Monday, April 25, 2011

Giving (up) the Tithe?

Does the Bible actually require the people of God to tithe? Apparently, American evangelical leaders cannot agree upon an answer.

Each month, the National Association of Evangelicals surveys its 100-member board, which includes the heads of Christian denominations, publishers, educational institutions and mission organizations. In the February survey, 95 percent of respondents claimed that they tithed, giving at least 10 percent of their income to the church, but only 42 percent thought tithing is required biblically.

Nationwide, those self-identifying as Christians give an average of 2.43 percent of their income to their churches, according to a report from Empty Tomb, Inc. Evangelicals give at a slightly higher rate of 4 percent.

Leith Anderson, president of the NAE, notes that the Old Testament requires several tithes for government and religious functions. As Bible expert Ben Witherington notes in Jesus and Money, the New Testament calls Christians to the higher standard of “sacrificial giving.”

Yet some of the NAE responses point to a belief in situational flexibility. One non-tither explained that he gave according to his own financial circumstances as well as the needs around him. Anderson himself, although he tithes, said he believes “the New Testament teaches ‘proportionate giving’ that may be more or less than 10 percent based on income.”

Purdue sociologist Dan Olson, who has studied the tithing patterns of American Christians, told CNN that some evangelical leaders may object to the word “required,” as though tithing were necessary for salvation. Even those who believe the tithe is not required might recommend the practice as an expression of gratitude. NAE board member Alan Robinson argues that Christian generosity, while not beholden to the Old Testament legal model, should “greatly exceed” the 10 percent tithe.

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