There are several excellent reasons why pastors should demand the tithe. Excepts below from Tithing and the Church (without the footnotes) lay out the basics.
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 tithes, 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.
He Who Holds the Hammer
Neither the morally mandatory tithe nor God’s negative sanctions in history: here is the message of the modern evangelical church. No mandatory tithe, reduced positive sanctions in history: this conclusion is the result of such preaching. Because the church will not impose negative sanctions.against members who refuse to tithe – the loss of voting membership – it finds itself less capable of bringing a crucial positive sanction in society: charity. The local church buys a debt-encumbered piece of land, builds a debt- encumbered building, and pays a debt-encumbered pastor. The moment it pays off one building, it builds another. Fund-raising in American evangelical churches today is heavily dependent on building programs. Modern churches have an edifice complex. What most do not have are charitable ministries.
There is a legitimate division of labor in society. There are many things that the church cannot do well – running a Christian school, grades K-12, comes to mind, or running a crisis pregnancy center, or running a drug-rehabilitation center (a basic need in any society where the State runs the schools). The church should support Christian agencies that can do these things well. These agencies, to the extent that they are dependent on the money provided by the churches, will then reflect the standards of the churches. Why? Because of the fear of negative sanctions: the churches’ refusal to write more checks.
Churches today write checks mainly to bankers. The bankers have the negative sanction: no payment, no church building. They, not the churches, “hold the hammer.” Then the local government finds that it can disrupt the flow of funds by revoking a church’s property tax exemption. There are now two hammers. Then the .Federal government threatens to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status. There are now three hammers.
Where is the churches’·hammer? In heaven. But churches insist that God does not bring predictable negative sanctions in history. His hammer is exclusively post-historical, they preach. In short, the church offers no threat of a hammer in the modern world, which does not acknowledge God or eternity. Or, as a pair of famous political theorists have put it:
And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go (Ex. 5:2).
Now if ye be-ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? (Dan. 3:15).
He who holds the largest hammer gets paid first. The church preaches that it holds no earthly hammer at all. The church therefore gets the leftovers: after personal and family taxes; after personal and family debt payments; and after food, clothing, college expenses, and entertainment.
What should we give the local church? Not tithes and offerings, surely. Just offerings. The size of these offerings is exclusively our decision. So is the recipient. Sovereignty belongs to us. We the people impose the sanctions around here (not counting the State, of course). We the people giveth, and we also taketh away. Blessed be the name of the people. We administer the oath. We baptize the church. Shape up, church!
So, the church’s officers come before the people mainly as representatives of the people. They beg in the name of God, but collect in the name of the. people. They are then sent back to God, offerings in hand. There is hierarchy here: the people tell the church, as God’s agent, what they are willing to pay.
Modern Christians come before God and remind Him: “Not a cent more, mind You! You should be grateful for whatever You get. Don’t pull any of that fire and brimstone rhetoric on us! That’s Old Testament stuff. We don’t take kindly to it. We can walk across the street and join another church, You know. It needs our money. It will be glad to get us. This is a buyers’ market, Old Fellow. We can shop around. This is a free market system. We’re price sensitive. We’ll take the best package deal offered by one of Your churches. There are so few of us these days. It’s a declining market. This makes us valued customers.”
(People ask me: What does it matter which eschatology a person holds? I will tell you. Postmillennialists are not persuaded that the present “down market” in the number of converts is permanent; pessimiIIennialists are persuaded. This means that their eschatology reinforces “buyers’ market” mentality. It also affects their churches’ discipline: gutting it.)
There was a time, three centuries ago, when Christians believed that there are only three ways out of the church: death, excommunication, and letter of transfer. They no longer do. Excommunication is old fashioned. Letters of transfer only carry weight when receiving churches sanction them, rejecting the visitors’ request for membership, if only for the sake of creating respect for their own letters of transfer. But in a buyers’ market for voluntary donations, churches are rarely choosy. They have become beggars. Beggars can’t be choosers.
The churches no longer hold the hammer. They dropped it over a century ago. Why? Because they applied the philosophy of nominalism to the church itself: a world of contracts, not binding covenants under God. When Holy Communion became in most Protestants’ thinking a mere memorial, the church covenant became a contract in their thinking.
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is no longer taken seriously. While the following development may not be predictable in every instance, it is familiar enough to be considered highly probable. When weekly communion goes to monthly communion, and monthly communion goes to quarterly communion, and grape juice is substituted for wine, tithes become offerings. Nominalism undermines tithing because nominalism undermines men’s fear of church sanctions: faith in God’s predictable covenantal sanctions in history whenever church and State fail to enforce His law by means of the law’s mandated sanctions.
When the churches stopped preaching the mandatory tithe, the State adapted the idea and multiplied by four: taxes.
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,” 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.
Screening by Tithing
Karl Marx understood that the abolition of the property qualification for the vote would mean the destruction of property rights. “Is not private property abolished in idea if the non-property owner has become the legislator for the property owner? The property qualification for the suffrage is the last political form of giving recognition to private property.”
What Marx said regarding the civil franchise is equally true of the ecclesiastical franchise. When the non-tither is granted an equal vote with the tither, those who are not bearing their God-mandated economic responsibility become sovereign over the tithes of those who have remained faithful. There are far more non-tithers today than tithers. Majority rules! This transfers the authority over the distribution of the tithe from those who obey God’s law to those who disobey.
The church is trapped in a dilemma because it correctly perceives that people should not be required to pay for access to the Lord’s Supper. The requirement to pay a tithe would be an illegitimate barrier to the Lord’s Table. But by opening the Lord’s Supper to non-tithing members, today’s church opens access to the franchise to these communicant members. This initial error – that all adult communing members are automatically voting members – leads to the second error: the transfer of authority from obedient members to disobedient members.
Beggars Can’t Be Rulers
The evangelical church has become almost medieval in its concerns. It endlessly begs for money in order to build another building. Unlike medieval cathedrals, however, the buildings that today’s churches build are unlikely to become architectural classics that inspire men for centuries. They probably will not survive the next outward wave of urban blight. Or as we could say of Rev. Schuller’s crystal cathedral, “People who preach in glass houses shouldn’t build on the San Andreas fault.”
Pastors beg. Congregations make down payments on new buildings. Then they struggle for years to meet mortgage payments. Mortgage debt transfers power to spiritual blackmailers: “Preach what we like to hear or we walk!” To tickle their ears, pastors preach less and less from the law of God. They preach possibility thinking, or positive confession, or some other variant of “think and grow rich.” If they are more traditional (post-1830) in their theology, they preach the doctrine of the imminent Rapture, which promises to relieve God’s people from the pressure of paying off heavy mortgages. Lutheran and most Calvinist pastors preach amillennialism: the eschatology of Christianity’s guaranteed defeat in time and on earth, but with- out the hope in an imminent Rapture. So, God’s royal priesthood shuffles along, looking over its collective shoulder for bullies.
If local congregations want more income, here is a sure-fire way to get it:
- Require every voting member to tithe: no tithe-no vote.
- Have deacons police the voting members’ incomes, just as the IRS polices it. Deacons represent an institution with greater covenantal authority than the State lawfully possesses.
- Organize evangelism programs that bring more people into
- Challenge newcomers and non-voting members with a vision of victory that calls forth great dedication.
- Provide motivation for people to make more money by getting more education and better jobs.
- Show people ways to save ten percent of their income each payday.
- Preach on the moral obligation to get out of consumer debt.
- Start paying off the church’s mortgage as fast as possible to set a good example.
- Start allocating a tithe from the church’s budget to help the poor.
Hat in Hand vs. Checkbook in Hand
American evangelical churches have no power and little influence because they are beggars. No one in a position of authority pays a great deal.of attention to organizations that have so little discipline over their own members that they must go outside the local membership to beg for money. The identifying mark of failure in life is beggary (Ps. 37:25). The modern evangelical pastor is like Oliver Twist, standing in front of Mr. Bumble, empty bowl in hand: “Please, sir, may I have some more?” You may remember Mr. Bumble’s reaction: outrage.
Let us compare a local church’s influence with that of the Rockefeller Foundation. Who pays attention locally to the suggestions of local churches? Hardly anyone. Who pays attention locally to the suggestions of the Rockefeller Foundation? Lots of dedicated people do, people who want only to serve the public (at $75,000 a year plus expenses). [In 1994 Dollars – AP] They sit up and take notice. The Rockefeller Foundation – actually, there are several Rockefeller Foundations – does not come to beg. It comes to write large checks. This makes all the difference.
Church and Parachurch
Debt-ridden, tight-fisted churches have become the monetary black holes of Christendom: money that goes in stays in. This has led to the rise of the parachurch ministries. In earlier days, these ministries supplemented the work of the churches. Today, they have too often replaced the work of the churches. And much of the blame rests on the churches.
Pastors often complain about parachurch ministries, with good cause. These rival ministries absorb donors’ tithe money, but they are not accountable to any organization, say the pas- tors (frequently pastors of local, autonomous churches that they run personally). But they have a good point about institutional accountability or lack thereof: he who pays the piper calls the tune. The donors to parachurch ministries provide the economic votes of confidence that sustain these ministries. Giving within the churches is supposedly voluntary. Pastors therefore do not preach or enforce the tithe. Thus, the church becomes just one more beggar among many, like Oliver Twist.
Parachurch ministries have accepted the reality of voluntarism, and have adopted scientific fund-raising techniques that local pastors cannot successfully mimic. This places churches at a disadvantage in the begging profession.
If the churches would demand the tithe from their voting members, parachurch ministries would see their funds begin to dry up. Then the churches could begin to support those parachurch ministries that perform kingdom services that are difficult for the churches to perform. The churches would thereby invoke the division of labor (I Cor. 12). This would better promote the kingdom of God, and it would also put churches back into positions of authority.
He who pays the piper calls the tune. The reason why almost no one plays tunes that the church wants to hear is that the church refuses to pay the highly competitive pipers of this world. It decries the lack of accountability of other ministries, yet it refuses to insist on accountability from its own members. “We’re under grace, not law!” shout the antinomian pastors of many ecclesiastical traditions. “Amen to that!” respond the members of these congregations, putting away their checkbooks and pulling out their lonely $20 bills for this week’s “sacrificial” family offering. Tithing is relegated to an Old Covenant that was run by a harsh and demanding God. So, the church begs. It pleads. It asks “pretty please.” The covenant-breaking world sees this and cheers, Bronx fashion.
The church has paid a heavy price for its unwillingness to preach the moral necessity of tithing. It has become a professional beggar, not out of necessity but out of principle. This has compromised the integrity of its testimony in our era.
And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:29-30).
Jesus made it clear that taking the Lord’s Supper is a means of dominion. The Lord’s Supper is more than a mere convention, tradition, or empty rite. It is also more than a memorial. It is a means of extending the kingdom on earth. In our day, few churches cite this passage prior to the Lord’s Supper. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that few churches believe in the visible triumph of both the gospel and the church during the New Covenant era.
I have argued in this section of the book that God’s absolute sovereignty undergirds His delegation of limited covenantal sovereignty to church, family, and State. Each of these institutions is established by means of an oath sworn under God, either implicitly or explicitly, personally or representatively. No other institution is so established. All other institutions are under the authority of one or more of these three.
The economic mark of the sovereignty of the church is its authority to collect and distribute the tithes of its members at a rate of ten percent. The economic mark of the sovereignty of the State (taken as a collective: local through international) is its authority to collect and distribute tax revenues at a maximum rate of ten percent of its subjects’ income. The economic mark of sovereignty of the family – in God’s eyes – is its authority to retain and allocate at least 80 percent of everything it earns, net. The modern messianic State has made great inroads on family sovereignty. It has also made inroads on church sovereignty, though not at so great a rate.
The church has failed to defend its legitimate sovereignty over its members. This failure is visible in the fact that it has not preached the tithe as a morally mandatory tax on members.
The church in the United States has also failed to defend its legitimate sovereignty with respect to the State. It has become fearful of the State because the State threatens to revoke the tax-exempt status that the State has granted to the churches. The Western church outside the United States has been in subjection to many humanist States throughout the twentieth century. The church is visibly in retreat: theologically, culturally, and economically. This retreat will eventually end.
The era of extended State sovereignty is drawing to a close. There is a worldwide tax rebellion going on, and it will escalate. Economic decentralization will place far greater power into the hands of individuals and small businesses than ever before. The question is: What will replace the messianic State? Will it be the Christian church and the Christian family? Or will it be some pagan imitation of either or both?
By tying my defense of the tithe to a defense of the sacraments, I have focused on the twin monopolies that God has granted to the institutional church. Their unity cannot be broken, despite attempts by theologians, pietists, and pagans to dismiss the first as annulled and deny the judicial relevance of the second.
If the institutional church is to regain the pre-eminence it once had in the West, let alone extend its influence throughout the world, it must preach the moral obligation of the tithe, the judicial relevance of the sacraments, and the church’s absolute monopoly over both. If it refuses to do this, it will remain on the defensive: culturally, economically, and judicially.
My excerpts end here.
I am certain that most people will have difficulty caring less about the health, the honour, or the position of the church in society. This is to be expected, as most people – including the vast majority of Christians – are clearly more interested in exalting the State, their particular tribe, and/or their own personal ease and comfort far, far above God’s chosen representatives on earth, the men who hold the keys to heaven and hell.
This is only to be expected, if only the vast majority of churches are comfortable begging, prefer to grovel than stand (“It’s so much easier!”), and flee from the command responsibilities God has placed on their shoulders.
This post is instead addressed to those men who desire to rebuild a Christian civilization, an advancing church, a free society; a future where what is noble and holy and righteous is publicly exalted, and what God loathes is publicly despised. Where good men walk free and increasingly prosperous and powerful, and evil men scurry in the shadows, increasingly impoverished and powerless.
To summarize what Gary North wrote above:
- God’s sanctions are in force in history as well as after the end of history
- Stealing from God — sacrilege — is an act that God curses and punishes, not only in the afterlife, but in time and on earth.
- It is in the self-interest of pastors who fear the wrath of God to insist on the mandatory tithe, and forbid stealing from God. God watches, God judges, God acts.
Preaching against the tithe “is an ideal way to call down God’s sanctions on one’s head. I recommend against it.”
- It is the church that should donate to parachurches, as the hammer over all Christian ministries should be in the hands of those who represent God – instead of, say, the banking class and financial institutions.
- It is entirely wearisome to see the church play the beggar, in an attempt to avoid the responsibility of leadership, of the hard work of driving out the shaft while bringing in the wheat. “Go along to get along” is far easier, regardless of how much compromise warps the testimony and guts the integrity of the church – or how it leads to a dead church as it’s end-point.
- The church represents God, and holds the keys to heaven and hell. As such, it has the right to command obedience, including the right to command the tithe. The refusal to do so shifts sovereignty from the church to the membership: “The People giveth, and the People taketh away. Blessed be the name of the People.”
- In a church that despises the tithe, “the people tell the church, as God’s agent, what they are willing to pay.” This is yet another flavour of humanism, where Men commands, and God – if He exists – obeys. This time, the humanism planted right in the heart of the church.
- God will uproot these tares and weeds from His church. Once again, we will learn: God commands: Men obey.
- A direct quote here: “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.”
- Men who will not pay 10% to the church, will pay 40%+ to the State.
- Those who tithe (and so obey God) should have far more say in the church than those who don’t (and so, by stealing for God, show contempt for Him).
- He who pay the piper calls the tune.
- The Lord’s Supper is a means of dominion. [As well as a blood oath: “May this happen to me if I do not uphold Christ’s supremacy.” – AP]
- “The Western church outside the United States has been in subjection to many humanist States throughout the twentieth century. The church is visibly in retreat: theologically, culturally, and economically. This retreat will eventually end.”
- One of the goals of this post – and North’s book – is to halt the retreat, put an end to the begging, and see the Royal Priesthood of God again stand in a pre-eminent position, as the proclaimer of God’s Law-Word.
- As opposed to His sword, which belongs to the State; or most property & financial wealth, which belongs to various individuals, families, and corporations. (Of course, at the end of the day, most corporate shares are also owned by individuals and families, various civil associations – or by an entirely too greedy State.)
- “The era of extended State sovereignty is drawing to a close. There is a worldwide tax rebellion going on, and it will escalate. Economic decentralization will place far greater power into the hands of individuals and small businesses than ever before. The question is: What will replace the messianic State? Will it be the Christian church and the Christian family? Or will it be some pagan imitation of either or both?”
- In Europe, it’s more likely to be mosque and clan than anything else… temporarily, until the Arab and African migrants turn to Christ and away from the violence and injustice of Islam. In America, though, we can get it right the first time.
A few asides before I close:
Replacing the sacramental wine (which expands to burst the wineskin, as God’s word expands to fill the world) with grape juice (which stays right where it is, sterile, and without growth) destroys much of the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper. The very existence of grape juice has far more with the moralizing of men than the direct command of God: see the temperance movement and the history of Welch’s Grape Juice for details. The kingdom of God must grow, to fill the earth – regardless of what the temperance movement thinks.
We can see the health of the church by looking at the health of society. In the fullness of time, there will be those who desire a healthy society, understand that a healthy society requires a healthy church, and pay the price (in money and time and sweat – and most of all, in obedience to God) to build it.