I was directed to an interesting post by J.D. Greear on Some Questions I Get About Tithing. He put together a list of four questions he often gets and then attempts to answer them. I appreciate that he went through a great deal of trouble to point out that a 10% tithe is not expressly commanded in the New Testament. I was sort of Ok with where he was going until I got to the fourth question that addresses a real concern that I have where giving is concerned, i.e. does the Bible teach that we should give first to the local church? Here is what J.D. had to say….
4. Should we give to the church, or other things? In the OT system, the tithe went to the work of God’s institution, the Temple. Caring for the poor beyond what the Temple did, or funding an itinerant rabbi, etc, all came out beyond the tithe. I believe the implication is that tithing should go to God’s new institution, the local church. Hopefully you have a church that you feel good about how they spend their money (not all on buildings, entitlement perks for members and pastors, etc) and you see them working in the streets and unreached parts of the world. Give some grace here, of course… it’s always easy to play armchair quarterback and talk about how you’d do it differently. I’d say if you trust your pastors, however, you honor God by giving to the institution He ordained. Then, give like a Gospel-touched fool beyond that to all the things God has put in your heart.
So there are a bunch of things I have a question about here.
Right out of the gate we have an appeal to the Old Testament. The problem with that is that the way God’s people functioned under the Old Covenant versus the New is so radically different that it is a dangerous proposition indeed to try to make a New Covenant, “priesthood of every believer” community made up of people from every tribe, nation and people conform to a very specific set of rules and regulations that governed the Israelites in the days when there was a priesthood that operated the temple. Even with the obsolescence of the Levitical priesthood, sacrificial system and temple, we still find ourselves trying to make the church conform to that system. It doesn’t work and it doesn’t make sense Biblically.
Second, the local church is not the reincarnate temple. God’s people are the temple and that includes all of God’s people not just those who belong to the same local church you do. This is especially true when you look at how the traditional local church is organized and managed compared to the Biblical model. It is the difference between a hierarchical corporate structure and an extended family.
Third, caring for the poor and supporting itinerant ministers was the primary and I would argue only way that giving was used in the New Testament. It was not an afterthought or an add on, it was the whole purpose (I wrote about this topic here). So I reject the idea that Christians are under obligation or even being particularly faithful by giving their offerings to their local church and then trusting that whatever is left over after paying for salaries, mortgages, maintenance, programs and savings for a rainy day will find itself going to those in need or some sort of denominational mission organization (with its own expenses that come off the top for salaries, mortgages, maintenance, etc.)
I think almost all Christians can and should give more sacrificially and find ways to increase what we do give. I don’t think that should lead us to believe that we are obligated to bring our offerings to the local church to be distributed. If you see a need and are able to do so, meet it!