Thankfully, I went to a church that NEVER begged for money. I never heard sermons out of Malachi about tithing, and I used to cringe when I’d end up visiting a church that the pastor felt the need to preach on it. It always made me uncomfortable–gave me the willies. But be that as it may, I never felt compelled to drop money into the offering plate, at least no more than I had already budgeted. Which given my paltry budget was rarely more than a dollar or two.
For those who are wondering where I’m going with this, turn with me in your Bibles to Malachi 3:8-10 which reads:
“Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me–the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”
I mean, usually the hardcore churches that love guilting folk into giving focus hard on verse nine about “you are cursed with a curse” and giving examples of cursed existences saying “you don’t want your car to be cursed?” (althought mine cranked up when I stuck the key in the ignition when I left church). Those who are less hardcore about it quote the King James version of verse 10, which sounds pretty good as you watch the women go into their Cadillac purses and pocketbooks and hear old men breathe and sigh heavily as they reach in their pockets and wallets to pull out twenty dollar bills often times.
Usually those that raise the offering, pastors or guest preachers, interpret the giving to the storehouse as giving to the church so that “the food” is for operating and taking care of those who are employed by the “storehouse” or the church. Well, it makes sense, even to me. I believe the church should take care of the pastor, and the church shouldn’t expect to be able to do alot if they don’t give a lot, simple as that; no matter the size of the church.
Well, this is where I begin to have a problem.
The book of Malachi is an oracle, written as a response of the Lord to mainly the priests who were acting shady as far as the temple workings were considered. They were taking more than what they should have and not offering up to God what they should have been, and moreover scamming the people out of more than what they should have (2:9) and of course much of what chapter three is about. The pivotal verse for me that gives me the most trouble is chapter 2:1 that reads “And now, O priests, this command is for you…” and there’s nothing in the rest of the book that says that the directive has shifted to any other persons, and CERTAINLY not church members.
So, is tithing really a directive from God? Is God really going to punish church members for not tithing?
It seems to be that God would be doing the punishing, if punishing were in fact in order, toward the those who operate in the priestly tradition in the modern-day church. However, personally, I’m not convinced that God will be punishing anyone at all, be they priest or pastor, or church member for not giving this so-called tithe.
There’s also another verse many pastors merge together with this Malachi text, which is from Luke 6:38 which is:
“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into you lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Well, granted this is one is more applicable than the Malachi text, but yet again, this passage was in reference to forgiveness, not at all about tangible givings. The first problem the Bible presents us is that it has been divided into chapter and verse form. Often times paragraphs and sentences are run together, and divided as the chapter and verse dictate. This is one of them. The sentence beginning “Forgive and you will be forgiven” is verse 37, then a semi-colon happens, and clearly a semi-colon denotes that what came before is connected to what comes after it.
So, again for me, what’s the justification for making this Lukan text about tithing?
Finally, there is a passage that many don’t ever associate with giving money to the church, however I think its the most appropriate. In 2 Corinthians chapter 9 Paul is writing about taking up a collection in Jerusalem–hmmmm, specifically talking about church folk giving money to support a church; what a novel idea in the light of the Lord speaking to the priests and Jesus speaking on forgiveness. Paul writes that:
“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully, will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheeful giver.”
Now, I refused to put the rest of the passage because a) I have a lot of aught with Paul and some scholars aren’t convinced that 2 Corinthians was a true authentic letter of Paul b) I think the rest is holy hyperbole, and one person’s interpretation of what God will do once you give to the church, no different than what pastors do in 2008. Nothing against that, and I’m not denying the witness of that passage, however, I’m not totally convinced of the veracity of the rest of the passage in order to make my point. Be that as it may, if those verses provide comfort for one to make verses six through eight easy to swallow verses that of the Malachi and Luke passage, feel free to use this 2 Corinthian passage as needed.
I’ve said all this to say, that especially as seeing as how I’m on a strict budget I’m quite aware of what I’m going to give before I get into the church. And I think it’s quite interesting that many of the churches that harp on the “you are cursed with a curse” passage, are often the ones who believe in the ultimate inerrancy of the Bible, and I’d wonder how they’d reconcile these two scriptures. Paul is quite clear in verse 11 that this giving is “for the rendering of this ministry no only supplies the needs of the saints” not for buying jets, and MILLION DOLLAR homes (and yes, if the shoe fits, wear it!) and all other sorts of entitlements that many pastors and preachers feel the need for. I mean, I’ve heard some preachers and pastors justify their largess by saying “Well, if the man of God can’t have it, then who can?” or something to that effect.
I’m still trying to figure out where do some of these pastors find this new age mathematics about if you give 10% then God’ll make sure you can live off of the 90%, and to make sure to give it off the top, because if you give it off the bottom, then you won’t have enough money–BLAH BLAH BLAH. That’s all eisegetical hooplah! There’s nothing contained in these 66 books that we put so much trust in that says that, but somehow these preachers make many of us believe that they pulled this straight out the Bible. Just because you came up with it yourself, or you read it in a book doesn’t mean that people aren’t gonna believe, you, don’t blame it on God, say you yourself came up with it.
Anywho, I’d much rather pastors quote this 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 passage as the biblical mandate to give money to the church. But, I guess it just doesn’t sound as good as stringing the Malachi, Luke and 2 Corinthians passages all together at the same time. So, when I do actually have cash in my pocket and I’m at a church, I give my standard dollar. Depending on how well I’m doing financially at the time I’ve been known to give five or ten bucks if I was able.
So, this is what I’m admonishing to those that read this: To the preachers and pastors and others who plan to go into ministry–DON’T pepetuate this lie about tithing. I mean, if you plan on using this passage, make sure the parishoners are aware of whom this oracle was directed toward. To the parishoners, I think Paul (or not Paul, lol) hit the proverbial nail on the head with this one (so much for some other passages though). You know what the Lord has blessed you with as far as income, give what you can. However, don’t be mad when your church isn’t able to do x, y and z and you know that you haven’t given as much as you were able to. Also, be happy when you give; give with the right spirit in your heart–in other words be cheerful. These “freewill givings” seems to speak more about the communal aspect of the 1st century church, because there are no explicit New Testament references to tithing, or the 10% of givings that are common throughout the Hebrew Bible.
So, the next time you reach your hand to your clutch or purse for your check book, or reach for your wallet, think on these things.
Keep it uppity and keep it radical, JLL