Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

To Tithe or not to Tithe

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.


Friday, April 18, 2008 - Posted by | Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Giving, Mission, Swaziland, Tithing


  1. Um, what’s the difference between Pentecostal/charismatic and evangelical? I grew up believing that the two (three) terms are interchangeable, and to a large extent still do. Perhaps this explains why the numbers aren’t as expected: there are others uncertain how to categorise themselves… 🙂

    I like the emphasis on principles. My wife handles the money and ensures that we tithe each month. I make it my job to be happy about it! 🙂

    Comment by brad | Thursday, April 24, 2008 | Reply

  2. Good marriage principle!
    I wouldn’t start trying to define the differences between the terms. No, I don’t think they are interchangeable. I consider myself to be evangelical (believing that we are saved through the grace of God through what Jesus had done for us on the cross and that we have to accept this gift in faith) but I am not charismatic, in the sense of placing an “unbalanced” emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit or proclaiming that you need to have certain “special” gifts which will define your relationship with God. But that is just my personal way of distinguishing between the terms.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, April 24, 2008 | Reply

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