George Barna recently released the results of research he had done on people’s attitudes towards donating and tithing. The full report can be accessed here.
One of the things which he reported was that more Christians believed in tithing than who actually did it. According to his research only 5% of adults (in the USA) actually tithed. Surprising to me was to see that those who would describe themselves as evangelical Christians had the largest percentage who tithed (24%). What was even more surprising was to see that of the charismatic or Pentecostal Christians, only 11% actually tithed. If anyone had asked me, I would have dared to say that the numbers would have been switched around.
Writing on the origins of tithing, Barna says: “Strangely, tithing is a Jewish practice, not a Christian principle espoused in the New Testament. The idea of a tithe – which literally means one-tenth or the tenth part – originated as the tax that Israelites paid from the produce of the land to support the priestly tribe (the Levites), to fund Jewish religious festivals, and to help the poor. The ministry of Jesus Christ, however, brought an end to adherence to many of the ceremonial codes that were fundamental to the Jewish faith. Tithing was such a casualty. Since the first-century, Christians have believed in generous giving, but have not been under any obligation to contribute a specific percentage of their income.”
I would agree that the strict law of tithing will not be found in the New Testament. But in the New Testament we find principles which, I think, speak even louder than the laws about tithing. One of these examples would be to give cheerfully. And when I give cheerfully, I could easily give more than 10%.
One of the terrible mistakes which earlier missionaries made in Swaziland was to force church members to give a certain amount (in those days it was 2 Emalangeni, about 25 US cents) per year, otherwise they would not be allowed to take part in the holy communion! A system was developed where each church member had a little book, known as a “ticket” (amatikhedi), in which their contributions were recorded and only after they had given the prescribed amount were they allowed to take part in the communion. This system had the required results. Due to the shame linked to not being allowed to take part in the communion, every church member diligently paid their 2 Emalangeni. But that was all. They paid no more than this – whether they could afford it or not.
Fortunately those times are past. From time to time some of our members will still mention the “amatikhedi”, but nobody uses this system anymore. Of course, it is much more difficult to teach people to give cheerfully than it is to force them to give in order that they can take part in the communion, but it is definitely worthwhile to do it in this Biblical way.