Last night was our budget meeting. We talked about our giving, wondered what we’re going to do for falling short on apportionments and bemoaned not having enough. A conversation arose about tithing. The older generation tithed as a ‘duty’. Others expressed how tithing gets rewarded: with further wealth or at least security.
I’m a slower thinker, but I make up for it by being thorough (I explain to myself, at least). Late last night I realized that tithing isn’t Christian. Tithing is the old covenant standard. It also predates currency and has been reconstructed for the benefit of the institutional church, as Dan Dick explains.
So what is our new covenant standard? Many point to John Wesley’s advice in his sermon “The Use of Money”
But let not any man imagine that he has done anything, barely by going thus far, by “gaining and saving all he can,” if he were to stop here. All this is nothing, if a man go not forward, if he does not point all this at a farther end. Nor, indeed, can a man properly be said to save anything, if he only lays it up. You may as well throw your money into the sea, as bury it in the earth. And you may as well bury it in the earth, as in your chest, or in the Bank of England. Not to use, is effectually to throw it away. If, therefore, you would indeed “make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness,” add the Third rule to the two preceding. Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then “give all you can.” (The Use of Money, emphasis mine)
But Jesus’ example, while less savvy, was more stark. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Furthermore, Jesus hands out blessings and woes based pretty simply on material possessions, as well as food, laughter and prestige (Luke 6:20-26). The early church took upon themselves disciplines that have largely been forgotten including the discipline of poverty. Sin is tricky enough to where tithing can go from ‘the first fruits are the Lord’s’ to ‘90% of it is mine’.
True religion is “to care for widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). I am feeling the stain of money and I see it in the church. But I’ve got mouths to feed, loans to repay, cars that need gas, etc., etc., excuse, excuse.