Reply to Pastor Mark Vroegop
College Park Church
Russ: While Mark jumps a lot of hoops trying to deny that he teaches tithing, his next-to-final statement places him solidly in the “yes” camp. “it would make sense that grace-loving, Jesus-centered, forgiveness-receiving people would give well beyond the Old Testament minimum.”
Mark makes the same mistakes and false assumptions of almost all tithe teachers: (1) he defines tithes as money increase, (2) he assumes that every Hebrew was requuired to tithe, and (3) he assumes that every Hebrew began a level of giving at ten per cent.
This is fundamentally wrong for several reasons: (1) The true biblical HOLY tithe was always only food from inside God’s holy land which He had miraculously increased, (2) although God owned everything, He did not accept holy tithes from what man increased, from Gentiles, or from outside Israel, (3) the only persons who could begin at a miimum of ten per cent were farmers and herdsmen inside Israel, (4) not even Jesus, Peter, and Paul qualified as tithe-payers, and (5) though money was common and required for sanctuary worship, money was never a tithed item in the Bible.
Mark: Numbers 18:25-30
Russ: If Mark would actually preach from the text he quoted, he would have to admit (1) that tithes were only food from inside Israel, (2) that the Levites who received the whole Levitical tithe were only servants to the priests, and (3) that priests only received one tenth of the tithe.
Mark: Acts 20:35
Russ: Here Paul instructed church elders to work hard to support the needy in their congregations. It has been reversed today.
Mark: 2 Corinthians 9:8, 11
Russ: He gives a lot of good freewill giving arguments but ends up teaching tithing.
Mark: Numbers 18
Russ: Numbers 18 is actually the exact wording of the tithing statute-ordinance.
Mark: As a part of the Old Testament sacrificial system, the Levites did not own property but lived off the contributions of the people.
Russ: They lived in 48 (later 13) Levitical cities and worked as farmers and herdsmen 23 of 24 weeks. They also worked and learned trades for use in the temple. (See Edersheim, etc.)
Mark: Embedded in this account is the issue of tithing since the Levites were instructed to give a “tithe of the tithe” (v 26).
Russ: Then the priests were not required to tithe. They gave freewill vow offerigns (Mal 1:13-14).
Mark: A tithe was the practice of giving a tenth of one’s income or increase as a financial offering to God. The idea was that a tenth portion of everything was given.
Russ: This is a LIE. The tithe was never the increase of what man produced. It was always only food from inside God’s HOLY land which God had miraculously increased by His own hand. See MacArthur and Croteau plus God’s Word.
Mark: Interestingly the concept of tithing was not unique to the nation of Israel. Many other religions and nations practiced tithing. A few examples are Babylonian culture, the temple of Athena in Athens, the Romans, Greeks, and Chinese.
Russ: Yes, but this does not make tithing an eternal moral principle because these other nations also worshipped idols, etc.
Mark: Genesis 14. This event, according to Hebrews 7, is loaded with symbolism since Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation, he is paying homage to someone who is both King and Priest, and the land from which Melchizedek comes (Salem) will be Jerusalem. However, Abraham didn’t invent the concept of tithing; he was reflecting something he had learned from his Babylonian culture since tithing had become a vital part of the religious-political culture of the day.
Russ: Since you do not go into detail, I won’t.
Mark: When Israel became a nation, tithing was a vital part of their formal identity. In Israel the tithe (10%) was both as an obligation and an act of worship.
Russ: The first and third tithes were obligations. The second tithe was also an act of worship.
Mark: In this way the tithe combines two words that do not seem to go together: taxes and worship. In Israel there was no distinction between spiritual and national life; they were intertwined. Therefore, the giving of tithes was a requirement since it was the means by which the nation was supported. So you could think of tithing as the spiritual taxation. It was money used to support the nation, and it was worship.
Russ: Yes per MacArthur and Croteau but not Alcorn. Kings used Levites as political workers, judges, rulers, etc. 1 Chron 23 to 26.
Mark: Leviticus 27:30-33
Russ: Interpret the text literally: (1) only food, (2) not the firstfruit, (3) not the best and (4) only for Israel (v34).
Mark: The tithe was based upon a few key principles:
• Everything belongs to the Lord
Russ: Only everything which God miraculously increased from inside His holy land. God did not accept holy tithes from anywhere else.
Mark: All that we have and hope to have is a gift from Him
• A tithe honors this relationship of Creator and Creature
Russ: Sounds good, but not exactly biblical.
Mark: … The average “tithe” was actually closer to 23%.
Russ: Am I to condlude that you mean 23% when you say “give well beyond the Old Testament minimum”? Is not this blatant hypocrisy?
Mark: Therefore, we can conclude the following about tithing in the Old Testament:
1. Tithing was a common practice in the Ancient Near East
Russ: Yes. Thanks for being honest. Most pastors will not admit this.
Mark: 2. Tithing was rooted in God’s ownership
Russ: Not necessarily unless limited to Israel.
Mark: 3. Tithing was both an obligation and an act of worship in Israel
Russ: Only for Israel. Not for Gentiles or the Church.
Mark: 4. Tithing went well beyond the traditional 10%
Russ: Yes, so what is the minimum? 23?
Mark: Tithing was the fundamental way that the people of Israel expressed their understanding of God’s role in their life, their gratitude, and the support of the nation.
Russ: NO, NO, NO. Only farmers and herdsmen inside Israel. It applied to nobody else. Others showed their gratitude with freewill offerings.
Mark: …. 1. Voluntary giving, not tithing, is the base or foundation of generosity
2. Voluntary giving was a response to the grace and goodness of God
Russ: Yes, so why not teach the “base or foundation of generosity”?
Mark: 3. Tithing, while valuable and important, was a cultural and national addition that never replaced voluntary, heart-based generosity
Russ: True. Freewill giving is always better.
Mark: So now you are wondering: Are we supposed to tithe or not? Good question. Is Tithing for Today? [Quotes Augustien and Randy Alcorn]
Russ: Why do you pretend to disagree with Alcorn and then make a final statement which is exactly what he concludes???? “Give well beyond the Old Testament minimum.”
Mark: However, I do not see how tithing as defined and practiced in the Old Testament is the model for giving today.
Russ: Yes, you most certainly do: “Give well beyond the Old Testament minimum.
Mark: Therefore, I think that a tithing model is the wrong way to approach New Testament giving.
Russ: No, you don’t. “Give well beyond the Old Testament minimum.”
Mark: Why do I say that?
3. The New Testament never suggests that tithing is the model of Jesus’s disciples.
Russ: Then do not teach that “it would make sense that grace-loving, Jesus-centered, forgiveness-receiving people would give well beyond the Old Testament minimum.” You hypocrite! Many Christaisns can barely make ends meet and are already giving sacrificially even though LESS than ten per cent. Our guide is First Timothy 5:8.
Mark: Some would argue and resist what I’m saying today suggesting that a lack of emphasis on tithing comes from a desire to give less, and it is often suggested that the effect on people will be that less will be given. However, that is a familiar charge and a common fear when grace is added to anything. The fear of what people will do or not do has led to lots of obedience “add-ons” over the centuries.
As well, limiting obedience to a particular standard (in this case, a percentage) makes those who are doing it feel righteous when they may be doing so out of rote habit and self-righteousness (“I’m gave my 10%, I’ve done my part. God is happy with me.”) It is my belief that a specific, required, and obligated percentage takes away the heart of what giving is supposed to be. It might be comparable to the husband who either feels obligated to buy his wife a gift for every special event. The required duty eclipses the joy.
Next week, I’ll dial into this issue even further, but let me give you some initial thoughts as to how we ought to think about giving:
1. Giving acknowledges God’s ownership of everything, so you should regularly give
I am in no way suggesting that you should not give. On the contrary, I firmly believe that a failure to give and a stingy heart reflect very clearly on your view of God. Those who love God’s rule of their lives will have generous hearts.
Russ: This is great rhetoric but it does not match your “minimum” statement.
Mark: 2. Engaging the heart in giving is more important than the size of the gift
God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), and it is really important to see that central to the beauty of giving is the heart-wrestling that should accompany it.
Russ: Yes, yes, yes.
Mark: 3. There is commendable value in becoming a priority and percentage giver
Here is where tithing as a model is helpful. I would encourage you to consider making giving the first check that you write, and I would encourage you to set a percentage of what you believe God is leading you to give.
Russ: Great Alcorn theology but not found in God’s Word. The titeh was never a model for all Hebrew givers.
Mark: 4. Giving a tithe does not satisfy our giving obligations
Russ: For many the giving of ten per cent would be a huge sacrificle. They would have to do without essentials.
Mark: 5. We must see giving through the lens of the gospel
Russ: After Calvary and blessed by the Holy Spirit.
Mark: And it seems to me that while tithing is not required, it would make sense that ….
Russ: Take the OT Law out fo one hand, slip it around the back, and place it back into the NT hand. Neat trick. Do you also take all of Numbers 18 and do the same thing with that entire statute? Do you own and inherit property? Hmmmmm.
Mark: … grace-loving, Jesus-centered, forgiveness-receiving people would give well beyond the Old Testament minimum.
Russ: Our nation is full of of faithful “tithe-payers” in the ghettos who have been “tithing” for generations and remain poor. They are afraid to stop because their money tree is just around the corner.
Mark: But the motivation should not be obligation and habit; it should be love and gratitude.
Russ: YOU have made it a motdivation of MINIMUM.
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Author of Should the Church Teach Tithing? and good friend or Dr. David Croteau. See his latest edited book, Perspectives on Tithing: Four Views, by Broadmen Press.
P.S. Alcorn backed out of Christianity Today’s debate challenge with me. See Revelation TV (London) Tithing Debate.