3-4). The mandated, outward observance of religious statutes (such as circumcision and tithes) have been done away. When Paul heard that Judaizers were attempting to bring circumcision into the Christian community, he placed anathema on them for subverting the law of grace (Galatians 1:6-9). The whole point of the book of Galatians was to show that we are no longer under the Law, nor could the Law make us righteous (Galatians 3:10-11). Since it says in verse 10 that everyone who practices the Law must abide by every point, or he is cursed, it is clear that circumcision is also implied, as were the temple practices, the priesthood, etc. Since these things are no longer in practice for the Christian, tithing falls right into the same area. Also, since Malachi curses those who do not tithe, and we are told in Galatians 3:13 that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, it is evident that both cannot apply.
Also, it is obvious that the Old Testament tithe was a requirement–no exceptions. But we are told in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that we are not to give under compulsion (or requirement), but to give as we ourselves purpose to give from our heart.
The tithes were used to support the Levitical priesthood for service at the Temple (Numbers 18:21-30). In the New Testament, all believers make up the priesthood (Revelation 1:6), and believers themselves are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), the only temple where God dwells.
One more critical point should bring the argument in favor of a tithe to a screeching halt. The tithes were assessed only the increase of the crops and cattle of the Jews, and was paid in crops and cattle (Deuteronomy 14:22-23). Only if a person lived too far from the temple to make the yearly trip with a caravan of goods could he convert the tithe into money, and add one-fifth to the price (Leviticus 27:30-33, Deuteronomy 14: 24-25).
Now, it is a great leap to say that the local church building now represents the Temple where the tithes were stored, and since it is too far to bring our cattle, produce, new wine, etc., then we are permitted to bring our money instead. But then, remember that we must add one-fifth to the price, thereby giving more than the traditional 10% tithe. And all this to support the Levitical priesthood, which, symbolically is now the local pastor…
You can see where this is all going. The argument falls apart when taken in context. Now, certainly we should give, and that generously, for we own nothing. We are only stewards of what belongs to God anyway. But twisting the financial arm of the average church-goer or laying a heavy burden of guilt on him for failure to fulfill an unwarranted expectation is Pharisaical.
“And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the multitude were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. And calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty put in all she owned, all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:41-44). (The above is by author unknown, found by me years ago.)
We see here, at the last, a revelation from the Lord that giving is a matter of the soul. Read the sermon on the mount and see the comparison between sheep and goats – each group did the same things, but the sheep did so unto the brothers of Christ, knowing only that they loves the redeemed brotherhood; and the goats gave without knowledge of love, thinking they were honoring the Lord. This reminds us that the righteousness of deeds done in our flesh is rubbish, while the small things we do in the Spirit of God are pure gold.
Not everyone who teaches tithing is a swindler. A.W. Pink is an example of such a man. Yet the teaching of tithing is, in my opinion, the result of not seeing the theology of the Kingdom of God rightly, being too concerned with earthly things and the continuation of Israel as seen with eyes of flesh.
For more reading, including a couple of free ebooks, check out http://www.tithingdebate.com/
The battle cry of The Reformation was – and still must be – Soli Deo Gloria! Let nothing we do be less.