I have argued that I think paying the tithe is still mandatory. The first mention of the tithe was in Genesis 14, when Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek. An argument against the mandatory tithe is that it was not mandatory for Abraham to pay his tithe, that he did so “freely.” The rationale would be that we, too, aren’t required, but should do so freely as we see fit. Let’s examine this.
Did Abraham tithe in response to God’s promises? The Bible tells us that, in response to God’s promises, “Abram went.” (Gen. 12:4) Abraham’s faith in the Lord and his perseverance in that faith was counted to him as righteousness. (Gal. 3:6) In his trials and tribulations, he came up against the pagan armies of Canaan who had kidnapped Lot. By God’s might, those armies were destroyed by Abraham’s forces. Abraham gained control over the spoils of victory. He gave 10% to the Lord through Melchizedek and left the rest. Why? To demonstrate that he didn’t need it, and also that it was legally under his control to dispose of as he pleased. He didn’t want anyone thinking that, whatever he may accomplish in the future, he accomplished because of the assistance provided by pagan kings. He wanted everyone to know that his success could only be attributed to one king: the Lord and Creator of heaven and earth.
Next, the Bible does not say he tithed “freely.” The Bible states plainly “And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” But it should be obvious that Abraham freely gave his tithe to God’s high priest, Melchizedek.
He gave just as freely as any grateful child who earns money from his parents for completing his chores is free to happily give a portion of his earnings to them each week for his share of the family’s homeowner’s insurance bill.
Judicially, the child is obligated to the parent. By willingly paying his portion to his parents, the child is making known that he acknowledges that he is under his parents’ subordination — and happily, gratefully, thankfully so. After all, look at the numerous benefits they bestow upon him.
The visibility of the child’s wealth gives testimony to the invisible covenantal hierarchy that he respects: the family covenant to which he belongs.
If, on the other hand, he was a rebellious child who went and spent all of the money he earned from his parents on other things, they would be displeased with him. Or, if he only gave them a fraction of his portion, they would also be displeased with him.
In both cases he would be, in essence, telling his parents that he was not subordinate to them because he didn’t really have to pay because he doesn’t really owe them anything. He would be announcing that he was free to choose just how much of his own earnings he would so graciously give them. He would be pretending that the money he earned was gained by the power of his might and his own hand.
Now, because the child doesn’t give his share to his parents, will that prevent them from making the insurance payments? Doubtful. They don’t really need his portion in order to make the payment. The child’s portion is just a token payment that attests to his obedience.
So, what might happen in the future? Perhaps those parents would give their child fewer opportunities to earn income unless the child’s behavior changed. Perhaps they would make him subordinate in his household chores to a sibling who did pay the portion he owed his parents. Perhaps his sibling would be given more opportunities to earn money, and therefore be able to do fun things more often than the rebellious child, such as going to the movies or buying new toys with his money.
The parents might not punish the child (negative sanctions), but they can withhold rewards (positive sanctions).
In any organization, hierarchy is important. Those who are subordinate to the head of the organization tend to be made leaders. They are made leaders because the head can trust them to obey his rules.
THEFT BY NOT PAYING
Was the tithe an “ordinance” that served as a tutor that pointed to the coming of the Messiah? In other words, was the tithe a land, seed, or priestly law that was part of the shadowy system of laws that were the Old Covenant Gospel?
No, the tithe is a cross-boundary law that sets forth a principle: God owns everything. A portion of your net increase is owed to him (a tenth) to acknowledge one’s subordination to him. After all, this increase came from him anyway. He demands this payment from everyone, but he does not accept it from covenant breakers because they are outside the church:
What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba, or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me. (Jeremiah 6:20 ESV)
The principal behind the tithe is lawful ownership and delegated stewardship. Ownership means property rights. Property rights mean boundaries. Boundaries mean signs on fences that read “No Trespassing ” This principal is a fundamental aspect of God’s character and will, and it is generally described by the eighth commandment: you shall not steal. (Ex. 20:15)
It’s first set forth in the 3rd commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. (Ex. 20:7). He has set a boundary around his name and reserved it for proper use only. If you use it improperly, he will hold you guilty. He will not let anyone appropriate it at their leisure.
Both commandments are point 3 of the covenant: ethics/laws/boundaries.
Not paying God his share is considered theft. (Mal. 3:8) His storehouse in the Old Testament was the temple. Why? Because it was judicially representative. It was God’s house. It was where the Ark of the Covenant was stored; the Ark represented God’s heavenly throne. As Malachi makes clear, there is one storehouse, and the priestly tithe is deposited there, and it is God’s.
In the Old Testament, the Levites represented the church in the cities. People paid their tithes to them. The Levites then paid a tenth of their tenth to the temple priests. (Num. 18:26-28) The priests represented the Levites (and therefore the whole nation) to God. Since there were no higher priests, they did not pay a tithe. The priests and Levites administered (and guarded) the sacraments. They also judicially represented the people by carrying out animal sacrifices on the peoples’ behalf.
God’s storehouse in the New Testament is the institutional church. Christ is its head. The church’s elders or deacons adminster (and guard) the sacraments. Local congregations are representatives of the institutional church. Its members are priests, for we are a nation of priests. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
The Bible does not authorize the use of negative sanctions on members who do not pay: excommunication. But it does not have to grant positive sanctions: positions in church leadership. That means voting rights.
GOD STILL BRINGS CORPORATE SANCTIONS IN HISTORY
Consider a business organization. Committees vote on important issues that impact the direction and future of the organization. Certain employees are elected to the committee. Which are elected? Loyal, trustworthy, future-oriented employees. Leaders. Those who have the company’s interests at heart.
Not every regular employee gets to vote. Some employees probably hate the company and would be happy voting it out of business if given the power and authority. (Consider the labor union who sacrificed their jobs to shut down Hostess.)
If a church allows every member to vote, it is being indiscrimate. There could be heretics in the congregation who would vote for non-Biblical initiatives. The tithe should be used to screen out the serious leaders, those Christians who have more faith than others. Faith in what? That God still brings positive and negative sanctions in history for obedience and disobedience.
Christians who have faith that God brings sanctions in history are more likely committed to obeying his commandments.
If a particular church is full of Christians who have faith in God, but no faith in his promise to bring sanctions in history, then they will have no reason to expect their church to be blessed or cursed based upon its obedience or disobedience to God’s laws as an oath-bound covenantal institution.
If you are a Christian who does have faith in God’s promises to bring corporate sanctions in history, then as a member in such a congregation you might start getting a little nervous. You would want church leaders who believe the same thing. The Bible teaches that disobeying God leads directly to negative sanctions in history, such as our money bags having holes in them, and sowing much but harvesting little (Hag. 1:4-6). You want leaders who believe Malachi’s promises that God will open the windows to heaven and pour down blessings. (Mal. 3)
The argument made by the author of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus Christ’s office of high priest is grounded upon the priesthood of Melchizedek, a priesthood which is superior to the Levitical priesthood. Melchizedek blessed Abraham in the name of God, he served him a sacramental meal of bread and wine, and he collected Abraham’s tithe.
By paying the tithe, do you think Abraham was following Jesus’ command when he said to render “to God the things that are God’s”? (Luke 20:25)
EVIDENCE USED BY THE OTHER SIDE
Now, let’s consider the alternative: not having to pay the tithe. There are theologians who certainly conclude that the tithe is no longer mandatory. Let’s take a brief look at their arguments.
As Gary North tells us in the “Conclusion” chapter of his book, The Covenantal Tithe, a theologian named Dr. Kelly (Ph.D.) wrote a book explaining why the tithe is no longer required (the book is called Should the Church Teach Tithing?). Kelly cites the words of two theologians who hold a view that most modern Christians today hold. Is this your view as well? Here are their words:
“The Old Testament is not our testament. The Old Testament represents an Old Covenant, which is one we are no longer obligated to keep. Therefore we can hardly begin by assuming that the Old Covenant should automatically be binding on us. We have to assume, in fact, that none of its stipulations (laws) are binding on us unless they are renewed in the New Covenant, that is, unless an Old Testament law is somehow restated or reinforced in the New Testament, it is no longer directly binding on God’s people (cf. Rom. 6:14–15).”
As North wrote, they neglected to tell us something: bestiality, or sexual relations between an unmarried person and an animal, is now okay in the New Testament era. Why? Because the following verse is not restated or reinforced in the New Testament:
“And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.” (Lev. 18:23)
You see, it was expressly forbidden in the Old Testament, but since this particular “stipulation” is nowhere discussed in the New Testament then, according to their view, it is also no longer binding on us. If this is not the case, those two theologians did not explain in their book why this isn’t true. They simply forgot about that verse, it seems.
It’s probably a good thing; it might have damaged their case.
So if this is your view too, remember: despite what you think is right or wrong, if you believe those two theologians above then you can no longer be upset about bestiality, at least between an unmarried person and an animal. After all, there is no explicit New Testament evidence that God still thinks it’s wrong.
I disagree with these two theologians. Do you?
TO ATTACK THE TITHE, YOU MUST ATTACK THE HIGH PRIEST
Moving on from that, this scholar, Kelly, recognizes that the foundation of Jesus’ priesthood as one after the order of Melchizedek’s is compelling evidence that the tithe is still required. Therefore, he attacks Melchizedek.
In what way, you ask? By making the case that Melchizedek was a Canaanite pagan priest who worshipped Canaanite gods.
As Kelly wrote (quoted from North’s chapter), since “Melchizedek worshiped the Canaanite gods, Zedek and Salem, then, logically El Elyon must also have been a Canaanite god!” But as we know, Abraham worshipped the same God Melchizedek did. (Gen. 14:22, Heb. 7:1-2)
I’ll quote North at length:
Then what of the argument of the epistle that the fundamental issue was the priesthood — Melchizedek’s and Levi’s? Dr. Kelly is a little vague here. “We MUST realise the difference between the ‘historical’ Melchizedek of Genesis 14, and the ‘typical’ Melchizedek of Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7.” If you are thinking, “but this makes no sense,” you share my view. Then he explains:
Negatively, Melchizedek only worshiped the Gentile concept of a god called “El Elyon, God Most High.” He did not know God as “Yahweh, the Lord,” the God of Abraham’s household.
If you are thinking, “Wait, I understand that; it’s obviously wrong,” you share my view. Then he explains:
The key to Hebrews 7 is found in verses 13 and 14. NOTHING said from Hebrews 7:1–12 about Melchizedek referred to the “historical” person, but ALL referred to the “typical” or “prophetic” Jesus Christ!”
If your response is, “This is just plain nuts,” you share my view.
I share Dr. North’s view. But more importantly, I’m with the Bible: Melchizedek was no pagan who worshipped false gods. Nor did Abraham commit adultery by worshipping and honoring false gods.
Kelly built his case upon the assertion that Melchizedek was a pagan who worshipped false gods.
When you read the Bible, is that what you think it means?
He then enlisted the support of other theologians who, implicitly by their logical conclusions and silence on the issue, support carnal relations between unmarried people and animals in the New Testament era.
Do you agree with the analysis of those scholars?
I recommend downloading North’s book, The Covenantal Tithe if you’d like to learn why it’s important to understand the covenant in order to understand the issue. If you want to read something shorter, you can begin with this article.
Of course, if you hold to a pessimistic millennial view, then you probably don’t think the Church is going to be around much longer. In which case you might not care either way. As the saying goes, why polish brass on a sinking ship?