Thursday, October 01, 2015

John Ortberg and Tithing

A few months ago John Ortberg preached a sermon called "The Main Thing." The general theme was about how to keep the main thing the main thing. In this message (around 22:45 into it) he brings up being generous. Being generous is a great principle for giving clearly advocated in Scripture. I have zero doubts about this. But as he discussed the concept of "generous giving," he reminded them a "The Tithing Challenge" he gave to the church last year. That is, give 10 percent of your income to the church for 90 days. If, at the end of 90 days, that is not financially sustainable, inform the church as they will refund your money. Over a 100 signed up, only 2 said it didn't work. What to make of this?

First, I do believe that the vast majority of American's should be able to give 10 percent of their income to their local churches without it being a huge financial strain. That is what this anecdote demonstrates. But that's all.

Second, the real issue is whether this challenge can legitimately be based upon Malachi 3. A few things to note about Malachi 3:
    1) the tithe discussed was probably meant for the support of the Levites and priests.
    2) the "offerings" discussed were not voluntary but required.
    3) the "storehouse" referred to an actual building (see 2 Chronicles 31:10-12) constructed many, many years after the Mosaic Law of tithing was given.

These three things are the beginning reasons for the issues of directly applying the Malachi 3 passage on tithing to Christians today:
    1) pastors are not Levites nor priests; in the church age we are all now priests, with Christ Jesus as our high priest.
    2) the word "offerings" are used today to reference voluntary gifts rather than required gifts; however, if they were required gifts in Malachi 3, and tithing is required because of the reference to it in Malachi 3, then those offerings would be required today.
    3) the "storehouse" in no way refers to the church today; it was simply a barn-type structure.

Therefore, using Malachi 3 the way that Ortberg does is not justified. Many people in America should be able to give 10 percent of their income without it being too burdensome, but many people in America cannot. There is no justification in Scripture for mandating a tithe. Theological and historical arguments fall short as well.


Noble said...

"1) the tithe discussed was probably meant for the support of the Levites and priests."

Agreed, but it's not merely "probable", but legally certain, as the stated purpose for depositing "all the tithe" was so that there would be "food for My house", which would be accomplished when the sons of Jacob "returned" to "My statutes". Those "statutes" are in the Mosaic Law. What statutes commanded the sons of Jacob to deposit tithes somewhere? There are only two: Deut. 14:28 and Deut. 26:12. The beneficiaries of both tithe commands included the Levites, who in turn were commanded to give a tithe of the tithe to the priests. Those tithes were given 28 times in 100 years. That resulted in an effective annual tithe of 3.3% (fruit), 5% (grain, because half of the tithes were against the triple-blessing grain crop) and something less than 2.8% (animals). The grain would keep for at least 7 years and the excess animals were taken to the Levitical fields to reproduce and provide an on-going meet supply between each "year of tithing". The fruit wouldn't keep and was converted to wine and oil that would keep.

"3) the "storehouse" referred to an actual building (see 2 Chronicles 31:10-12) constructed many, many years after the Mosaic Law of tithing was given."

Disagree. 2 Chron. 31 is not one of "My statutes". It is an unlawful decree by a 25-year old king that expressly violated "My statutes" (i.e. descriptive and not prescriptive). In order to determine the venue of the storehouse, we must find the "My statutes" in the Mosaic Law that commanded the sons of Jacob to deposit their tithes somewhere. That isn't Lev. 27, because there is no such command. It's not Deut. 14:22, which only involved grain that was commanded to be eaten at the feasts, and wasn't commanded to be deposited. It's not Num. 18, which was exclusively addressed to Aaron and Moses and contains no command whatsoever to the sons of Jacob (i.e., it was impossible for the sons to "return" to Num. 18 because it wasn't directed to them in the first place).

The only "My statutes" to which the sons could "return" was Deut. 14:28 / 26:12, under which they were commanded to deposit their tithes in the storehouses within the gates of their walled cities. The Septuagint version of Mal. 3 is a practical quote of Deut. 14:28. Joshua lists over 100 walled cities within the allotments of Juda and Simeon alone. There were hundreds of storehouses. That makes sense, since the tithe benefited the Levites, widows, orphans and proselyte Gentiles who "live in your town" where the tithes were produced and given.

Hezekiah's unlawful decree ordered tithes to be given at the temple, the storehouse for which measured less than 3500 sq. ft., which is why the tithes were naturally stacked in the streets. After the priests corrected him, the young king ordered tithes removed from the temple and redistributed to the Levites throughout the kingdom. The "My house" in Malachi was the second temple, which was so much smaller than the first one that the Levites wept over its smaller size, and the storehouse was within (not surrounding) the temple. Christ didn't command tithes to be given at a temple storehouse that was too small to hold "all the tithe of Israel".

Noble said...

The divine amount of Christ's tithe perfectly corresponded to His tithe beneficiaries, all of whom He disinherited from the Promised Land. He gave an unweighted effective annual tithe of something less than 3.48% of the food He produced "of the land" to the Levites, who were initially 2.85% of the Promised Land population of Israel, plus the widows, orphans and proselyte Gentiles. An annual tithe would have resulted in the Levites receiving more than 4 times as much food than the farming sons of Israel produced from which they tithed. That's why He commanded the "year of tithing" to be every third year.