New Testament Christian Church will remind it’s members, in every service and in every location, that “All Christians pay tithe!” What this means is, “All Christians are obligated to pay ten percent of their gross income to the pastor.” Occasionally, the person conducting the service, or presiding over the receipt of the tithes and offerings, will say in a rhetorical manner, “But I know some who don’t”, followed by “I said — All…A - L - L…all——Christians pay tithe.” This is another way of saying, “If they do not pay tithe, then they are not Christians.” The undisputed belief of this church is that you will go to hell if you do not pay it.
Is this right?
Our purpose here is not to embark upon an intensive Bible study, but to point out the characteristics of NTCC’s cult mentality, and to diagnose some conclusions as to the engine that drives it. For this reason, let us look briefly at the tithing principle itself.
Abraham gave to Melchizedec the high priest one-tenth of the spoil upon returning from battle. Jacob promised God one-tenth of everything that came to him. Beyond this we know little until the Exodus, at which point the God of Isreal’s deliverance required something from his people in order that they would remember their rescue from Egypt. What he required was their firstborn, as payment for the death of the Egyptians. As a substitute for the actual firstborn, He selected one tribe from among them to be his special servants. He chose the Levites, who would become the priestly family of Israel. Since the Levites were to dedicate themselves to the service of the Lord, they were given no real estate inheritance in the promised land. For this reason, the other Israelite tribes were required to pay tithes and offerings so that the Levites could live, eat, and offer sacrifices for the people. With the New Testament means of atonement comes the end of the priestly class, and with this passing there also passes the need for Chrstians to “work the land”, bring tithes and offerings of meat and grain into the Temple, and bestow them upon a population of priests consisting of approximately one thirteenth of the entire “congregation”. Through the agency of Christ, each one of us is now a priest of God.
NTCC maintains that the Old Testament priesthood is continued in the form of the New Testament professional ministry. This is unscriptural of course, but that has never stopped them from speculating wildly when the mood is right. Furthermore, they aver that the payment of tithes is strictly for the support of the ministry, so that local pastors become accustomed to looking upon the tithes as their “income”. Indeed that is the purpose, and the group encourages its “leaders” to achieve goals in the areas of attendence and giving. The result is pastoral leadership that places a premium on both teaching and enforcing a questionable practice for the sake of gain and personal advancement. In addition to this, you as a member of the church are required to place your tithe in a specially marked envelope so the pastor can keep track of your tithing habits. Make no mistake; this record is not for taxes. It is not for you to look at (unless you insist), but is entirely for the purpose of accountability. You must prove continually that you are a Christian by keeping your tithe record clear of interruptions. Any other explanation that the pastor might provide is a lie.
One passage of scripture used by NTCC and others to substantiate the New Testament tithe principle is Jesus’ words concerning Abraham; that if we are the children of Abraham we would do the works of Abraham. Although he was speaking to religious rulers, the statement can certainly qualify as of a general character. Paul later suggests that the true children of Abraham are those who live by faith. Therefore, if we as Christians are “children of faithful Abraham”, should we not do as he did?
There are two very important things in which Abraham took part that we are not to do. One is circumcision, and the other is animal sacrifice. These notable exceptions might reasonably be accompanied by others. The fact that Abraham takes us back to a time before the giving of ordinances and laws (that could not save us) does not mean that we must become followers of Abraham and copy his actions. In fact, there is only one principle point on which the New Testament dwells with regard to Abraham’s works, and that is the point of Faith. He believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. The New Testament requires Faith, but does not require blood sacrifice, circumcision, sabbath-keeping, dietary restrictions, or tithing.
In I Corinthians ch. 9, Paul explains to the Corinthian believers his logic in declaring that there is nothing wrong with his receiving material support in exchange for the spiritual help that he gives them. This passage is a favorite of NTCC preachers. Yet even in this very simple and humble statement, he does not require them to give him ten percent of their gross income. He does not pull out the Minor Prophet’s “where have you robbed me?” verse like so many preachers do. He merely sees himself as a man sent all over the known world by the mission that God has given him to carry out, and appeals to the Corinthians as brethren and as helpers in the work. He never asks them to give special offerings for the erection of a building in which to house their worship activities. He knows fully well that they are meeting in houses, and he does not look upon this as “settling for less”. Neither is there any place in the gospels or the epistles in which the payment of one-tenth is specified for Christians under grace, much less placed in the context of a commandment.
Generally, among the Apostles and early Christians, offerings were received on a voluntary basis for the primary purpose of sending material help and relief to the poor and suffering saints who were enduring local persecution. Period. New Testament Christian Church, as an institution, has never taken an interest in this very important ministry. They apparently lump all such efforts into the category of “charity work”, which they maintain is not the job of the church.
Jesus speaks of giving, and then exhorts his followers to do good to the poor, the weak, the helpless, and those who cannot repay kindness. Certainly at no time does he talk of the giving of offerings and paying required tithes to a local church assembly strictly for the support of a preacher and to make payments on (or toward) a building, a promotional program, or an array of ever-expanding facilities. Indeed, Christ places no stamp of personal approval upon any particular form of modern American Church-growth-ism. The disciples did none of these things, neither did they exemplify them for us. The early believers in sundry quarters did no such thing of which we are aware. The Apostles were not raising up an ungainly pyramid structure and then calling upon their followers to “pay up” in order to maintain and grow the system. So where did such mercenary considerations enter the picture?
The idea finds its roots in the policy of the Christian emperors and various underlords of Europe who, seeing the Church as a tool for political power and influence, lavished the Christians with favors which included gorgeous buildings in which to worship. In order to fund certain pet projects and to pay for the upkeep and support of a growing ministry class, citizens were required to pay tithes as a form of taxation. It has always been a matter of patronage, a tool of control for those in power, beginning with the emperors who created a stratum of clerical luminaries and priests; laid down after the pattern of pagan worship, and justified by appeals to the Old Testament priesthood.