I preached on Genesis 14:17-24 yesterday as we kicked off our new series at LifePoint, handling the subject of how the Bible instructs Christians to manage our money. That text establishes what author Randy Alcorn refers to as “The biblical starting point” for giving, which is the tithe, or 10% of our income. In the text Abram tithed to God through giving to Melchizedek, who was a “priest of God Most High,” and the King of Salem (an ancient name for the city of Jerusalem).
One of the practical questions that I am often approached with when it comes to tithing is “the target.” How does the Bible instruct Christians to give? Is it necessary to tithe to your local church, or should you just pray about and discern what non-profits or causes should receive your tithe? What if you have a neighbor named Melchizedek, should you just drop your tithe in his mailbox twice a month?
Let me start by saying that I believe that the Bible teaches that Christians should faithfully give their tithes to God through their local church. Biblically, the local church is the context within which regular, sacrificial, and cheerful giving rightly occurs.
The push-back I have often heard in regard to this subject is, “Where in the New Testament does it say that the context of faithful Christian giving is or should be the local church?”
My response to that question is a question of my own: “Where in the New Testament doesn’t it say that the context of faithful Christian giving is or should be the local church?
This is a matter of ecclesiology (the “theology of the church”). I would argue that individualistic, self-determined, unconnected, unaccountable Christian giving is not only not taught in the New Testament, but it is an affront to the robust ecclesiology that the Biblical text reveals.
I’ll be 33 in a couple of weeks, and it seems to be a feature of my generation’s Christian identity, that we (*wink-wink*) seem to have discovered that tithing is “an Old Testament law issue,” and that Christian giving should be “Spirit-led,” and that there are so many “causes” in the world that the church is neglecting, so we are going to be free from the archaic-institutionalized-organization-driven-church-monster that is “all about the money.” Instead, we’re going to follow the “Spirit” (read: “wind”) and whatever way it blows, and we’re going to utilize our money to support causes that are actually and authentically and really-really-really making a difference in the world.
As we do this we roll our eyes at the last 2,000 years of church history, the Bible’s teaching on the church, the faithfulness/discipline/work ethic of previous Christian generations, and we unknowingly rob the mission of Jesus by weakening its most vital tool: HIS BRIDE.
It seems that the same people in the Christian community who are decrying the fact that the 21st century church doesn’t look like the church in the book of Acts are themselves not acting like the church described in Acts. The individualistic pot is pointing a finger at the institutionalized kettle and yelling, “Black!”
How did they act in Acts? Like the church was a family. Like the church was devoted to the apostles teaching and to one another. Like spiritual authority, commitment, and biblically qualified leadership in a local church body meant something. Like nothing that they had was their own, but instead they exemplified radical generosity within the context of their local assembly. Letters were being written by men like Paul, Peter, James and John as the mission was going forward and the church (read: plural) was sending aid throughout the known world so that the gospel could be preached. The first-century church was committed to the gospel of Jesus, the mission of God, and to advancing both together as (choose the NT metaphor you prefer) the family, field of God, building inhabited by the Spirit, and bride of Jesus that they were (and we are).
Here is an excerpt from Jamie Munson’s book Money: God or Gift on this point:
“When it comes to giving, a Christian’s first obligation is to contribute to the health and well-being of the local church. The church is not an organization; the church is a family. Not giving to your local church would be similar to a parent who works hard, earns a living, and then buys a bunch of new clothes for the kids down the street while his own children run around wearing garbage sacks.
Exclusively cause-oriented giving could also represent a measure of pride, and a lack of passion for the gospel. Rather than cause-oriented interests, we as the church must remain a decidedly cross-oriented people. Causes come and go like fads–whether they’re resolved or not, sadly. Only the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our place offers consistent, universal, and eternal hope. God’s chosen vehicle for this message is the church, so we have a responsibility to make sure she’s healthy. A generous lifestyle does not stop there, however, and I very much encourage widespread giving to other organizations, ministries, charities, etc., after you have given to the local church.”
 Jamie Munson, Money: God or Gift, p. 75