Today’s post is a tough word that may anger a few people. Asking people to give is always a tricky proposition. In the Church, it’s an even more sensitive issue because we have tied giving with our spirituality. Plenty of churches still exist where one’s piety is measured by how readily one ponies up the moolah.
And that brings us to the tithe.
My belief on giving money within the church is what I call “The Quick, Dead Priest” model. And nope, you won’t be hearing anyone else labeling what follows by that name. I believe, though, that this model best represents the true New Testament model of giving.
The first truth: Christians have been crucified with Christ and are now dead to the world.
The Bible is full of legal truths, the kind lawyers love. And one universal legal truth is that a dead man can’t own anything. Whatever once belonged to the deceased must be passed on to heirs. You can’t take it with you. End of story.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
As Christians, we have been united to Christ in His death. The stamp of the death certificate on your life and mine is the cross. Being in Christ means being in no one or no thing else. You, therefore, are not your own. You have been bought with the price of Christ’s death.
Outcome? You own nothing, not even yourself.
Therefore, all this talk of “what is mine” is just that, talk. Christians have no legal precedent to claim they own anything. God may indeed bless you with property and possession, but under the legal system of the Kingdom of God, you are merely stewarding what belongs to someone else. And that someone is God.
The second truth: The death and resurrection of Jesus permanently ended the temple system instituted in the Old Covenant.
This understanding is critical. We no longer perform sacrifices because Christ, the perfect sacrifice, died, satisfying the demand of blood as a covering for sin. Because Christ satisfied all conditions of the Law in Himself, if we are in Him, then we no longer must strive to fulfill the Law. (Don’t believe me? Sit down and read the entire book of Galatians in one sitting. Then read it again for good measure! Follow that up with the entirety of Hebrews.)
One of the hallmarks of the old temple system was the Aaronic priesthood. The giving of tithes in the Old Testament went to support the work of the Aaronic priesthood. The temple economy, based on the tithe of one-tenth, existed to keep the temple system running, to care for the priests (who were allowed no other forms of income under the Law), and to ensure the purity of the people before God through the sacrifices.
But Christ eliminated the old temple system. The sacrifices are gone. The flawed Aaronic priesthood and all that pertained to it, including the mandatory one-tenth tithe used to support it, was put aside, surpassed by the perfect priesthood of Christ. To prove the case even more thoroughly, the Sovereign God oversaw the destruction of the temple itself in 70 AD.
The old has passed away. The new has come.
Under that new priesthood of Christ, you and I are the priests. For all you Protestants out there, the Reformation was built, in part, on the idea of the priesthood of all believers:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
—1 Peter 2:9
But our priesthood is radically different. It’s a priesthood of equals. It’s a priesthood of community. It’s a priesthood that has God living inside each priest, not in a temple built by human hands. And that truth radically transforms how we must view giving.
The third truth: Each priest in the Kingdom of God in Christ is quickened by the Holy Spirit and that quickening informs giving.
The priests of the Old Covenant did not have the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, hence the need for a man-made temple. The priests of the New Covenant, however, do have God living inside them. We see how that plays out immediately after Pentecost:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
That concept is expanded two chapters later:
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common…. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
—Acts 4:32, 34-35
Upon being filled with the promised Holy Spirit, the first thing the new priests of Christ did was to ensure that no one among them lacked for anything. They sold houses, properties, whatever, to ensure that the new priests were provided for. The difference in this priesthood, though, was that everyone was a priest, so all were entitled to the largess of the community, not just a certain tribe or class. All. And the payment? Everything, to the point that no one claimed personal entitlement.
Another truth emerges. The new priesthood did not build on the ashes of the old. It was and is a new thing that God has done. It relies not on Law, but on the indwelling Holy Spirit.
God created a new economy and with that economy comes a radically transformed idea of giving:
The one-tenth tithe has been abolished. Totally. It does not persist in any way in the new Kingdom economy.
As the Bible says:
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
The new standard of giving has replaced the old. The old was for men and women who did not have God dwelling inside them. The old was for men and women who had not been crucified with Christ and therefore dead to the world. The new asks everything of us. It asks for our houses, our possessions, our jobs,our kids, our spouses…even our very lives. It’s all on the table and can be used for the purposes of the Lord any way He chooses, even if that means that we must be martyred so as to accomplish His goals for the Kingdom.
How will you know how much to bring and whether His call on you is to simply give $20 or go so far as to sacrifice your life?
The Bible tells us:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth….”
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
The mark of our acceptance into the new economy of God, into His new Kingdom, is that we are led by the Spirit of God. The truth revealed by the Spirit will show us exactly what we should be doing with the money He’s given us to steward.
So how is it that far too many of us cling to patterns of given obsoleted by God’s new economy? Why do so many continue to endorse a ten percent tithe?
Because it’s easy.
It’s easy because it requires so little of us.
It’s easy because it asks nothing of going before God to inquire of Him by the Spirit to know what we should be giving in any and all situations
It’s easy because it doesn’t require us to live by “Give us this day our daily bread.”
It’s easy because it doesn’t ask us to give until it hurts, to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.
And that’s the problem in a nutshell. The old economy asked very little. The new economy in which dead men and women made alive in Christ are priests in a new Kingdom…that economy looks messy, fuzzy, and difficult compared with the old economy. However, the new is one thing the old is not: perfect.
If we want to see the Church be what She is intended to be by Her Bridegroom, then we MUST start living under the new economy of His Kingdom. Not the old economy, but the new.
Now if only more of our churches in America understood this.