Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gotta Give?

I have been thinking on and off over the last several months about Christian giving. For some reason, the subject has come up on several different occasions recently.

It started a few months back when I was covering II Corinthians with my 11th and 12th Grade Bible class. Using chapter 9, verse 7 as my basis, I made the statement to the group of 24 teenagers that I do not believe that tithing (in its truest sense of giving 10%) is required of New Testament believers. I told them that, as far as I could tell, the primary requirement for NT giving is a willing heart. This was a novel idea to many of them and several were quite skeptical of this strange, new doctrine. One student in particular talked with me personally on several occasions with questions about my view. Apparently, he had mentioned our class discussion to one of his mentors who did not agree with my estimation of the Biblical teaching about giving. As I always try to do when confronted about a particular point of my belief system, I spent the next several days re-evaluating my position.

From there, it seems that giving (and the larger discussion of stewardship) has come around for discussion and meditation again and again. Our Sunday School class talked about it last week. I jumped into a Facebook thread about giving the week before. Even today, I found myself thinking about these ideas as I shoveled 14 inches of snow off of my driveway.

As you might have guessed, I have a few questions and opinions about this important topic.

Question 1 - "Why do so many Christians accept the axiom that believers are required by God to tithe?"
In the minds of many, questioning whether believers must tithe is akin to questioning whether the earth is round. "What do you mean?" they exclaim, "Of course we have to tithe! That's what committed Christians do! After all, it's in the Bible." I concur that many committed Christians do give at least 10% of their income. (We won't go into the question of whether we must figure 10% of the gross or net income.) I also agree that tithing is in the Bible. My questions relate to whether God requires those Christians to give their 10% and where in the Bible tithing is found. From what I have been able to find (thanks to my handy-dandy new Logos Bible Software), tithing is an old covenant (aka-Old Testament) stipulation. Even when tithing is mentioned in the NT books, I have been unable to find any context where it is levied as an expectation upon the church. What I find instead is wording such as the following, "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." I find no mention of 10% here. Is that a reasonable amount for most Christians to give regularly? How would I know? It seems like it is, but the only financial situation I am familiar with is my own...and that's none of your business! (Insert smiley emoticon here.)

Question 2 - "How do we determine what qualifies as giving to God?"
I use a financial software program on my laptop that helps me keep track of our money. One of the line items in my checking account is called "Giving to God." (I gave it this moniker.) Sometimes, I wonder to myself, "Should the money from that fund be given exclusively to my church or another 'ministry'? Can I or should I use that money for other non-church-ifed giving? For instance, on a recent lunch excursion to Olive Garden with my family, I decided to give my server a rather substantial tip. (That is--substantial in terms of percentage.) I did this because she was extremely helpful in the service of our meal. I also did this because she mentioned that she had just graduated from college and had only recently gotten a job after an extended time of looking. I felt as though I might encourage and help her in a small way by increasing the amount of her gratuity. "Nothin' wrong with that," you say. I agree. My question is, does this "count" as giving to God? Should I pull the money for that tip from the aforementioned line in my budget? (I will let you, the reader, guess as to whether I did or not.) What about donations made to the Red Cross, Meals-on-Wheels, or other such charitable organizations? If I give my money in a spirit of gratitude and worship, does the Almighty view my donations as gifts to Him? I know what I think, but I wonder how other believers feel?

Question 3 - "Is it wise to view our giving and our stewardship as Christians in terms of investments and returns?"
Mutual funds, investments, 401(k)s, and day-trading seem to be all the rage these days. (Thanks in part to those silly E-Trade babies!) It seems that this "Charles Schwab" mentality has crept into our thinking as Christians. We want to give, but we only want to give to people or organizations that are "safe." Our churches have food pantries, but the resources therein are only available to church members or individuals who agree to come to church first. (In truth, I have been pondering much of the typical church philosophy regarding resources, and I have several questions about this area.) We may give our money to help the poor and underprivileged, but only if we can guarantee that the funds are used "wisely." A corollary of the "investment mindset" is the idea that the more we give the more we will get in return. Truthfully, the Bible does talk on several occasions about reaping bountifully when we give bountifully. Do you think this implies only physical, material reaping? I am not so sure. There's no doubt that God wants us to be wise stewards with all that He has given us. I know I still need to do some searching on this particular question, but I just can't help feeling like many Christians (including the one writing this post) and churches are sitting on their nest eggs and missing incredible opportunities to serve others through cheerful, open-hearted giving--even to those who don't necessarily deserve it.

For the record, I do believe Christians should be giving regularly. I also believe that believers bear the responsibility of meeting the needs of those who labor in the Word as the elders of the church. Beyond that, however, I wonder if maybe our giving (and the motives driving it) may need re-examination and refinement. I, for one, will continue to seek God's guidance in this important area.