What does it mean to tithe?

As a devoted follower of Christ, I am in many ways saddened by the state of the Christian Church as an institution, and I will be addressing some of those issues in upcoming blogs.  There are many who share my thoughts.  On Monday morning I listed my status on Facebook as “Frustrated with Organized Religion.”  For the next day my email inbox sounded like popcorn – I was peppered with responses from people who wholeheartedly agree with that statement.  These people aren’t atheists or people of other religions, they are fellow Christians.  Here are some of the comments:

  • “…constructs of men (mankind) will never measure up!”
  • “Preach it, sister.”
  • “Good news Amy, you have that in common with Jesus!”
  • “I understand how you feel. I tell people I’m still in recovery from organized religion. I don’t miss it at all.”
  • “To my way of thinking, and I could be wrong, “organized religion” is an oxymoron. I doubt Jesus ever said ‘stand up, organize’ so much as “come to me however you can.” I hear your frustration and raise you a dismay.”
  • “I think the saddest thing which could also be considered ‘organized religion’ is just the fact that there being so many denominations. Which has caused so much division among believers/ And many have distorted the truth about what it is rally about! Not just show up, stand up and sit down and now I’m good for another week. Yes…Jesus does say-‘Come as you are-you don’t have to impress me…you are mine..I made you and I know you-just be real’
  • “Your profile status and the comments it elicited struck a sensitive nerve in me. For the past year and a half, my husband and I have been unlearning the organized religion part of our faith in an attempt to reach people who won’t have anything to do with it.”

If Christians are angry and bitter about what’s going on in the Church, imagine how outsiders and seekers must feel?

What prompted me to make the statement “Frustrated with organized religion?”  Sunday after church, my husband and I had a frustrating disagreement with one of our pastors about, among other things, the practice of tithing.  We have very different concepts about what constitutes tithing and it developed into a rather heating and awkward exchange.

In my mind, Christians are to not only to support the local church, but the broader church and overall human condition.  That means supporting other ministries and worthwhile charities beyond one single church congregation. Likewise, if we attend a church outside of our local area while traveling, that congregation receives our tithe for that particular week.

The issue arose when this pastor suggested that it was not biblical to give a portion of our tithe to an organization other than our home church.  Our first priority was to pay administrative costs etc. so that our congregation could stay afloat.  A full 10 percent of our gross income was to be giving to the church; any additional giving beyond that would be sacrificial.

Ironically, we had just watched a video on Compassion, and thinking beyond ourselves to care for “the least of these.”  There are beautiful souls around the world that are struggling for survival and live lives of complete despair. The poverty is real and heartbreaking.  In my mind, caring for them is at least as important as making sure the heat is on in the church building.

I decided to delve more deeply into the issue of tithing by referencing the instruction manual, the Holy BIble.  This is what I found:

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 (New Living Translation)

The Giving of Tithes

You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God.

“Now when the Lord your God blesses you with a good harvest, the place of worship he chooses for his name to be honored might be too far for you to bring the tithe. 2If so, you may sell the tithe portion of your crops and herds, put the money in a pouch, and go to the place the Lord your God has chosen. When you arrive, you may use the money to buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Then feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and celebrate with your household. And do not neglect the Levites in your town, for they will receive no allotment of land among you.

“At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town.  Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.

While Scripture clearly states that we are to support the Church, the last few verses also state that a portion of our tithe should be given to widows and orphans.

I’m certainly not trying to nickel and dime our giving; on the contrary, my husband and I donate far more than 10 percent whenever possible.  Obviously, if people don’t give generously to their local churches, they will cease to exist.  But I think this argument is a symptom of what’s wrong with the Church at large and what turns so many off from Christianity. What’s at stake here is far larger than how much money lands in the offering plate.  This is an issue of legalism and boxing in the Gospel.

I’d love your comments.  What constitutes a tithe according to your interpretation of Scripture?  Does it really matter where we donate our money as long as it is helping others?

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