Problems With Tithing

An Los Angeles Times article reported on the difficulties of religious organizations in the recession. Contributions are down, and an unusually large number of religious-based schools have closed.

My initial thought was that those religious organizations that encourage tithing would have fewer problems; but a bit more reflection might suggest the opposite.

If every member of a religious group always tithed, the income elasticity of demand for religion would be plus-one. So while tithers donate a large share of their income, the organization’s finances will vary perfectly with the state of members’ incomes; those organizations are by no means immune to macroeconomic fluctuations. There is even some evidence (Dahl and Ransom, American Economic Review, 1999) that suggests that even in tithing religions, in bad times the likelihood of tithing decreases and the income elasticity exceeds one.


Jim

The problem with tithing is that many don't practice it. The Mormons may be a possible excpetion to that.

I'm the chair of my church's finance committee. I used to be the stewardship chair as well. By my estimates, our congregation gives on average about 2.5%, possibly a bit more, which puts us right within the national norm.

I've also read that churches tend to receive about $1,000 per year per member. Again, my church is right in that ball park too.

If we received the traditional 10% tithe from our congregation, we'd have more money than we'd know what to do with.

Aaron

As someone who tithes, I find great comfort in the financial management of my church. Not only do the church leaders plan for lean times, which planning has paid off during this recession, but they have also consistently encouraged our members to do the same. Even when we've had times of plenty, they've reminded us to prepare for unexpected setbacks with savings, food storage, and 72-hour emergency kits. It's comforting to be taught by word and example.

Brian

My opinion of tithing (which I don't do) is a bit mixed. First of all it is a flat tax, which now-a-days is considered regressive.

Secondly, in the past the division between church and state wasn't so great. Specifically the church provided the social safety net, the primary source of social interaction, funding of the arts... Many of the things the church used to do when the 10% rate was establhished have now been usurpped by the state (which obligates taxation).

I think someone should do a study to to compare what services we are obliged to pay for through the state (that the church would have otherwise done) so we can subtract those contributions from what would have gone into the tithe.

Milton Friedman's Ghost

As a FORMER deacon of a tithe-preaching, capital campaign driving, mission's-giving (give me a break aready) church I can echo the comments of Jim. Traditionally, most congregations give about 2-3% which I have seen and also in research.

I can only assume giving is affected by how hard your region has been hit economically.

As an academic privy to some church data I have been able to run some modeling on past giving and I have found something interesting. As attendance increases, the giving per capita declines on a percent change basis.

My theory is one of the pyschology behind the belief that the more people you see for a "free" good the more you will free-ride. Additionally, between pastoral/board mismanagement, ignorance and greed I think many people do not give, despite what their bible says. (Awaiting good christians to flame this...)

R California

Poor people give a higher percentage of their income to charity.

In 1993, the highest proportion given to charity was from people with incomes under $10,000.
http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-welfarecharity.htm

Poor donors donate to "poor" charities like the Salvation Army, and rich donors give to "rich" charities including arts, humanities and sciences. One percent of a rich person's income is still more than two percent of a poor person's income, so very little money winds up in the hands of charities that help the very poor.

If people are laid off, will they reallocate toward the poor, or just stop giving?

Gdub

This caught my eye, being a member of a church that heavily preaches Tithing (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

I've held positions as a financial Clerk and general Clerk and from my experience I've seen tithing be very inelastic. It seems a matter of dedication and so those whoa re going to contribute seem to to it rain or shine.

AaronS

Here are some interesting thoughts about tithes that I've come up with over the years....

Tithing was done by Abraham BEFORE the Law of Moses. Some Christians argue that even if the Law was done away with for Christians, tithing still stands, since it was prior to the Law.

...to which I answer, so was polygamy...so was circumcision. We KNOW that circumcision is not required of Gentile believers--and presumeably polygamy is not accepted by the church (at least in America)--so shut up already.

No where in the New Testament is tithing commanded for Gentiles. NOWHERE. But you'll almost never hear a pastor say that--after all, his salary often depends on you not figuring that out.

After living in a church parsonage for most of my life (I'm still a conservative Christian), it occurred to me that so many alike churches--some of the same denomination--are within nearly spittin' distance of each other, but each feel it vital to spend hard-earned tithe money--THE LORD'S TITHE--on a SEPARATE mortgage, insurance payment, utilities, maintenance, staff salaries, and so forth.

Why, God forbid that the church world actually became--gasp!--ONE.

Consider what would happen if like churches "merged." A lot more money could be allocated to actually do "Jesus stuff" like feed the poor and help the needy. Critical mass in attendance could ensure that more and better ministry was performed. Unused church properties could be sold and the money used for doing the actual work of the ministry. Pastors that have faithfully labored bi-vocationally could perhaps become full-time ministers, serving more people.

But as long as pastors and parishioners continue to believe that God demands 10% of their income--enough to keep the program running--there is no strong incentive to lay aside our differences and become unified fully.

I finally got tired of paying for "totally rockin'" sound systems and light shows--and even lesser, unneeded, things...and started sending my tithe to widows, certain retired men of God, etc.

Have you ever just KNOWN that you were doing the right thing? That's how I feel now. Yeah, I still give to my church, but not ALL of my tithe.

I am convinced that, for the Christian church, we ought to be led by our hearts and by the Holy Spirit as to where to place our resources. If we were, churches that didn't need to be in business would go out of business...or merge with other churches.

And a lot more needy people could get helped.

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Robbo

I look at tithing as a very high membership fee, not a charitable donation.

I give 1%-2% of my income, national average, to charity through on-line donations wherever I see fit -- ask your church if you can give your 10% to whoever you want-- if they say no, it's a membership fee.

I get to choose where my money goes: I like NPR, so I give them some money (sorry, R California); I'm a Marine, so I give to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund; etc., etc.

You just can't tell me that the church is the best decider on where to put 10% of my income. Maybe the reason some of those people are so poor is because they didn't put away 10% for their own retirement.

Andrew

The thing is, tithing really isn't meant for the church. It was meant for Old Testament Israel in the Mosaic Covenant. Christians are supposed to give of their abundance, which might be less then 10%, or much more.

Rob

"If we received the traditional 10% tithe from our congregation, we'd have more money than we'd know what to do with."

It's worth considering that if you knew what to do with it, you might get the money :)

vincent

Nowadays money talks. Churches are no exception. Clergis/pasters preach more for their income than for their religion. The position of a church goer depends on how much s/he donates. A big donor is usually highly respected. Why cannot clergis/pasters work on a voluntary basis getting no pay from their preach?

Sarah Laurent

I read somewhere that Muslims are required to give 2.5% - in cash, goods, or services - of their income. This sounds reasonable to me.

AaronS

Vincent (# 11),

If a pastor is providing a service (even if that service is somewhat intangible...you know, like a life coach), he/she DESERVES to be paid.

"The workman is worthy of his hire."

HOWEVER, the issue, to me, is that so many pastors feel the need to run their own, separate programs/empires. And so we use tithe money for separate churches, insurance payments, events, programs, etc.

Of course, I would also add that there are many pastors who, I believe, really shouldn't be in the pastoring business. They may be sincere (or not), but they take valuable resources from the Kingdom...often for no really good reason.

I used to believe that the passage in Malachi--about robbing God if you aren't tithing--would bring a curse (or blessing) on a person's life. I now realize that that simply must have been for a specific time and people, because I have gauged my life against others' lives...and I can't detect that I am significantly more blessed (or cursed) than they.

As one poster put it, tithing has become a "membership fee" rather than about supporting the efforts of the Kingdom of God...which has always been the essence of tithing. So keep making it about that and you'll fulfil the scriptures, I believe.

I remember giving my tithes to the China earthquake relief efforts. I couldn't help but believe that THAT was really the work of God--far more than a new paint job for the church, say. Both might have some level of importance, but surely helping the truly needy is the best and highest use of our tithe.

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Andrew

I'm not a churchgoer and give very little to charity, as I'm unsure how much money I'll need in the event that my ability to breathe outlasts my ability to work/find work. However, my will directs 100% of my estate to two charitable organizations I believe in.

ScottMc

I have studied tithing for nearly all my Christian life (+20yrs), and cannot find any biblical support for the modern day Christian/New Covenant Tithe. It just isn't in the Bible. It's amazing that so many well studied Christian leaders support it and dogmatically defend its non-biblical characteristics as if it was "handed down from Sinai". Not even Moses himself would recognize it.

Abraham didn't tithe. "What?" you ask? That's right, unless you consider tithing giving a one time voluntary gift from spoils of a single battle. He never gave 10% regulary from his yearly earnings (before taxes). Besides he didn't keep any of the "spoils". He gave the rest to Lot!! Come on folks, READ the Bible for yourselves.

Other FACTS: We have no examples of Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, John, or any person in the Apostolic Church giving a tithe. Who would they have given it to? It just never occurred to them to tithe. Tithing was used to support the Levites who in turn tithed to support the Sons of Aaron who served before the Temple of God in Jerusalem. The Church didn't suport that temple, and no one did after Rome leveled it several decades later. The Priesthood had changed, and it didn't make sense for tithing to continue.

There's more in the Bible concerning the Biblical Tithe, but I find other problems with it that concern attitude rather than doctrine. Christians who tithe are fearful not to. The tithe seems to be bully money, buying God's favor. Come on, don't insult the Blood of Jesus. You can't buy God's love or your salvation with you money. The Curse has been lifted. The curses of Malachi 3 concern the Levitical priesthood under the Old Covenant, not the Priesthood of Believers under the New Covenant!!! Besides, Paul warns us not to take on the Yoke. That's a command too, and it was meant to guide us to the Freedom (from the Curse) that Christ purchased with His Blood, something a tithe can never buy.

I choose to give generously, according to the Spirit, not out of compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Now that's right from the Bible. It's warfare to live Free in Christ, but it's worth it!!!

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hadassah

@scott: Jacob makes a explicit vow in Genesis 28 :22 to give tithe on all that he receives long before the Mosaic convent and 1000 years before the temple stood there was no Levitical priesthood yet (what were u doing for 20+ yrs?)

Paul Williams @ Provident Planning

hadassah (#16):

Did you read all of that passage about Jacob in context? The tithe he promised to God was conditional and not demanded by God. Jacob would only give 10% IF God blessed Him. That's a far cry from the kind of tithe that advocates teach today.

Evang. Tonia Carter

In the Old Testament in the book of Malachi, God was talking to Israel not to the Gentiles. The Gentiles did not know God nor had the knowledge of God. So therefore, the Gentiles were not obligate to pay tithes. In addition, in the book of Malachi, the tithes and offerings did not mean monetarily. One must read the whole book of Malachi to understand the parable of the tithe and offerings. Jesus Christ under the new covenant, said, "It is better to give than to receive." Yes, you should give and be a cheerful giver and help your fellow brother in need, but Jesus Christ stated. Render to Caesar's what is Caesar's and Render to God's what is God's. What is God's???? What does God own that you must render?? Your Body: Romans 12: 1-4.
Jesus Christ also said: " If the fowls of the air don't sew nor reap and your Father takes care of them, and you are more better than they, how much more will your Father take care of you, OH Ye of Little Faith?????

God needs our Body as a living sacrifice, HOLY and Acceptable unto him which is our reasonable service. God must get the Glory out of your life. We must bring forth good fruit: SOULS IN TO THE KINGDOM!!! God deals with the Spirit not flesh. His not interested in the things of this world: cars, houses, clothes. Yes we want to look good, but where is the humility???? Where is the humbleness??? Where is the committment to bring in the lost souls. One tithes hoping to get a new car, house and clothes??? But no souls for the kingdom!!!!

Many Christians today tithe and are still in financial bondage??? Something wrong with that picture. Not saying not to tithe and give offering, however, be led by the HOLY SPIRIT and of course be obedient as well to the HOLY SPIRIT. God don't need our money, the church needs the money to keep running, nothing wrong with that, however, using the scripture to manipulate the members to give is not of God!!!!!!!!!!!

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Anna

God gave the tithe law and his other 600 plus laws to a people he had called out and chosen called Jews the sons of Abraham, Issac & Jacob. At no time was the Gentile population allowed in a Covenant with God until Jesus died on the Cross and then he gave the Great Commission to go into all of the world preaching the Gospel. Most people that have read their New Testament will tell you that there is no command for Gentiles to tithe or keep the Levitical laws of Moses such as being circumcision on the eighth day of your male child's birth, not eating pork, keeping the Sabbath on Saturday starting at Friday evening to Saturday evening ceasing from all work and activity. No they only keep the tithe law because it pays the bills. The Old Covenant of rituals and works has ended by Jesus who fulfilled the whole of the Old Testament law to perfection. Hebrews 8:6 speaks of a New Better Covenant which is Jesus and faith in his works. Tithing to pay God is stealing away the attention from what Jesus paid on the Cross replacing it by their own works which they glory in more than the Cross. They will never give up these bragging rights on what they are falsely taught that they have paid for the right to be blessed by God. Paul the Apostle plainly said in 2nd Corinthian 9:7 to give as one has decided in his own heart. He established the Gentile (not Jewish) Churches and was silent on Gentile Tithing!

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Sal

People should learn the meaning of Paid in full. Jesus paid with his own blood for salvation and healing and every need in his peoples lives free of charge! Support your local church because of this love and gratitude but he already paid your bill and fines.