THE DANGERS OF TITHING
By: G. Ernest Thomas
There are dangers in tithing. Any plan which defines the relationship between a man and his God, in terms of a rule or a law, is subject to misinterpretation or misuse. The spirit of the deed tends to be forgotten in the satisfaction which comes from feeling that the letter of the rule has been kept.
Tithing is a definite measure of giving. In tradition, and in current practice, it means the ten percent of his income which a Christian sets aside for God’s work, and as a recognition of His goodness. There is danger
in such a standard, if the practice becomes merely a rule which a follower of Jesus must observe in order to be counted faithful.
However, it is well to remember that many of the commonly accepted and socially significant laws which govern the actions of men in this century are subject to similar charges. For example, consider the laws of marriage. It may be said that taking out a license, and making public vows in a marriage ceremony, is a legalistic approach to the relationship between a man and woman who love each other. The persons involved might easily ask why such laws are necessary. “Is not the spirit of a marriage threatened,” they may say, “when legal measures are required of those who would be partners in me?” But we know that the laws and regulations which govern marriage are necessary and helpful in the contribution which they make to a stable society.
We recognize that there are dangers in tithing. But the values in the tither’s approach to material goods are so numerous that they far outweigh the actual or imagined disadvantages. Tithing has proved itself a
constructive and beneficial discipline for Christian living. It is a means of grace which has contributed a vast treasure to the spiritual experience of faithful men and women.
In a remarkable way tithing has come to be accepted by multitudes of Christians as a religious act of devotion which has divine sanction. It is considered as a measure of God’s claim upon the material goods which He has given to His people.
We assume that tithing is God’s law because it reached back so far in Hebrew history. It was central in the custom; of the people whose religion represents the beginnings of our own faith.
Recently the dogma of the Assumption of Mary was presented to the Roman Catholics of the world. Catholic theologians admit that the dogma had no mention in any Christian writings before the sixth century. The argument for the validity of the dogma is based on the idea that certain people as early as the year A.D. 600 believed in it.
But consider the authority which the ages summon to support the idea of tithing. It goes back as far as the earliest Biblical record of man’s life on the earth. It was fully formulated as a practice when Moses gave the law to guide his people. It was observed and kept by all faithful Hebrews who desired to express their faith in Jehovah by divinely approved practices.
Not only does history indicate that tithing is God’s plan for His people. In addition we have the testimony of many tithers in the Twentieth Century who declare that they feel a close fellowship with God when they regularly set aside ten percent of their income.
Man becomes a partner with God when he tithes. He has a sense of comradeship with the Creator and Maker of the universe when he uses his possessions with a sense of holy trust.
Tithing therefore has divine sanction and, in an extraordinary manner, it has come to be recognized as a divine rather than a human law to govern the relationship between Christians and their possessions.
There are dangers in the observance of any of the rules of the universe which are affirmed to be peculiarly God’s laws. Take the concept of love as the basic rule of life. There is danger in such an idea. In fact, there are many who are willing to set aside Love as the law of life in favor of a more militant view of the relationships between men or nations which differ with one another. Or consider the law which declares that “whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” There are dangers in such a law for many of those who believe that pleasure or luxury are the final end in life.
Every one of the laws which stem from a close identification between mankind and the revealed purposes of God are dangerous to the settled, satisfied way of life which many people strive to attain.
When we examine some of the perils of tithing, we recognize that the difficulty is not so much with the law itself, but with the approach which men make to it. Every pitfall can be avoided by a right attitude and spirit on the part of the people who are endeavoring to tithe.
Let us look at the dangers which threaten the tither. They should not be magnified, but they ought not to be ignored. People who do not tithe have not faced these issues but, on the other hand, such Christians never come to understand the personal joy and the sense of partnership with God which is experienced by those who are setting aside a tenth of their income.
One common danger of tithing is Self-righteousness. It is a temptation for a tither to assume superiority over those who do not follow that custom. Jesus made it clear to His listeners that self-righteousness results in a barren experience of faith. He told of a man who stood up in the temple and prayed, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men…. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12). Jesus concludes that the man who made such a prayer did not go home feeling close to his God.
Self-righteousness makes for an empty religion in this generation as it did in New Testament times. It builds a false idea of virtue.
When a tither is aware of the pitiably small gifts to the Kingdom which are made by many professing Christians it is not unnatural that he should regard his own giving of ten percent as a large amount. To note that many prosperous people are disposed to boast of their generosity when their contributions to the church and the Kingdom do not equal the sum which a woman spends at the beauty parlor, or which a man pays at his golf club, makes it easy for a tither to mark the wide gulf separating him from that kind of person.
However, comparatively few tithers actually do yield to the dangers of self-righteousness. Most tithers are humble people who hesitate to talk of their virtues, but who would rather converse about the goodness of God and of His mercies.
A businessman in Florida had made large gifts to the church and to charity. Few calls for funds ever failed to receive a willing response. His generosity to community causes, also, became known to many people who were identified with the organizations which he supported. He was publicly recognized as a benefactor of the church and the community. One evening he was introduced as the speaker at a banquet. The presiding officer told of a number of instances when that man’s generosity had helped to make a financial campaign successful.
When he arose to begin his address, this Christian businessman was evidently embarrassed. “I want to make it clear that I do not deserve credit for what I give to any cause in my church or in the community,” he began. “I have contributed none of my money. It all belongs to God for, you see, I am a tither.”
The minister of his church was in the audience and heard that confession. Later he said to a friend, “I have known Ed for eight years, and have talked with him about God and the church on many occasions, but he never had told me that he is a tither.”
That is not an unusual occurrence. Most tithers are humble about their regular habit of setting aside a tenth of their income. Yet self-righteousness is one of the perils which must constantly be avoided by those who tithe.
A second danger of tithing is Legalism. Tithers are tempted to believe that no further sacrifice of money or self is necessary beyond the giving of the tithe. It is the assumption of some Christians that tithing is a kind of transaction between God and man in which, because man thinks he has done his part through the tithe, he expects God to show peculiar interest in his welfare.
The legalistic tither is not concerned with human values. He feels that his part in helping humanity has been completed by the money which he gives.
Jesus was stern in His condemnation of those who had mistakenly assumed that their obligation ended with the giving of tithes. He informed them that, while not neglecting the tithe, they should also remember justice and mercy. He left His listeners with the feeling of condemnation because their tithing was unaccompanied by a commitment of their lives to God.
It should be stated that there are comparatively few tithers today who are guilty of the sin of legalism. The unbounded generosity and interest in people which have been evidenced in the lives of such tithers as A.A. Hyde, Kenneth S. Keyes, James L. Kraft, and Matthias W. Baldwin are an eloquent reply to those who would magnify this danger. On the contrary, men and women who tithe have often been in the forefront of those movements which endeavor to build a better world for all mankind. Missionary interests have
found some of their best friends among tithers. The organizations and institutions which seek to alleviate suffering are frequently led by those who put aside at least ten percent of their income for the work of God.
Yet tithers must always be willing to test the reality of their faith by the measure of their total commitment to Christ. It is always dangerous when the tithe is regarded as both the beginning and the end of faith. No
acknowledgment is sufficient unless it includes, not only money, but time and talents and life.
A third danger of tithing is the temptation to make the matter a subject or argument. Christian people often carry on heated discussions concerning the importance and methods of tithing.
The arguments usually begin with the question of whether or not a Christian is obliged to tithe. They continue as the prospective tither discusses at length the nature of his tithe, and the uses to which his tithe may be devoted. They reach their climax when the tither is so eager to convince others of the values of tithing that he tends to become impatient in his approach to those who do not agree with him.
The rich treasure which is available to the Christian through regular tithing is frequently lost if it becomes a subject for argument. The motive for tithing is gratitude. God has been good in His abundant gifts to His
children. The tither is grateful. He looks for some means by which he may express his thankfulness. The tithe is for him a historical and practical method by which he may acknowledge his overwhelming feeling of
appreciation for the generosity of his Heavenly Father.
Tithing begins with gratitude. But it soon becomes apparent that, though the tither did not seek them, there are numerous returns which come to him. “Prove me, saith the Lord of Hosts,” is a settled fact in the experience of tithers. Many Christians have tested the way of tithing and have proved that the material and spiritual results in their personal lives are evident every day.
Most tithers do not care to argue about the matter. They have tried the tithing method of sharing, and have found that is works. They do not ask for material returns from their giving. It is enough that they may pour out to God their heartfelt gratitude for all which has been given to them. They are willing to let others argue about the details of the tithing method. It is sufficient for them to know that through the tithe they have found a satisfying partnership with God, one which has lifted them to the place of assurance, and has given them a growing sense of meaning for life every day.
Solution to Problems
The fourth danger of tithing occurs when the practice is urged solely as a means by which the financial problems facing a Christian organization may be solved. Such an approach is attacking the problem from the wrong end. Tithing is certain to become an empty form, often inviting ridicule or suspicion, if it is paraded before a congregation as a means to raise money for a cause.
It is difficult to avoid selfishness when tithing is made a crutch to assist a financial campaign. Thinking Christians have a right to ask at such a time why, if tithing is such a boon to happiness and the abundant
me, it was not emphasized long before.
The tithes of consecrated Christians will raise “large sums for Christian causes. But the money raised is the by-product of the deeper act of dedication. Tithing is an act of worship. It is the acknowledgment of gratitude for God’s abundant mercies.
This danger of a distorted motive does not often confront, the tither himself unless he began the practice under the pressure of need to contribute to a church building project, or to some other emergency need,
and did not intend to make it a part of his life dedication. In such a case he must not be disillusioned or disheartened. If he is willing to persevere in the practice of tithing, he will discover that he will receive an
assurance of God’s presence and an awareness of partnership in all phases of his daily life.
Substitute for Stewardship
Another common danger of tithing is the temptation to make it a substitute for stewardship. Money is only one aspect of God’s providential care. The pocketbook is important because it frequently molds attitudes toward every other phase of life, but is not the end of God’s goodness.
Tithing is that portion of a Christian’s income which is surrendered to God. The tenth should not blind the individual to the fact that the other nine-tenths are also a gift of God and must be administered with no less a sense of sacred trust. Every Christian is a steward of all of me. He is a trustee of every dollar which God has entrusted to him. The tithe is a minimum acknowledgement, but a dedicated steward may discover that other tenths belong to God. Whether or not his giving stops with the tenth, the faithful steward will seek to administer all that he has with a sense of holy trust, recognizing that every bit of it is the gift of God’s love.
Stewardship does not end with money. It includes time and talents. It is not enough for a Christian to feel a sense of pious satisfaction in giving a tenth of his money, if he fails to use his abilities for service in the
church, or if he feels that he has no time to spare for places of leadership in the Kingdom.
There is a danger in tithing whenever a Christian assumes that his obligation to God is completely discharged by giving ten percent of his income. However, comparatively few tithers yield to this temptation. For the most part tithers are as ready to surrender their abilities and their time to God as they are to give their money. They have learned through the custom of regular sharing that all of me is a gift of God, and each part of it should be held in sacred trust. In that spirit they look upon tithing as one phase of the deeper acknowledgment which they continually make to God.
Partnership with God
None of the dangers which tithing presents are sufficient to persuade any thinking person that he should question the value of such a practice. The dangers reveal human weaknesses which must be recognized if we are to be honest. But tithing is primarily a relationship between Christians and their God. Kept on the high plane in which partnership with the Heavenly Father becomes the motive and satisfaction of life, tithing is a practice not to be regarded with fear, but to be accepted as a holy privilege.
Tithing is an affirmation of faith in God. It is a recognition of His goodness. Because of human frailties, tithing may sometime become legalistic or may lead to self-righteousness, but its basic principles are
worship and surrender. Occasional misuse, caused by weaknesses, should not bar Christians from the joy and satisfaction which come when, through the tithe, they acknowledge each one of God’s mercies.
(The above material was taken from the book Spiritual Life Through Tithing.)
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