So reads the caption of an editorial appearing in The Banner for April 11. Writes the author of this article (the Rev. H. J. Kuiper):
“A number of reasons can be advanced why Christians do well to practice tithing. We invite our readers to give special consideration to the following arguments in favor of this time-honored method of contribution to the needs of the kingdom of God.”
Let us pause here.
I am a faithful reader of The Banner. So the invitation comes also to me. And I accept. I have given special consideration to the reverend’s arguments in favor of tithing. The brother will bear with me, certainly, in my saying that I have some difficulty with these arguments of his. He will not object to my using our magazine to reveal these difficulties to him for him to remove. Let us then turn to these arguments of which there are six in all.
Argument 1. Tithing was practiced since the earliest times, even in the day of the patriarchs. Abraham and Jacob were tithers. Though the people of Israel were required to bring their tithes into the Lord’s storehouse, it should not be regarded as a ceremonial law the significance of which ceased with the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. Setting aside one tenth of our income for the Lord is not a purely ceremonial observance any more than setting aside one day out of seven for the worship of God.”
My Difficulty. The term ceremonial law appears in the above excerpt. Now it was the ceremonial law that, as executed, resulted in the appearance of the symbolical-typical worship and institutions of the Old Testament. Hence, the two terms “ceremonial law” and “symbolical-typical worship and institutions” signify the same entity. Let us then speak of the symbolical-typical worship and institutions instead of the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. Now the reverend’s argument, “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 on the cross. Hence, the New Testament believers should still tithe.” Now if this reasoning were true, could we not with equal propriety conclude that the sacrifice by (animal) blood, whereas it was brought by the church since earliest times (Abel brought this sacrifice) long before the coming of the ceremonial law by Moses, was not a symbolical-typical institution, that vanished away with the death and resurrection of Christ, and that therefore the New Testament believers should still be bringing this sacrifice. But no person of reformed persuasion will say this. Are we then not driven to the conclusion that, whether a certain practice or element in the worship of the Old Testament church was symbolical-typical, really has nothing to do with its having been or not having been existent since earliest times and that therefore this first argument of the reverend falls to the ground. The argument proceeds on the false foundation that before the coming of the law by Moses there were no ceremonial laws and no symbolical-typical worship. But there was. The worship of the patriarchs was, as well as that of the people of Israel, symbolical- typical. Their sacrifices by blood were symbolical-typical, were they not? Circumcision was likewise a symbolical-typical institution, and the command of God to Abraham, “circumcise all the males in thy house,” a ceremonial law. The view that the symbolical-typical dispensation began with Moses is false. The worship of the people of Israel was but an expansion of the worship of the patriarchs. And the same must be said of the law of Moses. It was an expansion of ceremonial laws already possessed by the church.
This first argument, as to its phrasing, is ambiguous. Attend to the statement, “Though the people of Israel were required to bring their tithes unto the Lord’s storehouse, it should not be regarded as a ceremonial law the significance of which ceased with the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.” This statement may mean, “It (tithing) was a ceremonial law indeed, but it was not a ceremonial law, the significance of which ceased with the death of Christ.” Interpreting the statement in question in the light of the one immediately following it, we would say that this is the thought which it conveys. The statement immediately following reads, “Setting aside one tenth of our income for the Lord is not purely a ceremonial observance any more than setting aside one day out of seven for the worship of God.” Here it is asserted in unequivocal language that setting aside one tenth of our income for the Lord and setting aside one day out of seven for worship is, though not purely so, a ceremonial observance, law, practice, that thus the giving of tithes and the Sabbath which we now hallow are at least in part symbolical-typical institutions. But Scripture teaches me that the symbolical-typical Sabbath of the Old Testament was, together with all the symbolical-typical institutions of the Old Testament, completely abolished and that the Sabbath we now hallow is the true rest, the rest eternal, that Christ entered with His people and which this people by God’s mercy begin in this life. And in setting aside one of seven days, the New Testament believers satisfy the requirements not of a ceremonial law but of the laws of the Decalogue.
But the point is that, according to the latter statement, the church is still observing ceremonial laws and engaging in practices that are symbolical-typical, so that, when interpreted in the light of this latter statement, the thought conveyed by the former statement (the statement, that tithing should not be regarded as a ceremonial law the significance of which has ceased) must be, “Tithing was a ceremonial law indeed, but it was not a ceremonial law the significance of which ceased with the death of Christ. Hence, it must still be observed. New Testament believers should still give tithes.” So then, the reverend distinguishes between ceremonial laws, the significance of which ceased with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and ceremonial laws, the significance of which did not cease with His death, and that therefore are still binding. Now it is something new to me that there are ceremonial laws still binding, typical-symbolical institution that did not wax old and vanish away with the death of Christ. Have we not to do here with a teaching that smacks of Judaism—that heresy treated, exposed and so vigorously denounced in the epistles to the Hebrews and to the Galatians? Verily we have.
However, if interpreted in the light of still other passages of the reverend’s article, the thought conveyed by the statement,” Tithing should not be regarded as a ceremonial law, the significance of which ceased,” may also be this, “All the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament waxed old and vanished away. Thus their significance ceased, so that they are no longer binding on New Testament believers. Tithing, however, was no ceremonial law, in fact it was no law at all, but merely a custom, practice, usage, that originated perhaps with the patriarchs, was later on sanctioned by the Lord—sanctioned, not commanded—and finally endorsed by Christ. Hence, whereas tithing was no ceremonial law and in fact was no law at all of any kind but simply a good usage that originated with the patriarchs, it follows that its significance did not cease. And the conclusive proof that its significance did not cease is: 1) It was never directly or indirectly repealed; 2) It was sanctioned by God; 8) It was finally endorsed by Christ.”
This is the teaching that the statement in question yields, if it be interpreted in the light of certain other statements of the reverend’s article, namely, the following, “It (tithing) has divine sanction, at least. We do not believe that the New Testament church should make tithing a law for its members” (Argument 4 of the article). “Tithing was endorsed by Christ” (argument 2). “If it be remarked that nowhere in the New Testament do we find a command to give tithes, we answer: this does not at all prove that God no longer expects His people to give at least one tenth of their income for His cause. The New Testament is built on the foundation of the Old Testament. An Old Testament principle or custom which the New Testament does not repeal, directly or indirectly, must be held to be still valid. If this were not so, we could never maintain the validity of Infant Baptism, since there is nowhere in the New Testament a command to baptize infants of believers” (Argument 3). Tithing was practiced . . . .even by the patriarchs” (Argument 1).
What is the teaching here set forth? Verily this: “Tithing in Israel was not a ceremonial law but simply a custom or usage that had originated with the patriarchs. But it was a custom that was sanctioned (not commanded) by God and endorsed by Christ. Therefore it is still valid. It was not a ceremonial law. In fact it was no law at all of any kind. This follows from the following circumstance: 1) It was a custom that arose with the patriarchs (statement contained in Argument 1); 2) It was sanctioned by God and thus not commanded; 3) It was endorsed by Christ and thus not commanded; ) 4 God “expects His people to give at least one tenth of their income,” but He does not command it (teaching of Argument 4); the New Testament church should not make tithing a law for its members but simply recommend it. (Statement found in Argument 4). Such is the teaching.
Let us examine some of the propositions in the light of Scripture. 1. Tithing was no law at all in Israel. It was simply a custom, a method of giving, that had originated with the patriarchs and was later sanctioned by God. Is this true? It is not true. Tithing was a law in Israel. The Lord did command it by Moses. “And all the tithes of the land. . . . is holy unto the Lord. . . . And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock. . . . the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord. . . .” These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai” (Lev. 27:30-34). This statement is to the effect that the people of Israel were commanded to give tithes, that thus tithing was a law in Israel. The position that the Lord in saying to His people, “All the tithes of the land are holy to the Lord,” was merely sanctioning, endorsing, a time-honored custom with the intention of leaving it to His people to give or not to give tithes as they should choose—this position is a rather precarious one. What is there to prevent one, holding it, from consigning all the commands of God to the category of mere endorsements?
2. Tithing was a ceremonial law in Israel. The reverend denies this. But it can be proved that tithing was a ceremonial law, a symbolical-typical institution, “When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year. . . . Then thou shalt say before the Lord thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of my house. . . . and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me. Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:12-15). What this prayer shows is that in the mind of the praying Israelite and thus in the mind of God giving the tithes and the fulfillment of the promise of the typical Canaan, were associated. Israel, I once wrote in a former article, was a people that had been delivered by Jehovah from the bondage of Egypt. The typical Canaan was God’s country, His rest, which He had entered with His people. He was the supreme Lord both of this land and of the people of Israel. This people dwelt in God’s land. In agreement herewith, the Lord commanded His people to separate unto Him the tithes and the first fruits of all their earthy gain and, to place them before His altar. What did they, through their doing so express. This is not hard to see. The firstfruits were representative of the entire harvest. As to the number ten, it is the symbolical number of completion, so that the tenths, likewise, stood for the entire yield of the ground. So, bringing their firstfruits and giving their tithes, the Israelite declared through this action, “Lord, the whole land is thine. Its entire increase belongs to thee. We are thy redeemed servants, stewards in thy house. What thou placest in our hands, we hold merely as a trust.” That there might be to His people an instrument for giving expression to these truths, the Lord commanded His people to bring firstfruits, and tenths, not ninths or elevenths but tenths. What was brought up, went to the support of the Levites.
That such was the speech that rose from the offering of the tenth and the first fruits we learn from what the worshipper had to declare while still standing in God’s presence with His offering,
“A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty and populous:
“And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us with hard bondage:
“And we cried unto the Lord of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice and looked upon our afflictions, and our labor and our oppression:
“And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs and with wonders:
“And hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey:
“And now, behold, I have brought the first-fruits of the land, which thou O Lord, hath given me,” (Deut. 26:5-10).
It is plain that the bringing of the first-fruits and the giving of the tenths concerned the typical land of Canaan and the typical commonwealth of Israel and this land and this commonwealth only and that tithing therefore belonged to the category of the symbolical-typical institutions of the Old Testament. Tithing was thus a ceremonial law, an institution that vanished away with the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. It vanished away, was thus repealed. Christ did not revive and endorse it, as the reverend contends. Wrote he, “Tithing was endorsed by Christ. He said concerning the Pharisees, who tithed mint, anise and cumin but neglected the weightier things of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: “But these (the latter) ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone.” Here the Lord grants that the scribes and the Pharisees did right in giving a tenth even of the little things which they raised in their garden.”
My Difficulty. At the time that Christ uttered this language, the Old Dispensation, though drawing to a close, had not yet ended, as Christ had still to die on the cross. So, at that juncture, the believers were still under the ceremonial law, and therefore had to tithe. This being true, Christ said to the Pharisees, who it seems were diminishing their tithes, despite all their ostentations of piety, that they ought “not to have left the other (tithing, etc.) undone.” So, the plain fact of the matter is that in uttering the words “and not to have left the other undone” Christ was reproving the Pharisees on account of their failure to do what the ceremonial law, by which they were still bound, required. But the reverend maintains that by the words “not to have left the other undone” Christ at once endorsed tithing for New Testament believers. This is not true.
(To be continued)