What would a renewal of the Pentecostal practice of tithing look like?
This might sound crazy, but growing up, I couldn’t wait until I had an income so that I could begin to tithe. I remember distinctly, after I came to know Jesus at age 12, proudly counting up my week’s paper route money so that I could set aside 10% to put in the offering plate. Back then, no one would be puzzled to see a hastily-licked, illegibly-filled church envelope with $3.52 in the tithe line. It was a part of our culture as Pentecostals, and it was modelled and instilled in us before we began to get our allowance.
I also remember the first time tithing hurt. Newly married, living in St. John’s, with a student loan that looked like a small mortgage payment, working at Tim Horton’s and doing 3 Bible College Courses. Wow, that $35.20 was hard to set aside. It was a new Spring coat. It was the difference between having chicken breast or chicken nuggets on the menu. It wasn’t a question for us. It hurt, but we had this strange, steadfast conviction that we would be ok. We were taught (and reassured) that God would give us our daily bread, and we could trust Him with our tithe, even in tight seasons.
I have heard so many stories growing up of people literally praying for their daily bread and having bags of groceries show up at their door. I have my own now to pass on to my children. As an example, I remember in my early years of ministry when the paycheque and student loan payment balance were remarkably similar, having my “church shoes” wear out. I sat tearfully praying in my office, asking God for his promised provision, when a dear saint walked in and said, “pastor, please don’t think I’m crazy, but God laid on my heart that you have a material need.” It has been thrilling to be on the giving end of those stories as well.
Cheryl and I don’t think much about our tithe anymore. Long before the process was officially automated, it had become automatic. We have the privilege (in the weighty, social responsibility-laden sense of the word) of strategically giving beyond the ten. But I wonder if generosity is still as deeply entrenched in our culture as it was when I was growing up. I wonder if beyond the generations of Pentecostals who have gone before us, the next generation has a vital theology of giving.
The Scriptural Story
So, what can we say about tithing to help open up a conversation for the next generation of givers (beyond that it is constitutional for us as Pentecostal pastors and church members)? Maybe we can begin with the scholarly consensus that the people of God have always practiced giving, and that tithing was the chief expression of that in the Older Testament. Generous giving is also commanded in the New Testament (E.g., 2 Corinthians 9:6-8). It is found in the list of gifts or graces given to the church in Romans 12:8. We also know that the early church practiced generosity on a scale that would make bare adherence to the Old Testament practice look stingy indeed (read, for examples, Acts 4:33-35 or the account of early Christian gatherings in the didache).
The exegetical question for many is whether the Older Testament practice of tithing is meant to be a “rule of systematic giving,” and how it would translate contextually to modern day religious systems and organizations. At what point does tithing become a burden and an obligation rather than a privilege and a beneficial discipline (for very low income earners, for example)? These are fair questions that would require a space much larger than this article to adequately explore. As with the other articles in this series, I am much more interested in inspiring others to simply begin to explore them. To the point: is the drift from tithing as a giving norm a shift influenced more by theology or culture? What would a renewal of our theology and practice of giving look like, and how would it change us?
The Path Forward
With the Spirit’s guidance, let’s consult Scripture, church history, and our Pentecostal community/tradition to find practical wisdom. A great starting point might be an intergenerational conversation. Read scriptures about giving prayerfully, with open hearts, in community. Ask a respected elder why they tithe and how they practice giving. Ask a young person what their hopes and dreams for the local church would be if everyone practiced the kind of generosity commanded and commended in the scriptures. Let’s commit together to a renewal of generosity and giving, and see where the Spirit leads us 😊.