(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.