I am telling this story to make a point, not to elicit praise or criticism for myself. A little over a week ago it was brought to my attention that a young coworker of mine had just moved into a new apartment with some of his buddies and didn't have any money left to buy food (his friends were in the same circumstance). I knew this young man attended church and was very conscientious about wanting to live within God's will. As a consequence, one day after work, I took him to shop for just enough groceries to tide him and his friends over until the next payday.
When payday finally arrived, I asked him how he and his buddies were getting along. "OK, but I've only got $60 left from my paycheck to buy groceries!" he replied. "How can that be?" I asked. "After I pay my tithes and my back tithes where I fell behind, there just isn't much left," he answered. "You do realize that God wants you to take care of yourself and your friends before you contribute to the Church don't you?" I demanded. "Well, God's supposed to get his ten percent regardless of my personal circumstances!" he replied with that glassy-eyed look I remembered from my days as a member of the Worldwide Church of God.
It is abhorrent to me that ministers use the members of their congregation in this fashion, and I can't think of a single good justification for this young man's situation. If the minister is unaware of his circumstances, then shame on him for not being more familiar with his flock! If he is aware of those circumstances, then shame on him for allowing this young man to be in this predicament! According to Scripture, the minister's primary concern and responsibility should be for the care and welfare of his flock - especially those individuals who are the most vulnerable.
It seems to me that tithing and church governance are probably the two most severely abused doctrines extant within the Christian community. Instead of fulfilling their God given duties to shepherd the flock within their care, many ministers seem bent on milking every penny from them that they can get their money-grubbing hands on! Likewise, many ministers seem to be more concerned with preserving the prerogatives, perks, authority and respect that they feel is due to them than in fulfilling any supposed responsibilities their position might entail.
They conveniently fail to point out to their parishioners that tithing was given anciently to the agrarian and theistic society of the Israelites. Under this system, it was assumed that the people would contribute ten percent of their increase or profit to God's service (and God's service was not defined so narrowly as it is today - i.e. supporting the church). In other words, an Israelite farmer was expected to set aside ten percent of the calves or kids that his herds/flocks produced that year (or ten percent of the crops that his fields yielded that year) to enable him and his family to attend the annual religious festivals specified in the Law of Moses and to support the Levites in the Temple at Jerusalem and to support the Levites and poor who were scattered across the country every third year. Hence, it was assumed that the farmer already had a home, lands, herds/flocks and seed before anything was set aside for the Lord.
There is another common misconception about tithing that people have used to great effect against the poor and disadvantaged. In modern times, tithing has been equated with a flat tax (a system whereby everyone, rich and poor, pay the same rate). Sorry, a thorough reading of Scripture destroys such an understanding! Christ's story of the widow's mite directly contradicts any such notion. The poor widow gave out of her want, but the rich man gave out of his abundance. The principle is clear: Ten percent of a person's wages who is currently living below the poverty level (the minimum amount of income required to live within our society) is seen as more in God's eyes than twenty percent of a wealthy person's income.
Ministers would also do well to consider Christ's explicit instructions to his own apostles regarding the exercise of leadership among his people. Christ said: "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave." --Matthew 20:25-27, NLT Likewise, Peter instructed the elders of the church to: "Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly-not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don't lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example." --I Peter 5:2-3, NLT Maybe Peter was remembering Christ's instructions to him to "Take care of my sheep?" --John 21:15-17, NLT
Do any of today's pastors compare to Apollos or Paul in importance and spiritual authority? Yet, when Paul was faced with the factions extant within the Corinthian Church, he wrote: "After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God's servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It's not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What's important is that God makes the seed grow." --I Corinthians 3:5-7, NLT
For those Christians who believe that we are in "the time of the end" and are looking for that spirit that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ, I submit the current understanding of much of Christendom with regard to tithing and church governance for your consideration! Perhaps it's time that Christians and their pastors go back to the Bible they profess to hold so dear and reacquaint themselves with what it actually teaches about these subjects? I think that they will find that a little humility, compassion and common sense will go a long way toward fulfilling God's directives in these areas and making themselves harmonious with God's will.