Barna and Tithing

It’s inevitable that George Barna would chime in on the subject of the tithe:

"Born again adults remain the most generous givers in a country acknowledged to be the most generous on the planet," said the veteran researcher. "But their donation decisions must be seen in the larger context of the changes occurring in a wide range of religious behaviors. With millions of people shifting their allegiance to different forms of church experience, and a more participatory society altering how people interact and serve others, many Christians are now giving their money to different types of organizations instead of a church. They attend conventional churches less often. They are expanding their circle of Christian relationships beyond local church boundaries. And they are investing greater amounts of their time and money in service organizations that are not connected with a conventional church. That doesn’t make such giving inappropriate or less significant, it’s just a different way of addressing social needs."

"The choices being made by born again donors have huge implications for the non-profit sector. Realize that a majority of the money donated by individuals in the U.S. comes from the born again constituency," Barna pointed out. "If this transition in the perceptions and giving behavior of born again adults continues to accelerate, the service functions of conventional churches will be redefined within the next eight to ten years, and conventional churches will have to adopt new ways of assisting people in need."

The tithe is a big issue these days, and those of you who follow this blog remember my long back and forth with Russell Earl Kelly on the subject.   My interest in the subject stems from my position as my local church’s Finance Committee chairman, where I deal with people’s shifting giving patterns on a very practical level.  The simple fact is that people’s giving patterns are changing, and in the middle of the debate on whether tithing is Biblical it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that people will make their choices either because of or in spite of what we might say about it.

Just to reiterate, let me encapsulate my thinking on this subject:

  • Barna is correct that tithing is not a New Testament command.  IMHO, selling all is, and failing that (for whatever reason) it’s necessary for the Christian to make a total life commitment of everything that he or she has, and that includes money.  10% can’t be said to do justice to that kind of commitment.
  • Tithing is nevertheless a good spiritual and practical discipline for the Christian.  It’s not the end of giving but a good start.  It forces the Christian to set aside a certain amount to support the church, irrespective of the emotion (or lack of it) of the moment.  It puts giving past impulse.  Many Evangelicals are bothered by a practice that isn’t explicit in the New Testament, but think about the many things we expect that aren’t explicit in the NT.
  • Although many opponents of teaching tithing focus on the tithe as unjust for the poor, I think that, if the wealthy really tithed, the windows of heaven would really open for many churches, because as a general rule, the higher the income level, the lower a proportion of that income goes to the church.  The poor need to be taken care of though the church’s benevolent (I know that’s an antiquated phrase, but I don’t have another) activities.
  • Any church that holds its membership to a high standard on "stewardship" needs to be diligent in practicing some on its own.  That includes recognising that the gifts they receive from the congregation are a sacred trust and should be treated that way.  Churches should also be stronger about teaching thrift and debt reduction/elimination.  Doing that would free up more of their members’ funds for giving and time to actually do the work that God called lay people to do.
  • The church not worth tithing to–and that includes all the forms of "church" we see today–isn’t worth belonging to.  But, as Neal Cavuto says, that’s just me.

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