Response to Brian Warner: Is the Tithe for Today?
Brian Warner, a pastor at Fairport Community Baptist Church had sent me his position paper with an apologetic stance on tithing. It was a 20 page PDF document that includes his defense on this subject You can download the his paper, “Is the Tithe for Today“.
Believe it or not, his kind is rare. I don’t find many who are in support of tithing and are willing to dive deeply into studying this subject. Most of the time you will only find a document that contains a few pages of arguments. Rarely, do they expound over 5 pages. I know the reason for this deficiency because of my own experience. Years ago, when i began to study tithing for the purpose of defending it, i found that the more i studied to defend it, the more it didn’t make sense.
Below, i’d like to display my response to his paper. He addressed 6 topics that non-tithers use to dismiss the tithe.
- CHEERFUL FREEWILL GIVING REPLACED THE TITHE
- JESUS DIDN’T AFFIRM THE TITHE
- WE CAN’T ROB GOD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
- THE EARLY CHURCH DIDN’T TITHE
- TITHING MUST BE LIFELESS BECAUSE IT IS OLD TESTAMENT LAW
- ERRANT VIEWS ON WHAT OLD TESTAMENT LAWS APPLY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
1. CHEERFUL FREEWILL GIVING REPLACED THE TITHE
I know that some who oppose the tithe, may feel that way, but it simply isn’t biblical. Cheerful, freewill giving was always in existence. We know this because our creator exemplified this form of giving in the beginning. I consider these functions to be a core principle that is required regardless of your belief on tithing. As you had mentioned, it is love that is our motivation. Also, in Deuteronomy 15:10, 16:17 we can see that giving was motivated from the heart as one is able.
Warner notes that the verses used to support freewill giving in the early church are examples of giving unrelated to the necessary provision for the local Church. Warner states this,
“This expositor faled to realize that many of the scriptures he had cited were corrective or applied to an unrelated situation, such as the collection for Jerusalem’s poor (1 Cor12:1-2, 2 Cor 8:1-15). To argue that the of the addition of cheerful giving directive, “found in the New Testament, somehow cancels the practice of tithing in the Old Tstament is ludicrous.”
Warner is saying that the verses used as examples to replace tithing for the Church are unrelated because they are situations in which gifts were given to foreign believers, not the local Church. So, we can’t use the examples of freewill giving in the New Testament because they deal with foreign missions rather than support for the local body.
There are a few flaws to this logic
- In the wilderness, Israel supported the priests with freewill offerings. The future temple was only built with freewill offerings also. (Exodus 35)
- Jesus ministry on earth was also only supported by freewill offerings (Luke 8:1-3)
- Are we one body or not?
- If our local needs are met, why should we neglect those of need after fulfilling our local tithing requirement?
- If the verses in Corinthians are unrelated the the local Church, then how much more unrelated is tithing – a law that introduced under the old covenant, without the cross, without the Church, and without the Holy Spirit?
- Never mind all the “unrelated” examples of freewill giving in the New Testament Church, where are all the examples of tithing then?
These are not minor flaws for his reasoning.
Warner also states,
“2 Cor 9:7 that teaches, ‘God loves a cheerful giver,’ should never be used against tithing. It did not address tithing!”
What Jesus did on the cross did not specifically address any of the 630 laws either but we still use the cross to free us from all these laws still. It may seem that all my attacks are trying to stop you from giving, but I do believe there was a system of giving that did replace the tithe, but i will address that later.
2. JESUS DIDN’T AFFIRM THE TITHE
I can see how some would use this to expound on their thesis, but in-and-of itself, Jesus’ omission is not proof against the tithe. I try not to fall into that trap of defending my position because of omitted references. I think you would agree that just because Jesus didn’t affirm a particular practice does not mean he was against it.
In saying this, i do not believe that the absence of a confirmation or cancellation of tithing after the cross are proofs of either viewpoint.
Let’s steer away from these omitting arguments and address what Jesus did say in Matthew 23. At the very beginning of his rant in verse 1, Jesus states this, “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: 1 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works;” . . . . 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
What facts are here.
- Verse 1 it was at the same time, towards the same people and in the same rant as verse 23.
– The scene didn’t all of a sudden change from verse 1 to verse 23 to when Jesus addresses tithing. He was still talking to the same people at the same time, and within one continuous thought process.
- Verse 1 preceded the tithing comment and established a foundation for the rest of what Jesus was going to say.
– Verse one establishes the full context of what Jesus was going to say. We cannot just take verse 23 without at least reading at the start of this particular rant. Verse one addresses who he was talking to, why he was about to talk, and why it’s relevant to his audience.
- In Verse one, Jesus was addressing practices in the Mosaic law
– I don’t know how much clearer it could when Jesus affirmed the authority of the Pharisees through Moses’ seat.
- Jesus also told them to obey what the pharisees teach in the same passage as he affirmed tithing.
– Because we’ve read verse one, we know the context of the passage. We know who he was addressing and why it was relevant. We cannot say that Jesus statement about tithing is relevant to us, but his statement about obeying Moses isn’t.
Right off the bat in Warner’s first sentence in this section he states,
“There are many people what stand against tithing because they believe Jesus did not affirm the practice of tithing”
Actually, i know many prominent people who do not believe in tithing, but all of them believe that Jesus was affirming the tithe. You can’t deny it. He said, “This ought to have done”. How do you get around to denying that Jesus wanted the disciples and pharisees to tithe. What we disagree on is that Jesus was confirming the tithe for those under the law still. You can re-read what i wrote a few sentences above.
3. WE CAN’T ROB GOD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
I am failing to find any obvious defensible arguments in this section, so i’m not sure which direction i’m going to take this.
As a steward i’m not sure why anyone in my position on tithing would feel that we can’t rob God in the New Testament? Being a steward reminds me of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Two out of three servants returned the talents to their master with interest. The third servant, who buried his talent, returned 100% of it; but was still called wicked.
Like i said already, i’m not sure if i’m following your reasoning in this section, but from what i think; it seems that because i don’t practice tithing, i am not practicing the heart of giving found through tithing. This confuses me because of the example of circumcision you give. Somehow, i can fore go circumcision and still continue it’s practice in my heart, but i can’t fore go tithing and still continue it’s practice in my heart?
Warner tries to go about defending tithing in another way. He begins to describe sins of the heart and the actual, physical committing of sin. You may remember Jesus allusion to murder and hatred in the New Testament, where he explains that hatred is no different than murder. Warner writes this,
“There are two ways to commit adultery in the New Testament, physically and mentally. It can be likewise argued that there are now two ways to rob God. Failing to tithe with a heart of love was offense number one.”
The error here is that the New Testament does introduce new sin. Mental adultery, hatred, or any other principle is not introduced in the New Testament. Since when did God ever approve hatred, or lust of the mind? Never.
4. THE EARLY CHURCH DIDN’T TITHE
As far as i know there is no record of the early Church giving a tench of their increase. You mention that first fruits are synonymous with the tithe, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, and somewhat blasphemous when considering the representation of first fruits with Christ.
The tithe and the first fruit offering were completely separate offerings with separate purposes. As a matter of fact, the tithe was not allowed to be the first and the best. In Leviticus 27 God addresses the tithe of flocks and specifically states this, “And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it”
This is a pretty blatant and obvious statement about the tithe that would be impossible to ignore. There are many contrasts between the tithe and the first fruit that i will not dive into. but the most obvious to me is the representation of first fruits with Christ. The first fruit was the first and the best. If you were a farmer, and you gave the first of your fruit and the best, essentially you are giving 100% of what you harvested so far. For Israel, the first fruit was picked some time before the actual harvest. If i were to give God the first of my harvest i would be giving him 100% of all that i am actually capable of since the rest of the harvest is not prepared yet. In the same way, Jesus was God’s only son. He was the first to come and the best to come. Jesus was not a tithe where God didn’t care whether he was good or bad. Jesus was a 100% sacrifice, not ten-percent.
Comparing the tithe with the first fruit severely diminishes the portrait of Christ found in the first fruit offering. This doctrinal fallacy intertwining the best of your first fruits along with 10% of ALL your increase has taken a stronger hold with the expansion of the prosperity gospel movement.
5. TITHING MUST BE LIFELESS BECAUSE IT IS OLD TESTAMENT LAW
I somewhat agree and disagree with this statement. I agree with it in the fact that one can tithe and still do it with a cheerful heart, obediently, and sacrificially, but i disagree in that the substitute for tithing in comparison makes the law of tithing lifeless. But i will address that [the substitute] later. I can agree that Old Testament laws can be viewed as tools and regardless of my belief on tithing, i do belief one can give 10% and still benefit from blessings. I feel the same way about many exercises. For instance, if you make your bed every day, i’m sure you benefit from it’s exercise and you also are disciplining yourself into cleanliness. Does this mean that those who do not make their bed are dirty and wrong?
I’m confused because you anticipate our freedom from legalism in the New Testament, but defend the necessity of calculating our giving. I’ve already accepted that tithing can be done with a cheerful and willing heart, but regardless of what anyone knows about scripture who wouldn’t look at that statement and see the contradiction?
You made a statement, and to me this is a great example to expound on. You said, “Loving God with all your heart was and is the greatest commandment. Failure to perform the law was the second symptom of a love gone wrong.”
This reminds me of what happens when we are sick. For instance when i get the flu virus, i develop symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, and runny nose. Many of us treat the symptoms with cough medicine and aspirin, but that’s not the cure. We may be able to regulate the symptoms so that on the outside we look rosey and cheerful. This enables us to continue our duties and appear to be functioning normally, but on the inside there’s a battle.
I’ve always said that you can find God’s laws in the lessons, not the exercises.
6. ERRANT VIEWS ON WHAT OLD TESTAMENT LAWS APPLY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
I think we both know that this can be a redundant debate about semantics. You know the questions about what is the law . . . what was abolished . . . what was continued . . . what parts of the mosaic law continued . . . what part did not . . . if they also apply to the NT can we really consider them mosaic laws? . . .bla, bla, bla, etc, etc, etc. This type of debate becomes too complex. i summed up my belief above in the previous section by saying, “You can find God’s laws in the lessons, [not] the exercises.” This is as simple and plain as i can state it. I haven’t found any reason valuable enough to discuss this topic in much detail. I used to sit and categorize all this stuff, and then define all these terms. Maybe i’m oversimplifying it, but it seems to work for me.
“Tithing was not something distinctly Jewish, tithing and giving, both, developed unity and a heart for God.”
Ok, did i miss something? You stated a fact – ‘tithing was not Jewish’. Then proved your point with nothing. Circumcision can also cause unity and a heart for God. wearing sackcloth can create unity and a heart for God, but it’s not a cause to require it.
I wanted this to be my conclusion but i have to address Warner’s conclusion first
Christ amended the law in the New Testament to have people give joyfully from their heart?
What kind of baloney (want to use another word really) is that? Does what Brian Warner say make any sense? So, Israel could give however they wanted, with a bad heart and all, as long as it was a tithe. Shesh!
The last item i want to address in Warner’s paper is this,
“A church that has just ten tithing families can often support a pastor and basic ministries. Yet, churches with far more ‘free-will givers’ will often struggle to survive, resort to fund-raisers, bake sales, and renting out their facilities for survival income.”
The statement here takes the cake. There are countless ministries that are supported without tithing. Certain religions and denominations thrive without tithing such as Lutherans and Jehovah’s Witnesses. World renowned pastors – Francis Chan, John Piper, & John Macarthur have spoken against tithing. Thousands of Christian ministries and organizations thrive without a single tithe. Missionaries do not have a following that tithes to them. There are non-christian organizations that rely on donations to thrive. So how much more would God take care of his Church?
To be honest my conlusion is best stated in my PDF download found here https://www.tithing.com/Breaking-and-Embracing.pdf if you go to page 43, you can read the chapter called “Greater Giving”. It will explain more in detail about my views, but i will try to state a part of my view below. Let me address one point in your conclusion. You stated that a church with free-will givers will often struggle to survive and resort to fund-raisers. Let me provide an example to you. You can listen to Francis Chan’s view on tithing. In summary . . . Francis Chan is a pastor of Cornerstone Community Church who does not believe in tithing and gives 90% of his income away, and in 2008 it was reported that his church gave 55% of it’s income to charitable causes. I believe the Church has about 4000 members. I’m sure you are thinking that’s only one example. Ha, yeah i know. Not too many pastors out there that are bold enough to let go of that doctrine and allow the Holy Spirit to control the budget. John MacArthur does not believe in the tithing practice either.
I believe Spirit led giving is the foundation for New Covenant giving. Church movement is naturally dictated by the calling of the Spirit upon individual’s lives. Pastors and Missionaries are called every day, to abruptly leave their lives in a comfortable home in order to minister to a group of individuals in another country or city. In the Old Testament your level of ministry in the temple was dictated by the specifications outlined in the Mosaic law. Naturally, God provided a means through the Mosaic law for others to provide for them. This created an essential balance in the system.
It is important to understand why the ‘funding’ and the ‘calling’ should both originate from the same administrator. If your boss told you to take a business trip across the world, would you expect him to pay for it? The same is true for the Church. Your pastor didn’t get his calling from the bible. He didn’t all of a sudden open up john chapter 4 and read, “Pastor bob, i want you to go to africa”. This is not how God calls us in the Church. Sure, reading the torah worked for the Levitical tribe. They knew exactly what their calling was.
The book of Acts is appropriately named due to the action of the Holy Spirit upon the lives of the early church. The Holy Spirit wouldn’t call sunday school teachers, small group leaders, accountants, ushers, deacons, and volunteers, and not call others to support them. If the Holy Spirit can call missionary Bob to go to the deepest jungles of Africa, i believe the Holy Spirit is capable of moving a few individuals to commit to giving once a week. He is not inadequate. Does it even make sense that the Holy Spirit responsible for calling ministers within your Church but only responsible for financing ministers outside your Church?
I could dive into more spiritual and doctrinal reasons of why Spirit led giving is the authoritative method in the New Testament. For now, my explanation comes from more of a functional aspect then it does anything else. Please read my PDF if you wish to have a broader understanding of why i believe what i do.