Pastor Dean Shriver, D. Min.
Can We Preach the Tithe?
Intermountain Baptist Church
March 10, 2011
Shriver: Tithing—I believe every Christian should do it. But can I preach that? Like you, I’m committed to preaching only what the Bible clearly teaches.
Kelly: You should stick to this approach.
Shriver: Unfortunately, I’ve always found the Bible’s teaching about a believer’s responsibility to tithe to be fuzzy around the edges. Off the top before taxes? Off the bottom after taxes? All to the church (ours in particular!)? Off of income or off of possessions? Of course the problem isn’t with Scripture. The problem is me.
Kelly: The problem is with your misunderstanding of Scripture.
Shriver: When it comes to giving, my own preferences, opinions, and training make it hard for me to approach relevant texts with a clear and teachable mind.
Kelly: And proper hermeneutics.
Shriver: On the one hand, I know that the tithe is “law” and that, in Christ, we’re no longer under the Law.
Kelly: You make the same mistake I made for decades. In fact, we Gentiles and the Church never were “under the law.” We were always excluded from the law. God commanded Old Covenant Israel NOT to share its covenant (law) with us.
Shriver: Still, it’s hard for me to fathom how anyone can honestly taste the sweetness of God’s grace only to turn around and “Scrooge” God by giving Him less than 10%.
Kelly: You are coming from a false definition of tithe and are falsely assuming that everybody in the OT was required to begin a level of giving at 10%.
Though money was common, the true holy biblical tithe of the Old Covenant Law was always only food from inside God’s holy land which He had miraculously increased. Tithes never could come from what man increased, from Gentiles or from outside of Israel. Not even Jesus, Peter or Paul qualified as tithe-payers. Tithing was only a minimum for food producers living inside Israel. Sixteen texts validate this biblical fact.
Shriver: The very idea makes me want to raise my voice, pound my pulpit and thump my Bible! Which is exactly why I’m not yet ready to preach that sermon on tithing. But I’m getting closer.
Kelly: Perhaps you will allow me to help you clarify the issues.
Shriver: On a recent jog, I began to think again about the issue of tithing. It occurred to me that there’s more than one way to tithe. In fact, three distinct forms of tithing are practiced in the Bible. Only one is legitimate for the believer.
Kelly: There were three distinctly different tithes for 3 different purposes for 3 different locations. See http://www.tithing-russkelly.com/id29.html
Shriver: The form of tithing most often addressed in Scripture is “tithing as covenant.” This practice of tithing was specific to Israel as the covenant people of God. It was part of the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-32; Deuteronomy 14:22-29). Under the Covenant, God promised to materially bless Israel for obedience [to the whole law] and, conversely, to judge them (strip them of their prosperity) for disobedience [to any of the law; Gal 3:10] (Deuteronomy 28 and Malachi 3:8-12). This model for tithing has no direct relevance to us as New Testament believers.
Kelly: Very true. Tithing was to support the Levites who were only servants to the priests. And the Levites tithed a tithe (1%) to the priests who gave freewill sacrificial offerings (Mal 1:13-14). Those Levites and priests who received the first tithe were not allowed to own holy land inside Israel. This is not obeyed.
Shriver: In Christ, we live under a new covenant. Our lives are not governed by the written code but by the indwelling Holy Spirit who writes His “law” on our hearts (Galatians 5:18; Hebrews 8:7-13).
Kelly: The New Covenant replaced both the old Temple and priesthood with the priesthood of all believers. Tithes are never commanded to the Church or Gentiles after Calvary. They are replaced with freewill, generous, sacrificial, joyful offerings motivated by love for God and lost souls. For many this means MORE than 10% but others are already giving sacrificially even though less than 10% per 2 Cor 8:12-14.
Shriver: The Bible also describes a second kind of tithing that is both condemnable and, I fear, far too common—“tithing as legalism.” In Jesus’ day, it was the religious leaders who practiced this perversion of Israel’s covenant tithe. Christ’s condemnation of legalistic tithing was absolute,
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24)!
Kelly: True. The context was “matters of the law” and was addressed to “you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites.”
Shriver: In His relationship with Israel, God intended the tithe to be an avenue to blessing. The religious manipulators of Jesus’ day turned the blessing into burden. Instead of expressing faithfulness to God—and oneness of heart with God for ministry and the poor—the tithe became little more than a means to satisfy “religious obligations.” Such satisfaction leads to pride (Luke 18:9-12) and, in the end, restricts giving. After all, once our “obligation” is satisfied, what more could God want? It’s no wonder Jesus so strongly denounces legalistic tithing.
Yet, how easily the sin of the Pharisees can become our sin too!
Kelly: Very good.
Shriver: Effective ministry requires money—money that comes from God’s people. Believers need to give—both for their own sake and the sake of the Kingdom. Since they need to give, we need to preach about giving. When we do, however, we must be careful not to turn blessing into burden.
Kelly: Very good.
Shriver: We must refuse to preach “tithing as legalism.” So what’s the alternative?
Kelly: The alternative is the truth as taught by the Holy Spirit to the Church after Calvary. And that does not include tithing.
Shriver: Tithing as worship!
Kelly: Text please.
Shriver: In Scripture, “tithing as worship” was practiced prior to both the establishment of “tithing as covenant” and the perversion of “tithing as legalism.” The principle of “tithing as worship” is “pre-Law.” It’s established in Genesis 14:17-24 where Abram gives a tenth of his plunder to Melchizedek, King of Salem.
Kelly: Texts please. Genesis 14:17-24 does NOT tell us that (uncircumcised) Abram tithed “as worship.” In fact it does not tell us WHY Abram tithed. Since he was born and raised in Babylon where tithing existed, it is possible that he tithed for a different reason. Many commentaries suggest that an Arab tradition or law of the land controlled the 90% of 14:21. You simply cannot add to God’s Word and conclude that Abram either gave freely or in obedience to God.
Shriver: Melchizedek, in turn, blesses Abram.
Kelly: Any king-priest of Abram’s day would have done the same thing after receiving tithes from spoils of war.
Shriver: Hebrews 7:1-10 defines the significance of these acts declaring that it is the superior who blesses the inferior and the inferior who pays tithes to the superior.
Kelly: The purpose of Hebrews is not to teach the Church to tithe. It uses tithing as a vehicle to prove that Jesus has replaced the Aaronic priesthood. The tithing “commandment in the law” from 7:5 was “of necessity changed” in 7:12 and that “change” was its “annulment of the commandment going before” in 7:18. While 7:18 refers to all statutes relating to the Aaronic priesthood, it must also include the statute of tithing found in Numbers 18.
Shriver: “Tithing as worship,” then, is first an act by which we acknowledge that God is both our superior (the Sovereign Lord) and the source of all blessing.
Kelly: You are twisting God’s Word to make it say what you want it to say. The “we” of Genesis 14 was not the church.
Shriver: But “tithing as worship” does more than acknowledge God. It expresses our personal allegiance to Him. We see this in Genesis 28:10-22. Here, God reveals himself to Jacob in a dream. In response, the patriarch vows, “the Lord shall be my God…and of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” For Jacob, the “tithe as worship” became a natural expression of his decision to follow the God of His Fathers.
Kelly: Shame on you. You again twist and pervert God’s Word by conveniently omitting the key “if” of verse 20. The schemer Jacob was telling God what to do! This tactic is unchristian. Far from “worship,” Jacob was black-mailing God and you are joining in his deception by twisting this Scripture!
Shriver: In the same way, the “tithe as worship” becomes an almost instinctive way for us to express our allegiance to the God of our Salvation.
Kelly: Texts please.
Shriver: A third, and critical, element of “tithing as worship” is thanksgiving. “Tithing as worship” expresses overflowing gratitude towards God.
Kelly: Texts please. The first Levitical tithe was cold hard Law and was commanded whether one was grateful or not. A second festival tithe was for rejoicing but you do you teach that tithe and you do not eat it in the streets of Jerusalem.
Shriver: It breaks free from guilt as the motivation for giving.
Kelly: Texts please.
Shriver: Its ultimate focus is the condition of one’s heart—not the percentage of one’s income.
Kelly: Texts please.
Shriver: On the topic of percentages, I find the words of John H. Walton and Andrew E. Hill to be practical. They write, “How are we to show our gratitude to God other than by giving back a portion?
Kelly: O.K. so far.
Shriver: If 10 percent was considered an acceptable portion by God as an expression of gratitude then, why should we view it any differently today?
Kelly: Texts please. The first Levitical tithe was cold hard law – not gratitude – like taxes today. The government does not care for gratitude.
Shriver: We might consider 10 percent as a benchmark just as we consider 15 percent a benchmark for tipping. The extent of the customer’s gratitude and appreciation is demonstrated in the size of the tip.
Kelly: You cannot compare a cold hard law with a freewill choice.
Shriver: It would be considered the ultimate rudeness or the consummate insult to leave no tip at all.
Kelly: The merchants and tradesmen such as carpenters, fishermen and tentmakers gave no tithe at all; they gave freewill offerings. Why not follow this example?
Shriver: So it is to God if we return no portion to him. In addition, there are occasions when the situation calls for a contribution exceeding the benchmark” (Old Testament Today; Zondervan: 2004, 270-271).
Kelly: You are mixing Law and Grace and reintroducing the thought of Malachi after rejecting it earlier.
Shriver: Again it must be said—ultimately, “tithing as worship” isn’t about percentage of income.
Kelly: It has no biblical support.
Shriver: It’s about the overflow of one’s heart. 2 Corinthians 8:5 is clear. When we first give ourselves to the Lord, any act of giving pleases him—whether above or below the “benchmark.” “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
Kelly: You are playing games with God’s Word again. Second Corinthians is NOT discussing tithing. It is discussing freewill generous sacrificial giving – the kind of giving which propelled the early church. Paul and Jewish Christians knew very well that tithes could not come from Gentiles or from pagan lands and did not teach tithing.
Shriver: How then, can we preach the tithe? First, we recognize that “tithing as covenant” has no direct relevance to New Testament believers. Second, we acknowledge that “tithing as legalism” is just plain sin—both for those who practice it and those who preach it.
Kelly: Correct. Stick to the simple truth. Merely saying “tithes PLUS offerings” reaches into the realm you just rejected.
Shriver: Only the principle of “tithing as worship” remains. That’s the tithing we can preach!
Kelly: No, it does not remain; it never existed except in the Old Covenant festival tithe which was EATEN. You have no texts to preach this.
Shriver: “Tithing as worship” is our opportunity to acknowledge that God is God. He is ruler over our lives. He is the source of every blessing we enjoy.
Kelly: You can do that without teaching error.
Shriver: More than that, “tithing as worship” expresses our allegiance to God in a very personal and concrete way. And finally, “tithing as worship” manifests a heart overflowing with thanksgiving towards God.
Kelly: Sounds good, but it is still unbiblical. The SDAs make the same kind of argument to prove Saturday Sabbath observance to worship and honor God.
Shriver: With this in mind, perhaps we should be less concerned with whether people tithe and more concerned with why they tithe.
Kelly: This totally ignores the true biblical definition and purpose of the tithe.
Shriver: Ultimately, tithing isn’t about percentage of income or money in the plate. It’s about worship!
Tithing as worship—I think that will preach!
Kelly: Preach it as your theory. Be sure to tell your congregation there are no texts to validate it. I would appreciate an extended in-depth dialog.
There are now at least 7 SBC theologians who are writing against tithing and for grace giving. In May 2011 the SBC will publish Perspectives on Tithing, Four Views. The false doctrine is being exposed.
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD