The legalism of tithing is why everyone gets edgy when the subject of tithing is brought up, because the giving that is taught to believers is a giving out of obligation and guilt and not one of freedom and joy.
The kinds of giving you refer to in your books, in 2 Corinthians 8 and Acts 2 and 4, are perfect examples of what I am talking about. That kind of giving came from an overflow of joy and not from the apostles “harping” on getting their giving up to at least 10%. The concept of tithing robs everyone who gives less than 10% from any sense of joy from their giving because they have been made to feel guilty because it is too little. This guilt will seldom, if ever, produce a joyful giver.
What about a young couple who is only able to give 5%, but for whom this is giving by faith? Wouldn’t God be pleased with that gift, and wouldn’t they be blessed even though it falls well below the Old Testament requirement?
According to a 2002 Barna poll, only 3% of Christians give 10% or more. Most of these are in churches that emphasize tithing.
So waiting for people to overflow with joy is not working very well, is it?
Acts 2-type giving came into my life after I tasted the joy of giving, but had I been told “giving is completely optional, no need to stretch yourself, start anywhere you want,” I wonder how far I would ever have gone in giving.
I believe that nearly any young couple in this country could give 10%, and if they did, they would experience joy and see God do great things. But the average American Christian gives away 2.5% of his income. To say that God is happy with His people (who He went to the cross for, and who He put in the most affluent society in human history) giving one fourth of what He required of people without the indwelling Messiah, living in poverty, is something I find difficult to imagine, both biblically and logically.
There are innumerable younger and older people in our churches who could give away 10% simply by forgoing Starbucks, Hollywood Video, and eating out—not to mention new cars, home entertainment centers, etc. In other words, we’re not even talking sacrifice. I suggest that starting at 5% “or whatever you choose” is not really being helpful to those people. Would I rather that they give 5% than nothing or 2%? Of course. But I just don’t see the removal of the tithe as the training wheels being any real solution to getting people up on the bicycle of giving. Since we have to start somewhere, why not start where God started with His people?
I also believe that to think of most churches being full of legalistic tithers is out of touch with reality. That Barna poll found that only 3% of Christians tithe. If we found that only 3% of Christians observe a day of rest, would we conclude our churches are full of legalistic sabbath-keepers? I wouldn’t.
10% is not some lofty goal, just a starting place, but starting is important. The question is whether we should encourage people to move from nothing and 2, or 3% to 10%, where God started his nation Israel, as a stepping stone to the truly generous giving to be found beyond 10%.
What I say to people is, if you’re uncomfortable starting at 10% because you think it’s legalistic, that’s fine; start at 11 or 12% or 20%, or 40%. But if you’re going to start at less than 10%, then realize you’re elevating the law over grace by saying that the law produced greater fruit in a poor culture than the transforming work of the Holy Spirit does in an affluent culture. Personally, I just can’t buy that.