Since the news about new Republican tax cuts, there have been many articles floating around the internet about the drastic deductions in charitable giving to our churches, synagogues, temples, and charitable organizations that will inevitably occur. This opens a whole vista of questions about how and why people give. Some people are motivated by the deduction they receive from charitable giving, while others give because they are moved by a cause like helping the poor, ensuring education for children, or cultural and artistic development. Some people want to keep their giving a secret, while others want the whole world to know the amount they give. When our politicians run for office, it is interesting to see what they think of charitable giving. Many of them give only one or two percent of their income, but they also count their time and community involvement as charity.
For those of us who are in the church, how and why do we give? Is the basis of our giving biblical or does it depend on how many deductions the government is willing to give us?
Edith Schaeffer has written a book entitled Christianity is Jewish. In the book she demonstrated how many of the things we do in Christianity were taken from Jewish tradition, after God himself revealed them to His people. Among these inherited items is the concept of tithing. Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, was the first tither. Abraham returns victorious from the battle where he frees Lot and his family. The Scriptures tell us that he met Melchisedek, the high priest of God. He gave this priest a tithe of everything he had.
Tithing is a part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament or the Jewish Bible. Out of the twelve tribes of Israel, one does not have an inheritance of their own. The other eleven tribes are supposed to provide for the tribe of Levi, the tribe of the priests and teachers of the law. The Levites were responsible for teaching the law and the people were responsible for providing a living for those priests and teachers. In fact, not providing for the priests and teachers is listed as a sin.
In the New Testament, Paul is the apostle who writes about giving. He collects money from the Gentiles to help the Christians in Judea and reminds them to come to worship on the first day of the week with gifts in their hands. We give on Sunday as a sign of the fact that God has blessed our fields, our flocks, our shops, and everything that we have during the past week. Not only are Christians encouraged to give, but they are reminded that God loves a cheerful giver. The giving itself is important, but our attitude is also important.
Now it is true that the things that God has created have been abused both in the church and outside the church. In places where the church and the state were in coalition, they would tax everyone who was a member of the church. In a sense, local citizens paid twice—once to the state and once to the church. It is interesting to note that the last state in the United States to abolish the church tax was the state of Massachusetts; the state where people rebelled against government control and started their own churches was also the last one to tax them.
In some churches, only the treasurer knows the amount and regularity of members’ giving; in other churches, the giving for each year is reported at the annual meeting so everyone knows how much each person has given. Percentage-wise, the richer denominations give less than the poorer ones, but churches where members complain often about giving usually are the bottom of the giving figures in reality.
My personal conclusion is that God will never be my debtor, whether I tithe my 10% or give well above the tithe. I have learned from my parents to tithe my income as soon as I had my first job and I have been blessed in so many ways beyond description. My second personal conclusion is that, in most churches, one can preach against any type of sin except the sin of greed or covetousness. We are afraid to tackle this subject, we glamorize people who are wealthy (even “Christian celebrities”) and we have made greed a virtue.
How great will it be when we are known not by the things we keep for ourselves, but by the abundance we have given because we have been so richly blessed by the Lord.