Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Question about tithing

QUESTION:

I have just read your answer to the evangelist who asked about TITHING.

I was "grateful" that you gave such a balanced and open answer - both to him, and also as regards to the honesty of there being NO CLEAR ANSWER regarding a New Testament Tithe.

My own question relates to the USE of the tithe (to those of us who believe it remains as part of our Christian commitment), and to the CALLING of responsibilities to the individual as a part of our responsibilities and freedom (and the authority needed to DO what we are called) under the teaching of "Priesthood of the Believer."

How do we "respond" to a leading of our heart concerning a ministry we wish to support when our church "decision-makers" (Elders, Senior Pastor, Missions Team, etc.) DON'T share our view of supporting that ministry?

Does the authority given to each of us as believers, allow us to hear our OWN heart as regards to financial support (beyond just a GIFT)? Do we have the biblical "authority" to designate where a portion (or even ALL) the Tithe should be directed?

Robert.

ANSWER:

Robert:

Thank you for stopping by, and thank you for the question. You speak of a long standing disagreement among fine Bible believing Christians. I also see that there are very strong feelings between you and some other servants of Christ. Let me first generally stake out the two different positions, and then to objectively attempt to give some common reasons why people believe as they do. 

First, there are those denominations (and local churches) who believe that all giving should go to the church, and then missionaries and other worthy causes will be supported as determined by church officials. This falls under the general title of “storehouse giving” taken from Malachi, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” (Malachi 3:10). However, that text does not say what happens to money beyond the tithe, and it is also addressed to the Old Testament Jewish arrangement – not the New Testament church. 

It is also true that the church should give to worthy causes and mission support. Paul wrote, “and you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone” (Philippians 4:15). That church had delegated Epaphroditus to deliver the financial support to Paul in prison. 

On the positive side of this viewpoint, church leaders may be better equipped to filter out bogus mission projects, or unproductive evangelists who have a great sales pitch, but live lavishly. Denominations can also provide better selection, support, accountability, and planning for their missionaries. The advantage to the missionaries on the field is that they don’t need to worry about their support level, because they are paid by the denomination. 

Another advantage is that many times individuals in a local church will champion their own individual projects that are not very effective to the cause of Christ. Those projects siphon off funds from more productive mission projects. They may also detract from the good programs the church is involved in. If money is given to the church, better control can be maintained.

But then, sometimes church leaders are not well versed on how to determine a very productive mission or charitable cause – or missionaries. Furthermore, they may devote most of the funds to pay for pastoral wages and building projects, etc., to the neglect of missions or effective spiritual ministry. In the case of denominations, it is possible that too much money goes to support a huge bureaucracy, and the money doesn’t filter down to real ministry – or to where the original donors intended for the money to go. 

To complicate the issue, however, sometimes churches do not support activities that are within legitimate Christian mission. An example would be liberal churches that support and/or affirm abortion or homosexual marriages. The question then becomes, “Should I give my money to a church knowing that it will end up financing projects or beliefs contrary to biblical teaching?” Should I give to a church or denomination that endorses practicing gay or lesbian couples to be the pastors?

Since we all will stand individually before the judgment seat of Christ, how would He then judge me if I financially supported things so contrary to His will? (Cf. Romans 14:10-12).

As another practical matter, I have served as a pastor, missionary, and Bible teacher. I found the financial distribution was unequal. I never had to worry about making a living while pastor – most do not. However, it was a constant struggle to maintain support as an independent missionary, and almost impossible as a Bible teacher. This website is my service as a Bible teacher (though I also teach at a seminary and get paid some), and I need to pay for this ministry out of my own pocket from Esmie’s and my day jobs. Yet, we reach thousands of people each month with Bible teaching.  

Now, let me switch gears. On the other hand, there is the “faith missions” movement and parachurch organizations in which individual missionaries go wherever they can to gain their individual support. People within this movement believe individuals are free to give as the Lord directs them. Organizations and individuals among this group include missionaries, evangelists, Bible schools, seminaries, Christian liberal arts universities, orphanages, hospitals, itinerant Bible teachers, rescue missions, Christian camps, retirement homes, and hosts of others. 

Even the most structured Christian organizations appeal directly to individuals to contribute outside the official church structure. For example, I just received an appeal directly from a Roman Catholic university for me to give directly to them. Even some widely respected television preachers who have both a church and successful independent ministry appeal for individuals to give directly to their independent ministry. Both J. Vernon McGee and Charles Stanley come to mind. I could also add Robert Schuller and Chuck Swindoll to the list.

Billy Graham appeals directly to individuals for support. I exercise at the local YMCA, and they have fund raising events that appeal to individuals outside the confines of a church – although they appeal to churches too. Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, Youth for Christ, YWAM and dozens of independent mission agencies are other examples. Even Conservative Baptists and other independent groups ask their missionaries to raise their own support from churches and individuals.

There is abundant Scriptural support for individual Christians to direct their giving to projects as led by their own conscience and wisdom – outside official church channels. I must be quick to add that Christians need to belong to a local church and financially support it. 

In your question you based your position on the degree of legitimate authority exercised by the church leaders, and also the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. One can certainly use those arguments, however, they can draw one into a never ending digression that become as complicated as the giving issue. I believe it is better to appeal to direct instructions and examples given in the New Testament. Let me do that now. 

First, there is the story of Jesus and the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The master gave money to his individual servants while he was away on a trip. He called them individually before him to give an account of the responsibility he had left them with. The results were that the master was happy with those individuals who had wisely invested in his work. Each individual had the freedom, responsibility and authority to invest the money wherever they wanted in the Kings work. 

Second, let me take another case: the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-4). You recall that they sold a piece of property, and pretended to give the entire sale price to the Apostles. Their sin was in deception, not on whether or not they gave all or just a portion to the Apostles (the official church). Peter said of the property and money, “While it (the property) remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it (the money) not under your control?” It seems to me that the couple was free to personally do whatever they wanted with the money.

Third, in another case, Paul took up a collection from individuals to support humanitarian needs for the Christians back in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). He, as an itinerant missionary, requested individuals within the churches to contribute to his fund raising appeal. He did not appeal to the church leaders to have people put money into the church account, and then for the leaders to decide on a predetermined amount to give to Paul. The verse states, “On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2). 

Again, Paul instructed the Corinthians regarding giving, “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion” (1 Corinthians 9:6). This seems to me to indicate that individuals were under obligation to take personal responsibility as to where their money was invested in the Lords work. 

Fourth, then there is Jesus. He certainly was not supported by the official religion of Judaism. They did not pay Him. But, he was supported by individuals (women) who went around the religious machinery to directly financially support Him (Cf. Matthew 27:55; Mark 15:40, 41). 

Fifth, James tells us, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15, 16). James did not call on the official church structure to support the poor person, but “one of you” as individuals – the ones who discovered the poor person. 

One might couple James teaching about individual responsibility to that of Paul who instructs those with money, “…do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). 

Sixth, there is the famous story of the Good Samaritan. The poor victim was traveling; robbers beat him up, robbed him, and left him in dire straits alongside the road. A priest passed by the poor fellow and ignored him, and so did the Levite. They both were in charge of the religious machinery and levers of power. They could have had the local synagogue help out the poor fellow in the story. But, they refused. 

However, an individual Samaritan stumbled across the wounded man, picked him up, took him to help, and paid the entire bill individually out of his own personal finances. He did not donate to the local synagogue to have them pay the hospital bill. He paid it directly from his own pocket. Jesus greatly commended this individual action, and it is implied that He condemned the indifferent actions of the leaders of the local synagogue. 

Seventh, there is also the instruction by Paul who states in the context of personal responsibility in the building the work of God, “but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor…But let each man be careful how he builds upon it…each man’s work will become evident…the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:8, 10, 13). Again, we see the emphasis on individual effort, responsibility, and accountability on how we serve Christ – which includes our giving.

Eighth, here is another case put together by Paul. He and Barnabas received support as did the other men who worked in gospel ministry, but they also worked at secular jobs to support themselves (1 Corinthians 9:5, 6). In the same context, he wrote that, “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). Paul specifically listed who those people were, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).

Then, Paul wrote in another place, “And let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). He is speaking of material support. Well, my point is this: if an individual benefits from the teaching of a Bible teacher, then the student is instructed as an individual to give directly to the support of the Bible teacher. 

To put an additional emphasis on this fact, if you want to bring up the issue of authority, this instruction is from Christ, and the Apostle Paul writing under the authority of Christ.

Ninth, even the Apostle John got into the fray on giving to traveling Bible teachers. He became rather pointed, in fact. In his third epistle, he is writing to his friend, a fellow by the name of Gaius. This man had individually supported traveling gospel workers, to which John applauded, “Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers…you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 5, 6, 7, 8).

John gave a resounding endorsement for the generous giving by Gaius to individual, traveling gospel ministers – who were probably evangelists and Bible teachers. He even implied that he also supported such ministers.

But, to make the case even more pointed, John had very sharp words for another man by the name of Diotrephes. This man was a leader in the church, and did not want the church to support the traveling ministers, nor did he want individuals to support them either. John rebuked Diotrephes in a letter directed to the church. This is what John wrote about this man, “if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church” (3 John 10). 

John even called the forbidding of individuals to directly financially support itinerant gospel workers as an act of evil (v. 11)! Ouch! Think about that for a minute. That is strong medicine!

Now, let me summarize my evidence: we as individuals are personally held responsible and accountable to Christ for the opportunities, resources, and quality of work we do toward the advancement of the cause of Christ. (This is for eternal reward, not for salvation, which is by faith alone). We are responsible to support those who are full time in gospel ministry in any way we can. 

And, based on the above sample of instructions and examples, we are also individually responsible to see to it that our financial giving ends up to the greatest profit for the advancement of the cause of Christ. The work of Christ is defined by the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and the Great Commandment (Mark 12:30, 31). We are not to neglect the local church.

In the final analysis, people tend to fall into the “either/or” trap. The truth of the matter, in my opinion, is that the local church, denominations, and individuals are all called to give generously, effectively, sacrificially, and with utmost integrity to those in gospel work. It is not an either this way or only that way decision to make.

Well, Robert, I suppose I have already stirred up enough trouble. If you give individually, I hope you don’t get excommunicated by your church. I have written these several pages to give you something to think about. There is more, but this is enough for now. My personal advice to you is to quietly go about doing what God has impressed on your heart, and not to stir up a fight in your church. All the best, and may you continue your faithful service to Christ.

And, as a P.S., since I am a Bible teacher, I would also “shamelessly” ask you to consider enrolling in Newman Bible Academy. Does this sound like something that would interest you? Please tell others of the website. And, thank you for your interest.

Dr. Newman

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