As I already remarked, so reads the caption of an editorial appearing in The Banner for April 11. The author of the writing is Rev. H. J. Kuiper, editor in chief of The Banner.
The Brother advances several reasons why Christians do well to practice tithing. He invites his readers to give special consideration to his arguments in favor “of this time-honored method of contributing to the needs of the kingdom of God.” As I wrote, I have given special consideration to the reverend’s arguments in favor of tithing. I trusted and still trust that the brother will bear with me in my saying that I have some difficulty with these arguments of his and that he will not object to my using our magazine to reveal these difficulties to him. There are in all six arguments to be examined. To some of them attention has already been directed in the article preceding. We saw that the reverend’s argument to the effect that tithing, whereas it was practiced since earliest times, long before the coming of the law by Moses, is not to be regarded as a symbolical-typical institution that waxed old and vanished away with the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross—this argument, we saw, does not hold. For if this reasoning were true, we could, with equal propriety, conclude that the sacrifice by animal blood, whereas it was brought by the church since earliest times, long before the coming of the ceremonial law by Moses, was not a symbolical-typical institution, that vanished away with the death of Christ, and that therefore New Testament believers should still be bringing this sacrifice.
It was also made plain that tithing was indeed a ceremonial law and thus not simply a custom or usage that had originated with the patriarchs, and that, being what it was, a symbolical-typical institution, it vanished away with the death of Christ upon the cross. The reverend maintained the contrary.
Let us now briefly examine some of the remaining arguments of the reverend in favor of tithing.
Argument 3 (in part), “An Old Testament principle or custom which the New Testament does not repeal, directly or indirectly, must be held to be still valid.”
My difficulty. Tithing, being as it was, a symbolical-typical institution, was repealed. Let us consider in this connection also the following. In the Old Testament dispensation there were two kinds of sacred dues: 1) those the amount of which was fixed by law (such as the tithes); 2) those, the amount of which was not fixed by law. The latter were called voluntary or free-will offerings. The commandment reads, “And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a free-will offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee” (Deut. 16:10). Now it is worthy of note that the apostle Paul places the New Testament church under the necessity of bringing only the free-will offering. His admonition to the church at Corinth reads, “Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store as he may prosper. . . .” (I Cor. 16:2). “As he may prosper” is equivalent in meaning to the expression, “According as the Lord hath blessed him.” Now if the Lord, as the reverend maintains, were still expecting His people to bring, in addition to the voluntary offering, also the offering the exact amount of which was fixed by law, it would have to be considered strange that He did not, by the mouth of His apostles, tell them so. This would have to be considered strange in view of the fact that He did tell New Testament believers to bring the free-will offering. There is a reason why the Lord refrained from fixing for New Testament believers the exact amount that they must give. This reason is that, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the church attained to spiritual majority. So, to maintain, as does the reverend, that God still expects His believing people to give the tenths, is to lose sight of the fact that the church is no longer a spiritual minor.
Argument 4, “Though tithing is not taught in the New Testament the principle of proportionate giving which it emphasizes does not exclude it but rather requires it. Proportionate giving means giving in proportion to our financial ability. Paul enunciates this principle, for example, in I Cor. 16:2: “Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper.
“Now this principle of proportionate giving, if it is to be applied successfully, requires for its proper realization the use of a certain method or system of proportionate giving. Rut this method should not be one of our own devising. In determining the proportion of our income which we feel we should set aside for the Lord, we need some sort of divine guidance; else how would a believer know whether to devote one-half or one-hundreth of his income to kingdom purposes. Here lies the significance for the New Testament believer of the system of tithing.”
My difficulty. Let us get before us Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians, “Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper. . . .” What now is the meaning of the clause, “as he may prosper.” According to the reverend this means: giving in proportion to one’s financial ability. It means, in other words, to give in proportion to what one is able to give, can give. Here is a brother who can very easily give $500. for kingdom causes; this sum of money represents his financial ability. Rut what the Lord requires of him, according to the reverend, is that he give only in proportion to this sum, that is, the tenth part of it. Now I wonder whether this is what Paul meant by the clause, “as he may prosper”? It can’t be. The plain meaning of this clause is not “in proportion to his financial ability,” but it means, “according to his financial ability; so that if he can give $500. that is exactly what he should give and not one tenth of this sum.”
In The Banner for April 25 there appeared an excellent article on the subject “We have a Stewardship.” From this article (written by Rev. J. J. Steigenga) I quote, “Can we conclude with ‘Tithing and Prosperity’ that all we owe to God is a tenth? God says so and He ought to know. Is it not a cheap conclusion in the light even of the Old Testament specifications? And is it not an arbitrary conclusion as applied to rich and poor alike? Understand us well. We are wholeheartedly dedicated to systematic giving. There is no substitute for it. A Christian cannot realize his priestly privileges without it. Nevertheless the conviction has grown on me during more than twenty years of systematic giving, that for many the tithe is an easy, cheap and arbitrary way of serving God with their substance, and for many others it is unfair and difficult in the extreme.”
I am in agreement with these thoughts. To illustrate, it is very difficult for the father of a large family and with an income really much too small to give the tenths. Like the poor widow who gave her mite, this man gives of his want. In giving tenths, he therefore, according to the reasoning of Christ, gives more than the rich or the well-to-do, as the latter, when they tithe give of their abundance. Of course, even if they do not tithe, the poor man, as he gives of his want, gives more than the rich, unless the rich man, too, gives till it hurts.
This raises the question whether in this dispensation, it may not be positively wrong to tithe. It is wrong for a man to give the tenths, if, through his doing so, he takes the bread out of his children’s mouths. Such a (poor) man should not tithe.
It is wrong for a rich man to tithe, unless he supplements his tithing by the free will offering. Doing so, he is not actually tithing, but is giving “as he prospered,” “as the Lord blessed him.” The error of Rev. H. J. Kuiper is that he places in the room of the freewill offering (giving as one has prospered) the giving of the tenths, thus an offering the exact size of which was fixed by the law.
The reverend (Kuiper) wrote that in determining the proportion of our income which we feel we should set aside for the Lord we need some sort of divine guidance, and that just here lies the significance for New Testament believers of the system of tithing. The system gives them the needed guidance. It tells them just how much they must give, namely, the tenths, not the fifteenths, nor the twentieths, but the tenths.
True it is that the believers need some sort of guidance. Rut the system of tithing does not give this guidance, nor did Moses introduce it for this purpose. The proof that he did not is that he added to the system of tithing the free will offerings.
True, the believers need some sort of guidance. And the Lord has also given His people this guidance. And I find this guidance expressed at I John 3:16-18, “(Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. Rut whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
In a word, what must guide us in our giving is not the System of tithes but the actual need among the brethren in Christ. Take a man with an income of $10,000 annually who is tithing. He gives $2,000, and he prides himself on doing what the Lord requires. But if, after giving this sum, he still sees brethren in need, but, shutteth up his bowels of compassion from them, because he insists that he has done enough, the love of God, according to John, dwelleth not in him.
Some one may ask: If it can be wrong for New Testament believers to tithe, how is it to be explained that the Lord by Moses placed the Old Testament church under the necessity of tithing?
We will provide this question with an answer in an article to follow.