Where Do We Start?

Four years of research on this subject of giving has proven one thing: Christian churches have no definitive position. A few denominations present themselves as having one standpoint, yet individual churches, pastors, and church leaders often differ in various aspects or disagree outright. While it is easy to take the road of compromise, believing that it really doesn't matter and that each church can do what it pleases, the church is supposed to be based on absolute truth. If we can agree with the fundamental premise that God has revealed everything we need to know about Him and about Christian living, then we have an obligation to search for that truth. Contrary to today's popular opinion, people can't hold to opposing truths and claim them all to be true or acceptable. While they all could be wrong, it's impossible for them to be simultaneously true. Others in the church have adopted another popular misconception, one best summarized as the "why bother!" position. Believing that it is impossible to definitively prove which method of giving is proper for a believer, they claim there is no need to try. All who hold to this have implicitly claimed that God is incapable of clearly expressing His will for His people. But if this is true, how can we ever know how to please God?

In presenting a biblical position on giving - a topic sometimes called "Christian Stewardship" - a host of aspects must be examined. Differences in practices from the Old to New Testament, if any, must be considered. What is commonly meant by numerous terms needs to be defined; including tithes, offerings, and gifts. Additionally, the specifics of what is referenced by a given term can and does vary greatly among people, in and out of the church. Even the arguments and Bible passages used to justify or nullify practices differ immensely. Perhaps the greatest question comes down to this, "How should Christians give?"

Go to five churches and you can hear five different ideas regarding the tithe, let alone their teachings on the broader topic of giving. Merely establishing the past or present practice of a group, church, or denomination does not become sufficient proof that a practice is Biblical - even if that practice has historical roots. Following one of the fundamental tenets of the Protestant Reformation, Scriptures Alone (Sola Scriptura) must be our absolute and authoritative source for all Christian belief and practice. Fulfilling this mandate, to establish a biblical pattern for giving, requires a detailed and orderly examination of every aspect of this topic and an honest effort to set aside traditions and personal biases. To assist with this, within each section we will establish questions that need to be answered. It's important that you take the time to come to a Biblical response to every one of these questions. Ignoring them doesn't make them go away.

The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions, but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh Biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform. (John Stott, "Basic Stott," Christianity Today, January 8, 1996)

Stepping immediately into the fray, one of the first topics under consideration must be the tithe. Virtually everyone who has attended a church service, or has seen one on TV, has heard about this topic. Sermons are preached on the subject; people are implored to give their tithe. The phrase, "We now wait upon you for your tithes and offerings," has become a mantra in many churches before the plates are passed. The question remains; is the tithe a church tradition or a command of God? Merely asking this question is tantamount to rebellion in many churches - an assault on the finances of the church. Stoning the messenger, or questioner, is considered more desirable than even remotely considering that this venerable practice could be anything but Biblical.

Don't fear those who may mock your search for God's truth and question your motives. They show their insecurity and perhaps their lack of biblical proof for their own stance. If a position is firmly grounded in Scriptures, no teacher or church leader should fear the one who searches Scriptures for the truth.

"All of the arguments against tithing are people looking for reasons not to give," the SBC official said. (Jack Wilkerson, vice president of business and finance for the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, from an article entitled Tithing: What should the church teach its members about giving? Baptist Press News, July 11, 2003)

We will again affirm that the goal of this work is to not give anyone excuses to not give, but rather to answer the questions of how and why we should be giving.

As believers, we need to be willing to question everything that is taught to us in Jesus' name and then hold fast to that which is from God. In an era where everyone wants easy-to-swallow sound bites, true Bible study takes time. Any topic found in numerous books of the Bible must be examined across all of them. Since the Bible never contradicts itself, passages that can be used out of context to justify a position need to be seen from the view of the whole. If it stands up to this scrutiny, it's a valid interpretation of Scripture... if it falls, then a person must go on to look for the overall unity that a Biblical position must have. The maxim "Scripture interprets Scriptures" is a cornerstone of all Biblical interpretation.

"For indeed the holy and God-breathed Scriptures are self-sufficient for the preaching of the truth." (Athanasius, written circa 318, author of two apologetical treatises addressed to a convert from heathenism, Against the Gentiles, & On the Incarnation of the Word.)

Following a brief examination of Christians as a giving people, our starting place we will be to separate the phrase "tithes and offerings" and firstly - due to its prominence - examine the topic of tithing on its own merits. Other forms of giving will be subsequently dealt with. Be willing to ask the hard questions, pray for wisdom, and search God's word for the answers. It is our prayer that this work will help you on that journey and that God will be glorified by the result.

Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (NASB)

1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

One final thought on getting started, especially for those who like to skim through books. Be careful to not randomly pull some of our cited quotations and think we offer them, or their sources, with endorsement. The only wholehearted endorsement we make is to the multitude of Scriptures quotations we have included. If you skip over the Scriptures you have missed the point. A qualified endorsement will be seen for some of the historical works and encyclopedic sources, and very little for the modern passages. The vast majority of contemporary excerpts used throughout - from books, tracts, and web articles - are solely for the purpose of showing how divided the church is on this issue. In this regard, it's safe to presuppose that the bottom line is no different than studying Scriptures; context matters!