Generosity Part II – Religious Giving

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This article is going to be about giving people do as part of their faith. If you’re not a person of faith, you might find it interesting out of curiosity, but it won’t be directly relevant to your financial independence journey. I should also note that as a Christian, it’s Christian giving I’m going to be writing about, specifically giving to the church rather than the other aspects of Christian generosity as they would mostly be covered by both my first post in the series about charitable giving and the upcoming post about general generosity. However, I would be very interested to hear about the giving practices of other religions if anyone is willing to share.

I should probably further narrow my scope by saying I’m going to address the issue of tithing in particular, as that seems to be the main theological approach to giving that is taught at churches I’ve been to. I don’t know whether that’s something that’s replicated in the Catholic or Anglican churches or other denominations as I haven’t been part of those before. Again, I’d love to learn if anyone wants to educate me 🙂

Tithing is an Old Testament concept that can mean sacrificing anything from 10-30% of what you’ve earned/produced to God, depending on how you interpret it. There are a number of problems with the application of modern tithing and others have covered them better than I, but let me outline three for you:

Jesus doesn’t talk about tithing.

He did talk about a woman who gave everything she had at the synagogue (much more than 10%!). He told the parable of the talents, which has a wonderful financial independence theme. He told people to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, i.e. pay their taxes, which brings me to my next point:

Old Testament tithes were essentially taxes

The Old Testament is primarily concerned with the story of God and the nation of Israel. Israel was made up of 12 tribes, of which the tribe of Levi was the priestly tribe. As Israel was a theocracy, the priesthood was essentially the government as the law of God was the law of the land. Tithes were intended to support the livelihoods of the tribe of Levi, e.g. Levites would tend flocks of sheep tithed by farmers from other tribes. This is something of an oversimplification, but tithes were more or less taxes in that they provided the financial support for the government so it could get on with the job of governing.

What this means is that if you are someone who doesn’t live in a Christian theocracy and you therefore pay taxes to a secular government, there is no rationale for anyone demanding a tithe from you.

The early church did so much more than tithe

When you read the book of Acts, you read about Christians who had “all things in common” and sold their property so that the money could be distributed to those in need. Forget 10%, this is getting close to 100%! So arguments against the principle of tithing are far from being arguments that Christians should be asked to give less. They could give less, they could give more but the big question is who are they giving it to? In the book of Acts, the money isn’t being used to fund the running of a church. It’s for the poor.

Conclusion

I think it’s important to point out that I don’t think there are many (if any) malicious church leaders out there trying to impoverish their congregations by preaching about tithing. Nor do I think they’re trying to enrich themselves. All the pastors I’ve known have been paid significantly less than their secular CEO counterparts who run similar-sized organisations. It’s just a classic example of a doctrine that is perpetuated because it’s simple, easy-to-understand and yes, church leaders are very aware of the financial situation of the organisations they lead so inevitably it’s going to take a considerable amount of conviction to convince them to consider any alternative theology on the subject.

This is a huge topic and I’ve not even scratched the surface. There are other issues such as:

  • Cultures where tithing is prescribed with a lot more pressure compared with the “light” pressure to tithe found in most NZ churches.
  • The biblical passages used to support arguments for tithing and how those should actually be interpreted.
  • The whole “old covenant” vs. “new covenant” situation.
  • Christians aren’t tithing anyway. 80% of American Christians give about 2% of their income.

If you want to read more about it, here are some resources (the third one is a lot of reading but really gets into the nitty gritty).

The Problem with Tithing

https://www.tithingdebate.com

https://www.tithingdebate.com/EatingSacredCowsDownload.pdf

In closing, and in addition to my regular Comment With Kindness policy below, I’d like to say that comments in this post will be restricted to the subject of religious giving only. If you have a point to make for or against tithing or any other theological point about giving or any other religion’s take on generosity, you’re welcome to do so (in a kind way). If you want to discuss anything else about religion, no matter how kind you are about it, I’m sorry but your comment won’t make it through as there are many fora on the internet where you can have those conversations and debates.

Comment Policy: For this blog, I’ve implemented a Comment with Kindness policy. You can read more about it here, but the gist of it is: Follow what I call the “Grandma Rule”. If you wouldn’t take that tone with your grandma, your comment probably won’t make it through moderation.

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