Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tithing and Charities: My Response

Before I begin my response, let me begin with this: the responses averaged 491 words, so I will limit my response to the question in the same way that the authors were limited. And yes, the text below is exactly 491 words.
The problem I have with answering this question is that it assumes a certain view of the tithe that I explicitly reject. I do not believe that 10 percent of income is a requirement for Christians. Therefore, the short answer would be: Christians can take the amount they have decided to give and split it between their local church and other charities without fear that they are robbing God … with one major caveat.
First, the definition of the tithe must be clear. The tithe in the Old Covenant refers to Israelites giving 10 percent from the increase of their crops or cattle. It was always connected to the land of Israel (crops from the land or cattle that fed off the land) and never referred to income in general. It definitely was not 10 percent of income. Let me illustrate.

Leviticus 27:32 says “Every tenth animal from the herd or flack, which passes under the shepherd’s rod, will be holy to the LORD” (HCSB). So, if someone has 10 cows, the 10th cow that passed under the rod would be given as a tithe. 1 out of 10 is 10 percent. However, if they had nin9e cows, they would give 0, meaning 0 percent. If they had 19 cows, they would give 1, meaning about 5 percent. So, what percentage did they give? No one really knows because it was different for everyone. Also note that “money” is discussed numerous times in the first few books of the Bible before the tithing Law occurs in Leviticus 27. While Israel may have been primarily an agricultural society, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have money or deal in money.

Second, I need to discuss the one caveat I referred to above. I do believe that Christian giving should place the highest priority on their local church. It’s not that other charities aren’t worthy, but verses like Galatians 6:6 lead me to believe that when one joins a local church, they should commit to supporting the ministries of that church. If your local church is struggling financially, trim down your giving in other areas and increase your giving their. We give over 75% of our giving to our local church. The remaining 25% goes to missionaries or other charities. However, if our church had a shortfall and needed more, we would probably sacrifice more and give to our local church, rather than take away from the missionaries we support. 

Conclusion: It is not “robbing God” to support charities, but your local church should not be suffering financially because of your support for those charities. My favorite quote about robbing God comes from John Piper: “My own conviction is that most middle and upper class Americans who merely tithe are robbing God.” The wealth of many (but not all) Americans means that the consistent application of the principles for giving explained in Scripture would result in giving that exceeded 10 percent of income.


Paul said...

Thanks for your answer. Interesting illustrations from Lev 27. If interested, see my similar post, albeit beyond 491 words.

H.A. said...

Perhaps in line with your last paragraph (Piper's, as well as your thoughts) is an old quote that is a favorite of mine, I think from J.B.Gambrell: "It is unthinkable that the Christian would give less under grace than the Jew gave under law."

Dave Moser said...

A few other considerations:
- As givers we are responsible to make sure the charities support are actually doing good. Unfortunately many charities take in money and do very little with it. Check in places like to make sure they are legit.
- What if your local church has a budget issue because of administrative bloat? I would rather devote my energy to solving that problem than decrease my giving to other causes.
I know you couldn't fit everything in 491 words but thought these things were important to say too.

Anonymous said...

H.A. posted the quote,
"It is unthinkable that the Christian would give less under grace than the Jew gave under law."

Let's carry that to its logical conclusion. In addition to the first tithe, Israel also used a second tithe for the feast of tabernacles. In addition to that, a third tithe was given every three years. That's an average of 23% of income. I don't see how one can argue for one tithe without arguing for all three.

Then factor that in the US 40-50% (or more) of income can got to taxes.

Comparing the nation state of Israel to the church in the context of tithing in the way that quote does may be sound pithy, but lacks a deeper, thought out, scripture-based context.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your post. I have held that view from my own study of the word, however, I did not withhold offerings because of it. However, I have always preferred to share it only when necessary, since this is such a charged topic. I believe this is one of those doctrines that if you believe you should be tithing 10 percent of your income because of your conscience then you should. My problem with the tithe is that often a pastor may know it is an Old Testament Jewish mandate but they will teach it as if it applies to the church, then use the passage where Abraham tithed to Melkizadech to make their point that the tithe is pre-law. The reason I struggled with the teaching, not the giving, is because it is disingenuine Paul who was so thorough never addressed this doctrine, not even when he was rebuking the Corinthians. Many pastors teach this for fear the congregation will not support the church. My other issue with tithe is that I met many single moms struggling to make ends meet who were so fearful of not tithing that often their electricity was cut off, they didn't have enough money for bills or food and spent most of their time stressed wondering why God hadn't provided though they were paying their tithes. Expecting that God would come through because that is what the Pastor told them and warned them if they were not faithful God would not be pleased.While I agree that we need to support our church, we cannot assume the church is investing the money wisely. Being on the inside, I see the wastefulness that takes place, a gift for Mary who helped us for the event, another for Joe who was so nice to donate his time, new lights, new carpets, things that may not be necessary at that time. Meanwhile, much of the congregation struggles financially. Can God provide? Of course. Does God reward faith? Of course. But what about giving under cohersion? I have issues with this because of the abuse. I am glad that you offered a balanced approach.As for Gambrell...It is unthinkable that he would be the judge of those who give less than he thinks they should give. The Jews were compelled to give by the fear of the law Christians should be compelled by love not fear.

David A. Croteau said...

Paul, I think we are on the same page on this topic.

H.A., regarding that quote from Gambrell: I've read that statement dozens of times in books and been in many conversations where it was stated. The problem, however, is that "Jews under the law" did not give 10% of their income. Once that is realized, that statement starts to unravel.

Dave, I agree with both of your considerations, thanks for adding them here.

Anonymous (#1), good points, but you can add on to the 23% at some points (gleanings, for example) and actually subtract for others (the specific way the animal tithe is described in Lev 27:32 for example). But good points.

David A. Croteau said...

Anonymous (#2), I would never advocate the idea of "not giving." Christians are to be generous, sacrificial givers, to be sure.

David A. Croteau said...

Anonymous (#2), I would never advocate the idea of "not giving." Christians are to be generous, sacrificial givers, to be sure.

Anonymous said...

How about if your local church always has more and keeps accumulate more on her annual balance sheet, and the church leadership has no specific plan to use the fund for further the spreading of the gospel and other charitable works?

Bob Schilling said...

Great article. For a great, classic article google Thomas Peck's (a student of Dabney and Thornwell whose 3 vol "Works" are published by The Banner of Truth Trust) article entitled "The Moral Obligation of the Tithe" where he defends what MacArthur and others point out that the OT pattern of 23.3% tithe of the state/church Israel is fulfilled today in the clear teaching in the NT to pay your taxes. Our churches, says Peck will far more prosper under the gospel motivations of 2 Cor. 8 & 9 for example than any obligatory tithe-tax system. And amen to this blog - your local church obviously should receive the lion's share of your giving - but are are free to determine the allocation of the funds God blesses you with - be a steward that honors God; give proportionately, perhaps systematically, considerately, cheerfully and at times sacrificially - but not under the compulsion of misguided me Todd and ministers that lord the tithe-tax over you.

Sam said...

Giving under grace is surely an issue there isn't an answer to the question 'is this robbing God?' because the entire act of giving is a grace-filled act from God in the first place?

I think I prefer the J.B.Gambrell/John Piper quotes on this one; I'd rather face Jesus in eternity knowing I'd over-given because I'd tried to give more than the tithe, rather than feel like I'd wasted my money on 'stuff' thanks to some excuse about me not owning ten cows.

Knowing that everything we have has come from God anyway, isn't keeping any of it stealing?

David A. Croteau said...

I think you have a good point about "robbing God". Your middle point is interesting, but we must remember the definition of the tithe. Regarding your final point, I would say that there is nothing wrong with having a savings account ... but there are many principles to guide our giving and saving and our perspective toward money found in the Scriptures.

Knowing that everything we have has come from God anyway, isn't keeping any of it stealing?

Anonymous said...

Could you give a little more insight into why you choose to give 75% to your local church? My preference for giving is my local faith based homeless shelter. So little money "escapes" my local church, with approximately 80% being spent on salaries, events, and physical plant. That which does "escape" goes to organizations that I suspect consume most before passing a pittance on to those in need.

My local church seems overstaffed. Where my grandmother's country church had one part-time pastor for a similar congregation, my city church has lots of people on the payroll.

David A. Croteau said...

Sure, I can respond to that. If I thought my local church was a poor steward, it would either 1) change the way I gave, 2) cause me to talk to the leadership, or/and 3) find a church that is a better steward of finances. I would probably do a combination of those ... they aren't exclusive to each other. However, you asked why "I" do. My church gives about 1/3 of its budget to missions/evangelism. The VAST majority of that goes to missionaries overseas. Therefore, I am completely comfortable with the money management and wisdom of the leadership.
Hope that helps explain my logic!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sir. I've begun attending church in Second Life ( The main shortcoming is no real breaking of bread. It is quite affordable. Most of my learning comes from my library.

FYI, I've read your dissertation-version published on and the 4 Views book you edited. I go back over 50 years in Southern Baptist Churches before I came to see them as corrupt. You are a brave man to speak the truth as you do. They made me an outcast. Your credentials give you some protection, but you are playing with fire. God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Brother, sometimes God protects from the fire of men. May it be so for you also.

Daniel 3:24 &ff, ESV: [24] Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men wbound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” [25] He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, xwalking in the midst of the fire, and they yare not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

Rachel said...

Aloha! I appreciate this article, but I don't agree with you. Even on the days when I have nine cows, I do not believe in not giving. God is an extravagant God and He is worthy of more than I could EVER give Him. He is deserving of my time and the money that came from His hand to begin with. I love you brother, and wish for you everything of God's best for your life, I, however, don't agree with your stance.

David A. Croteau said...

Thanks for your gentle reply, but I think you have misunderstood me. I do NOT believe that if we have "nine cows" we should give to God. I have never said that. I was just explaining what God said in the Mosaic Law. In fact, it's kind of ironic, but if you follow the logic of tithing advocates, if you have "nine cows" you do not have to give any, but the principles that I explain in my writings clearly say that if you have "nine cows," you should be generous in your giving of them. So New Covenant giving principles would be MORE GENEROUS than the tithing laws in that situation. I think we have the same heart toward generous giving.