Many books on Jewish social life explain how the earliest Christian assemblies patterned themselves after the Jewish synagogues which were led by rabbis who, like Paul, refused to earn income from preaching and teaching God’s Word.
Apparently for the first 200 years of church history the majority of great church leaders took self-imposed vows of poverty. They took Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler literally (Luke 18:22). A Christian leader living during that time could hardly tell a Roman census-taker that he was a full-time preacher of an “outlaw” religion!
Some early opponents of tithing were Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian. All opposed tithing as a strictly Jewish tradition. The Didache, a brief early Christian treatise containing instructions for Christian communities, condemned traveling apostles who stayed longer than three days and asked for money.
Around A. D. 250, Cyprian tried to impose tithing in Carthage, North Africa, but his ideas of tithing were never adopted. In A.D 585 the local church Council of Macon in France, also tried to enforce tithing on its members, but they were unsuccessful in their endeavors. It wasn’t until A.D. 777 that Charlemagne legally allowed the church to collect tithes.
Let’s look at a couple pieces of telling information from the Encyclopedia Britannica and The Catholic Encyclopedia.
. “Tithes in Christendom—The earliest authentic example of anything like a law of the State enforcing payment appears to occur in the capitularies [ecclesiasticals] of Charlemagne at the end of the 8th or beginning of the 9th century. Tithes were by that enactment to be applied to the maintenance of the bishop, clergy, the poor, and the fabric of the church. In the course of time the principle of payment of tithes was extended FAR BEYOND its original intention. Thus they became transferable to laymen and saleable like ordinary property, in spite of the injunctions of the third Lateran Council; and they became payable OUT OF SOURCES OF INCOME [not just farming and herding, but other trades and occupations and salaries paid in the form of money] NOT ORIGINALLY TITHABLE." (Encyclopedia Britannica 1963, volume 2, page 253, ‘TITHES’).
. “As the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law... The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the [canons] of the Council of Macon in 585." (The Catholic Encyclopedia)
So we begin to see how this unscriptural law of Christian tithing crept into the church after being absent for nearly five centuries. Eventually the church "extended" their base of tithe collecting to include all forms of income.
I would venture to say that most Christian scholars and pastors today know that money was in wide use in ancient Israel, but was never used as a titheable commodity. In spite of the fact that they know this, they still insist that money be used as a tithe today.
Does God have a word for the "shepherds of the sheep" today that is the very same message that He had for the Levites in the book of Malachi? "My people have been lost sheep [Why? How did they get that way?] their SHEPHERDS have caused them to go astray" (Jer. 50:6).
Most in Israel were not consciously aware of the fact that they were being led astray by their spiritual leaders. Neither is the majority in the body of Christ today aware that they are being lead astray by their spiritual leaders.
After looking at these facts we see that it took over 700 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for tithing to become an accepted doctrine in the church. I wonder how many years it will take to reverse this old covenant mind-set that continues to remain a part of our lifestyle in the new covenant community?
We are well aware that tithing continues to be taught in many churches today as an obligatory duty for all believers. Therefore, most preachers today ignore the original instructions concerning the giving of tithes under the old covenant that we already discussed in Chapter 2. Since tithing was only required from those who either farmed the land or raised animals that meant that not everyone under the old covenant tithed. As we have already seen the biblical “tithe” was narrowly defined and limited by God Himself under the old covenant. as:
. only the “tithe of food”
. only from the farms and herds
. only Israelites who lived inside God’s Holy Land
. only under Old Covenant terms
. only the increase could be gathered from what God produced.
Therefore the following is also true under the old covenant system:
. non-food items could not be tithed
. clean wild game animals and fish could not be tithed
. non-Israelites could not tithe
. food from outside God’s holy land of Israel could not be tithed
. legitimate tithing did not occur when there was no Levitical priesthood
. tithes did not come from what man’s hands created, produced or caught by hunting and fishing.” 14
Since we are no longer under the old covenant system today the tithing rules must be “re-interpreted” by church leaders who insist that everyone today under the new covenant is still supposed to give 10% of their income to the local church. Notice that the dictionary definition of “Christian tithing” is not the biblical definition of tithing.
. “tithe (tith) n. 1a. A tenth part of one’s annual income contributed voluntarily or due as a tax, esp. for the support of the clergy or church.”15
Church leaders even encourage the poor to tithe often promising them that they can tithe their way out of their poverty. Such notions of obtaining material blessings appeal to the carnal nature, but continue to keep many members of the body of Christ in ignorance (I use to be) of what the Bible actually teaches on tithing.
Although the early church did not tithe, the apostle’s needs were met, the believer’s needs were met, and abundant resources were dispersed to the poor and needy, because the eternal principles of sacrificial giving remained. So if the early church did not tithe, and Jesus and the apostles did not advocate tithing, when are new covenant believers in the body of Christ today going to stand up for truth by resisting this old covenant teaching that continues to keep them in bondage to old covenant shadows?
Many ministers of the gospel have failed to teach the body of Christ that tithing is no longer required under the Better Covenant? Since Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross made the old covenant obsolete, then it follows that the package of laws that commanded tithes to be given to the Levites under the old covenant is also obsolete. The offering of physical sacrifices and the need for a Levitical priesthood is also obsolete. Since the Levitical priesthood has ended and has been replaced by the “priesthood of all believers” it follows that the temporary purpose of tithing has also ended. Just as God originally intended for every Israelite to become a priest before the golden calf incident, so today God intends that every new covenant believer (including the minister) become a priest who offers spiritual sacrifices to God.16
Why is this truth not clearly taught by those who know better? Most likely it is because they are afraid to trust the Holy Spirit to lead the people in voluntary and sacrificial giving. They are afraid that the finances of the church, along with their own personal incomes will suffer if people are freed from guilt-based giving.
By the lack of correct teaching regarding tithing the leadership of the church is actually saying that they believe that law-based giving works better than grace-based giving. But I wonder how many pastors would agree to obey Leviticus 25:4-7 that forbids collecting tithes every seventh year?
Insisting that believers continue to pay tithe in order to please God suggests that there is something we must do in order to gain His favor. Surely Jesus words in Matthew 23:23 where he criticized law-keeping Pharisees, should make it very clear that faithful tithing is no guarantee that we are pleasing God, and most certainly no guarantee of financial riches.
Unfortunately, the manner in which tithing is taught today reflects a failure of the leadership of the church to believe and act on the far better principles of love, grace and faith. This mandatory giving of 10% of one’s income NEVER can, NEVER has and NEVER will prosper the church more than the principles guided by love for Christ and lost souls.
By holding on to this “sacred cow” of tradition that has been handed down over the centuries (Matthew 15:3; Mark 7:8, 13) many spiritual leaders in the church are nullifying the word of God. Although religious leaders have resisted change in this area it will come because God wants His children transformed by truth. God wants His children freed from the traditions of men that cannot be substantiated by the Word of God (Mk. 7:1-13). God wants His children freed to become hilarious givers as they are led by the Spirit to give.
Perhaps we would do well to consider the author of Hebrews as he admonishes those who make of no effect the new covenant with these words:
· “Anyone who rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think those deserve to be punished who have trampled the Son of God underfoot, who have treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who have insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:28-29).
In reality, “tithing” is the very least we can do. As redeemed believers, we are neither under the law, nor under the pressure of giving to “get” something in return. As redeemed believers we are God’s “house” in whom He chooses to dwell by His Spirit. Because Christ has already liberated us from the penalty of the law of sin and death we can be free to serve him as loving children—not slaves! We have been released to give freely as the Spirit leads us without the expectation of personal reward (Luke 14:12-14; 5:28). We are released to BE a blessing!
14Russell Earl Kelly, Ph. D. “Tithing is Not a Christian Doctrine,” (March 4, 2007 Updated), Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana and the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia,
15Greek-English Keyword Concordance, page 220.
16Russell Earl Kelly, Ph. D, “Should the church Teach Tithing?” A Theologians Conclusions About a Taboo Doctrine, p.4.