11 June 2010 (Sheshi/Kippur)|
Day #88, 5934 AM
A Question of Tithing
What is the New Covenant Law
of Financial Stewardship?
A Position Paper on Tithing by New Covenant Ministries (MLT)
Every now and then I am asked what the new Testament teaches about financial stewardship. Ministries in both Messianic and Evangelical circles remain as firmly divided today over this matter as they ever were with the debate sometimes getting quite heated. Are we to pay a tenth of our increase to our local church or a ministry or are we only to pay as the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) moves us - that is, free-will offerings only?
The answer is neither and both. The Scriptures nowhere mandate that we are to pay a tenth of our income to a ministry or to a local church. When Abrahm paid a tenth or tithe to Melchizedek (Gen.14:20) the context was the spoils of a battle. The New Testament commentary on this in Hebrews 7:1-8 nowhere indicates that Abraham was a regular tither to the Prince of Salem. Rather, this payment was a kind of bikkurim or 'firstfruits' (not to be confused with Yom haBikkurim) which was given to priests as a thank-offering to Yahweh for (for example) giving victory in battle. Thank-offerings and tithes are not the same thing as the written Torah was later to make clear.
Jacob repeats the Abrahamic practice in Genesis 28:22 (perhaps remembering what his grandfather did) where he promises to give Yahweh a tenth of all he has if Yahweh will help him (vv.20-21). This is a voluntary, self-initiated vow and thank-offering again. If it was a thank-offering, then a portion of it was probably burnt (i.e. sacrified directly to Yahweh), a portion given to a priest and a portion eaten by the giver (Lev.3:3-4; 7:14-18).
The 'Law of Tithing' did not become compulsory until four centuries later when we read about it in the Torah given to Moses. Here we discover something very interesting because there is no support in the system commanded by Yahweh for the notion that ministers or ministries should be paid one tenth! Rather, the tithe was to be used for three purposes:
In other words only a third of a tenth was to be given to the ministers for the ministry, a third was to be distributed by the tither to the poor, and a third was to be kept by the tither to properly celebrate the festivals (what some call 'holiday pay', though more accurately, 'Holy Day Pay'. In other words, the last third was to be eaten by the tither himself so that they could be good hosts (sharing it with others) and feast to Yahweh as commanded by Torah!
- 1. Supporting the Levites who paid a tithe of 10% of that to support the Priesthood;
- 2. Alms for the poor, orphans and strangers; and
- 3. To finance food and travel for each family to enable celebration of the seven annual Festivals of Yahweh and in particular, Sukkot.
In all three cases or uses of the tithe it was to be EATEN in the presence of Yahweh (Dt.12:5-19) and specicially in Jerusalem. If the tithing was too great to transport, it was to be converted into its equivalent value of money, taken to Jerusalem, and there converted back into grain, new wine (grape juice - not alcoholic wine), oil and the firstborn of herds and flocks where it was to be consumed in the presence of Yahweh (v.26).
The importance of the Harvest Festival of Sukkot cannot be overstated - it figures prominently (Dt.16:14-15). At the end of a year's hard work, Yahweh's people were to relax and celebrate in His presence together in the appointed place. Neighbours who had no harvest were to be included and taken care of, a sharp contrast to the riotous celebrations at this time of the year carried on by Israel's pagan neighbours who indulged in fertility rites, debaucehry, greed, drunkenness and immorality in general (reminding us of the Christmas season today).
In Deuteronomy 14:12-13 we are told what is to be done with the remaining two portions of Yahweh's tithe: it is (1) to support the ministry and (2) to support those unable to support themselves, and specifically strangers, orphans and widows. This was Yahweh's Social Security System. Both tithes - that of the Levite and that of those who looked to Yahweh to support them because they could not support themselves through no fault of their own - were known as "the sacred portion". In other words, since Yahweh had taken their income away (so that they could serve full-time as ministers, or taken their husbands or parents home leaving them without a provider), Yahweh assumed responsibility for them, saying:
In other words, Yahweh would personally take care of His ministers whom He had called out. How would He do that? By providing for them from a third of the people's tenth. And the same is true of others with no means of support:
"I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel" (Num.18:20, NKJV).
All of this was given by Yahweh within the context of an agricultural society living in the northern hemisphere. It was not given with an international community in both hemispheres in every manner of climate in mind but it was given as a TRUE PATTERN of His heart - or his love and care for His covenant people.
"Yahweh watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow" (Ps.146:9, NKJV).
The way this was administered practically was by means of the Shemittah Cycle, a seven-year cycle that took into account the sabbatical year. It occurred within a theocratic society where the tithes were the taxes. So the question has to be asked: how does this apply to us who are under secular governments who tax us? Many of these governments have a Social Security system, financed by taxes, to take care of the poor, even though as we know it is abused and rarely fair. However, in the rich West, at least, the poor are not usually left to starve. Moreover, the state does not uses its taxes to support the ministry though it used to - it is now mostly secular and ministers are expected to support themselves.
What, then, is the righteous application of the Law of Tithing in our situation of diaspora? How does it apply to the New Covenant? Since there are no longer any Levites but rather a 'Royal Priesthood' consisting of all believers, does this mean that our tithes should be paid to ourselves (as one critic cynically quipped)? Obviously not. We may all be a Royal Priesthood but we are not all serving as pastors in positions of congregational responsibility. And even pastors often have jobs these days. Furthermore, we are not under a theocracy (except in the final cities of refuge), and won't be until Yah'shua returns. What, then, are we to do in the meantime?
Each family - and in particular, the family head (Father/Husband) is to administer the tithes of his family. When he and his household come to Messiah, he is to estimate the value of his possessions, subtract a tenth of its value (seeling what he may need to in order to raise what belongs to Yahweh) and put it aside for Yahweh (the 'First Tithe' - if he has made a 'First Tithe' to one denomation or to a false system, and then changes denominations, he should not pay the 'First Tithe' again - the orginal one shall be viewed as having been paid to Yahweh in good faith). Thereafter he is to put aside a tenth of the value of his increase (from earnings, gifts, investments, etc.) for Yahweh.
This tenth he is to divide into three portions:
Those who reject the Torah face problems and also an even greater responsibility to be good managers of their wealth, which is a stewardship from Yahweh to them. It sounds 'noble' to say that you will act 'according to the Spirit' but in the majority of cases you will find that free-will offerings progressively diminish in size because of the stinginess of the flesh unless they are truly living close to Yah'shua. Even if an Evangelical is rejecting the Torah he may be fulfilling the Torah by supporting ministries and the poor. However, he must answer to Yahweh's commandment to provide for the Festivals which he has rejected. Pagan festivals and man-made festivals in general, even done in the Name of Christ, are a poor substitute for obedience. They actually constitute rebellion.
- 1. If he belongs to a local assembly or church, he should pay a third of the tenth (3.3%) to that local assembly or church for the support of the ministry. If he does not belong to a local congregation, he should distribute it to one or more ministries as Yahweh directs him through the Ruach haQodesh. That local ministry cannot demand its tithe - it can only trust in Yahweh to provide and to let the people give according to their conscience, and not by coersion - this is the New Covenant, not the Old;
- 2. The second third of the tenth he should use to support the poor amongst believers (first) and unbelievers (second). How he does that is a matter for his conscience. Whether he deposits this (in part or in whole) in a collective fund managed by his local congregation set-apart to help the poor, or whether he uses it (in part of whole) to help those in trouble outside his local congregation, must be decided between him and Yahweh. It is important that he retain his freedom to act as Yahweh shall direct Him; and
- 3. Third and finally, he should retain the last third of the tenth for the festivals - to use it to celebrate at home with other believers (if there is no local assembly), or in the local assembly (in which case he might want to use part of it to support a congregational festivals fund), or for a conference abroad (perhaps many congregations will assemble in which case travel and accommodation moneys will be needed), or to support another family who is hosting a festival. It will depend on his circumstances. Remember, there are seven festivals which need to be provided for, three of which (Pesach, Shavu'ot and Sukkot) require gathering with others and therefore usually some travel. The rest are normally celebrated at home or in small groups. In this ministry, Shavu'ot is usually Conference time so families usually save a larger portion for that.
What of taxes? Should one 'deduct' tithes because the state has received money which it uses for social services? No. The taxes of the state are an extra burden we must bear. I have seen people rationalise that the state takes so much from them that they shouldn't pay any tithe at all! Stick to pattern.
Should we pay tithes on what remains after we have paid taxes? Not unless you believe the state is God. No, we tithe to Yahweh before taxes because all thwe wealth is His. If the states steals from us, it is ultimately answerable, not us. And however you may view the state, it does actually promide us services (even if we choose not to avail ouselves of them). The state is unjust - it will always be so. Believers must live with that and shoulder the burden until Yah'shua returns to put that right.
What about 'increase tithing'? Some say we should only tithe on what's left after tax and basic living expenses have been met. The Scriptures nowhere give warrany for such a fleshy system, for one man's 'needs' are merely another man's 'wants', and vice versa. No, we tithe on net income then there is at least no doubt what Yahweh owns.
How should a family tithe? Whatever comes into the family collectively is tithable, including gifts. However, if a father (or mother) gives his children money which he has already tithed, the children are obviously not expected to tithe, though they may give freewill offerings if they wish. If the children receive a gift from outside the family, then the children should tithe that, putting it into the family tithing funds. The father/husband, as head and family representative (he could represent his whole family at Jersualem anciently if the whole family could not afford to travel), is ultimately responsible for how tithing shall be paid in his family.
What of the law of 'all things in common' which we find described in the Book of Acts? That is a totally different law of financial stewardship and is of a much a higher order, in fact, the ideal New Covenant system. This can only be lived when believers are living together in complete consecration, which is impossible if the flesh has any government over the soul. Such systems are not only open to abuse (someone entering such a system should always have the right to take with him what he brought with him to the community should he choose to leave it) but rarely succeed where there is not only incomplete or non-obediebce to all of Torah, but even more importantly, a spiritual endowment to enable it. This ministry has as its goal to set up 12 end-time communities before the day of the Great Tribulation but also recognises that it cannot be done unless Yahweh is unmistakably in it and has blessed it. Therefore we currently only live the Law of Tithing.
Yahweh has not changed in the matter of the Law of Tithing - He just doesn't do it the way most modern churches and assemblies do.
This statement replaces any previous positions this ministry may have made in respect to the law of Financial Stewardship.