“We recognize the duty of tithing and urge all our people to pay tithes to God ...
It is true there is no direct commandment in the New Testament saying ‘You must tithe to God one-tenth of your income’; but there is also no statement declaring the Old Testament plan as no longer valid.”
STRAIGHT TALK TO GIVERS
At the August 6, 2015 Republican presidential debate, candidate Ben Carson said he would reform the U.S. taxation system to match the tithing expected by God in the Hebrew Scriptures. A flat tax of 10%, he claimed, would eliminate all loopholes and complex deductions, since “God is a pretty fair guy.”
Carson seems uninformed about just how complex the tithing system was in ancient Israel (e.g., the distinctions between Biccurim natural first fruits and Terumoth processed first fruits, as well as Levitical “tithes of tithes” and Sabbath-year cycle exclusions from tithing requirements).
Of more interest to me, though, is just how uninformed churches themselves are about tithes – particularly those churches that require or expect formal tithing from their congregants.
It’s about preachers using the Old Covenant concept of tithing to coerce and compel New Covenant giving.
I’m not going to dive into the pro-tithe vs. anti-tithe debate. If your church pushes you to tithe, that’s your business and your church’s business. But I will contribute to the debate with the following consideration: Just as the Hebrew Scriptures had rules for tithe giving, they had rules for tithe getting.
Is your preacher delivering on his end of the tithing laws he promotes?
STRAIGHT TALK TO THE GETTERS
To those preachers, I propose this:
If you demand that your congregants follow Old Covenant tithing regulations as a matter of Scriptural Law, then it is only fair that they in turn demand you follow Old Covenant tithing regulations as well. What’s good for the giver is good for the getter, since God is no respecter of persons.
TITHE-GETTING RULE #1 – You can’t accept money.
Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures is tithing ever, ever connected with donating money. Not once. So if you are a preacher who tells his congregants God expects them to provide literal tithes, you for your part must only accept tithes in the following literal forms: herbs, grain, wine, oil, cattle, honey, sheep, dough, and other “tithes of the soil,” as Nehemiah 10:37 calls them. This practice wasn’t due to the ancient Hebrews having no money system. They certainly did, and many edicts of Scripture from Mosaic times mention shekel amounts for fines and payments. Money existed. But all Biblical tithes were edible.
TITHE-GETTING RULE #2 – You can’t sell tithed goods FOR money.
Just in case you tithe-demanding preachers think you can work your way around the cashless tithe system of Scripture by using Craig’s List to sell the tithed goods you receive, Hebrew Scripture covers that as well. Deuteronomy 14:23-28 allows you to convert your “tithestock” into cash temporarily, but only for the purposes of travel convenience over long distances. Once you reach your destination, you must convert the money back into edibles. Biblical tithing remains a cashless system. So preacher, if you were hoping for cold, hard bucks, remember that every tithe comes with the divine label: “Not redeemable for cash.”
TITHE-GETTING RULE #3 – You can’t own land.
The entire rationale behind tithing was the support it provided the Levites. Unlike the other tribes of Israel, Levites were given no land, no home to call their own. Instead, they needed to live among the other tribes, performing religious services in exchange for the generosity and hospitality of the landowners. The Bible states directly (Numbers 18:21-28 and Deuteronomy 26:12-18) that the only reason tithing even exists is to feed the landless Levites. So preacher, if you own private property while demanding tithes from your congregants, you are not following Scripture’s rules of tithes.
TITHE-GETTING RULE #4 – You only get tithes 5 out of 7 years.
In every seven-year cycle of ancient Hebrew farming, there is a Sabbath rest from planting. Leviticus 25:1-7 makes that clear. Because tithing was performed on the increase of crops, there could be no tithe for that season. Goods from the sixth year of every cycle were storehoused and made to last through a subsequent year of no planting. The no-planting year was followed by a second year of planting and waiting for the crops to grow again before being harvested and tithed – which is to say, those receiving the tithes went for two years living off the stores. Any modern preacher demanding tithing must also live for two years off the grain and livestock donated before the Sabbath rest year, and must not accept donations again until the third year arrives.
TITHE-GETTING RULE #5 – Your tithes must be tithed to your higher ups.
Congregants weren’t the only ones to tithe in Israel. Levites, too, were required to provide a “tithe of the tithe” to the priests of Aaron (Nehemiah 10:38), a contribution to the temple’s storehouse. What does this mean for our modern preacher? In effect, he must immediately pass along 10% of his gains to his church’s central authority. If his church has no higher central authority (for example, if he runs an independent nondenom church with no ties and no accountability), then tithing isn’t allowed. Biblical tithing is designed to sustain a formal religious system of clergy. Where there is no system, there is no tithe.
TITHE-GETTING RULE #6 – Givers must divvy the tithe they pay among you, immigrants, orphans, and widows.
Deuteronomy 26:12-18 gives direction on who gets cuts of a congregant’s “tithestock.” It turns out, dear modern preacher, that your take is just a portion of what’s split to benefit those in need of social welfare. It’s not clear from Scripture what the percentages of the split are. My rough count puts modern U.S. proportions at 1 ordained clergy member for every 46 immigrants, orphans, and widows (yes, I really cranked the numbers, I just didn’t want to bore you with the details). To keep the tithes division as reasonable as possible, let’s estimate conservatively and let the clergy keep a very generous quarter of that four-category split. I realize that isn’t proportionate, but we don’t want to knock them all the way down to 1/46th.
ADDING IT ALL UP
When you crunch all those numbers, a tithe turns into 1.6% of a tithing household’s grain and livestock winding up in the preacher’s hands. Given average US household sizes and salaries, that’s each member of a U.S. congregation giving the landless, cashless preacher the equivalent of 85 cents in food a day. The bigger the congregation, the better shot a preacher has at a healthy, balanced diet for himself and his own family. Call it a performance incentive.
None of which, obviously, is my point here.
My point is twofold:
FIRST: If you belong to a church that coerces and makes you feel guilty for not shoveling over a full 10% of your gross yearly income to its pastors, ask yourself why they hold you to that Old Covenant standard but do not hold themselves to the cashless, landless rules surrounding it. Why do they expect you, but not themselves, to be literal about tithing?
In fact, don’t ask yourself those questions. Ask them.
SECOND: If Ben Carson really wishes to use ancient Hebrew Scripture as the basis of modern U.S. flat tax reform, we’re going to need to use all of Montana to store the food and livestock for our Sabbath years. It’s big enough to see us through the storage times and it’s nicknamed “The Treasure State,” so we’ll be all set with our new financial system.
I just hope our Chinese creditors accept chickens.