Wednesday 22 May 2013

John Stevens on Tithing

Hi Chris,
Tithing. Tithing caused me to explore the bible and receive an unexpected electrocution of truth. I'm certainly not claiming to have understood everything but a shock is a shock and at least I can write about that.

I'd read Run Baby Run, The Cross and the Switchblade, When the Spirit Comes and a few other books prior to conversion to Christ in 1976.

I seem to remember one of the characters that David Wilkerson wrote about was a man in a New York who used to preach everyday even if no-one was listening, and 'tithe' 90% of his income and live on the 10%.
I don't know if, strictly speaking, that was my introductiion to the word tithing or not; I suspect not as 'tithe barns' were part of my vocabulary and somewhere in learning about the history of the feudal system I'm sure I heard something about tithes as the precursor to taxation.

Roll on a few years and after years of giving 10% from my University grant and early teaching salary and I'm leading a homegroup that has collectively been baptised in the Spirit afresh during the Wimber visits to the UK. For some reason I decide that we should look at tithing as it had been a blessing to the heart of the desire to share about tithing I think was the conviction that I felt it was spiritually healthy to be generous rather than be afraid of financial giving and thought it would be good for the group.

Two things followed on in quick succession. The first was the electrocution. The second was the ruin of my tithing experiment.

Before looking at the OT references to tithing I had a very simple model of what the bible teaches about tithing; that it should be the first tenth of all you have i.e. gross salary. To keep things simple that also had the corrollary that all of the 10% found its way by standing order to the church. I was glad to do this; it wasn't a burden.

Then, to my amazement, we discovered that the first type of biblical tithing was 10% to be used to purchase food and drink whilst on pilgrimage to the Jerusalem feasts so that everyone would be joyful. The second tithe was more like our tax system to be given to the Levites and priests for their sustenance but also so that the Levites could run what we would call the National Health Service and Social Services, not at the temple but amongst the people and their houses - interesting that our present government is trying to combine these two services as I write this! There might be another tithe but I can't remember what it is.

For the Jews who came to Christ, of course, they would have been required as citizens of Israel, albeit under Roman occupation, to pay the tithes as well as taxation to Rome...and then any giving that is mentioned in the NT would have been over and above that.

The often quoted passage in Malachi isn't so spiritual if one sees 'spiritual' as invisible and having no connection to the material. 'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse' is just the same as the current outcry against multinationals and the powerful elite who rob the nation through tax-dodging. If the nation had stooped to the degree that the tax flow had diminished the whole temple and health/social service system would collapse. Money is best seen as a fluid, it's only useful when it's on the move, at that time from everyone to the priests and Levites ministering to God in order for the blessings of heaven to reach the poorest of the land.

What about now? It's simple. We should pay our taxes and speak up about what that money should be used for. Those on the right might favour lowering taxes to dismantle an ever more powerful state machinery, those on the left may want to increase taxes to increase the flow to the poor. Both voices have their place. Speak up! But giving - that's different. That's not restricted to money that's everything.

It really is a Spirit/spirit thing as is everything. It really is a question of learning to live in step with the Spirit.

The life of the Spirit is not restricted by our analytical versions of fairness and justice. Peter and John almost walk past the beggar by the beautiful gate. Jesus wasn't going to stop when he was walking past the disciples boat. Jesus singled out the lame man in the portico and Lazarus in the tree. Sometimes someone catches our attention of our spirit, sometimes we know we have to go to someone as the Spirit impels.

There's nothing wrong in committing yourself to give 10% of your gross salary to your local church if that's what you want to do but you are not coerced by any scripture to do so. You will be sowing, almost definitely, into the priorities of the leaders of your church and you and what you reap may inform everyone about the wisdom of the original commitments.
(I'm currently reviewing along with some others in my church the wisdom of our current support for microfinance for example)

I love Paul's statement:

And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.

We are all caught up in this. As was Jesus. He gave everything and as He gave more so he, like Paul, knew the truth of 'the less I be loved'.

There's something very deliberate and very lovely and joyful about putting seeds into the ground. It's my next job down at my allotment. I'm looking forward in particular to sowing some sweetcorn seeds. Yes the seeds will die, they will be spent, but I know that just a few months later something possible taller than I am will stand there in glory! Well, hopefully glorious sunshine anyway and I'll feast on the many hundreds of seeds that one seed has managed to reproduce.

That was the big shock discovering that the biblical tithing has very little to do with the '10% to your local church'  equivalance of the OT tithe.

Following on from that study I went through a period of real financial hardship where I wanted to tithe, i.e. give 10% to my church, but in order to continue to tithe I was borrowing money from a family source. It took awhile for the madness of this to register. But you see how gracious God was; the truth had set me free although it took me a while to cotton on. I stopped borrowing and gave less to the church until I was able to give a little more without taking handouts from the family! Some things need to be demolished!

My practice now? I'm not sure what % I give to my church. I'm happy to do this, but mentally I see the taxes I pay as having more relation to the OT priestly tithe, and I'm free to give to myself and friends and family in the spirit of the first tithe i.e. to buy food and drink and have some holy joy. But it doesn't stop there.

'Freely you have received freely give'.

The universe's big secret? It's all run by grace. I'm still being trained up in the ways of grace.

Well Chris, I've been following your various bombardments and artllery rounds on tithing and thought maybe it's time I joined in and shared a few journeying thoughts.

I've avoided getting involved in all the teaching side of the argument about Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedec...maybe another time!


1 comment:

Gary Arnold said...

You are correct that we are free of the tithe but I would like to point out that you missed the tithe that churches pattern their teaching after today.

Leviticus 27:30-33 defines this tithe as a tenth of crops and animals in herds and flocks.
Numbers 18 gives the ordinances, or instructions, for this tithe, and commands this tithe be taken to the Levites.
Purpose of this tithe: to support the Levitical Priesthood.

Deuteronomy 14:22-27: aka The Festival Tithe - a tenth of crops, plus add to that the firstborn animals, and take to the yearly feasts.
Purpose of this tithe: “that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always”

Deuteronomy 14:28-29: aka The Three-Year Tithe aka The Poor Tithe - a tenth of crops, kept at home, and invite the Levites, widows, orphans, stranger to eat.
Purpose of this tithe: to feed the poor.

As you can see, the first tithe is the one that supported the priesthood, and it was neither given (as a gift) or paid. It was TAKEN (transported) to the Levites. God claimed the first tithe to be His. Let me explain:

When God gave the Israelites the promised land, He RESERVED, for Himself, a tenth of the crops and every tenth animal. They NEVER did belong to the Israelites. In other words, the tithe was from God's increase of FOOD, not from man's income. It was a way to distribute FOOD to the Levites and priests who did NOT inherit any land.

No one, not even the farmers, tithed from their income.

The farmers made their income by SELLING and/or barter-exchanging their crops and animals but did NOT tithe on that income.

Today, ALL born-again believers are priests. ALL of us are called to be disciples of the Lord. No one of us is greater than another. Our bodies are the Temple where the Spirit dwells. According to the scriptures, priests do not tithe.