Some time ago, in a previous post, I mentioned (threatened) that I would begin periodically sharing excerpts here from Dr. Gary North’s 1994 book, Tithing and the Church.
Well, sufficient time has passed that I need to at least make some effort to make good on that promise.
It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since that book was first published. Here is my question: is the church any more faithful now in its keeping of this Bible-mandated financial-planning practice than it was in the mid-1990s?
Is Washington, D.C. any less powerful (or corrupt) now in its exercise of Bible-mandated civil authority than it was in the mid-1990s?
In other words, obviously, a rhetorical question.
And we all know the answer: “No, but, Real Soon Now we hope things will be different!”
I have an idea. Rather than just hoping that the church will rediscover its historic task of financing the Kingdom of God through systematic tithing by its members, let’s each one of us be intentional and — yes I’m going to use that word — pro-active in setting the example and being doers of God’s Word on this important matter and not just hearers (and readers) of it.
Needless to say, because of the (controversial!) nature of its content, the book has not been well-received, particularly by Bible-believing Christians (surprise!).
A Unique Book
Gary prefaces his book, literally, with the following words. I post them here verbatim.
What you hold in your hands is unique: a book written by the head of a parachurch ministry published by that ministry which warns you not to send donations to that ministry unless you have already paid ten percent of your income to your local church.
My personal economic self-interest appears to be opposed to writing and publishing such a book. Because so few people tithe a full ten percent of their income to any church, this book seems to be economically suicidal. If this book does persuade people, they are presumably less likely to send money to any parachurch ministry including mine.
On the other hand, some readers may be willing to consider my thesis more readily when they recognize that someone whose personal self-interest seems opposed to such a thesis is nevertheless willing to go into print with it. If nothing else, readers will recognize that I take my thesis seriously. This book could bankrupt my ministry. It is still worth publishing.
There comes a time for someone in the Christian community to remind his fellow Christians of what God had Malachi say in His name, even if this costs his ministry some income:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts (Mal. 3:8-12).
Most pastors today do not believe Malachi’s warning. Of those who do believe it, there are not many who will go into the pulpit and preach it. Of those who do preach it, they do not preach it often. Of those who preach it often, they find that most members pay no attention except to suggest that the minister preach on something “less worldly.”
No church or denomination today is willing to bring sanctions against members who refuse to tithe. Preaching God’s law for the church without the ability to enforce it ecclesiastically is an exercise in futility. It is not surprising that pastors refuse to tackle this topic.
Even if they did, tight-fisted members could comfort themselves with this thought: “Well, he’s not an impartial witness. If everyone started paying his tithe, the church’s income would rise, and the pastor might get a raise.” The grumblers see self- interest as primarily economic. It never occurs to them that a pastor might preach on tithing because he is afraid that God’s warning through Malachi is still in force.
Here is the problem today: most Christians agree with all humanists regarding God’s predictable, covenantal, corporate sanctions in history, namely, such sanctions do not exist. But they do exist, which is one reason why I wrote this book. I fear these sanctions. Even if I pay my tithe, I may come under God’s corporate negative sanctions. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were carried into captivity by the Babylonians, despite the fact that they had preached the truth to doomed people who paid no attention to the threat of God’s predictable, corporate, covenantal sanctions in history. My conclusion: better to persuade Christians to pay their see donations to this ministry decline, and avoid the sanctions. This is what I call enlightened self-interest. It is called fearing God.
It never ceases to amaze me how many Christians do not pursue such enlightened self-interest.
I hope this book encourages pastors to preach on tithing. I hope it encourages church officers to re-think their responsibilities before God and men. I hope it changes the minds of those who read it. I hope it silences those who deny God’s covenantal sanctions in history. Finally, I hope it silences anyone who believes in these historical sanctions but who has decided that the local church is not entitled to the tithes of its members. Preaching such a version of the tithe is an ideal way to call down God’s sanctions on one’s head. I recommend against it.
And he’s just getting started!
Next time, we’ll look at the opening chapters of Part I: Church Sovereignty and the Tithe.