No doubt you’ve heard the cynic’s version of the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.
This is supposed to have come from a 1967 comic strip by Johnny Hart: The Wizard of Id.
As a kid, I read The Wizard of Id religiously. The title of today’s post, I think, is a somewhat more biblically-correct rendition of Hart’s humorous turn-of-phrase. He Who Makes the Rules Gets the Gold.
My version addresses two fundamental questions:
- Who makes the rules?
- Who owns the gold?
If you’ve read what the Bible says about private property and stewardship vs. ownership, you already know the answer.
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.
This leads us to installment #4 of my Tithing and the Church project.
Today’s chapter gets into the question of authority, namely, who has the authority to collect the tithe. It also gets into the clash between authority and autonomy. Here, too, a connection is made between the practice of mandatory tithing and Christians’ authority (and individual and corporate responsibility) to carry out the Great Commission — which, as Gary North describes it, offers a great “commission” plan to those who are employed in this long-term global enterprise. (But I don’t want to be a spoiler. You can read it for yourself. . . .)
AUTHORITY AND THE TITHE
Moreover he [Hezekiah] commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the LORD (II Chron. 31:4).
Hezekiah understood at least two things about the tithe. First, as king, he possessed the God-delegated authority to command Israelites to pay their tithes. Second, the Levites and priests had the God-delegated authority to collect these tithes. There was not a trace of “moral voluntarism” anywhere in the arrangement. The tithe in Israel was morally mandatory.
Was the tithe also legally mandatory? That is, did church and State possess the authority to impose negative sanctions against those who refused to tithe? The Mosaic law does not list any. The history of Israel does not provide cases where such sanctions were imposed. My conclusion is that the command to tithe that was issued either by priest or king was moral and exemplary rather than judicial.
The context also makes it clear that under the Mosaic Covenant, when covenant-keepers paid their tithes, God brought great wealth to them in a unique fashion (vv. 5-10). There is no biblical reason to believe that this system of corporate sanctions has changed in the New Covenant. Building wealth begins with tithing, and not just tithing as such – the whole tithe delivered to the local church: a single storehouse (Mal. 3:10). Respect for God requires respect for God’s institutional church. This means that we must pay our tithes to the local church as a duty.
Without access to a growing quantity of economic resources, Christians will not be able to extend God’s dominion. If a person cannot afford to buy or lease the tools of production, he will remain a salaried worker in someone else’s enterprise. He will remain, economically speaking, a second-class citizen. So, subordination to the institutional church, manifested by the payment of the tithe, brings the economic means of dominion. He who is subordinate to God reigns in history. This is a basic principle of biblical hierarchy: point two of the biblical covenant.1
Tithing and Dominion
There was a time, over three centuries ago, when the Puritan merchants of London exercised national influence far out of proportion to their small numbers. They were the English capitalists of the seventeenth century. They were also the source of almost half of the charitable giving of the nation. This gave them considerable political influence. Cromwell’s militarily successful revolution against the crown added to their influence, 1650-1660, but they had not gained this influence militarily; they had gained it economically and charitably, beginning in the.late sixteenth century.2
In this century, the State has replaced private charity as the primary source of money and support for the poor. The State is perceived as the primary agency of healing. For as long as its money holds out – and still buys something – the State will continue to be regarded as the healer of the nation. But this ability to heal rests on political coercion and bureaucratic control. The State is now reaching the limits of its ability to confiscate the wealth of nations, all over the world. If its ability to exercise dominion by creating dependence by means of continual grants of money is ever interrupted by economic or other social disruptions, there will be a temporary void in society. That void will be filled by something. Authority flows to those who exercise responsibility. Who will that be?
Who should it be? Christians. But Christians are ill-prepared today to exercise such responsibility. They are themselves dependents on the State. They, too, send their children to public schools, collect Social Security checks, and plan their lives on the assumption that the State will serve as an economic safety net. The State’s wealth-redistribution system has steadily eliminated competition from private charitable and educational associations. When the State’s safety net breaks, as it surely will, most Christians will find themselves as economically unprepared as everyone else. They have been taught to trust that which is inherently untrustworthy: the modern messianic State. When this trust is finally betrayed, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in churches, Christian college classrooms, and other supposedly sanctified places.
In that day, there will be a shift in local and national leadership, as surely as there was during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Regarding this coming shift in leadership, the question today is: Who will inherit authority? The answer is: those who bear the greatest economic responsibility in the reconstruction of the economy.
Will this be the church? If not, why not? If not, then who?
Redemption: Definitive, Yet Progressive
The basis of biblical dominion in history is the redemption of the world. To redeem something is to buy it back. This process of long-term repurchase began at Calvary.
At Calvary, Jesus paid God the full redemption price. He did not pay it to Satan. Satan had occupied the world only as a squatter occupies it: until the owner comes to evict him. When Adam fell, he lost tide to everything, including his own life. God, by grace, granted Adam an extension of his temporal life. But by “having subordinated himself covenantally to Satan through his act of rebellion, Adam had brought whatever God had “granted to him under the temporary domain of Satan.
Satan did not gain lawful title over the earth, since Adam had forfeited this title back to God. Satan has gained administrative control for as long as Adam’s heirs remain alive and also remain under Satan’s covenantal authority. Satan would have lost this administrative control had God executed Adam in the garden, for Satan’s legal claim was dependent on Adam’s legal claim. Adam’s claim was null and void except through God’s common grace in history: life, knowledge, time, authority over nature, and capital.3
Jesus definitively paid God the full redemption price. This does not authorize His heirs the right to collect immediately on their inheritance. The world-redemption process is a process. It is progressive, although grounded legally in ]esus Christ’s definitive act of redemption. In this sense, world redemption mirrors personal sanctification. At the moment of his redemption in history, the redeemed person receives by God’s judicial declaration the moral perfection of Christ’s perfect humanity. But this moral perfection, while definitive and judicially complete, must be developed over time. Sanctification is progressive: a working out in history of the moral perfection of Christ.4 This is why Paul wrote of the Christian way of life as a race with a prize at the end:
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (I Cor. 9:24-27).
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you (Phil. 3:14-15).
The Greatest Commission System Structure
God has given to the Church a Great Commission: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:18-20). This commission is well known among Christians. What is not recognized is the commission system by which the Great Commission is carried out.
When a company establishes a commission payment system to reward its sales force, it designs it so that the individual salesman has a financial incentive to stay on the road or the phone for long hours. He is expected to develop continually his powers of persuasion so as to produce more revenue for the company per contact. The higher the commission, the greater the incentive. The higher the commission, the more qualified the salesmen who will be attracted to join the sales force.
The company must balance the rewards offered to salesmen with the rewards offered to other members of the operation: salaried personnel, investors, bankers, and suppliers. But to maximize the number of sales, there is no doubt that a large commission paid to salesmen is the great motivator. Some companies may pay as much as 20 percent of gross revenues to the sales force.
God, the owner of the whole earth, has established the most generous commission structure in history: 90 percent after expenses is retained by the sales force. Any business that would offer its sales force 90 percent after expenses would attract the most competent salesmen on earth. The firm would be flooded with applicants for any sales position that might open up. This is what God offers to His people. They keep 90 percent; His church receives ten percent; the State is entitled to no more than ten percent (I Sam. 8:15, 17). But men rebel. They think this tithe burden is too onerous. They have been deceived.
The Con Artist
Satan appears,on the scene and makes a more attractive offer: “Keep it all!” He can afford to make this offer: he does not own the company. He is like the con artist who walks into a temporarily empty office and signs up salesmen as if he were the president of the company. He makes his money on the back end of the transaction when he sends his goons to collect payments from the salesmen.
The salesmen have kept all the money from their efforts. The goons then make the salesmen an offer they cannot refuse. The Mafia calls these goons “enforcers.” Civil government calls them “revenue agents.” Their purpose in each case is the same: to extract far more than ten percent of net earnings from the naive but now-trapped salesmen. He who refuses to pay faces unpleasant consequences: broken bones or a bullet in the head (Mafia); fines, tax liens, or jail sentences (civil government).
The victims went into the deal thinking they could get something for nothing. They firmly believed that someone would gladly provide them with productive capital and also allow them to keep everything they earned from their own labor. Any wise man would have spotted the offer as fraudulent as soon as he heard it. But there are not many wise men in history, at least not so far. Wide is the gate that beckons the unwise, and they eagerly rush through it.
So, Satan comes to men with a proposition: “Keep everything you earn. I have no legal claim on your wealth.” The second statement is true; he has no legal claim on anything. The first statement involves making a verbal promise to transfer to man God’s lawful share in the business. Satan is not in a position to deliver on this promise, but billions of people believe he is. They believe that God has no legal claim on them. They also believe that God has no economic claim on them. They are incorrect on both points. They will learn this on judgment day. In the meantime, they bear the economic and civil consequences of having believed a lie. They pay dearly.
The Wealth of My Hand!
Men are not content with God’s grant of 90 percent after business expenses. They see this as an infringement on their property. They want to keep all of it. They have not heeded God’s warning to the Israelites of the generation of the conquest of Canaan:
And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day (Deut. 8:17-18).
Men resent God’s demand that they pay Him ten percent. They do not see themselves as working on commission. They see themselves as sole owners of the company. They think the tools of production are the product of their own hands: a combination of land and labor over time. Men insist on keeping all of the appropriate payments to each of these factors of production: rents, wages, and interest. Educated men today are asked to believe that land and labor arrived by way of eons of cosmic evolution. Many of them do believe this. They do not see themselves as indebted to God. They do not see themselves as God’s sharecroppers. So, they look at the 90-10 arrangement and do not conclude: “The greatest commission structure in history!” Instead, they conclude: “God is trying to get into my wallet.”
Who Lawfully Collects the Tithe?
The civil magistrate collects taxes. Paul identifies him as God’s minister (Rom. 13:4). He is collecting taxes in God’s name, whether he names God or not. God has ordained him. He is a subordinate to God. In his capacity as the representative of God to men through the State, he lawfully collects taxes. Men complain about today’s level of taxation, as well they should – it constitutes tyranny (I Sam. 8:15, 17) – but they rarely rebel. They do not blame God. They accept their burden as members of a democratic political order. They fully understand that they do not possess the authority as individuals to determine where their tax money should go. They dutifully pay the tax collector.
Then who lawfully collects the tithe? The minister of God. But this minister is not a civil officer; he is an ecclesiastical officer. He comes as God’s designated, ordained agent and insists on payment. That is, he should do this. In fact, he is too timid to do this in our day. Why? Because he has adopted – or at least acceded to – a modified view of Satan’s offer: “Pay whatever seems fair to you. God has no legal claim on ten percent after business expenses.”
This outlook transfers authority over the distribution of the tithe to the tithe-payer. This transfer of authority is illegitimate for two reasons. First, the giver defines the tithe’s percentage as he sees fit, but somehow this figure is usually less than ten percent. Second, he reserves to himself the authority to distribute this tithe to those organizations that he approves of. This violates God’s system of hierarchical authority. The tithe-payer assumes that not only does God not have a legal claim to a full ten percent, God has not identified any single organization as the sovereign agent of collection and distribution. This leaves the tither in control over who should receive his tithe – an unlawful transfer of authority to the autonomous individual.5
A Hole in the Wallet
Covenant-breaking man affirms his self-professed autonomy by controlling his wallet. His control over the allocation of his money is the number-one manifestation of his faith.
Money is the most marketable commodity, economist Ludwig von Mises argued.6 This means that money is the most representative form of wealth. This is why Jesus warned that men cannot serve two gods, God and mammon (Matt. 6:24). This is why Paul warned that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10). What a man does with his money reveals his priorities.
Covenant-breaking man’s number-one priority is to affirm his own autonomy without coming under God’s judgment in both history and eternity. He believes that he has the right to decide what to do with his money. God tells him he is wrong about this. God has first claim through His institutional church. Men in their rebellion do not accept this teaching. They would prefer to keep 100 percent of a shrinking economic base, which is what God promises they will eventually experience.
It is not surprising that we find Christians who deny that Haggai’s prophetic warning (Hag. 1:3-11) is still valid under the New Covenant. Christians still seek to affirm theologies that defend man’s partial autonomy before God. Anyone who affirms the mandatory tithe has to this extent broken with the covenant-breaking philosophies of his era. Christians are still so impressed with covenant-breaking philosophies of human autonomy that they have not obeyed God in this area. They ding to their wallets as tightly as the Israelites of Haggai’s day clung to theirs.
But they have nevertheless felt guilty about this. They have therefore sought to justify themselves theologically. In doing so, they have abandoned the tool of dominion: God’s law.7
To Escape the Obligation
There are many ways that Christian theologians have sought to escape the cause-and-effect relationship between tithing and wealth described by Malachi. One way is to apply to the theology of tithing Meredith G. Kline’s theory of cause and effect in the New Covenant era. Kline denies that in the New Covenant era there is any predictable relationship between covenantal law and economic sanctions.
And meanwhile it [the common grace order] must run its course within the uncertainties of the mutually conditioning principles of common grace and common curse, prosperity and adversity being experienced in a manner largely unpredictable because of the inscrutable sovereignty of the divine will that dispenses them in mysterious ways.8
Kline self-consciously has abandoned the Mosaic Covenant’s doctrine of covenantal predictability in history. He has substituted a theory of God’s common-grace inscrutability to mankind in New Covenant history. Social cause and effect become mysterious from the point of view of biblical revelation. This theology of mystery, if true, would make biblical social theory impossible. Christians would then be forced to seek for reliable social theory – assuming that such a theory even exists – in the writings and speculations of covenant-breakers.9 This is exactly what Christians have been doing from the days that Christian apologists began to appeal to Greek philosophy as the foundation of common-ground truths. It is this quest for common- ground principles of reasoning that Cornelius Van Til rejected as a compromise with the devil.10
Another way to deny the moral necessity of tithing is to declare, with fundamentalism, “We’re under grace, not law!” The result of such a universal affirmation is the self-conscious surrender of history to covenant-breakers. Christians then find themselves under pagan laws and pagan lawyers.11
A third way is to affirm that God’s Holy Spirit will inform each Christian how much to give. This opens the Christian to feelings of guilt, either because he thinks he has to give more than the tithe – but exactly how much? – or because he gives less and worries about it. Guilt produces doubt. Guilt and doubt are not conducive to entrepreneurship and economic growth. 12
A fourth approach is to affirm the mandatory tithe, but then deny that the institutional church has any legal claim on it. This leaves the tither in control over the allocation of his tithe. This is an affirmation of man’s autonomy, but in the name of covenantal faithfulness.13
All four approaches deny God’s warning through Malachi. All four seek to evade man’s responsibility to bring one-tenth of his increase to the single storehouse, the house of God.
The leadership of Christians in society depends on their covenantal faithfulness. The leadership of individual Christians within the institutional church also depends on their covenantal faithfulness. If God still brings predictable corporate sanctions – both positive and negative – in history in terms of His law, as the Old Testament affirms repeatedly, then in order for men to prosper, they must obey God’s Bible-revealed laws. The failure of Christians to exercise dominion in any era of history is closely associated with their unwillingness to preach God’s law and obey it. To put it concretely, it is associated with their unwillingness to bring all of their tithes to God’s single storehouse: the local church.
It is unlikely that individual Christians will be able to exercise leadership outside of the institutional churches if Christians remain economically second-class citizens, struggling to keep up economically with covenant-breakers. It is time for pastors to start preaching the biblically mandatory nature of the tithe if they want the church to lead in society. Unfortunately, not many pastors really want this added responsibility for themselves and their congregations. So, they continue to nag members for “donations.” But unlike the State’s appeal for larger “contributions,”14 churches threaten no negative sanctions against members who refuse to donate. Preaching apart from institutional sanctions becomes either nagging or cheerleading. The Bible does not set forth a leadership program through either approach.
1. Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant (2nd ed.; Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992), ch. 2.
2. W. K. Jordan has discussed the influence of Puritan businessmen in his book, Philanthropy in England, 1480-1660 (Russell Sage Foundation, 1959).
3. Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace: The Biblical Basis of Progress (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), ch. 1.
4. Gary North, Unconditional Surrender: God’s Program for Victory (3rd ed.; ‘lYler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1988), pp. 66-72.
5. See Part 2, below.
6. Ludwig von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press,  1953), pp. 32-33.
7. Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990).
8. Meredith G. Kline, “Comments on the Old-New Error,” Westminster Theological Journal, XLI (Fall 1978), p. 184.
9. Gary North, Millennialism and Social Theory (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Chris- tian Economics, 1990), ch. 7.
10. Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1969).
11. GaryNorth, Political Polytheism:The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler,Texas:Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), Part 3.
12. David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider (5th ed.; Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990).
13. See Part 2, below.
14. In the U.S., the compulsory tax (FICA) on salaries that is used to pay those people who receive Federal pensions (Social Security benefits) is called a contribution.