Do you tithe?

I was directed toward a review of a book, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money. The review mentions has poorly American Christians donate. Some of the numbers:

If just the “committed Christians” (defined as those who attend church at least a few times a month or profess to be “strong” or “very strong” Christians) would tithe, there would be an extra 46 billion dollars a year available for kingdom work. To make that figure more concrete, the authors suggest dozens of different things that $46 billion would fund each year: for example, 150,000 new indigenous missionaries; 50,000 additional theological students in the developing world; 5 million more micro loans to poor entrepreneurs; the food, clothing and shelter for all 6,500,000 current refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East; all the money for a global campaign to prevent and treat malaria; resources to sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide. Their conclusion is surely right: “Reasonably generous financial giving of ordinary American Christians would generate staggering amounts of money that could literally change the world.”

Chapter 2 outlines the dismal reality of what American Christians actually give. Twenty percent of American Christians (19 percent of Protestants; 28 percent of Catholics) give nothing to the church. Among Protestants, 10 percent of evangelicals, 28 percent of mainline folk, 33 percent of fundamentalists, and 40 percent of liberal Protestants give nothing. The vast majority of American Christians give very little–the mean average is 2.9 percent. Only 12 percent of Protestants and 4 percent of Catholics tithe.

A small minority of American Christians give most of the total donated. Twenty percent of all Christians give 86.4 percent of the total. The most generous five percent give well over half (59.6 percent) of all contributions. But higher-income American Christians give less as a percentage of household income than poorer American Christians. In the course of the 20th century, as our personal disposable income quadrupled, the percentage donated by American Christians actually declined.


What exactly does it mean to tithe? While I haven’t read this latest book for their definition, typically, “to tithe” means to give 10% of your income. We most commonly see “tithing” in the context of the Old Testament in various forms. As Christians, we are not subject to the law strictly, but as we believe that all we have belongs to God, we are bound to contribute back toward the greater good. In some circles, 10% is considered the ideal, in others the baseline for giving back.

My wife and I decided to literally tithe, giving 10% of our pre-tax income away.

Where to give? Do give it all to the church? No. Canon 222 states that as faithful, we have two particular financial obligations: to support the Church and to support the poor. We have discerned that means roughly 5% should go to the Church and 5% should go elsewhere.

Since “the Church” is both the local parish and the local diocese (through their annual appeal), we have decided to give 4% to our parish and 1% to the diocese. The remaining 5% is split among a number of organizations including our parish’s monthly second collection for charity, Meals on Wheels, Casa Juan Diego. We deviate from the 5% for church and 5% for others as we give to a religious order and to the Peter’s Pence out of the 5% for others.

For us, 10% is a sacrifice. Before getting married, I gave what I thought was a fair amount to the parish through our parish’s monthly automatic giving program. When we sat down with a calculator and our paystubs, I was shocked how little I was actually giving. After adjusting to consider only my income, I only gave less than 1% of my income to church and a much lower amount to other charities.

Years down the road, we may be blessed with the financial capacity that 10% is no longer a sacrifice. If that day ever comes, I pray that we’ll realize our blessings and give even more back toward the greater good.

Whether or not you can donate 10% of your income isn’t the point. Are you purposeful in your giving? Do you actually pray and ask God to help guide you in your donation decisions? Do you give your first fruits (i.e. give to others when your paycheck arrives, or do you wait to see what’s left before the next payday)? If you’re married, have you had a conversation about what causes you think are important and worthy of your donations? Have you discussed why you think they’re important?

Tip of the hat to The Deacon’s Bench for bringing this book to my attention.

Updated 11/11/08


4 responses to “Do you tithe?

  1. Russell Earl Kelly, PHD Avatar
    Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

    Nobody can tithe today. They can give freewill offerings of more than 10% but that is not biblical tithing.
    by Russell Earl Kelly
    (see web site for all texts)
    November 6, 2008
    1. Post-Calvary Christian giving principles in Second Corinthians are superior to tithing. (1) Giving is a “grace.” (2) Give yourself to God first. (3) Give yourself to knowing God’s will. (4) Give in response to Christ’s gift. (5) Give out of a sincere desire. (6) Do not give because of any commandment (8:8, 10; 9:7). (7) Give beyond your ability. (8) Give to produce equality. (9) Give joyfully (8:2). (10) Give because you are growing spiritually. (11) Give to continue growing spiritually. (12) Give because you are hearing the gospel preached.
    2. Abraham’s tithed in Genesis 14 in obedience to pagan tradition. (1) He did not “freely” give. (2) His was NOT a holy tithe from God’s holy land by God’s holy people under God’s holy Covenant. (3) His was only from pagan spoils of war required in many nations. (4) In Num. 31, God required 1% of spoils. (5) His tithe to his priest-king was a one-time event. (6) Not from his personal property. (7) Kept nothing for himself. (8) Is not quoted to endorse tithing. (9) Most commentaries explain 14:21 as pagan Arab tradition, it is contradictory to explain the 90% of 14:21 as pagan, while insisting the 10% of 14:20 was obedience to God’s will. (10) If Abraham were an example for Christians to give 10%, he should also be an example for Christians to give the other 90% to Satan, or to the king of Sodom! (11) As priests, neither Abraham nor Jacob had a Levitical priesthood to support; they probably left food for the poor at their altars.
    3. Although money was common and essential for worship for over 1500 years, biblical tithes were always only food increased by God from inside Israel (Lev. 27:30, 32; see site for all 16 texts).
    4. Since only farmers and herdsmen tithed, there was no minimum standard requirement for most. Tradesmen such as carpenters (Jesus), Peter (fishermen) and Paul (tentmakers) did not qualify as tithe-payers. The poor and Gentiles did not tithe.
    5. Tithing was only commanded to national Israel under the terms of the Old Covenant. Tithing was never commanded to the Church after Calvary (Ex 19:5-6; Lev 27:34; Mal 4:4; Mt 23:23 matters of the law).
    6. Those who received the first whole tithe did not minister atonement (Num. 18:21-24; Neh10:37b). Priests only received 1% (a tenth of the tithe) (Num 18:25-28; Neh 10:38).
    7. In exchange for receiving tithes, both Levites and priests forfeited all rights to permanent land inheritance inside Israel (Num. 18:20-26).
    8. Firstfruits are not the same as tithes. Firstfruits were a very small token offering (Deu 26:1-4; Neh 10:35-37; Num 18:13-17). Tithes were the tenth and not the best; only 1% of the tithes included the best (Lev. 27:32, 33).
    9. There were 4 O.T. tithes: (1) Government taxes (1 Sam 8:14-17). (2) Levitical (Num. 18:21-28; Neh. 10:37-39). (3) Festival (Deu 12:1-19; 14:22-26). (3) Poor tithe every 3rd year (Deu 14:28-29; 26:12-13).
    10. Tithes were often taxes used to support Levite [politicians (1 Chron, chap 23 to 26; esp 23:2-5; 26:29-32; 27:5). Tithes never supported mission work (Ex 23:32; Heb 7:12-18).
    11. OT Levitical tithes were brought first to the Levitical cities and not to the Temple (Num 18; Neh 10:37-39; 2 Chron 31:15-19). Most Levites required tithes in their Levitical cities where 98% stayed (Num 35, Josh 20, 21).
    12. Malachi 3 is the most abused tithing text in the Bible. (1) Malachi is OT and is never quoted in the New Covenant to validate tithing. (2) Tithes are still only food. (3) His audience reaffirmed the OT curses (Neh.10:28-29). (4) The blessings and curses of tithing are identical to and inseparable from those of the entire Mosaic Law (Deu 28:12, 23-24; Gal 3:10/Deu 27:26). (5) “You” in Malachi refers to the dishonest priests and not the people (1:6-14; 2:1-10; 2:13 to 3:1-5). (6) The “whole” tithe never went to the Temple! (Neh 10:37b). (7) The Levitical cities must be included in a correct interpretation. (8) The 24 courses of Levites and priests must be included. (9) The “storehouse” in the Temple was only several rooms (Neh 13:5, 9). (9) “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” only makes contextual sense if it is only commanding dishonest priests to replace the tithes they had removed from it or had failed to bring to it.
    13. The OT Temple and priesthood have been replaced by the priesthood of every believer. NT elders and pastors more closely resemble OT prophets who were not supported by tithes.
    14. Tithing was not legalized as a church law until AD 777. If was not introduced as a local regional law until the 6th century. See any reputable encyclopedia.
    15. NT giving principles are: freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, not by commandment or percentage and motivated by love for God and lost souls.
    From the book, Should the Church Teach Tithing?

  2. Kraft Avatar

    Hi Russell,
    Thank you for your comments on my post regarding charitable giving. The information you presented is interesting and more in-depth than anything I’ve really looked into.
    I’ve tweaked my post slightly based on your comment.
    For me and my working definition, I do not consider tithing to be equivalent of a tax for being a believer. My “tithe” is a freewill offering. I’m free to give, or not to give, anything I wish; however, from the Old English origins of the word, I now tithe based on 10% of my income.
    My overall point in the post is to encourage folks to truly examine what financial blessings have come their way and to prayfully consider what they give back. The percentage truly doesn’t matter; 10% is quasi-historical/traditional and, through the Spirit, the amount I was drawn to as a beginning of the conversation.
    Part of my job at a Catholic campus ministry at a large public university involves stewardship and helping college students discovering that God is the god of all aspects of their lives, including financial. This includes making them aware that those freewill offerings are needed to keep the church doors open, but more importantly, to continue the good works of the church.
    Thank you for visiting my site and for leaving a comment. God bless!

  3. Stephen Davis Avatar
    Stephen Davis

    If just ten percent of all so called tithes collected in the US went toward the poor, there would be no poor. It would be better if Christians gave directly to those in need. It may not be recorded by bean counters here on earth but it would be recorded in heaven.

  4. Kraft Avatar

    I don’t know if it would eliminate poverty, but it wouldn’t hurt. I opt to give to non-profits myself as I don’t believe the added time to give directly to impoverished individuals would be beneficial in the long-run. I think if every Christian gave 5% to serve the needs of the poor, it would make a great impact on our society.

Leave a Reply