Thursday, August 29, 2013

Some thoughts on Giving (and the Tithe)

Tithing or Giving (via)
While growing up in Bangalore, it was my privilege to be a part of a church for 25 years that never (even once) took an offering! Yes, you read that right!

This church had two offering boxes at the back of the meeting hall. Members were free to put money into the box anonymously whenever they wanted. The boxes had verses printed on them. One box said, "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:7), and the other box said, "First be reconciled to your brother."(Matt 5:24). This highlighted a part of the church's teaching on giving to the church:

Offering Box

1. Giving was to be voluntary, and cheerful rather than forced and out of a sense of compulsion, and
2. It was far more important to have a good conscience and obey God, than try and pacify one's conscience through giving to the church.

There were a number of other teachings they emphasized regarding the use of money. They taught that all our money (not just 10%) belongs to God, and we are only stewards of what we own, and are expected to use all that we have for God's glory and for the extension of God's kingdom. They taught that one of the signs of true disciples was that they chose to serve God rather than mammon. They taught that it was better not to give to the church than to give grudgingly or with a sense of compulsion. And they taught that we could trust God to meet all our needs, and to enable us to work for Him.

There may have been many things wrong about this church, but perhaps this was one thing they got right!

Over the years, I watched God provide. The church leadership never asked for money from the pulpit, but they always had enough. Meeting halls were constructed in villages all over south India, the church had enough resources to hold national conferences twice a year, and had flourishing and powerful cassette and book ministries that have helped thousands all over the country.

And I know that members gave, sacrificially and cheerfully, beyond the obligatory 10% that has become the unfortunate normal standard for giving. For example, I know one member personally who gave well above 10% percent of his income, not just to this church but also to Christian ministries all over the country.

So here are my questions: (and believe me, these questions are generic ones, and not directed at anybody personally. I myself have been deeply convicted in the last few months since I began thinking about this topic, about how little, and how un-strategically I give!)

1. Is it not possible that it is fear (that perhaps one may not get enough money to make ends meet) that drives pastors who are otherwise sound and careful in the way they exegete Scripture, to adopt questionable doctrines such as:

i) The Tithe:

The truth is, if the Old Testament custom were to be actually followed in the era of the New Covenant, church members would actually be giving something like 23% of their income, which is something I have never heard any pastor talk about. In fact, the more I understand the New Covenant, the more I realize that the laws of the Old Covenant were pictures of the coming reality, and it makes perfect sense to me to realize that under the New Covenant, ALL my money (and not just 10%) belongs to God, to be used by Him for His glory and the extension of His Kingdom.

Should we not faithfully hold our members up to God's standards of discipleship, and help them develop their sense of relationship with God as both Lord of every part of their lives, and Loving Father who has now made them a part of His family?

ii) The Storehouse concept: mis-exegeted from Mal 3:8-10, which is used to tell church members that all their tithes should go to the church they attend.

In matter of fact, we give our money to God, and not to the church. He is the Head of the Church, and He is also the Lord of the harvest.

Should we not teach our members that they are giving to God, and that they should prayerfully ask God to show them how to use their money? I think members of (relatively wealthy) city churches have an especial responsibility to give, not just to their local church, but also strategically to other ministries in poorer parts of India. I think churches too should be considering how to strategically use the money they collect to extend God's Kingdom, not just in the cities in which they are located, but also in other parts of the country. Most often the church's budget gets used up improving its own infrastructure, (air-conditioning, better musical instruments and sound systems, salaries, etc). If the CS Lewis quote (that I posted previously) is correct, some of our city churches should be choosing to be more uncomfortable, and to live with more inconvenience so that God's work is better done in other places.

In conclusion, I think the Bible teaches us to be faithful in the stewardship of the money God has given to us, as well as shrewd in the way we use it. He expects us to use our resources wisely and well, so that we are:
1. Able to take care of ourselves and the people He expects us to provide for (parents, family, children)
2. Able to meet needs around us that He burdens us to meet.
3. Able to use our wisdom and skill to make strategic decisions that will have the maximal impact in building His Kingdom, and accomplishing His purposes.

What do you think?

Bonus: Read my father, Jacob Ninan's, article: Frequently Asked Questions on Tithing.

Possibly related posts from the past

1. Tithing and Giving
2. Sacrificial Giving
3. God's way of making us a part of His Kingdom

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