No Tithe, No Ministry?

Question: “My church won’t let me serve unless I tithe. Is this Biblical?”

Answer: In some churches today, congregants are required to practice monetary ‘tithing’ in order to serve in ministry. This presents a problem for poor believers and for believers who know that monetary-tithing isn’t Biblical. They find themselves banned from serving, and in some cases, removed from a position, and even removed from the church, once it is discovered that they don’t practice or believe in monetary-tithing.

Although seemingly ‘noble’ reasons are given for requiring believers to give 10% of their paycheck in order to participate in ministry — this “pay to play” requirement contradicts the word of God on the subjects of tithing, New Covenant giving, and the priesthood of all believers.During the Old Covenant, the priesthood was limited to the male descendants of Aaron. But in the New Covenant, God has anointed and gifted the entire body of Christ as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12:6-8). The New Testament shows that the apostles expected Believers to exercise their gifts accordingly and fulfill their ministry.

In Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul wrote that the purpose of leadership is to equip the rest of the saints to do the works of ministry. The apostles welcomed the active participation of believers in ministry. Nowhere in their writings or the entire New Testament does it teach that one’s participation in the priesthood of all believers is contingent upon practicing monetary-tithing.

The requirement to tithe money in order to serve is unheard of in the Old and New Testament. It undermines the priesthood of all believers, quenches the Holy Spirit, shows partiality (favoritism) to certain believers, and brings sorrow to those who are stirred up to do good works and want to serve.

If this monetary-tithing requirement existed in Biblical times, our Savior would not have been qualified to serve — because He did not tithe during His earthly ministry. Jesus was not required nor able to tithe because He was too poor, and He did not own any crops, herds, and flocks to tithe from (the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head).

Peter the apostle would not have been qualified to serve either, because he was poor. On one occasion, Peter didn’t even have any money to give to a crippled beggar — but he did have the power of the Holy Spirit and the Good News. “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6)

The practice of monetary-tithing is a man-made tradition. It contradicts both the tithing laws and New Covenant giving. It is preposterous for a religious organization to require believers to practice an unbiblical tradition in order to serve in ministry. In fact, it is hypocritical.

Jesus spoke against the observance of false traditions in the Gospels. The apostles also spoke against placing God’s people in a yoke of bondage to Old Covenant ordinances (Acts 15, Galatians). Requiring believers to tithe their income in order to serve is no different than requiring them to keep the law of physical circumcision, the dietary laws, or the sabbath laws in order to serve.

I pray that believers in such organizations find healthy Biblical New Covenant fellowships, where the priesthood of all believers is encouraged (not just verbally or in a statement of faith) but also lived out. . . where serving in ministry is not contingent upon keeping false traditions of men mixed with the law of Moses, but based upon knowing Christ and bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

The Tithing Laws and the Tribe of Levi

Knowing the historical background behind the tithing laws will give you a clearer picture of the Biblical tithe.

The first historical point is that the Biblical tithe had to come from within the land of Israel.

The second historical point is that the tithing laws were a part of the Old Covenant, which included blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.

The third historical point is that the tithing laws required the Tribe of Levi (the Levitical priests and their Levite-assistants).

The Tribe of Levi descended from Levi, one of the twelve sons of Israel. The Tribe of Levi were also called Levites. Moses and his older brother Aaron were Levites. Aaron was the firstborn son in their family.

Since Aaron was the firstborn son in his family, God set him and his sons apart from the rest of the children of Israel to minister as priests (Exodus 28-29). From this point on during the Old Covenant, Aaron and his male descendants were the only ones who were allowed to come near God to serve as priests. Together, the sons of Aaron composed the Levitical priesthood.

What about the Levite-assistants?

In Exodus 32 during the false worship of the golden calf, the Tribe of Levi were the only ones who didn’t participate. When Moses came down the mountain and saw the rebellion, he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him” (Exodus 32:25-26). Moses told the Levites that God said to take their swords and kill everyone who committed idolatry by worshiping the golden calf. “The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day. Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing” (Exodus 32:28-29).

Because they remained faithful to God during the rebellion and obeyed Him when He said to kill the idolaters, the Levites ordained themselves for service unto God. Through this act, they became assistants to the Levitical priests.

So, to recap. . . Aaron and his male descendants became the Levitical priests. And the rest of the male Levites became assistants to the priests. Both the Levitical priests and their Levite-assistants played an integral role in Israel’s tithing system. It isn’t possible to keep the tithing laws without them.

The Tithing Laws and the Old Covenant

It’s important to know the historical background behind the tithing laws. This will help you understand how tithing was to be carried out during the Old Covenant.

In a previous post, I shared that God’s holy tithe had to come from the land of Israel. In this post, I will be sharing about the Old Covenant.

After God delivered the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, He brought them to Mount Horeb and made a covenant with them. This covenant was the Old Covenant.

The Old Covenant is also called the book of the law of Moses, the book of the covenant, and the law of Moses. The Old Covenant is also referred to as the Mosaic Covenant, the Mosaic Law, and the Sinaitic Covenant.

The Old Covenant contained many instructions and stipulations. The children of Israel had to keep ALL of its laws to be blessed. But if they broke even ONE law, they broke the entire covenant and received curses (Deuteronomy 28).

The tithing laws were part of the Old Covenant, and as such, they had to be fully obeyed for the children of Israel to receive God’s blessings. A failure to tithe as God instructed resulted in a curse (as we see in Malachi 3:8-9).

The Tithing Laws and the Land of Israel

Some of you might already know the historical information in this article and it might seem repetitive. However, my hope is that you will see how this historical information provides context to the tithing laws and paints a clearer picture of how tithing was to be carried out during the Old Covenant.

According to Scripture, the tithe had to come from the land of Israel, so we will begin there.

In Genesis 12:1-3, God called Abraham out of his native country “to a land” that He would show him. This land was the land of Israel.

Just a few verses down in Genesis 12:7, the Lord told Abraham that He would give this promised land to his descendants. These descendants were the Twelve Tribes of Israel whom God delivered from slavery in Egypt.

In Exodus 3, the Lord spoke to Moses from a burning bush and told him that He came down to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt and bring them into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

In Joshua chapters 3-5, the children of Israel finally entered the promised land, and for the first time “the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan.” (Joshua 5:12)

This geographical area (ancient Canaan) was the land that God commanded the people of Israel to tithe from. So when you read the tithing laws and see the word “land”, it was referring to the land of Israel.

Tithing Myth #1: “Tithing is an Eternal Principle”

Some people claim that tithing is an eternal principle because Abraham gave one-tenth to Melchizedek before the Law of Moses.

People who follow this line of reasoning are inconsistent in their application of Scripture, because Abraham also sacrificed animals and kept the law of physical circumcision before the Law of Moses.

Does this mean that sacrificing animals and practicing physical circumcision are eternal principles which remain in effect in the New Covenant? No. Are believers required to sacrifice animals and practice physical circumcision just because Abraham practiced both of these things before the Law of Moses? No.

Animal sacrifices and the law of physical circumcision were brought to an end at Christ’s crucifixion, when the New Covenant was instituted by God through Jesus’ shed blood.

Just because the patriarchs practiced something before the Law of Moses doesn’t mean that it’s an eternal principle binding upon believers for all time. The patriarchs practiced many things that aren’t part of the New Covenant.

The phrase “eternal principle” means that a principle or law that God requires in all time periods, in all places, of all people. For example, “you shall not murder” is an eternal principle because all people, in all places, in all time periods are forbidden from taking innocent life. The same thing cannot be said of tithing.

God never required all people, in all places, at all times to tithe. God didn’t require anyone to tithe before the Old Covenant. And even during the Old Covenant, not all people were required to tithe (for example: Gentiles, the poor, widows, orphans, and people who weren’t farmers and shepherds weren’t required to tithe). This shows that tithing isn’t an “eternal principle.”

Even if we were to entertain the idea that tithing is an eternal principle, people who believe in tithing aren’t adhering to the tithing laws that God commanded in Scripture. They’re practicing a man-made tradition of monetary-tithing which developed after the original apostles died. So even if we go along with the idea that “tithing is an eternal principle,” it simply creates another problem which is. . . why isn’t anyone practicing tithing in the specific manner that God commanded in Scripture?

At any rate, Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek doesn’t prove that tithing is an eternal principle, because God didn’t command Abraham to tithe to anyone and tithing wasn’t part of Abraham’s covenant with God. As believers in Jesus Christ, we don’t base our beliefs and practices on what Abraham did before the Law of Moses. We base our beliefs and practices on the full counsel of Scripture rightly divided through the illuminating light of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant.