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To tithe or not to tithe: That is not the question

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In the last issue of Conversation Magazine, Mary Njeri puts the spotlight on some shocking data. According to International Bulletin of Missionary Research’s most recent ‘Status of Global Mission’ report, less than 2% (somewhere around 1.8%) of the income of Christians is given to the church or para-church organisations. Of this small fraction, the way that it is split is even more surprising. Somewhere around 4% (of the 2%) goes to foreign missions. And of this, only about 10% (that is 10% of the 4% of the 2%) goes to reaching the unreached. This has prompted the indigenous mission movement Gospel for Asia to refer to ‘The Great Omission’ in relation to the financial neglect of the Great Commission. As Njeri points out, “the income is there” but somehow very little of it is getting to “frontier missions.”

What is the answer? To insist strongly on tithing? Well perhaps part of the problem rather than the solution is an insistence on tithing. Not the whole problem – Njeri mentions some more important heart issues in her article – but maybe part of the problem is an exclusive focus on tithing; an equation of tithing with giving.

Why? Well for some Christians on the poverty line 10% is too much. But for some 10% is too little and actually restrains giving, cramping our imagination and keeping us from considering things like selling houses and land (Acts 4:34-37) or taking John Wesley’s approach or leaving big legacies of the sort which kick started many of our best Christian organisations and gospel movements.

In terms of the biblical evidence for whether 10% is the law for new covenant believers see the articles referenced below. The difficulty is that tithing is so embedded in many church cultures that even when you go through all the arguments why it no longer applies to Christians, the question still gets asked, ‘So is it tithe of gross or net?’ or ‘So where should we give our tithes?’ and ‘What about offerings and first-fruits?’ It is as if the category of tithe (and offerings) is so wired into our brains (like the categories male/female, up/down) that it is impossible to conceptualise the practice of giving without it.

But what if we could soak ourselves in the New Testament to the point that it starts to change our questions from ones about tithing to ones like:

  • How can I use all my resources, all my energies, my whole life in the service of Christ and for the advancing of his gospel?
  • How does the love of Christ and the joy of the gospel make me want to give, even desperate to give, like the Macedonians?
  • How can I be setting free my pastor(s) to be focused on the ministry of the word and prayer?
  • What are the gospel needs and mission needs, in my context and throughout the world? How can I be a partner in the gospel like the Philippians?
  • What practical needs are there in my local church and also in the church throughout my country and beyond? What would it look like for me to remember my persecuted brothers as if I was in chains with them?

Resources:

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