The Tithe is the Lord's
The tithe in Scripture is an essential element for building Christian culture. In our time it has been separated from its biblical doctrine and synchronized with the modern cultural traditions of non-profit organizations and for-profit companies. As a society, we have accepted oppressive humanistic forms of economics and forgotten the liberating economics of Godś kingdom. A right understanding of Godś original command to tithe is foundational for the advancement and capitalization of God’s Kingdom. A right understanding of the tithe must be rooted in the Scriptural concepts of capitalism, called increase (wealth) and multiplication (economics of kingdom building). The dominion mandate sets forth the basic principle of building and increasing wealth in Genesis 1:28:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
We can see three principles in this command. First, “the earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). God created all things and lays claim to all things. As creatures of God we are owned by him and bound to his order. Second, God has given man ministerial authority (man is never given sovereignty) over his creation (Psalm 8:6) and charged man with the responsibility to have dominion, or rule over creation in terms of God’s decree. Our obligation is to do much more than simply survive. We are created to build, improve and transform creation in light of Godś law.
Third, man is commanded to multiply and increase that which God has set before him, or placed under his rule. While it is true multiplication is tied to posterity (population), it is by no means limited to that concept. It necessarily requires the increase of creation in every area, including, technology, aesthetic culture, and economics. There is no room in God’s created order for a gnostic[ref]Gnosticism is a heretical form of existentialism...a dualism concerning the nature of the universe and man. Modernly, it is manifest in the conscious or sub-conscious philosophical division of the spiritual and physical elements of creation. It separates the nature of man into parts and attributes morality to the spiritual plane of existence and neutrality or immorality to the physical or material plane of existence. Sound doctrine holds that these planes are in no way independent in a functional or moral sense for the Christian man.[/ref] or manichean[ref]"Manichaeism was a very powerful religion which spread throughout the Roman Empire. For a time Manichaeism was the great rival of Christianity. It also had a very profound influence on Christianity, a very deep one, and it was a thoroughly bad influence. The basic belief of Manicheaism was that there are essentially two kinds of God, and two kinds of being. On the one hand, there is the good God, with spirit, mind, light. Then there is the bad God, who is matter, who is desire, and who is darkness. This meant the world was divided in half. … Genesis declared that in the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth, [that] things both spiritual and things material, [were] all the work of God. God, when he created it, declared that it was all very good. ...For God, both Spirit and matter, mind and body are alike good. When man fell, Man fell in the totality of his being. You often hear the emphasis that we should, as Christians, be more spiritual. ...The people who say that don’t fully realize, perhaps what they mean. And in fact we are all guilty of using that kind of language because it has become so much a part of our language. I know I have sometimes used it. But we really don’t mean that. What good is there in being spiritual, necessarily? After all Satan is a spiritual being, and he is totally evil. You can be Satanic and be spiritual. What we mean, really, is that we should be godly... To be godly in all our being. Because of the influence of Manichaeism, spirituality was held aloft as the great and the good objective of man. The ¨godly¨ man was one who fled from the world of matter into the world of spirit. From the world of desire into the world of mind, from the world of darkness into the world of light…he was continually forsaking this world for [that] world. If you were too interested in material things, there was something wrong with you. [We] find this among some people [today]. They act as if, if you are interested in being well dressed, and if you really enjoy food, there is something very, very ungodly about you. You are not spiritual. Well, this is not Biblical. The bible tells us that God blessed Abraham materially. The Bible makes it clear that we are to rejoice in the good things that God has given us. Nowhere does the Bible despise material things. Nor does it identify sin as material. It Identifies sin as resentment against God. As trying to be your own God. And sin is as much in the mind, as it is in the body. Sin is something that possesses, that governs the whole life of man. Just as holiness and godliness possesses and governs the whole life of man.¨ R. J. Rushdoony on Manichaeism, an abridged transcript of his Lecture on Eschatology in History in the Lecture Series American History to 1865. [/ref] view of wealth. The multiplication and increase of nature, or material items is here a blessing and command of God.
Fourth, subduing is the act of gaining mastery and proficiency over something so that it yields benefits to the one subduing. The earth’s resources are to be made beneficial for man. The development and pursuit of an economic theory is therefore required of man. Furthermore, the subduing must be accomplished in terms of God’s Word and to God’s purposes and end. To this end God ordained the tithe as one of the means by which Christian civilization is built.
In Scripture we are presented with three tithes; the Social Tithe, also called the Lord’s Tithe or Levitical Tithe (Lev. 27:30-33), the Rejoicing Tithe (Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:33-43; Deut. 12:5-25; 14:22-27; 16:13-15), and the Poor Tithe (Deut 14:28, 29). Every tithe belongs to and is rightfully delivered to the Lord (Lev. 27:30). No human institution has a legitimate claim to the tithe apart from the work of the kingdom because the tithe is the Lord’s. The tithe is given to God-ordained institutions that are established for building Christ’s Kingdom. In this sense tithing is directly linked to the sovereignty of God. Any man or group of men who demands an unlawful tithe or misuses or misappropriates the just tithe answers to God for such a usurpation of authority.
In the old covenant, the Social Tithe was directed toward the Levites (Num. 18:20-32), or in times of apostasy, given to those who remain faithful to the Lord’s work (2 Kings 4:42-44). The function of the Social Tithe is for developing and advancing godly culture through the education and instruction of the people, civil authorities, and the congregation at large (Lev. 10:11; Deut. 17:18; 31:9-13; 33:10). This instruction and education includes the arts and sciences (1 Chron. 15:16-24; 25:1-7), the growth of knowledge and instruction in the Lord (Lev. 10:11; Deut. 17:18; 31:9-13; 33:10), the general health care and sustenance of the people of God (Lev. 14), as well as providing counsel and arbitration over disputes (1 Chron. 23:4; 26:29-32).
The common misconception that the Levites performed only “religious” functions in Israel, such as offering incense and sacrifices, is unfounded. The Hebrew language does not have a word for “religion” because all of life is religious. The “cultic” functions of religion such as incense and sacrifice are rightly understood as priestly duties. The Levites were responsible for far more that just priestly responsibilities. They were responsible for leading and directing the application of God’s Law to every area of life for the people of God.
The Priests of the tabernacle or temple were the recipients of the Tithe of the Tithe (Numbers 18:26), that is a tenth of the Social Tithe was given by the Levites to the Priests of the temple. This tenth of the tenth was allotted for the performing of the cultic or “religious” functions of worship. This function is comparative to the function of the church in the New Testament. We will look further into this later.
The second tithe, the Rejoicing Tithe, is for the individual godly family to rejoice before the Lord in the blessings and benefits of God’s grace and providence. It is to be spent on whatever one desires (Deut 14:26) because it is a blessing from God in a spirit of thanksgiving. Sometimes this was carried out in the context of more than one family and often it was joined with the administration of the poor tithe as well, with everyone rejoicing together with the best that they had before the Lord.
The Poor Tithe is that which is delivered once every three years for the capitalization of the poor, or more accurately, the destitute in society (Deut 14:28, 29). This is not biblical advocacy for an economic leveling or redistribution of societal wealth. This investment of wealth in the poor is to give him a boost or jump start in his life, endeavors, and dominion pursuits. It is given without restraints in amount, with no strings of interest or servitude attached, and with the expectation that the recipient must utilize his own creativity in order to maximize his increase. The Poor Tithe is given every three years (Deut 14:28) to insure that the destitute one does not become dependant upon a regular “welfare check”. The goal of the Poor Tithe is to lift the poor out of poverty, not sustain them in it.
Broadly, the tithe is one tenth of man’s increase. It is not based off income, either net or gross, but on man’s increase from that year. The example given in Scripture is that of tithing every tenth animal from the new flocks and herds that passes under the rod (Lev. 27:32). Wereass the State taxes man to the last penny from the net income, God’s tithe is distinctly liberating. If a man has 29 lambs, then he is required to tithe only 2 lambs. The modern state in contrast demands a percentage of those 29 lambs; far in excess of 10%!
The tithe is God's tax on the earth. It is expressive of his claim to ownership over all things because the power to tax is the power to declare ownership. God alone is sovereign, thus all creation is rightly under his divine purview and rule. The amount of a tithe has been set by God at one tenth of man’s annual increase (Lev 27:32). To insist on any other amount for a tithe either more or less is to ascribe injustice to God. The limits and bounds of the Tithe have been established in justice and righteousness.
The yoke of of God is easy, and his burden is light. God’s tithe is demonstrative of this fact. God has the right to demand 100% of man’s increase be put toward the specific requirements of the tithe, yet he requires only 10% for the Social Tithe, 10% of that in turn to be utilized in celebration through the Rejoicing Tithe, and 10% every third year for the benefit of the destitute and neglected for their upbuilding through the Poor Tithe. God is able to use small things to large ends.
It is common to hear the assertion that the tithe has been abolished in the New Testament, or that the tithe was simply for Israel, and isn’t for Christians. This perspective denies the continuity of Scripture and denies the teaching of Scripture itself. The New Testament makes no allusion to the tithe being rescinded, negated, or abolished. Jesus himself gives us two instances that demonstrate that the tithe is to remain in force:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” —Matt. 5:17-19
“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”—Matt. 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25
Within these passages it is evident that the operating assumption of any Christian is that we must assume continuity between the covenants, and the continuing requirement to render obedience to God in terms of his law. Unless a rescinding of the tithe is in the New Testament, then the tithe continues in full force for Christians today.
A favorite line for those dismissing the responsibility of Christians to tithe is that Tithing is nowhere referenced in the New Testament commands to give. This is an argument from silence, and is fallacious on that ground. Additionally, giving in Scripture is linked to more than just Tithing (Exodus 35:5). It is considered giving to loan to the poor (Psalm 112:5; Proverbs 19:17), or giving without expectation of return (Psalm 37:21; Proverbs 14:21, 31). Thus the collection in 1 Corinthians 16, does not negate the responsibility for Christians to tithe, but indicates that a free will gift is being collected over and above. Tithing is not in view here, but a non obligatory gift by those who had the resources to assist. Far from annulling Tithing, this demonstrates the above and beyond generosity of Christianity that desires to give more to others than simply what is required.
Tithing in the New Covenant, then, is directed, just as in the Old Covenant, to the Lord. The tithe is the Lord’s, just as the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof. In accordance with Godś law, the recipients of the Rejoicing Tithe and Poor Tithe are the same as in the Old Covenant, but the Social Tithe is no longer to go to the Levites, as there are no familial distinctions to be made, and no Levites to whom the Social Tithe is to be administered. However, the spheres of life under the direct support of the Social or Levitical Tithe are still ongoing, and even expanded, in the New Covenant through the Great Commission. Now more than ever the advance of Christ’s Kingdom and the instruction in God’s Word is to be dispersed to the nations. Now more than ever, the capitalization of the meek and poor is to extend the rule of Christ and subdue his enemies. The Christian must be faithful to observe all that Christ has commanded, and this necessarily requires the faithful observance of God’s tithes.
The question we must answer is this: Where is the Social Tithe to be directed in the New Covenant? The common answer for any who affirm the continuance of the tithe is to assert that the church is to be the recipient of the tithe. It is important however to remember the role and function of the Social Tithe. It was to be directed towards the establishment and upbuilding of righteous culture. Hence the Christian tithe must be directed to the building and advancing of Christ's Kingdom. To correlate the Kingdom of God with the church is to confuse and limit the true Kingdom of God. Christ's Kingdom and rule is over all things, he is in the process of renewing all things. The local church is a part of that expansive Kingdom. The local church elders and deacons are responsible for the direct ministry of the Word and Sacraments to the believers. These “religious” duties are comparative to the “cultic” duties of the priests in Israel.
Thus the Social Tithe is to be directed towards any institution or ministry that is specifically equipping the saints and advancing the Kingdom of Christ. The pastors and elders of Christ's Church ought also to receive payment, but no more than a tithe of the tithe, or 1% of a man's increase, can rightfully be required.
This is an essential concept to understand concerning the nature of the tithe. There is not one single aspect of life that God has given man sovereignty to determine truth. Every element of life is to be subjected to the Word of God. Hence the amount of payment that church officers can receive from the tithe is 1% of man's increase. This is not to say that officers of the church are to have their paychecks capped to 1% of the congregations tithe. Free will giving and giving beyond the 10% requirement of the Social Tithe may well indeed be received by the officers of the church through the generosity of the individual.
Until the tithe is again recognized as a mandatory aspect of the Christian life, Christian renewal of all things in submission at the feet of our Lord will not be effectively achieved. The faithful establishment of the tithe will bring the advancement of the Christian faith in knowledge, arts, science, medicine, justice, etc., the capitalization of the poor for the eventual eradication of poverty, and the true demonstration of joy as Christians rejoice in the providence, grace and mercy of of Lord who reigns forever and ever.