My Tithing Blog...Finally!
In the last decade, the tithe system of the church has come under a lot of scrutiny, and people have been studying and reexamining this concept. I have held back on my opinion for a long time, even though I am emailed almost weekly with questions about this topic.
It is such a hot topic that I have chosen to leave this fight alone for a long time, but no longer!
It has been encouraging to see other highly respected leaders step out and abandon the tithing system. For example, Dr. Che Ahn, the overseer of H.I.M. a network of 40,000 churches writes:
There have been other even more vocal leaders, such as Frank Viola and George Barna in their bestselling book, Pagan Christianity (Pages 171-186). They include the facts regarding church history:
"Before the 3rd century priests had no form of income. The people supported them of their own volition. If that was not possible they worked alongside their ministerial roles to support themselves. It was actually Constantine who introduced the idea of a priestly salary, which was a pagan idea. He took money from the municipal and church funds to pay those serving as priests in the empire. We have to wait till the third century before someone suggested a tithe upon believers to support their local priest. Cyprian of Carthage suggested it, however it still wasn’t really accepted by anyone until the fourth century. Even then it was a tiny minority. In fact, it wasn’t common practice till the 8th century and was not law until the 10th century. That’s right, 900 years after Jesus!"
Many modern leaders are upset when a person questions the tithe. They act as though we are questioning a 2000-year tradition of church history, when in actuality, we are challenging a gangrenous teaching that infiltrated the church in 900 AD!
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
Tithing was a common practice in the Ancient Near East (ANE). It was not a weekly Sunday morning giving regiment, it was not obligatory, but it was common. For example, we see Abraham tithe one time and Jacob tithe one time. It wasn’t something they did yearly, and there was not obligation, but they did, as was common in there day. The author Phil Drysdale humorously observes that Abraham gave 10% to Melchizedek and gave 90% to the King of Sodom. So if we are to follow his example, we should give 10% to the church and 90% to our local strip club or some other terrible institution, considering that the King of Sodom was pretty much the most evil human alive at the time! (Read Phil's blog here.)
When we get to the book of Leviticus, Israel is living in a form of government known as a Theocracy; this means “God-Rule.” God was their king, and His priests were the government leaders. Levites were essentially filling the role of Congress, and God was the President (without checks and balances).
You will notice as you read through the Old Testament that during this period, Israel didn’t have a tax system, which is because the tithe WAS the tax system!
The tithe was ancient Israel’s taxation system, which included three different tithes:
- One to take care of the Levites (Government officials)
- One to take care of feasts (Government activity)
- One to take care of widows and orphans (social safety net)
Considering that Jesus knew that the destruction of the Old Covenant system was imminent (Matt. 23-24), He didn’t attack the tithing/tax system during the Gospels. The fact of the matter is that this ancient tax system has never been followed since the destruction of the Temple system and Jerusalem in 70 AD. The taxation system for that nation has disappeared into the sands of time, and nobody was about to get it back on it’s feet until about 900 AD. Even then, the re-instituted tithe that many of use have experienced nowadays has nothing in common with the Biblical tithe created under the Theocracy.
Add to these facts the New Covenant challenge. Now we are all Priests, Kings, Ambassadors. So who is to tithe to whom? If one does not understand the five ministry gifts in Ephesians 4:11-13 and claims that they are “Governmental”, then the case is made for tithing on the idea that there are two classes of Christians. Yet, these gifts are for equipping and serving the Body of Christ; they are not governmental, while the rest of us are non-government.
All Christians are government, and some have gifts of authority to be foot-washers.
Now that we have looked at the Old Testament, Jesus, Church leadership, and Church History, we would be remiss if we don't examine from the Book of Acts to the Book of Revelation.
THE MELCHIZEDEK TITHE
From the Cross of Christ initiating the New Covenant until the Book of Revelation (Acts 1-Rev. 22), there is only one passage that mentions "tithing" in the New Covenant portion of the Bible, and it is in reference to the mysterious Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:5-9; tithe is mentioned five times here).
To understand this passage, we must start by understanding the Book of Hebrews. The main theme through the whole book is that “Jesus is better…” Here is the outline:
- Hebrews 1–7: Jesus is better.
- Hebrews 1–2: Jesus the God-man is greater than angels.
- Hebrews 3–4:13: Jesus the apostle is greater than Moses.
- Hebrews 4:14–6:12: Jesus the high priest is better than Aaron.
- Hebrews 6:13–7: Jesus is better than Melchizedek.
- Hebrews 8–10: The new covenant is better.
- Hebrews 8: The new covenant is based on better promises.
- Hebrews 9:1–10: The new covenant has a better sanctuary.
- Hebrews 9:11–28: The new covenant has a better sacrifice.
- Hebrews 10:1–18: The new covenant has better results.
- Hebrews 11–13: Faith is our response.
- Hebrews 10:19–39: Faith is the natural response to the “better things” of the new covenant, and we connect with it through faith.
- Hebrews 11: Adam, Noah, Enoch, and many others give us examples of connecting by faith.
- Hebrews 12: Faith is the basis of a better relationship.
- Hebrews 13: Faith is a better manner of life.
Now we can pull in closer and look at the tithing passage in Hebrews 6-7 about Melchizedek. Why is Melchizedek even mentioned? He only appears in Genesis 14, Psalm 110 and here in Hebrews 7. Those are the only times he is in Scripture, and to modern preachers, he is surrounded by a lot of mystery.
The reason Melchizedek is mentioned is because Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah, the accusation would be that He wasn’t qualified to be our High Priest of the New Covenant because He wasn’t even a Levite! (Hebrews 7:13-14 says, “He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.”)
The writer of Hebrews is showing that Abraham was greater than Levites (his descendants), and that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. Therefore, since Jesus is part of the Melchizedek priesthood, then He is greater than Abraham and the Levite priesthood. He is not subject to those systems and their regulations.
Because we do not know for 100% certain who Melchizedek is, there have been many fantastical conjectures to his identity, but one of the main ideas is that Mel is pre-incarnate Jesus. Therefore if Abraham tithed to Jesus, then so should we by giving to our local church, or so the argument goes.
Consider though that Melchizedek is known for his royal priesthood; he was both a king and a priest. Jesus is in the order of Melchizedek, and so are you! 1 Peter 2:9 calls us “a royal priesthood.” We are in Christ and this means that if He is in the order of Melchizedek, so are we! We are not Abraham, tithing to a pre-incarnate Jesus; we are in Melchizedek, so WE are BETTER than Abraham! Abraham would have to tithe to us!
It doesn’t matter who Mel is. He could be a monkey alien from the planet zeenoo for all I care. The point is that you are IN the Melchizedek priesthood WITH Jesus; you are not “Abraham the tither” in the story, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
(Since many of you have already accepted this perspective, I will be following up with a blog about how to see giving in the New Covenant. Just because we are not under a mandatory Old Covenant tithe system doesn't mean we stop teaching people to be generous giving people.)