2001—the tithe over time
My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute. Today, a little bit about how the idea of the tithe has morphed over time. In the days of the Old Covenant with the physical chosen people, the Jews, there were three tithes. The first was the temple tax, which was for maintenance of the temple in
, the Levites and the priests. Key verses which speak about this one are Leviticus 27 verses 30 through 33 and Numbers 18 verses 26 to 32. The second tithe was to pay for the festivals commanded in Torah, the Law or Teaching of Moses. Key verses for this are Numbers 18 verses 20 to 26, Deuteronomy 12 verses 1 to 19, and Deuteronomy 14 verses 22 to 26. The third tithe was voluntary, and was a third of a tithe or a tithe every third year, and is based on Deuteronomy 14 verses 27 to 29 only. That tithe was for helping the poor, of which it appears that the Levites were expected to be a part of. At the times in which Jerusalem was a nation, the budget for the country also came out of the tithes. By the time Jesus came to earth, the Jewish people had greater hardship, as, in addition to these tithes, the Israel Roman Empire had more layers of taxation upon conquered peoples. Further, the rabbis had made a rule, not based on any scripture that Jewish people were not to give more than 40% of their increase. This was because of the influence of Roman culture, in which certain wealthy persons were paying for large public works projects to gain favor with the people, so as to be able to gain public office with the Empire. These public works projects could be likened to some of the earliest political advertising in history. Although this might look good to us today, given how we are barraged with annoying and twisted political ads today, the rabbis saw it as a danger to the people.
When Jesus died on the cross, the early believers understood His death as the ultimate sacrifice which fulfilled the Old Covenant, including the laws about tithes. This is confirmed in Acts 15 verses 23 to 29, where the apostles and elders write a letter to define to the early church what parts of the Law were to be carried over into the church. Verse 29 says, “that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” The question they were writing to settle was about circumcision. Tithing wasn’t even an issue.
The church gave generously to help spread the message of Jesus, and to help others, both fellow believers and neighbors who were not. The church did not have buildings. Leadership was by God’s leadership gifts.
Saul’s parents or further ancestors were apparently sufficiently wealthy to purchase Roman citizenship. When he became a Pharisee, it was a rule that Pharisees had to learn a trade, as in the past, Levites had a difficult time when large amounts of Israelites turned away from God and then stopped tithing. When Saul had the miraculous experience that brought him from persecuting the church to speaking for faith in Jesus, became Paul, grew in faith, and started on missionary journeys, having the trade of making tents was handy for supporting himself far from his home church. When Jesus said in Matthew 10 verse 10 that “a worker is worthy of his food,” that was not a license for a church to have a payroll, but that the believers had a responsibility to financially help those who were going to take the message of Jesus where it had not been heard, as those cultures might be so different that being able to make a living there with skills obtained in their home culture may be difficult to impossible. Jesus commended the widow in Matthew 12 verses 41 to 44 who gave generously out of her poverty, as opposed to those who gave much more out of their abundance.
The teaching of one 10% tithe came back into the church in the 8th century, when the Catholic Church began acquiring land in northern
Europe, where 10% of a year’s crop was the traditional land rent. The local leaders, who at that time were trained in ritual, but not necessarily on understanding scripture, then got it confused with the Old Testament writings. Whether that was an honest mistake or not is beyond our reach. Possibly this did not disappear in the Reformation due to the church leaders not being prepared as Paul was to earn a secular living. Today, in traditional churches, 85% of offerings go to building costs and payroll alone, and only two one-hundredths of 1% go to sending the message of Jesus where there is absolutely no Christian teaching going on. Interestingly, we are hearing a great move of people coming to faith in Jesus in the Marxist, Buddhist, and Islamic lands where the believers are underground like the believers we read about in the New Testament, but we, with all our money, buildings, marketing, and programs see minimal.
Much of the reference information about the three tithes is at the end of the blog of September 25, 2011 (the immediately previous one).
The information about the middle ages return of the tithe can be found in George Barna and Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity.
The .02% statistic comes from Steven S. Lyzenga, ASSESSING THE STATE OF SIMPLE CHURCHES IN THE USA REGARDING RELEASING RESOURCES TOWARD FINISHING THE GREAT COMMISSION.http://house2harvest.org/docs/Simple_Churches_Releasing_Resources_S_Lyzenga.pdf