Tithing and The Law of God
Part 2 – It’s Time To Bury The Tithe
by Gerald R. Thompson
Previous: Origin and Purpose of the Tithe
Hebrews 7:1-12 explains the relationship of the tithe to the priesthoods of Melchizedek, Aaron and Christ. The first ten verses compare and contrast the priesthoods of Melchizedek and Aaron, chiefly by way of comparing and contrasting the tithes received by each. Both the priesthood of Melchizedek, and the tithe received by him, are found to be superior to the Levitical system.
Note that in the discussion of how Melchizedek and Aaron both received tithes, no mention is made to the effect that Christ did, or would, receive tithes. Scripture nowhere claims that Christ receives tithes, or that anyone may receive tithes on His behalf.
More importantly, the passage concludes with the statement that “when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.” Heb. 7:12. Of all the laws of the priesthood which could be referred to here, of all the laws of Moses, the tithe is the only one which has been discussed in the immediately preceding eleven verses. Therefore, the law of the tithe, among all of the laws of Moses, is the one law that was indisputably made moot under the high priesthood of Christ.
Notice, I did not say the law of the tithe had been abolished or terminated by Christ. Heb. 7:12 itself does not say that any of the laws of Moses had been abolished. It only says that the law of the priesthood has changed. Changed how? You can look at it either one of two ways.
First, that the law of the priesthood of Christ was added to the law of the Levitical priesthood. In other words, instead of just one priesthood, God now has two priesthoods running simultaneously. The Levitical priesthood runs for the nation of Israel, and the priesthood of Christy runs for the Church. Neither of which interferes with the other.
Second, that when God formed the Church through Christ, He changed the model He would use from the Levitical system to the model of Melchizedek. That is, in forming the Church, God preferred one priestly system over the other system that He had used before. Again, the new system does not negate or abolish the old system. God merely changed systems.
Yet, it is precisely because of Heb. 7 that some people argue the tithe is not completely inapplicable to the Church. Even conceding that the Levitical tithe is inapplicable, Abraham’s tithe (so the argument goes), because it preceded the Mosaic covenant, is not affected by any changes to the law effected by Christ, and therefore it still stands in the Church age. Alternatively, it is argued that since Abraham tithed to God’s high priest and we are Abraham’s spiritual descendants, the obligation to tithe to priestly ministers is eternal. The argument is buttressed by the fact that Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, and Christ’s priesthood is modeled after Him.
Let me quickly admit that Abraham’s tithe was not affected by the subsequent ministry of Christ. See, Rom. 15:8. The clear witness of scripture is that Melchizedek’s priesthood was not based upon the Mosaic law, his priesthood is considered greater than Aaron’s, and his priesthood was (and is) eternal. Heb. 7:3. But that is not even the question.
Yes, Abraham’s tithe was an actual event in history, the occurrence of which was unaffected by later events. However, Abraham’s tithe was merely an event – it was not, and cannot be construed to be, a rule. In other words, Abraham’s once in a lifetime act did not have any legislative or rule making significance. He did not, by tithing once, lay down a commandment of God that all of his spiritual descendants should do likewise.
God is certainly capable of acting legislatively, and there are numerous examples in the Bible. When God acts legislatively, He expressly says, “this shall be a statute,” and it is usually accompanied by the words, “forever” or “for all generations.” See, Exo. 12:14, 17, 24; Lev. 16:34, 17:7; Num. 19:2, 10; Deut. 6:1, 24; etc. There is no reason to suppose, if God had wanted to lay down a general rule of conduct, that he could not have said so.
Thus, the absence of any words of legislative enactment are an indication that no rule was laid down by Abraham’s act. I do not even say Abraham’s example, because what would his act be an example of, exactly? An example of an act of individual worship acceptable to God? Correctly understood, yes. That is, correctly understood as an individual (not a legislative) act suited to the time and circumstances. And what were those circumstances, exactly?
After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet [Abraham] at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. Gen. 14:17-20.
So let’s break this down. Abraham went to war, and defeated his enemies. Upon his return home, he was met by Melchizedek, to whom he gave a tenth of the spoils of war. Yes, Gen. 14:20 says Abraham gave a tenth of “everything,” but Heb. 7:4 expressly states it was a tenth of the spoils only. So what does that mean for us? Obviously, the example set by Abraham is this: the next time you go to war and defeat your enemies, give a tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek when he comes out to bless you. Go ye and do likewise. Amen and amen.
To interpret single acts of men as inferring a rule of conduct for others merely because the initial act was pleasing to God is to diminish the significance of actual laws enacted by God acting in a legislative capacity. It also shows a total lack of understanding about how it is that laws are made. You cannot equate mere inferences based on circumstances with a law of God, without diminishing the high status of laws expressly enacted in the process. In other words, if you think that is how laws are made, you denigrate all laws. God makes laws the same way men make laws – by a lawgiver acting in a legislative capacity.
Blackstone tells us, drawing on the Bible, that a law is a “rule of action, which is prescribed by some superior, and which the inferior is bound to obey.” Wm. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Bk. 1, §2 (1765). Laws of God come to us only in two ways. Either the law is part of the law of nature applicable to all men and rooted in the creation of the world, or it is part of some particular divine covenant under which laws are expressly promulgated.
Of course, tithing was made a part of a particular divine covenant – the Mosaic covenant. But we have already examined that covenant and found: 1) it only ever applied to the Jews; and 2) the manner in which the Church was inaugurated precludes the possibility that tithing would ever exist in that context. Was tithing ever made a part of any other divine covenant? No. In particular, there is absolutely nothing in the Abrahamic covenant relating to tithing.
Is There A Law of Nature of Tithing?
If tithing is a part of the law of nature, why is no one in all of scripture ever described as paying a tithe except those under the Mosaic law and the cases of Abraham and Jacob (Gen. 28:22)? Where are the well-reasoned arguments showing how tithing is rooted in the creation? Who does the law of nature say tithes should be given to, if indeed such a law exists? If you ever happen to bump into Melchizedek, perhaps you can ask him. Perhaps the better question is this: Who stands in the shoes of Melchizedek, other than Jesus Christ Himself? Uh, no one.
Abraham’s act, by definition, arose long after the creation and therefore cannot be the means by which a general law of tithing was made part of the law of nature. The only other possibility is that Abraham’s act simply agreed with the law of nature – but this would require that other evidence of such a law would necessarily exist both preceding and following Abraham. However, such evidence – in the Bible at least – does not exist. We have no accounts of the righteous tithing in general.
For one thing, for tithing to arise from the law of nature, then the law of nature would also have to tell us who is a priest. But no one has a natural or inherent right to be a priest. Even the Levitical priests, which arose long after creation, had no inherent or natural priestly rights. Their rights arose strictly by way of the Mosaic covenant – a covenant of limited applicability. Can anyone actually argue – based on sound logic – that anyone in the Church has a natural or inherent right to be a priest, based on a natural law tracing back to the creation? Preposterous.
I venture to say there is one thing the law of nature certainly does not say – that anyone can give money or other physical things to God directly, or in the abstract. Under the Mosaic system, tithes were given to the priests and Levites on God’s behalf. If you remove the priests and Levites, or bypass them for a more ancient system, who is designated to receive tithes on God’s behalf? Does God reach down to earth and snatch our money from the offering plate or send fire down to consume any other things we give to Him? Can you write a check to God?
It is common in Christian circles to acknowledge that everything belongs to God. Tithing, we are often told, is merely giving back to God a portion of what He has given us. Have you ever thought about how ridiculously absurd that statement is? Since when does becoming a Christian mean abandoning all sense of logic? If everything belongs to God (and it does), it belongs to Him as much in my hands as it does in someone else’s. Me transferring something to another person does not actually put that thing more in the hands of God than it was before.
In this light we can still learn something useful about tithing from the cases of Abraham and Jacob. Namely, that every tithe must have a human recipient. In Abraham’s case, his tithe was paid to Melchizedek, a priest of the Most High God. From his description in Hebrews (having neither father nor mother or genealogy, and being a priest forever) one can conclude either that he was a mysterious human being, or that he was, in fact, Jesus incarnate prior to the First Advent.
Either way, there was a physical person to whom Abraham gave his tithe, and that person was an authorized priest of God. Similarly, Jacob gave a tenth to the Lord who appeared to him at Bethel, and who was also likely to be Jesus incarnate. Meaning, either a physical person who was a priest of God, or who was the physical presence of God Himself. Every tithe must be given to a tangible priest. If there are no earthly priests, there can be no earthly tithes.
On the one hand, such an understanding explains what the true law of nature is on the subject of tithing – a tithe is appropriate when God appears in the flesh. On the other hand, it also explains why the events in the lives of Abraham and Jacob were absolutely unique, unrepeatable for all others, and could never form the basis of a rule of action for us today. No one can rightfully claim to be the physical representation of God except Jesus Himself. And He won’t ever appear on earth in physical form until the Second Coming.
So Abraham and Jacob both paid tithes to God, but their circumstances simply never would, or could, apply to anyone today. And in the end, their cases do nothing to advance the argument that a law of tithing somehow exists today apart from the laws of Moses.
Let me summarize the analysis so far. First, the Levitical tithe never applied to the Gentile nations or the Church to begin with. Second, the manner in which the Church was founded precludes the possibility that a tithe would ever exist. Third, God never established a law of the tithe apart from the Mosaic covenant. So all of these agree. The law of God says that every fact should be confirmed by two or three witnesses. Heb. 10:28. Well, I have my three witnesses. And yet I also have a fourth.
We have established what the Church did not ever have: 1) a priestly class; 2) a physical temple or altar; or 3) different inheritances (spiritual or physical) for some church members compared to others. So a Christian tithe is what can be called a non-starter. It begs the question of what the Church does have. How did God expect the work of the Church to be funded?
The Model of Christian Charity
The New Testament repeatedly indicates that charity (or love), not obligation, governs church contributions, that is, contributions made by individual Christians. In Mat. 25:31-46, Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats. The point of the story is that those who act charitably toward “one of the least of these” (i.e., other people in need) are regarded as having contributed directly to the Lord.
Thus, first of all, a contribution to the Lord’s work is not limited to those who perform religious services, but also extends to any person in need. Second, giving to Jesus is primarily achieved by direct gifts to individuals. Gifts to charitable, incorporated, or tax-exempt organizations are not required, nor are they to be preferred, over gifts to individuals. Third, a contribution need not be channeled through, or controlled by, clergy in order to qualify as being made unto God.
There is a sharp contrast between the old covenant economics of the Levitical priesthood and the new covenant economics of the body of Christ. Each member of the body is in Christ, and Christ is in each member. As 1 Cor. 12 indicates, no member is more or less necessary in the work of the Church than any others, for each member is indispensable. Further, no member superiority or priority exists, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Cor. 12:25).
The universal priesthood of all believers makes every Christian an eligible recipient of charitable donations. But that necessarily means there are no prescribed amounts, nor prescribed channels, of giving. Further, there can be no special class of recipients, nor any specified means of giving. Each person must give to whom, in what amount, and in whatever way Gods leads them. In short, the body is so composed that there are no class distinctions in it – all may give, and all may receive.
Accordingly, the body concept epitomizes the rejection of the old covenant model. The body has no need to establish priestly individuals or organizations to be mediators. Christ is the portion of all His people, giving each member equal status to receive the supply of the body. The body has no need to divide itself such that some members only give, and others only take, what all are entitled to share. This was accomplished by Jesus having obtained an inheritance, the present and future benefits of which all Christians are equally entitled to participate in.
Not only will all Christians share equally in eternal life in the presence of God, but all have the same opportunities for taking earthly dominion. No one in the body of Christ is precluded from earning their own living or from having the independent financial means to sustain themselves. Hence, the apostle Paul continued earning income as a tentmaker while ministering to various churches. (Acts 18:3).
There is no evidence in Scripture that the early churches collected contributions in the form of a tithe, or in the name of tithing. In Rom. 15:25-28, Paul tells of a contribution he was to carry from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia to the church in Jerusalem. The contributions were entirely voluntary, and not a fixed obligation. The gifts are described as being “for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”
No indication is made that the contribution was made to, or on behalf of, church workers or what are today called ministers or clergy. The contribution was to be distributed among the members of the church according to their need, not their position, their calling, or for their services. No one in the Jerusalem church was a preferred recipient because of who they were. Additionally, the contribution was made to the corporate body for distribution to its individual members, not for the body to keep or use for corporate purposes, i.e., the collective.
Making A Living From The Gospel
But what are we to make of the injunction by Paul that a laborer is worthy of his hire (1Cor. 9:4-14; 1Tim. 5:18), a principle also cited by Jesus Himself (Mat. 10:10)? Paul takes it even farther, asking rhetorically whether he and Barnabas were the only ones who had “no right to refrain from working for a living.” (1 Cor. 9:6). Then he continues:
“Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:12-14).
So there you have it. This proves that contributions to ministers of the gospel are either a continuation or a modification of the contributions to Levites under the Mosaic law, right? Not so fast.
It is true that the Levitical tithe and contributions to ministers of the gospel have something in common, namely, that the laborer is worthy of his hire. This is a principle from the law of nature. God, being consistent with Himself, had both the Mosaic covenant and the church covenant reflect this law of nature. But the principle doesn’t apply to the Church because the Mosaic law said so – it applies to the Church because the Church is subject to the law of nature. And there any similarity between tithing and church contributions ends.
Do you really think that Paul, in these few sentences, intended to trump the analysis of the tithe in the book of Hebrews and say, in effect, “pay no attention to that – the tithe really lives after all”? If he did, why does he never use the word tithe to describe church contributions? Is he being coy? Is he trying to slip one past everybody so we wouldn’t notice?
I suggest that Paul would be among the first to remind us that all gifts and contributions to the Church – whether to members in need or to ministers of the gospel – are subject to the general injunction of 2 Cor. 9:7 that each person must give as he has made up his mind. In other words, that it is irrevocably up to the donor to decide (as God leads him) how much to give, to whom, for what reason, in what form, and where to direct his gifts and contributions.
Thus, there is no priority of ministers over other church members, no priority of the local church over other churches, no priority of churches over parachurch ministries, no priority of religious ministries over general charities, and no priority of organizations over individuals as recipients. In other words, totally decentralized giving.
If there is one thing the Levitical tithe represents, it is a centralized system of contributions. But the Church model has no permanent class of designated recipients, no priorities among recipients, no centralized funneling or channeling of donations, and no one in charge of administration and disbursement of moneys on behalf of others. So as long as that is how church members fund the work of those who proclaim the Gospel, the scripture supports it.
The scriptural evidence strongly suggests Paul is advocating for a system of contributions to ministers of the Gospel which may be called catch as catch can. Or, what religious people call love offerings. You say you want to live off the Gospel? Then you are automatically subject to the whims and discretion of the people, each of whom gives according to their own conscience, with no moral authority on your part to direct, supervise or organize their giving. Trust in the Lord and have faith – don’t try to control the situation.
Ah, but everyone who gets their living from the contributions of others wants not only control, but assurances, don’t they? Is it just me, or has it become far too easy for people not only to live on the contributions of others, but to grow exceedingly rich? This is not God’s plan, people. Stop supporting it.
Paul would be among the first to recognize that just because “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” does not nullify the body concept of the Church, primarily in the respect that there should be no division in the body. Thus, the Bible does not support the concept of a Christian clergy as distinguished from laity. And Paul does not, in 1 Cor. 9, intend to create a clergy vs. laity distinction.
Eph. 4:11 indicates that God has appointed in the Church apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. I know of no better scripture to give us an understanding of what people in the Church are the ones who proclaim the Gospel.
So why is it, that 1) many churches do not even recognize the contemporary office of apostle; 2) prophets are generally recognized only in charismatic churches, and are always unpaid unless they are the founder of their own cult; 3) evangelists only get paid if they raise their own support or survive on love offerings; and 4) lay teachers are almost universally unpaid volunteers; but 5) pastors are paid employees who get regular salaries? Who made pastors special compared to everyone else? The witness of scripture is: not God.
We have to be careful not to read scripture and commit eisegesis – reading our preconceived notions into the text when they aren’t really there. If you had never heard of a clergy-laity distinction, would you have come to believe in it just by reading 1 Co. 9:12-14?
Here’s another fun fact: the word pastor is only used exactly once in the New Testament (in Eph. 4:11). The underlying Greek word is used other times, but always translated as shepherd, as in a literal sheep herding kind of way. Strange, isn’t it, that churches have built their entire leadership structures on the concept of an office of pastor, which is nowhere else referred to in the Bible?
The early Church demonstrated that it was not only economically feasible to adequately finance the Church’s work without the tithe, it was a natural consequence of putting the body concept into practice. This example serves as the best model for the Church today, for it is from the roots of the early Church that the Church today is derived, and in fact they are the same Church. Therefore, any disparity between the practices of the early Church and the modern Church with respect to the tithe, rather than indicating a maturing of the Church, is more likely an indication of corruption and/or apostasy.
Which brings me to point out that Paul, in 1 Cor. 9:12, clearly wanted to avoid doing anything which would put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Yet, I’m sorry to say, that is exactly what many contemporary church practices do.
Preferring The Old Ways Over The New
When churches practice tithing openly, of course, the problem is obvious. Preaching sermons promoting tithing. Including tithing as a tenet in a statement of faith or set of basic doctrines. Soliciting tithes and offerings in so many words. Giving tuition discounts to members who send their kids to an associated school if they tithe. The worst offenders require tithing by some or all of their employees and even exact tithes as a payroll deduction. All in clear violation of scripture while professing to advance it.
But open and notorious tithing (to use a legal phrase) is just the tip of the iceberg. The subtler forms of re-introducing the Mosaic law into the new covenant are just as dangerous and far more prevalent.
Remember, in the history of Israel, first came the physical sanctuary, then came the human priesthood. These were followed by the segregation of a religious worker class, and finally a legal bar to inheritance and diverse employments, all of which created the need for a centralized system of collecting contributions. So when one looks at the tithe in ancient Israel, it is simply the culmination of many things which necessarily undergirded and supported it. The ancient law of tithing could not stand all by itself.
So it is today as well. When tithing is preached and/or practiced, it betrays the fact that a great many other things must be in place to support it. Not coincidentally, these are the same things that the Mosaic law established – a physical sanctuary, a human priesthood, a religious worker class, and a centralized system of money collection and redistribution. If you don’t have these things in place, the institutionalization of the modern tithe loses all of its moral force. This institutional machinery is all bogus – as I have shown – but to keep the tithe going, you gotta have it.
In spite of all that scripture plainly teaches, common church practices include a whole host of things which are clearly patterned after the old system which was limited to the Jews, instead of the new system prepared especially for the body of Christ.
Temple terminology – Words and phrases either borrowed directly from the Jewish temple, or are remnants of Middle Age cathedrals whose original purpose was to designate areas where non-members and/or non-clergy could not go – a temple concept and purpose of imposing a hierarchy of access. These include, without limitation:
• using the word Temple or Tabernacle in a church name
• calling a church building auditorium a sanctuary
• calling a church building lobby a narthex
• calling other church building areas a nave (seating area) or an altar (stage or platform)
• calling a church building the Lord’s House, or God’s House
• quoting Psalm 122:1 as though it has even the remotest application to the Church (“I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!'”)
Other tricks of the trade include setting apart special instruments or implements only clergy can use, or special rooms only clergy can use. A favorite of mine is the use of dual pulpits (usually a lesser and a greater) which are meant to designate what may be used by clergy, and what may be used by laity. It’s just a class segregation manifested in the physical layout of the building. Do you have to whisper when entering your local sanctuary? Is it because God lives there?
Priestly privileges – Power, prestige, privileges and authority reserved for clergy demarcating those persons having a superior access to God, a superior relationship with God, or a superior calling from God. These include, without limitation:
• calling clergy members priests
• calling clergy father or reverend. The use of father is outright prohibited by Jesus. Mat. 23:9. All believers are equally holy (Jude 14) and deserving of honor and respect (1Cor. 12:23-24), i.e., revered. All believers are also equally unholy – “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” In other words, all believers are equal. Period.
• allowing clergy to hold confession and/or grant pardon
• setting aside special ceremonies or functions – sacerdotal functions or sacraments – that only clergy can perform (baptism, communion, weddings and funerals, etc.)
• limiting preaching and/or teaching to clergy
• limiting the leading of corporate worship to clergy
Why can only clergy do these things? Was the Great Commission (Mat. 28:18-20) given only to clergy? When Jesus gave authority to the Church, did He give it to each and every individual member, or only to certain people in the Church? Is Church authority limited to the descendants of the apostles, or to their chosen designees?
Class distinctions – Even use of the seemingly benign phrase full-time Christian work betrays an underlying assumption that people employed by a church are doing something more important for Christ compared to other church members. But the scripture says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.” 1 Cor. 7:17. So the idea that some work is more valuable to God than other work is a complete fallacy.
Does your church pay clergy differently from other employees (better benefits, higher salary, pension plan)? Are all your church’s lay teachers unpaid volunteers? Who gets licensed or ordained in your church, and how many lay people are ordained for a career in religious work? Are the clergy in your church even members of your congregation, or are they in fact members of a separate body made up solely of clergy (usually a presbytery)? Don’t think for a moment this is limited to Presbyterian denominations.
Centralized religion – In your church, where does the true religious authority and right of religious freedom reside, in you individually or with the organization and/or institution (i.e., the collective)? I here refer to things such as tax exemption (income, sales and property taxes, not to mention special tax benefits afforded to clergy) and exemption from anti-discrimination laws. In each case, special treatment is afforded to the organization itself that is not afforded to its individual members. When was the last time you heard a pastor speak out against such things?
But tell me – who is the member of the body of Christ, the true Church – you individually, or your local church corporation? Can a corporation be saved? Will your religious institution go to heaven? To whom did God give the inalienable right of religious freedom – to individuals, or to corporations? Yet, who actually gets the benefit of religious freedoms? Your individual business? – not a chance.
This institutional preference can be manifest in subtle ways. Does your church teach that donations to God belong first to the local body, and then to all others? Rather than supporting individual missionaries, are you told to funnel all missions donations through an administrative body? Are you encouraged to give to needy people directly, or funnel donations through the church benevolence fund? Will your church disclose who it gives charity to, or is that information confidential? Does your church teach sacrificial giving (a false concept if there ever was one)? Are direct gifts to individuals recognized as given “unto the Lord”?
The question to ask yourself, whenever you make a donation to a church or religious ministry, is whether that donation will be used to perpetuate class distinctions within the Church, to maintain the perception of a physical temple, or to continually interpose an organizational structure between you and the carrying out of Christian ministry.
One of the underappreciated aspects of the new covenant in Christ is that until He returns, the Church is decentralized. No one, among men, is in charge. No one, among men, is superior to others. Every local assembly, fellowship or congregation is equal to all others and essentially independent. I think the closest analogy is the family. Every family has its own leader, but every family is equal to every other family and no one is in charge of anyone else’s family. That’s the way God designed the Church. But have your church leaders gotten that message?
Turning Our Backs On Christ
The witness of scripture is that Jesus did not merely modify the purposes, structures and procedures of the Levitical priesthood so as to tailor it for a new use in the Church. Rather, He completely bypassed the Levitical priesthood and built a whole new system for the Church based on entirely different purposes, structures and procedures.
Thus, instead of a physical temple, sanctuary and altar, Jesus entered a temple made by God (not men) and every believer became an individual temple of the Holy Spirit. Physical sacrifices of animals and offerings of grain, etc. were replaced by purely spiritual sacrifices of praise, good works, and sharing. The separation of priests and Levites from the rest of the congregation was completely bypassed, and instead of creating a new class of religious workers in the Church, all believers are part of one body without division.
Gone completely are any human mediators between God and men – Jesus is the only mediator and high priest now. Access to God is no longer restricted, but is freely available to all men through the universal priesthood of all believers. Disparate inheritances and restrictions as to forms of income have been obsoleted and in their place all members of the body of Christ have equal rights and privileges, both spiritual and material. Religious freedom and religious authority is an individual right, not a collective right, or a right possessed by only a few.
These are the things Jesus has done. This work is finished, complete, and irrevocable. To bring back the old ways, to import them into the Church, is to undo the things He has done. It is to declare that the old system God has declared imperfect and slated for obsolescence is to be preferred over what God has given us that He intended should be perfect and better. In so doing, we prove ourselves to be just like the Israelites, who having been delivered from slavery and given the gift of freedom, preferred to go back to Egypt. In so doing, we prove ourselves to be faithless.
One of the dangers of the idea that the Church is a continuation of Israel, or that Israel and the Church have merged, is the tendency to carry over rituals, structures and concepts that were intended to be completely avoided and treat them as having merely changed form. However, Jesus did not merely transform the Levitical system – He utterly bypassed it and started an all new system having nothing to do with the former way.
I cannot come to any conclusion except that when churches preach and practice that which Jesus utterly spurned (physical sanctuary, human priesthood, segregated class, centralized religion), it is a subversion of the Gospel. By importing a system based on a legal requirement that negates God’s new system of grace and love, we attempt to undo the finished work of Christ. By propagating a new priestly class Jesus never intended to create, and whose ministry was specifically designed to prevent, we undermine his supreme and perfected high priesthood.
In the name of furthering the Gospel, we undercut it. In the name of God, we violate His law. For the sake of Christ, we undo what He accomplished. In this there is no glory, and no “well done thou good and faithful servant.” You think my judgment harsh, or even foolish?
I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. * * * And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Co. 11:1-4, 12-15).
The tithe was once an important part of God’s covenant with His people, to compensate the priests and Levites for their care of the tabernacle and sanctuary, their service as mediators, and their lack of other means of support. Yet, even from its inception, the Levitical priesthood was slated for obsolescence, being only a foreshadowing of the greater priesthood of Christ to come, and awaiting the perfection of a new covenant with Israel.
When Christ did come, His death avoided any need for sanctuary, mediation and inheritance from the priesthood of His people, effecting a new covenant between God and people in which similar distinctions were obsolete. With the bases of the tithe bypassed forever, it became useless and moot in the Church.
Hence, the observance of the tithe by the Church denies the changes made by the new covenant, in effect nullifying the death of Christ and the Church’s own existence. To the extent any church solicits or administers the contributions it receives so as to have the effect of a tithe, or uses such contributions to establish or maintain an old covenant temple, priesthood or separated class, the result is the same.
The people of God know, or ought to know, that temples, priesthoods and separated classes are not only unnecessary to the work and purpose of the Church, they are its greatest liabilities. What remains for the Church to do is not to replace the tithe with any other plan to conduct business as usual, but to change the nature of its business to be consistent with its origin. Only by properly functioning as the body of Christ without division can this be done.
The Church cannot support the work of Christ and subvert it at the same time. As per Mat. 12:25, a kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Further, the Church cannot serve two masters – the old covenant and the new covenant – for they are incompatible and irreconcilable. Ultimately, God is not glorified by breathing new life into what He has committed to the grave. The tithe is a harbinger of death – it is time for the Church to bury it.
There is yet one more thing I would have you know about the tithe so you can have the most complete picture of it as possible. Namely, that the biblical tithe only ever applied to plants and animals, i.e., the seed of the land or the fruit of the trees, and every tenth animal passing under the herdsman’s staff of flocks and herds. Lev. 27:30-32. The tithe never applied to minerals such as gold or silver, which is to say that it never applied to money.
The tithe of the Bible was based on the concept of increase, not income. Increase comes from God – income comes from man (i.e., commerce). See Lev. 26:4; Deut. 7:13. That doesn’t make commerce evil – it just makes it different from what God does. So the things that God gives – produce of the land and animal births – are the only things covered by the tithe. Things produced or manufactured by man were not subject to the tithe. Thus, no one tithed houses, tools, or carts, etc. Remember that when your minister suggests God wants His people to tithe their money.
When Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their tithes of dill, mint and cumin (Mat. 23:23), these were all plants (produce of the ground). The criticism was that the Pharisees were scrupulous about very small things, but did not regard the more important things. No suggestion was made that they should have tithed from their money.
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