Tithing: Law of God or Gift of God? (Part I)
Recently, tithing has become of topic of great discussion within the church community and even outside the immediate church community. Some congregations set the expectation of giving at the traditional tithing mark (ten percent of an individual's income); while other congregations rarely, if ever, deal with this predominantly Old Testament concept. In reality, giving in United Methodist congregations, as well as other mainline Protestant congregations, is far less than ten percent of people's income. According to studies by Empty Tomb, Inc., average giving by church members is less than 2.5 percent of members' annual income. A November 23, 2007, Wall Street Journal article titled "The Backlash Against Tithing" notes congregants' reluctance to tithe.
As Christians, we are called to give to God "what is right, not what is left," as the popular quote from a church marquee states. God calls us to offer our "first fruits," not the "leftovers." First fruits giving requires the theological premise that our possessions and assets ultimately belong to God. All that we have in life is a gift from God! Faith-filled, first fruits giving is our opportunity to return to God a small portion of God's abundant blessing in our lives. Moreover, these blessings are not limited to financial assets or possessions. Most of us can examine our own lives and find numerous blessings, perhaps even some astounding miracles.
Tithing becomes a benchmark for the modern-day Christian. Since few regular worship attenders have achieved the giving mark of tithing, how might pastors and church leaders encourage congregants to strive to tithe? If pastors and church leaders promote proportionate giving, worshipers will be called to examine their current giving levels and will be challenged to move closer to the tithe.
Why is tithing a benchmark rather than a goal? In his sermon, The Use of Money," John Wesley preached about "earning all you can, saving all you can, and giving all you can." For Wesley, the tithe was not the ultimate goal of the Christian; it was the standard, the normative mark, the common denominator. Jesus' teaching and example urge us to examine our choices with all our possessions and assets, not just ten percent of them. Frankly, Jesus asked his disciples for one hundred percent commitment. In Holy Smoke: Whatever Happened to Tithing, authors J. Clif Christopher and Herb Mather write: "God provided the tithe as a benchmark, to help us put God first in our lives . . . to help us put all else in proper perspective."