(This is part B of a two-part study. It is recommended you read Idols in The Temple Part 4: The Tithe (A) first).
In Part A of our study on tithing, we examined some faulty foundations frequently used to justify the practice of paying tithes. Tithe teachers will tell us that tithing is a form of worship. Seriously? It is not, it is a tax. Free will offerings are worship, whether that offering be monetary, time, or service. The worship God desires is a surrendered heart, not a designated portion of our income (Rom. 12:1).
Another questionable doctrine often taught by tithe teachers is that modern-day tithing is an ongoing scriptural principle pre-dating the Old Testament Mosaic law. This teaching is largely based on a passage in Genesis 14, where Abram paid a tithe to a mysterious priest named Melchizedek. Let’s unpack this in the light of the New Covenant. Again, context is crucial.
In Genesis 14 we find Abraham, then called Abram, caught in the middle of a battle between four pagan kings and another five. Abram is drawn into this battle in defense of his relative Lot, who has been taken captive. After Abram has victoriously rescued Lot and his household, he returns to his dwelling place where he is met by both the King of Sodom and Melchizedek, a mysterious holy man.
And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all (Gen 14:17-20).
Proponents of the tithing doctrine often teach that Abraham brought his tithe to Melchizedek, (whose name means king of righteousness), because Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ. So, what do we know about Melchizedek?
Hebrews 7:3 has this to say about him: ‘without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually’. Hebrews also tells us that Christ is High Priest forever, in the same order of priesthood as Melchizedek (Heb. 5:6; 6:20).
The context here is the comparison of two priesthoods: the Levitical priesthood, instituted by Moses and which was for a limited time in Jewish history, and the Melchizedek priesthood, which pre-dates the Law, obviously instituted by God, and which is eternal. The writer to the Hebrews is making the point that Christ’s priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood and that Christ is the eternal Great High Priest of a timeless priesthood, called the Melchizedek priesthood (Heb. 4:14)
Membership of the Levitical priesthood was based entirely on genealogy, or who your parents were. Under the Mosaic law priests needed to be members of the tribe of Levi, able to trace their human ancestry back to Aaron, the first high priest. Christ, of whom Melchizedek was a prophetic type, came from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, and was not part of the Levitical priesthood. He was outside all the rules of genealogy under the Law, yet is now declared by God to be Great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Christ was not made like Melchizedek, except in the type of priesthood, which is without genealogy and continues forever. Melchizedek, however, was made “like the Son of God”. In other words, he was an Old Testament prophetic type of Christ, of which there are more than one (e.g. Adam, Isaac, Joseph etc.).
The scripture does not teach us that Melchizedek was Jesus Christ. Furthermore, if Christ’s priesthood is of the order of Melchizedek, then the nation of believer-priests He established, otherwise known as His church, are also after the order of Melchizedek. So why would we place ourselves under Mosaic law?
To use Abraham’s one-tenth tribute to Melchizedek, an ancient type of Christ’s priesthood, as justification for demanding tithes from New Covenant believers is misleading and wrong for the following reasons:
- Tithing to a local authority was commonly practiced by the nations and tribes of Abraham’s time.
- Abraham did not tithe any of his personal goods, only spoils of the battle which were not his personal property, but which he had a right to keep (14:6)
- While Abraham gave one tenth of these spoils of war as tribute to the mysterious high priest, Melchizedek, he also gave 90% to the pagan king of Sodom ( 14:21-24). So which is it to be? If we are to use this obscure passage as proof that New Testament believers should be emulating Abraham, then we need to acknowledge Abraham also contributed the great bulk of these spoils to an idolatrous, pagan king. Should we follow Abraham’s example in the first instance, but not the second?
Let’s consider some other facts about Abraham; originally from a moon-worshiping culture he was called out by God to be the physical source of the Hebrew nation. But Abraham, like the rest of us, was on a progressive spiritual journey. His revelation of Yahweh, the one true living God, was gradually unfolding, but he was often still subject to the cultural customs of his era. As such he was not a ‘born again Christian” as many may imagine.
Abram was gradually emerging from the pagan superstitions, customs and cultural practices of his natural environment. Twice he lied about his relationship to his wife to preserve his own life (Genesis 12:11-20; 20:1-14); he believed in his right to father children outside his marriage (Gen: 16:2); and he was not unfamiliar with the practice of child sacrifice (though I am in no way suggesting he practised it) (Gen. 22:1-14).
Should we therefore emulate Abraham’s lifestyle or hold him up as an example to New Covenant believers?
YES! But in one very specific way, and one way only. Faith!
The New Covenant, our Covenant with God, makes it very clear that Abraham’s righteousness was imputed to him by God solely because of his faith. (Rom. 4:19-25; Gal. 3:5-9. Heb. 11:17-19). Abraham’s story is preserved for us to encourage us to a higher level of faith, but we are not taught to copy his actions.
To teach that tithing is a New Covenant requirement because Abraham honored an ancient custom by tithing from spoils of war, or to twist scripture to say that non-tithing is somehow ‘robbing God’ has no basis in the New Testament at all.
Why have I included tithing in my list of modern idols in the temple? Because the tithe provides the resources on which the religious kingdoms of men and women are founded and continually increase. It misrepresents God and robs God’s people of the freedom obtained by Christ at Calvary.
The tithe has become firmly entrenched as a crucial cog in the wheel of the great machine called organized Christianity. Without the worship of the tithe countless mighty auditoriums, state of the art media systems, late model cars, private jets, luxury homes and who knows what else, could not be purchased. Unknown numbers of false prophets, false teachers and false apostles would have to get a real job. Unimaginable amounts of money that currently go towards propping up our modern church industry could be returned to the poor or dispersed into compassionate outreach by spiritually gifted individuals who carry the authentic Life of Christ to the world.
Tithe teachers will tell you your tithes are necessary for them to ‘continue the work of God and preach the gospel’. This sounds commendable but too often the gospel that is being preached is a false one, because it is based on law-keeping, prosperity teaching and personal kingdom building. I, and many others have witnessed first-hand the results of this exported ‘gospel’ from the Western church into Africa, Asia and other places where the poor are taught to believe their salvation depends on how much money they ‘sow’ into their local church or the ministry of some questionable ‘man of God’.
My friends, hear me, the sons are free! (Matt. 17:26). What matters to God is not your money, (He doesn’t need it), but your freedom. All we own is God’s, not just ten percent of income. It matters not one iota to me whether you choose to donate ten percent, thirty percent, ninety percent or one hundred percent into God’s work. Tithe if that is your choice. You are free to do so. But if you have been infected with this insidious false doctrine and are seeking to walk in truth, test yourself. Try refraining from tithing for a while, and see if you are equally free. You may be free to tithe, but are you free not to tithe? If you find yourself struggling with guilt and condemnation, then you are not yet walking in the fullness of freedom bought for you by Christ at Calvary.
Idols in the Temple hide among us in unexpected and hidden places of the heart, masquerading as holiness, misrepresenting God, intent on deceiving and bringing the Bride of Christ into spiritual bondage.
But thanks be to God – the sons are free!
*Related: For a very in-depth and excellent study on this subject I suggest Should The Church Teach Tithing by Russel Earl Kelly.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.
12 thoughts on “IDOLS IN THE TEMPLE Part 4: The Tithe (B)”
A lot of good thoughts here, Cheryl. As a young believer I told the Lord I wasn’t going to tithe unless He told me to. I didn’t see the scriptural basis either. I remember He took me to Malachi about bringing in the whole tithe & He showed me Christ—Jesus brought the whole tithe at the cross. I was & am free from any requirement to tithe in any sense. I do give regularly to various ministries. But for me, it is a way to participate in Jesus’s self-giving nature, the One who already brought in the whole tithe. And yes, I am free to not give 😉 Thanks. To make giving a rule robs us of free fellowship with Christ.
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How true mrteague!
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Very good and bold article. It has always bothered me to see very poor people especially here in Africa, working very hard in order to pay the tithe and unlock God’s blessings.
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Thankyou Lydia. I totally agree with you.
African believers are milked by false ‘prophets, apostles’ and the ‘man of God’ gurus. Agreed Lydia, from a South African Jesus follower.
Some really bold, clear thinking here, and biblical too, a rarity in our day! Thanks Cheryl.
Well said, Cheryl. I’ve been enjoying these articles on the “idols!” Keep ’em coming!
Concerning tithing, I’d like to offer some food for thought from my own musings on the matter that might give a fresh perspective on it from a spiritual standpoint. I’d be interested to know your thoughts. When it comes to types and shadows in the Old Covenant finding their fulfillment in Christ in the New Covenant, is it possible that the tithe, likewise, was intended to be a type and shadow of something purely spiritual in the New Covenant that relates to the corporate life of the ekklesia? For instance, is it possible that the Lord was foreshadowing His desire that when His people gather as His “spiritual house”, that each one would bring the very best of the “spiritual grain” (Christ the Word, the Bread of Life), “spiritual new wine” (Christ the indwelling Life/Spirit), and “spiritual oil” (Christ the Anointed One/anointing)? Could the tithe actually be the “spiritual top ten percent” of all that we have been increased with from laboring on and living off of the “spiritual land” (Christ) all week. (…think 1 Corinthians 14:26 “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has…) Could this be how God would fill His house with abundance and provide for the sustenance of His priesthood (believers)? If we would honor Him in this way, is it possible that He would fulfill His promise to throw open the windows of heaven and pour out such a blessing that we would not be able to contain it? Is it possible that THIS is how we are actually robbing God in our day by failing to bring these whole “spiritual tithes” into the “living storehouse”. It seems consistent with the Scriptures that the natural tithe would have been dragged through the cross and resurrected up onto high, heavenly, spiritual ground along with every other aspect of Old Covenant worship and service, and that this would be the present meaning of the tithe for the church in this dispensation. I wanted to offer that as a possibility and a consideration. It seems there is a richness and a blessing there that we may be missing by merely viewing the tithe as a natural offering! That is how I have been thinking of it at least.
Interesting thoughts you’ve shared David. I am no theologian, and you may be right about the Lord foreshadowing the way He wants His New Covenant people to bring the very best to serve His corporate Body, through the OT tithe. However, personally I still see the natural tithe as part of the Law, and the Law was not redeemed at the Cross, but nailed to it. If we are to be said to be ‘robbing God’ in this day, I believe it would be by refusing to walk in the fullness of freedom His Son provided for us at a cost to both the Father and the Son we cannot even begin to comprehend. Therefore, my own view is that there is no place for any concept of a ‘tithe’, even a spiritual one, in the New Covenant. Any idea of bringing a ‘spiritual top ten percent’ brings back the problem of giving God, or His people, a portion. Christ gave His all, I believe we are to offer up all of ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice, and to start to think, or talk, in terms of a percentage would be problematic under the New Covenant. Thanks for raising some very thought-provoking issues!
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Thanks for sharing your perspective, Cheryl. I’d like to clarify one thing of what I’d written, and also respond to one thing that you said. When I spoke of a “spiritual top ten percent” it was in quotes to indicate it was a manner of speaking, and not literally a specific spiritual percentage. We know spiritual matters can’t be quantified that way, so I was merely speaking figuratively. “Spiritual firstfruits” would have been another way I could have said it, and the concept of firstfruits, which is closely connected to the tithe, is one that does come through the cross onto resurrection ground in the New Covenant. (See Rom.8:23, 11:16, 1Cor.15:20, 23, 2Thess.2:13, James 1:18, Rev.14:4)
Also, I agree that we are to offer up all of ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice to God, and not according to percentage terms, but when it comes to giving to His people a portion (percentage), I don’t see that as problematic. It is indeed what we do when we give things like our money, time, possessions, labor, resources, etc., and not 100% of all of those things. Spiritually speaking, the same is true. When we come together, we can each contribute a portion of the grace of Christ that we have, a portion here, a portion there, and when it all comes together, we have an abundance of the measure of Christ. In doing so, then, we should seek to bring the very best that we have to offer of the (spiritual) “grain, new wine, and oil” of Christ in us for the edifying of the saints. That’s what I was hoping to communicate. I hope it was helpful to some!
Grace and peace!
Thanks for the clarification David. Firstfruits is a much clearer analogy I think. Thanks for sharing!
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Cheryl, Excellent articles! Another scripture that is taught for tithing is 1 Cor. 16:1-2. Paul is not writing about giving our tithes for the church during each Sunday service. Rather he is writing that these Gentile believers in Corinth should give for the poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-28, Gal. 2:10). Isn’t it amazing that though many want to be free from the Law, yet they want to put themselves under the Law when it comes to tithing? We are free to tithe as you have said, but not obligated to. Thank you again for such an important message!
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Yes, excellent point you make Steve. It disturbs me greatly that straightforward scriptures such as these are taken away from their context and twisted and taught to build the personal kingdoms of men and women. Thankyou for your important comment!