The OT Tradition of Tithing

These past days I have been having a wonderful conversation with my blogging friend Mike about giving and whether Christians are commanded to tithe. Here is my latest comment:

My issue with the tithe is really much more than the percentage. In the Old Testament it was established as a way to feed the priests and Levites enabling them to minister at the temple. The tithe was never monetary but given in the form of grain and animals. When it is taught this baggage comes with it:
  1. The clergy are now the NT priests and Levites;
  2. Money is substituted for food;
  3. The storehouse is now a church instead of the temple.
In my view this is simply not the way to challenge people to be generous but a way to keep the clergy employed and church buildings maintained.

Why not simply teach people to be generous and then trust the Lord to meet the needs of the clergy? Why revert to Old Testament methodology to feed them?

The other aspect is how clergy is often very poor stewards of the tithe. Pastors ask people to give sacrificially to support their own salaries then treat this giving as if there was no sacrifice involved at all.

Instead, why not tell people to support the poor? As we are all priests, why not call pastors to be bi-vocational and reduce the need for tithes that support Levitical/Clerical salaries. Why embrace an Old Testament style of worship when there is a New Testament model (of fishermen and tentmakers) that we can follow? Why follow the traditions of Judaism or Catholicism when we do not have to?

Loving God

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT)

I have heard it said that the Ten Commandments can be summed up in one word - love. Jesus seems to echo that sentiment here when he tells us that the whole of the Old Testament is about loving God and the people who he has made. In a sense the Lord is giving us a measuring stick to evaluate everything that Moses, the law giver, and the prophets spoke in ancient times. He knew that even these great men were not perfect in all they said.

These words of Christ cause me to think about the religious things that often divert our attention away from these most important commandments - sometimes we really miss it when we our motive is not love. Even so, I think that love can be our guiding precept in all things religious and secular. If a word that we hear in church, on TV or at work lines up with love then it may be a sign that God is speaking to us - even when it is communicated by an imperfect vessel.

All that said, I think that we all have a tendency to discount love as just one of the ways that God works in us and our culture. Sometimes when read the scriptures we can imagine God as wrathful and not loving. I think that we err when we do. In my view, Jesus tells us in these verses that we are most like God when we love with everything we have. God is manifest when love overflows from us to those around us. When we are loving God everything is different.

Knowing God

I think that the topic of a personal relationship with God is fairly misunderstood because it is very different than earthly ones. In my view this relationship begins when one is introduced to Him by being born of the Spirit of God - it is all about having God living in us. Yet the idea that God "talks to us" in this relationship (as we talk to our friends) is one that can be confusing because it means so many things to so many people.

In the scriptures we see this relational communication in many ways. It is sometimes described as a still small voice or simply a sense in our innermost being of what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us. I have sensed God's voice both in prayer and not in prayer. I have heard Him speak to my innermost being with questions that have changed the course of my life. That said, I think that it is unique with each of us because we are all so different.

All that considered I think that the word 'personal' is a dangerous one when used in this context. A relationship with God is never personal in the sense that loving God always involves loving people. One really cannot love God in isolation. Reading through the bible one can readily see how this divine relationship can affect others.

Not sure that I am making sense here - guess it is difficult to tell someone else 'how' to have a relationship with God as words like love, faith and trust (things essential to relationship) mean something different to each of us. Yet those words do help us to understand what it means to know God. Perhaps I will write a bit more about this?