THE REDISCOVERY OF TITHING
By: G. Ernest Thomas
Tithing is a keystone to the entire wall which Christianity erects to hold back the onslaughts of materialism. It is important because the rest of the Christian answer to the human problem depends, in large part, upon it.
This generation is experiencing a new consciousness of need for a fuller dedication of life to God by those who profess the Christian faith. The trends in current civilization indicate that we must go deeper in faith if
we are to go farther in progress. Any thoughtful person is made aware every day of the conflicting forces which are warring in the world. It is a time which cries out for a more complete surrender of money and me to the will and purpose of Almighty God.
Money has assumed a place of increasing importance in the life of man in the Twentieth Century. With each passing year fewer people live the kind of existence in which they themselves produce the necessities of life. Money has become the buying power to satisfy almost every physical demand. Even the farmer has come to rely upon money. Only a few decades ago the tiller of the soil raised the food which supplied the needs of his family. The power to work his fields came from animals which themselves had their
subsistence in the land. But now he needs money to operate a farm. He buys, rather than raises, much of his food. Money pays for the electric power to operate his machinery, and for the oil to run his tractor. His clothing is bought at a store, and his recreation is purchased by the investment which he makes in radio or television.
What has happened in recent years to the farmer has long been the experience of millions of workers who earn their livelihood in factory or office. For many people the possession of money has become an end in life.
The growing importance of money has turned the focus of attention from the true source of the world’s goods. The man who worked the fields to produce the necessities for sustenance was in a position to observe the creating and sustaining power of God in his life. When he was dependent upon the
rainfall, the sun, and the fertile earth for his well-being, it was natural to recognize a loving Heavenly Father. But such recognition becomes more difficult when money is the source of his physical satisfactions. It is harder to see God at work in the product of a machine or a factory. Then man is tempted to give his worshipful devotion to a pay envelope or to a check book. That means money to him. It is the source of his comforts and pleasures.
The need for some standard by which faithful Christians may test their acknowledgment of God’s providential care has led to a rediscovery of the tithe. In the machine age man is tempted to believe that his skill and ingenuity have produced material values. He assumes either the absence of God’s power in the world, or he pushes God back so far into the life of the universe that man has no vital contact with His nature.
The tithe breaks all barriers created by man’s boast of self-sufficiency. It attests the reality of God’s presence in the world. It gives every individual an opportunity to affirm his belief and trust in the creating
and sustaining power of God. Beyond that it offers a uniform method of acknowledgment. Inflation of monetary values often leaves the contributions which men make for religious and humane causes far behind the national income. While that is dangerous for the Christian cause, it is even more dangerous for the soul of man. For the reality of God’s presence tends to become effective in direct proportion to the amount which a person lays upon the altar.
The idea of tithing has been rediscovered, then, as a result of the urgent need for an historical and practical measure by which each individual Christian may acknowledge that he and his world are a product of the
creating goodness of God.
What Is Tithing?
What is tithing? It is the regular habit by which a Christian, who seeks to be faithful to his trust, sets aside at least ten percent of his income as a recognition of God’s creative gifts, to acknowledge God’s ownership of all the resources of the earth.
The implications are far-reaching, and basic to vital religious living. Tithing is not practiced to buy favors from God, but to pay tribute to the Heavenly Father who is the source of every material possession.
When a Christian recognizes God’s creative gifts by setting aside a tithe of his income, he expresses his conviction that God is the giver of all he has. He admits that the product of the mine or the fertile field can only be explained by the long creative process which is the result of the relationship of God to the universe. The money which the oil man, the baker, or the manufacturer earns has its ultimate source in those elements which man did not and could not create. Each occupation or profession which engages the efforts of mankind deals with factors which are beyond the range of man’s ability to make. They argue unmistakably for the fact of God.
Tithing assumes, also, that God continues to be the owner of the material possessions which are entrusted to man. The final title to property or money does not rest with the individual, but with God. Man may be a steward of those possessions for many years; yet, inevitably he must surrender that title at the end of his earthly life, and the trust is then placed upon some other person. Man does not own the material world; he is merely a steward.
William Colgate was a tither throughout his long and successful business career. He gave not merely one-tenth of the earnings of Colgate’s soap products; but he gave two-tenths, then three-tenths, and finally five-
tenths of all his income to the work of God in the world. During the later days of his life he revealed the origin of his devotion to the idea of tithing. When he was sixteen years old he left home to find employment in New York City. He had previously worked in a soap manufacturing shop. When he told the captain of the canal boat upon which he was traveling that he planned to make soap in New York City the man gave him this advice: “Someone will soon be the leading soap maker in New York. You can be that person. But you must never lose sight of the fact that the soap you make has been given to you by God. Honor Him by sharing what you earn. Begin by tithing all you receive.”
William Colgate felt the urge to tithe because he recognized that God was the giver of all that he possessed, not only of opportunity, but even of the elements which were used in the manufacture of his products.
Tithing is a testimony to the creative goodness of God. It is man’s admission that he is dependent upon the continued blessings of the Creator. Understood in that light, tithing becomes both a practical necessity for
the Christian who would be true to his trust and a wide open door to a vital relationship with God.
The rediscovery of tithing during this generation is of significance not only for the individual Christian life but for civilization as well. There are four major threats to Christianity in the modern world. They are
Secularism, Materialism, Humanism, and Communism. A general and widespread practice of tithing will provide an effective answer to each one of these current and pressing dangers.
A Christian may say that he believes in God, but such an assertion is only partially true unless his statement is accompanied by personal surrender and sacrifice. Thus it is that the assurance of faith which is evidenced by giving a tenth for God’s work and for human welfare is at once an answer to the contemporary competitors for the allegiance of man.
Strikes at Secularism
Secularism is the first great adversary of Christianity on the current scene. A widespread acceptance of the idea and practice of tithing by professing Christians will eloquently answer this growing menace to vital
The secular society is a society without God. It is a world in which material things become the dictator. Happiness results from a satisfaction of the senses, or from the possession and use of things. Jesus of Nazareth declared that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” In the secular society, the treasure which man seeks depends on physical satisfactions. Material things become the consuming interest of the one who is in the grip of the secular point of view.
The things which man craves in a secular society are best described as gadgets. They include a multitude of machines which make life easy or which serve to entertain. Many of these are useful. They include the automobile, the television set, the washing machine, and the electric toaster. The gadgets help to make life comfortable and serve to keep him occupied during his leisure hours, but too often man comes to feel that these things are of first importance in his life.
Few persons escape the pull of the secular. It steals quietly into the Christian home under the guise of pleas from some member of the family who thinks the home should possess just one more shiny creation of a modern factory.
Secularism turns the focus of attention away from God to material things. It enmeshes previously devoted people in a type of thinking in which the God of all the universe is replaced by another and more material deity. Pleasure and ease and physical satisfaction become life’s consuming desires.
Tithing strikes boldly at the heart of secularism. It becomes a confession of faith in God for every individual who practices it. To tithe one’s income does not mean that labor-saving devices and modern means of
transportation will not be sought after and used, but tithing does mean that all of me will be seen from the vantage point of faith. Tithing is the acknowledgment of God’s creating and sustaining goodness. It is an act of dedication which immediately indicates that the person who tithes has put God first and his own physical satisfactions second.
It is questionable whether the fight against secularism can be won upon any other basis. Few individuals are able to hold out against the pressures of the secular world unless money is accepted as a sacred trust. Worship is important as a key to reality, but lasting spiritual experiences must be accompanied by the surrender of money if the individual Christian is to win the fight for his soul.
Tithing is a simple and practical way by which a follower of Jesus can acknowledge the obligation which he owes to Almighty God. No society will be imprisoned in a purely secularistic outlook when its people cultivate the consciousness of God’s presence in the world. A widespread presentation and acceptance of tithing is the answer to the growing problem of secularism in modern society.
Paul was aware of the Materialism which prevailed during the first century after Christ. He said, “The love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and
pierced their hearts with many pangs” (I Tim. 6:10).
John Wesley expressed great concern about the threat of materialism to the Methodists of England. Writing in his Journal for October 12, 1760, he says: “On the three following days I spoke severally to the members of the Bristol Society. As many of them increase in worldly goods, their grand danger, I apprehend, will be their relapsing into the spirit of the world, and then their religion is but a dream.”
Tithing is a form of discipline which serves to keep physical matter in proper perspective. For the materialist money and property are ends in themselves. They become values entirely apart from their source or their proper use. Tithing changes the focus in a life. It enables the individual who tithes to recognize that the origin of all existence is to be found in the works of God.
It is true that tithing alone does not change a mental attitude. Yet it is the method by which basic ideas are changed. A person who tithes has his eyes opened and perception cleared to those vistas in the universe which he misses when his view is focused solely upon material satisfactions.
Many Christian thinkers are aware that the current struggle between materialism and Christianity is crucial. Careful consideration makes it seem evident that the disciplined life of tithing is one way by which more than by reasoned argument, individuals are kept ever conscious of the place of God in their lives.
Another adversary of Christianity in contemporary society is Humanism. It is that philosophy which asserts that man by his own strength will finally overcome the problems of his world. It holds that God is not necessary in man’s battle with the issues which face him.
Clare Booth Luce noted the deadening nature of humanism upon religious faith in an address in which she said; “On my desk there are ten or twenty volumes, fresh from the publishers, written by men of considerable talents and intellectual prestige. According to the blurbs on the jacket, each one of them is full of closely reasoned analyses of the current aspect of the Tragic Human Situation, which they refer to as the World Crises. They are veritable puddings of ingenious formulae, panaceas, and ‘blueprints.’ But the basic promise of each is that man can lift himself by his own bootstraps, if not into the millenium, at least out of this horrible mess called progress. Each author seems sure that if ‘all mankind’ would give just one last final heave-ho, my hearties! it would save itself.”
Humanism breathes confidence in the power of man to exist and triumph without reference to his God. Of course, the humanist is somewhat disillusioned when hatred, greed, and lust are combined on a national scale to bring war, destruction, and death. Then the humanist sinks into black despair. In time of personal and national tragedy he is a man without hope.
Tithing – if widely followed – will serve as a practical answer to the blight of humanism. No person who honors God by giving at least ten percent of his worldly goods will remain unaware of the reality of God’s presence in the world. He will not lose God outside the universe, nor will he glory in the power of man to solve his problems by his own strength. Tithing will become a daily reminder that each individual is dependent upon the Creator for the blessings which surround him. He will experience in his own life a
growing consciousness of the divine presence in the universe, and will receive a portion of that God-given power to help him every day.
Answer to Communism
Communism includes both Secularism and Materialism. But it is more than that. Conceived as a philosophy designed to benefit all, Communism has become a belief which regards the individual soul as of no worth. Communism flourishes in the midst of poverty and death. It thrives on degradation and injustice. Hunger and cold are its messengers.
The march of Communism across the world makes it easy for a government and its people to assume that the growth of communistic support is a result of intrigue or of plotting, and fails to take into consideration the situation within a country which may have given rise to the false ideas.
Several years ago, J.W. Bradley, a missionary in China, wrote from Suchien of what he observed of life in that community. He said that of the one hundred sixty-four families in the village one hundred forty-eight were living on potato vines in February while they waited for the harvest in June. He described the starving children who gathered about him when he sat down by the side of the road to enjoy his lunch. Their emaciated faces and agonized cries made it impossible to eat. So he gave what he had to the hungry. A man seated nearby, who had sold all he had to keep his family from starving, said to him: “When you came here a few years ago I called you a foreign devil. Now I see you going about distributing bread to my people and ministering to the sick, and you are doing it for Jesus. Dr. Bradley, who is Jesus?”
In view of the terrifying march of Communism across China, it is clear that the tragedy came because there were not enough Dr. Bradleys to create within the minds of the people of China a desire to know and follow the Christian way of me. And why were there not more Dr. Bradleys working in villages like Suchien? It was because too many confessed Christians failed to acknowledge their debt to God by setting aside their tithe to reach out a helping hand to China, Japan, and other places in the world.
The kind of life in which we hold all our material possessions to be our own, and in which we claim the comforts of civilization primarily for ourselves, has been the foundation for the rapid spread of Communism. The dispossessed and the hungry will always thrust out their might angrily against a world which contains material goods sufficient to save them and their children from death, but which permits one group to hoard these as if they were a special treasure to be used selfishly by a selected few.
Consider what will happen if Christians rediscover the tithe. Haughty assertions of privilege will be silenced in an awareness of the ever-present gifts of a loving Heavenly Father. Money will be available in
increased amounts to aid the needy and to spread the Christian cause throughout the world. Communism cannot prosper where Christian men and women are living with a daily consciousness that this is God’s world, and are guided to let that belief determine their relationships with other people everywhere.
A new kind of society will come into being when Christians decide to tithe. It is a society in which Communism will find it difficult to recruit followers. Tithing is a practical answer to the march of Communism in the world.
Acknowledgment of God’s Gifts
Tithing is not primarily a challenge to Christians to give a specified amount of money to the Church and its institutions. Tithing will support such worthy works, but that is not what gives the practice its impetus.
Tithing is an acknowledgment, a recognition that God is the giver of all of life.
Nor is tithing a practice which Christians follow in order to guarantee for themselves a place in heaven. Tithing will usually change attitudes and ideas in the life of an individual so that he will be a more fitting
candidate for the life eternal, but tithing has not been prompted by such a desire. Tithing is, rather, the practice in which the Hebrew people and the followers of Jesus Christ set aside at least a tenth of their income for the support of God’s work in order that they may acknowledge all of God’s gifts. It begins with gratitude and love; it ends in a generous sharing in those causes which should receive the support of Christian people.
A new day of opportunity is opening for the disciples of Jesus Christ. It includes a summons to enroll with those men and women of strong faith and devotion in every age who have tithed their income as a visible and sincere acknowledgment of God’s goodness and mercy. The act of tithing will bring new hope and strength both to the individual and to the world.
(The above material was taken from the book Spiritual Life Through Tithing.)
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