This is a controversial topic. Some Christians say yes. Most say no. Those who say “No” charge those who say “Yes” with legalism. They quote Paul: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV) But are they right?
I would argue that Paul, in this passage, is discussing charitable giving. Charitable giving is optional; Gary North has argued convincingly that tithing is mandatory. Charitable giving is what we give above and beyond our mandatory tithe (which should go to the local congregation that we are a member of).
Most pastors today do not preach this. It’s a controversial thing to advocate. They may not have an opinion on it one way or another; they may be uneducated on the issue; or, often, I suppose, they poison the debate by labeling it that most dreaded of all labels: legalism.
That’s just wrong-headed.
THE BIBLICAL EVIDENCE
Since it’s controversial, let’s look at the Biblical argument for asserting that the tithe is mandatory.
The Biblical tithe was established by the high priest Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, in Genesis 14:20; Abram gave him a tenth of all of his spoils of victory because he acknowledged that God delivered him in victory. (Heb. 7:1-2) He was showing his subordination to God’s rule by making a token payment (10%) to God’s high priest; he gave God his share of the victory spoils.
Melchizedek served Abram a meal of bread and wine. This certainly bears a marked resemblance to the Lord’s Supper set forth by Jesus. Afterward, Melchizedek blessed Abram, and Abram willingly and voluntarily handed over his tithe.
It was after that act of covenantal subordination when the Lord entered a covenantal relationship with Abram, at which point he changed his name to Abraham. (Gen. 15, 17:1-7) Abraham is the father of Israel, the entirety of God’s people.
HIERARCHY IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD
There is a hierarchy in God’s kingdom: the lower priest pays a tithe to the higher priest. Abraham was a priest who paid a tithe to Melchizedek, a higher priest. In the Old Testament, the priestly tribe of Levi collected mandatory tithes from his brothers. Hebrews 7:9-10 discusses how Levi essentially paid tithes through Abraham to Melchizedek.
Our savior, Jesus Christ, is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 7:17) In Him, by his grace and through adoption, we are now a nation of priests. (1 Peter 2:9)
He mediates between God and his people in the heavenly tent (Heb. 8:1), just as the high priests of Israel entered the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle (tent) and Soloman’s Temple to perform their priestly duties (Lev. 10:8-10). He became a high priest to appease God’s wrath and reconcile us to him (Heb. 2:17). He was exalted to this position by being made perfect in his obedience to his Father. (Heb. 5:8-10)
Abraham, father of the nation of Israel, tithed to Melchizedek, priest of God Most High; by covenantal representation, therefore, the entire nation of Israel tithed to Melchizedek. (Heb. 7:9-10)
Jesus Christ is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. We, having been in-grafted into the nation of Israel by adoption, are now a kingdom of priests (Rom. 11:17-20). We should give our tithes to Jesus Christ, who deserves them.
His representatives (our pastors) shouldn’t have to beg for our tithes because Jesus is not a beggar. He is an exalted King ruling over all of creation.
Jesus was exalted by his obedience; we, too, should demonstrate our obedience to our heavenly father just as Christ did. The tithe is the symbol that God has established to demonstrate our covenantal subordination to Him and his rule over our lives (as opposed to someone else’s rule: Satan’s rule; or our arrogant autonomous rule in which we decide good and evil for ourselves outside of God’s revelation to us).
PERSONAL BENEFITS OF PAYING THE TITHE
So, what are the immediate benefits of a mandatory tithe beyond the spiritual ones?
How about in helping answer the question “Are you a slave to money?” Do you serve God or Mammon (Matt. 6:24)? Consider a hypothetical family who joins a church. They are told they should tithe: 10%.
But they protest: after rent, car payments, food, utilities, retirement, credit card payments, and everything else, there just isn’t enough money left over to give God his share.
Consider a second family who joins the church. They agree to tithe. Though their budget currently doesn’t support it, they start cutting their expenses so that they can afford it. They pay off their credit cards and don’t charge more to them. They cut back on monthly entertainment. They go out to eat less and start preparing more meals at home. They learn to live below their means, to spend less than they take in. They start saving for the future as they realize they don’t need all of the excesses that they once thought they did.
Which family is a slave to money? Which family is serving mammon, and which is serving God?
CIVIL AND POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
Consider the broader implications. God requires his people to tithe; that’s what he requires to build his kingdom. Compare this with our modern government, which demands a tax on upwards of 30-40% of our productivity. The Bible puts the label of tyranny on requirements above 10% (1 Sam. 8:10-18). As a nation, do you think it’s coincidence that as we’ve substituted a humanist, messianic State in place of our real savior, Jesus Christ, and grown increasingly dependent on it to save and deliver us that its “minimum payments” have increased beyond God’s?
The massive bureaucratic, centralized State is a Satanic imitation of God’s kingdom. It can never attain the glory of God’s kingdom, but it certainly tries. This requires spending more and more money on diminished results.
Furthermore, modern politics is based on the politics of guilt. People guilt us into giving: in private life, public life, and church life. The question then becomes “How much is enough?”
God defines for us the minimum: 10%. He provides us an escape hatch from the burden of excessive guilt. The amount that families give in excess of 10% will be determined by the circumstances they are facing and the matters that weigh on their heart. But they don’t have to suffer an excessive burden out of some misplaced sense of guilt that they haven’t given enough to the Lord.
We don’t have to be bullied by those who try to force us into giving to causes we don’t feel comfortable giving to by pricking us with the needles of guilt. We can make more informed and responsible decisions about where our money will go instead of succumbing to emotional manipulation that generates charity on impulse with the mere squeeze of the guilt-trigger.
CHURCH AUTHORITY AND HIERARCHY – ARE YOU A THIEF?
If you aren’t tithing (that’s 10%) then you are stealing from God:
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. (Malachi 3:8-9 ESV)
Is our nation under a curse in this modern day and age? Well, let’s look at the evidence. But first, we should discuss the issue of church discipline and voting rights.
The tithe should be used to establish voting rights in the church. In most churches today, anyone in the congregation can vote — no matter how much they give, how much they participate, how knowledgeable they are of the Bible, no matter whether they hold orthodox or heretical views, etc.
Tithing should not be used to determine who can and cannot participate in Communion. The requirement for taking Communion is to have taken the self-maledictory oath of God’s covenant: Baptism. But whereas all covenant members in good standing (those who haven’t been excommunicated) can partake of the Lord’s Supper, only those members who tithe should be allowed to vote.
Tithing identifies leaders who have faith in God’s sanctions in their lives in response to their obedience or disobedience to Him. It identifies those who subordinate themselves to Him. Church discipline is generally suffering today: excommunication is a dirty word that no one likes, even though Jesus required it and gave us the proper procedure for carrying out disciplinary sanctions (Matt. 18:15-20). The Spirit revealed at several places in Scripture what behaviors are worthy of discipline (Gal. 5:19-21).
The Church is the guardian of the Lord’s Supper. It alone has earthly authority to determine who can and cannot participate in it. Jesus delegated a very specific power to the church:
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19 ESV)
This means the church has legal authority to withhold the sacraments from unlawful participants. These decisions are to be made by mature Christians. This is one of the purposes of the tithe: to distinguish mature Christians from immature Christians within a congregation.
Otherwise, consider the implications. This means that those who do not tithe their 10% have authority over the resources supplied by those members who DO tithe. Does this sound like modern civil government, in which welfare participants have enough representative voting power in the legislature to determine how the tax dollars of the responsible citizens are going to be spent?
Do you think it is fair that those who take God’s requirements seriously and pay their 10% have to compete with those slackers who steal from God’s storehouse over how that money is to be spent?
That’s not a trick question.
THE PULPIT PROBLEM
Consider another problem that arises.
What if your pastor announced from the pulpit next Sunday that the rules were changing: tithing is now mandatory. How much of the congregation would stay? How much would leave?
Churches tend to expand their facilities and build large gymnasiums and other such additions. This is usually accomplished through debt financing. What if the people who voted to build the gym don’t like to tithe? Furthermore, what if the preacher starts preaching about topics they do not want to hear about — such as that tithing is mandatory, and if you aren’t tithing you are stealing from God?
Those members can threaten to leave — and take their offerings with them. This may serve as an arm of control to the preacher and the church leadership: “We want to hear what we want to hear, and if we start hearing anything else then we’re going to pull the financial plug and let you pay off that mortgage on your own.”
The problem is that the church has become subordinate to the congregation when God calls us to be subordinate to our church. The pastor’s job is to preach the Word of God — even those topics the congregation doesn’t often like to hear about. If the preacher has to conform his message to the desires of the congregation then he is failing in his task to bring God’s message — all of it, the whole thing — to God’s people.
This is a bad situation. How common do you think it is today?
WHY CHURCH AUTHORITY MATTERS
So, does that mean we need to submit our income statements to the church and have them verify that our monthly contributions are truly 10% of our income? Yes. Church deacons should constantly monitor our monthly income statements and compare that to our contributions, just like the IRS agents do.
As a representative of the humanist state, the IRS takes its fiscal requirements seriously; as representatives of the Kingdom of God, shouldn’t its members take God’s requirements just as, if not more, seriously?
The health of the church is reflected in the status of the rest of the world outside of the church. If the church is confused, so will be the rest of the world. The church has access to all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom hidden in Jesus Christ (Col. 2:3). It should be the moral center of society, defending right from wrong and controlling access to the sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. If the church is not taking possession of the world and assuming its ordained responsibility of dominion (Gen. 1:28), then someone else (Satan) will.
In our day, the church has retreated from culture. It doesn’t know what to believe: is abortion really murder? Is homosexuality really a sin? More problematic: what are the penalties for those convicted?
We have compromised our position of authority in society by yielding to the influence of modern paganism (secular humanism) that’s all around us.
This is our own fault. Our bad behavior inside the sanctuary led to the growth in pagan culture around us. We then assimilate that culture into our churches. The cycle spirals downward.
Our churches have lost influence in culture because we’ve lost control over our own congregations. Without discipline, there is chaos. And our God is a god of order and peace, not discord and confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). Why should we expect to be granted the authority to lead our government if we can’t even lead our own selves?
Consequently, the church is relegated to the inferior position of the town fool who no one takes seriously. Christians are laughed at. They don’t take hard stands on tough cultural problems. When they do, when faced with the immediate backlash of angry humanistic pagans, they retreat from the vitriol and cower in the corner. The Biblical definition of “tyranny” begins when the civil government begins extracting more wealth from its citizens than does God to fund his kingdom: 10%. Today we pay tributes of 40% to the hungry, reaching, growing State.
It transfers wealth from the productive members of society to the unprincipled and godless. It kidnaps our children for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for over 15 years to indoctrinate them into the myth of pagan creation: evolution. It attempts to regulate every area of our private lives, down to the number of gallons our toilets are allowed to flush: 1.6. It restricts business development and favors the lazy Fortune 500 companies with legislated monopolies to hinder innovation and competition from smaller, more resourceful firms. The result is that the consumers pay higher prices. Everyone’s wealth and capital is slowly eroded through endless inflation and transferred to the banking cartel.
This sounds like evidence of a curse to me.
HOW CAN WE LIFT THIS CURSE?
How, then, are we to pursue having this curse lifted? God gives us the answer through Malachi:
Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’…Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Malachi 3:7-10 ESV)
To return to the Lord means to regain order over ourselves and enforce the tithe. It means that we must return to enforcing church discipline. Discipline reigns in chaos and disorderly conduct. It enforces proper doctrine and squashes out heretical doctrine.
But who will carry out the disciplinary process? Any member of the general assembly who may not really believe that adultery is wrong in this modern day and age? How can a church hold people responsible for infidelity if none of the congregation believes it is worthy of punishment?
Do we really want to entrust the process of enforcing sanctions to church members who don’t believe there’s an ethical link between cause and effect in this life (Deut. 28, Matthew 6:31-33)?
Or, rather, do we entrust those responsibilities to church members who believe in those things and take the Word seriously, in its entirety and fullness?
How, then, should our churches identify such responsible members of its congregations? How else other than to entrust those who truly humble themselves before God and submit themselves willingly to his authority by providing the visible means of subordination which God requires?
Paying the tithe is the least we can do for the great gift of grace God’s given us. Anything above and beyond is called an “offering,” and they are not obligatory. But it’s not a matter of “tithe” or “no tithe.” It’s a matter of “Whose tithe?” If we don’t tithe to our High Priest, Jesus Christ, we are stealing from God and giving what is lawfully his to some other god of our choosing.
By not returning to the Lord his 10% of the resources that he has entrusted to us, we are saying “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:11-17). We get puffed up and tend to forget that we depend on him for everything, not just some things.
Tithing is an issue of obedience: who do you swear your loyalty to? Do you visibly submit, willingly, to the church, with Christ as its head, and accept its authority over your life? Or are you a rebellious thief, pilfering the Lord’s storehouses to your own ends?
You can read more about this subject by downloading either of the two books referenced in the footnotes below.
Do you agree or disagree with anything that’s been said here? Please feel free to sound off in the comment section and encourage further discussion.
1. Gary North, The Covenantal Tithe (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision Press, 2011). You can download this book for free in PDF format by clicking here, or you can purchase it from American Vision for $13.