Posts Tagged ‘money’

Why I hate capitalism

May 18th, 2010 5 comments

I have always struggled with the idea of capitalism even from an early age.  I guess I took my teachers seriously when I was told we should share our things.  It never seemed fair that some should have so much while other have so little.

But where did my deep seated disgust with the whole system develop?  I have traced it back to my first year of college at WKU.  I took a Micro Economics class as part of my Gen-ed requirements.  Overall I liked the class, and enjoyed the teacher (we are even friends), but there was one day that I found particularly disturbing.

We were learning about oligopolies and collusion; to demonstrate the effects, we performed a class exercise.  We were divided into two teams, each of which were responsible for selling similar widgets.  Each “day” one representative from each team would meet together and determine the cost of widgets for that day.  The first day we could either sell them for $10 or $12.  If we both decided to sell for $10 we would get $100 each, if we both decided to sell for $12, we would get $120 each.  However, if one of us sold for $10 and the other for $12, then the lower priced seller would earn $150 and the higher priced seller would earn $50.  This was intended to mimic the increased sales that would occur due to lower prices.

Of course there is a catch.  After the “representatives” met they would go back their teams and then determine what their prices would be.  It was at this point that teams could decide if they wanted to be honest or if they wanted to scheme and undercut their competitor.  We did this for five “days” and each day the prices would increase so by the end of experiment the widgets could sell for either $50 or $60 and the profits would be $500|$500 or $600|$600 or $750|$250.  Oh, and at the end of the game, the teams would be rewarded with bonus points on their next test.

If you follow the game it makes sense that at every meeting between teams you would both agree to set the higher cost.  If both teams are trustworthy you can earn 20% more that if both teams are dishonest.  However, if you can get the other team to trust you and you undercut them you earn 50% more (and the other team only earns 50% of what they would have). The game ended up being so disturbing to me I still remember exactly how it played out:

  • Round 1 – The stakes were low and both teams trusted each other.  Both teams charged the higher price and everyone profits
  • Round 2 – Both teams continued to trust each other, but my team thought that the only way to get ahead would be to strike early so we chose to undercut them and made the big profits.
  • Round 3 – (This was the round I was the negotiator for my team) – I was able to convinced the other team that the reason we went low was because we thought they were going to undercut us.  They believed me that our motives were defensive and not offensive (lies!).  We both agreed to trust each other and go with the higher price,  Then my team saw another opportunity to maximize their profits and intentionally uncut them again.
  • Round 4 – No one trust each other after being burned two rounds in a row and both teams charged the lower price
  • Round 5 – Again, both teams had no trust for each other and charged the lower price.

Here were the scores:

  • Round 1: $120 | $120
  • Round 2: $300 | $100
  • Round 3: $450 | $150
  • Round 4: $400 | $400
  • Round 5: $500 | $500

If we had all been honest all the time, everyone in the class would have received 14.4 bonus points (Both teams would have earned $1440).  If we had all be dishonest/untrusting we would have all earned 12 bonus points ($1200 each).  As it played out, my team won 17.7 bonus points and our competitors only got 12.7.

The experience still makes me uneasy when I think about.  It was the dishonesty and selfishness built into the system that really bothered me.  I was able to be better off because someone else wasn’t as fortunate.  On the other hand, the losing team received less because they were trusting and desired the best for everyone.

Obviously this is not how the system practically works in the real world, but the principles are right.  Everyone has to look out for their best interests and the only way you can do that is by hurting others.  If you are a buyer you are trying to get something for the lowest price possible, regardless of how much time, effort, or money the seller might have invested in the widgets; if you are the seller, you are going to try and extract the most money out of your product regardless of how much you have invested and what the buyers circumstances may be.

The system works and everyone benefits if people are honest, but once that trust is lost, everyone is worse off.

So… if you boil it down… the real reason I hate capitalism is because of a game I played once in a class where I was lucky enough to get extra bonus points because I was shrewd and dishonest.

Categories: Thoughts Tags: , , , , ,

Would Jesus wear a Rolex

January 11th, 2010 No comments

I don’t know if you all have seen this yet, so I thought I would share.  It is a satirical piece by Ray Stephens entitled “Would Jesus wear a Rolex.”  In addition to the video, I have included the lyrics below.

Obviously the song is written in a humorous way, but many truths are told in jest. Would Jesus wear a Rolex? Would he have a 52″ television? Would he drive a Lexus? Would he drive at all? Would he take a $100K+ salary? Would he take any salary? Would he live a life of luxury? Would he live like an average American?

I have a sneaking suspicion we all know the answers to these questions, but are we bold enough to try and follow his standard?

Woke up this mornin’, turned on the t.v. set.
there in livin’ color, was somethin’ I can’t forget.
This man was preachin’ at me, yeah, layin’ on the charm
askin’ me for twenty, with ten-thousand on his arm.
He wore designer clothes, and a big smile on his face
tellin’ me salvation while they sang Amazin’ Grace.
Askin’ me for money, when he had all the signs of wealth.
I almost wrote a check out, yeah, then I asked myself


Would He wear a pinky ring, would He drive a fancy car?
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressin’ room have a star?
If He came back tomorrow, well there’s somethin’ I’d like to know
Could ya tell me, Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show.

Would Jesus be political if He came back to earth?
Have His second home in Palm Springs, yeah, a try to hide His worth?
Take money, from those poor folks, when He comes back again,
and admit He’s talked to all them preachers who say they been a talkin’ to Him?


Just ask ya’ self, Would He wear a pinky ring,
Would He drive a fancy car?
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressing room have a star?
If He came back tomorrow, well there’s somethin’ I’d like to know:
Could ya tell me, would Jesus wear a Rolex,
Would jesus wear a Rolex
Would Jesus wear a Rolex
On His television show-ooh-ooh?

Categories: Faith Tags: , , , , ,

The Masturbating Church

December 7th, 2009 8 comments

Masturbation is the epitome of selfishness and represents the degradation and perversion of something selfless and beautiful.  Unfortunately the church (especially in America) can, and often does, display this same behavior.

However you look at it, masturbation is completely self-pleasing.  There is no consideration of others; all actions are based on selfish desires that are fulfilled in the easiest way possible.  It is often based in fantasies that are degrading and show fictive dominance.  It replaces relationships with internal transactions.  What is most troubling is that masturbation is based on something that is sacred and special: the sexual relationship between two people who love each other.  Sex provides intimate depth to relationships and has the potential to be an amazing example of self-less mutual pleasure.  Masturbation short-circuits all of this.


I have been in too many situations where local churches also short-circuit a beautiful design and replace it with something self-seeking.  The church is called to be the bride of Christ, the very hands and feet of an incarnate God.  The church is God’s agent of reconciliation in this hurting world.  The church is called to see a a better world and to partner with God to bring that about.  The church should be an outpost of hope by being a collection of broken people who find hope and direction in the promise of something more.  Yet all of this can get traded for a structure that is self-pleasing, lacks consideration for others, seeks easy fulfillment for selfish desires, can be degrading and dominant, and replaces relationships with internal transactions.  The existence of many churches is nothing more than a source of masturbatory fulfillment for its members.

This critique is most evident when one explores the finances of most churches.  Members “tithe” and “give their money to God” yet if you follow the paper trail, most of that money comes back to the members.  It is like a pay-as-you-can country club.    Consider this:

  • In the United States roughly 1/3 of all tax-deductible donations went to houses of worship.
  • That amounts to over 103 BILLION dollars ($130,000,000,000.00)
  • Of that, “85 percent of all church activity and funds are directed toward the internal operations of the congregation”
  • That means “Christians” spend over 87 BILLION dollars, money that was supposedly “given to God,” to benefit themselves.

According to a recent Christianity Today article:

The money given by the people in the pews, it turns out, is largely spent on the people in the pews. Only about 3 percent of money donated to churches and ministries went to aiding or ministering to non-Christians.

Talk about self-pleasuring!

It is troubling enough to see how selfish church budgets actually are. But, what is most devastating and deceptive is the fact that we do this in the name of God and think we are fulfilling his will.  We take the image of being faithful and stroke our own desires and needs with it.  We convince ourselves we are being self-sacrificing, but at the end of the day we are only meeting our own needs (not only within the church, but our need to feel we have contributed).

Lifeway Research presents similar findings.
Lifeway Research presents similar findings.

It goes beyond just money.  Think about volunteer work within the church.  In your congregation what percent of opportunities to serve are simply tasks that are necessary to perpetuate the current structure.  Are these things actually furthering the Kingdom of God, or are they simply making sure we can enjoy the worship services and opportunities we have come to expect.

This self-seeking understanding of church and Christianity is deeply ingrained in how we think:

  • We choose churches where the worship matches our preferences and the pastors are entertaining.
  • We expect churches to provide programs that meet our needs.
  • Welcome gifts are the norm – we are literally spending money on people so that they are more likely to join our selfish structure.  Tell me this, if someone comes in church with real hurt and needs redemption, is a coffee cup going to heal them?
  • We market our churches (intentionally and unintentionally) so that we can appeal to the aesthetic needs of people and not the spiritual needs of people.
  • Our sermons tend to focus on feel-good motivation and “practical application” and often avoids the difficult reality of who we are and we are called to be.  There is no expectation of real sacrifice.
  • Very few churches reflect the diverse tapestry of the communities they serve.  How often do prostitutes and CEOs find themselves in the same Sunday School class?

We expect churches to meet our needs.  And by participating we not only personally reap the benefits, but we feel like we are fulfilling our spiritual obligations.  Instead of spiritual masturbating in private, we flaunt it in public, which makes it all the more disgusting.

Church Staff and Porn

If we are going to explore the nature of the church, we have to be willing to examine how church staffs operate.  The typical church budget pays out 50% for staff salaries.  A full half of our giving goes to pay professional spiritual people.  If churches themselves are examples of auto-erotic hedonism, then I believe the way we view church staff is not much different than the way individuals use pornography.

  • Porn employs professionals to “do the dirty work” so actual relationships are not needed.
  • Porn stimulates you so feel like you are in the experience when actually you have no real connection to what is going on.
  • Porn is on demand you can call on it when you need to.  They work to fulfill your needs.
  • Porn stars fake it so you get a better show.

Having worked at a church for several years, I know first hand that these are true of how staff are utilized as well.

  • Parishioners feel like they are connected to “God’s Work” because they pay the salaries of people to actually do the things.  There is little need connect with actual people.  We expect the pastor to visit the sick, study the word, pray with the dying, help the needy.  As long as someone is doing those things we feel fulfilled.
  • We expect church staff to not only do our spiritual dirty work, but also to meet our needs.  As long as our kids have good programming, the sermon is not boring and worship is engaging, we are happy.  We are more likely to criticize a pastor for not providing us with what we expect than we are to criticize the work they do beyond the walls of the church.
  • Church staff members know they have to make things look good.  “Spiritual” words are sown into conversations to make things appear to be more important than they are.  We call mundane upkeep “ministry” so that people don’t realize we are still just reinforcing a selfish structure.

Don’t get me wrong, I know a good number of pastors and staff members who are embodying and expanding the incarnational love of Christ.  We can’t blame staff for the problems of the church — we are all in this together.  That being said, we must all acknowledge that paying pastors 6 figures while ignoring the plight of the poor and marginalize can be described as nothing short of sin.


In a world where 30,000 children die every day of preventable diseases, malnutrition and unclean water, and where the poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for only 5 percent of global income, it is unacceptable for the church to sit around pleasuring itself.  We can no longer be content with a view of Christianity that encourages selfishness while feeding the illusion of spiritual depth and community impact.  If the result of our involvement in church is that we feel better about ourselves, but do not understand how we can participate in the larger redemptive work of a loving God, then we are done nothing more than masturbated our needs and egos in the name of Christ.

Death of the Camry (UPDATED)

September 30th, 2009 12 comments
Beth laying flowers on the Camry's grave.  RIP

Beth laying flowers on the Camry's grave. RIP

Yesterday I made a post about how Beth and I have cut our costs and are living simply.  In what can only be described as cruel irony, that same day we got word back that our Camry’s engine was blown and would require $1,200+ to put a new one in.  [UPDATE: Because Cash for Clunkers intentionally ruined so many working engines, the cost has gone up substantially.  The cheapest engine we could find is $1,900 with a total cost of $2,300.  Equally disappointing is the fact that we would only get between $100-200 if we tried to scrap it] While we are certainly disappointed (read: pissed) it hasn’t been overly stressful because we have some options.  The problem is, no option clearly seems to make the most sense.

Last month my parents gave me an old Chevy S-10 they had not been using.  It has low miles (for a ’95) and is great for moving things around.  We can fit the whole family in it if we need to, but it is super tight.  Also, it is a stick shift, which Beth hates driving.

We also have my Saturn (which 2 weeks ago I was trying to sell and then informally abandoned that idea after the interior somehow became filled with junk after a road trip to Chicago).  This car is also a stick shift and is beat to crap.  It runs great (with 153K on it) but doesn’t have A/C and the interior is all torn up.  Again, the whole family can fit in there but no one is happy.

And then there is the Camry.  Camries are supposed to be good cars… what happened?  (In case you are wondering… Yes… Beth had made sure there was oil in it).  It also has 153K on it and the tranny has some quirks.  Oh… and the engine doesn’t work.  But, it was a great traveling car, got good gas mileage and the A/C worked.

So what do we do?  Here are the options we see:

  1. Scrap out the Camry and go with what we have – Let’s face it, we are extremely fortunately to have an extra car.  Beth can drive the Saturn and I can drive the truck and we pocket the few hundred dollars that the junk yard would give us.  By far the cheapest option, but Beth hates driving a stick and then we have no car good for traveling.
  2. Scrap out the Camry and buy something else – We could take what little money the Camry brings and perhaps sell the Saturn too and then buy Beth a new car.  We save the repair costs, but selling both cars will probably bring in less than $1,500 and then we have to find a reliable vehicle for a decent price.  Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.
  3. Bite the bullet and fix the Camry – We sink $1,200 into a car that is 11 years old and has a quirky tranny.  We could sell the Saturn to help pay these costs.  We like the Camry and it meets our needs, but I am hesitant to put this much money into a car that is so old.  At some point it costs more to upkeep a cheap car than to buy an expensive car.  If we do this and then the tranny goes, we are up the creek.

Any of these options would work and we don’t need a long term solution.  We are planning on getting rid of all of our vehicles in 2 years when we move to Swaziland.  All we need is something to get us up to that time without being a money pit.

So, we need your help. What would you do in this situation?  Is it worth fixing the Camry or should we count our blessings and move on?

Categories: Family, Random Tags: , , , , , ,

A Simplified Life

September 29th, 2009 5 comments
Family at Jackson's Orchard

Family at Jackson's Orchard

I was talking with someone the other day about my ability to work at Kaleidoscope without compensation.  She was very confused… how could Beth and I support ourselves if I was only working minimal hours a week at a low rate and us practically living on a teacher’s salary.  It was easy I told her… we live simply.  We drive old cars, don’t buy new clothes, have a modest house and save our money.  Unfortunately these simple exercises are entirely foreign to too many people.

In the last year our take home income has decreased by over 30% and we have a new member in the family.  At the same time, our savings have gone up and “happiness” has significantly increased.  In the last year, my primary job has gone from full time to part time to very part time to no time.  Instead of stressing about money, we have actually been able to give more and save more.  In fact, since Mikayla has been born, our monthly expenses have continued to drop.

What accounts for this?  Have we fired our butler?  Have we sold off hidden assets?  Have we joined a commune?

Not at all… we have just continued to re-evaluate our priorities and moved towards a simplified life.  Time with family is more important than extravagant vacations.  Food from the garden is better than eating out.  New clothes are not needed when you aren’t trying to impress people who do not even care about you in the first place.

Sure we don’t drive the nicest cars (when they run), and Lord knows we don’t have the slickest attire.  We aren’t on everyone’s “Who’s Who” list and we don’t get to experience the newest greatest things, BUT…

We are as happy as we have ever been, we stress less, and the time we spend with family and friends outweighs any possession or experience one could buy.  I regularly wake up excited about what the day holds and not worried about what I have to get done.  Those things are priceless.

There is no way I could go back to the rat-race of life.  In only people knew the peace and happiness that comes from a path of downward mobility….  There is a reason that Jesus told his followers to sell all they have to give to poor.  It is not so that the poor can be liberated, but so that the wealthy can.

Tithing Implications

August 3rd, 2009 No comments

Earlier today I published a post about what the Bible says about tithing and how it is decidedly differant than our regular understandings.  It was supposed to be a quick post, but ended up covering quite a bit of ground.  Rather than launch into the implications of my findings in that post, I decided to break it off into a seperate discussion.

Here is the cliff notes version of the previous post:

  • The only references to tithing in the New Testament either refer to Old Testament events, or are connected with religious leaders who miss the point.  Instead of tithing, a holistic understanding of giving is provided which emphasizes all things are God’s and are for God’s people.
  • The Old Testament tithe consisted of things produced from the land and was given to the Levites, aliens, orphans and widows – the four groups of people most marginalized because they lack land.
  • While some passages only mention that the tithe goes to the Levites, the more detailed passages say the tithe is to be taken to the temple (implied) and everyone is to consume it with their families in celebration.  There is even a provision that allows for people to sell their tithe and then use the money to buy whatever “party supplies” they wanted including wine and strong drink.  (See Deuteronomy 12:12-29 for all the details).

How does this jive with what we regularly practice regarding tithing or have been taught?  Here are some things we may need to rethink:

The Christian requirement for giving is 10%

This obviously doesn’t come from the New Testament, instead, it is a co-opting of an Old Testament idea.  BUT… if we are thorough in adopting the OT understanding of giving, we must also include the various offerings which accopany the tithe.  In the end, setting a 10% standard is more about convienance than biblical truth.  This is especially true if are neglecting to fully implement the concept as presented in the OT.

The tithe is to go to the church

This seems logical if we are trying to transition a concept centered around the temple into a world where the temple does not exist (and even if it did, would hold little significance for Christians).  If we understand that everything belongs to God, and we should give 10% of our assets (money) back to him, then it makes sense to give that to the church.  But, there are a couple breakdowns in that conclusion.

First, we must remember the tithe was not given to God (although a tithe of the tithe was — and that probably went to the priest), but rather it was given to the Levites  (at least according to Leviticus).  Since 50-75% of church budgets go to salaries that shouldn’t be a problem — except it is.  Even though Levites were the ministers of the day, it is not a clear correlation between them then and church staff members today.  You see, Levites were not given a salary, they were given food: grain and meat.  Furthermore, it was not wages they were being paid, but rather it was part of their blessing from God.  You see, when the promise land was divvied up, they did not get a share of their own, but were promised 10% of the yield of everyone else’s.  In essence, they were marginalized because they could not own land, but they were liberated because they lived on the gifts of others.  The tithe was how they survived day to day so they could minister, not how they earned a living so they could buy whatever they wanted.  In fact, the tithe was only given to the Levites as part of a larger celebration.  Whenever people had their yearly celebration of God’s blessing, they were to invite the Levites along and everyone would partake in the festivities together.  In other words, these servants received their share through an intimate connection with communal life.  The idea was not: “here is your share, go have your own fun.”  Instead it was: “we are celebrating together, come with us and have part of what God has blessed us with.”  This is not the salary structure we have in place at churches today.  We pay people to fulfill ministerial services for the church.

Even if we look at the more straightforward passages that only say 10% goes to the Levites without mention of a larger celebration, we find this model does not fit into modern church life.  Take Numbers 18 for instance.  It says the tithe goes to the Levites since they have no inheritance.  This idea is grounded in an understanding of God’s blessing that is linked to inheritance and land.  With the new covenant, the promise is no longer of land, but of adoption as God’s children.  The Levites got the tithe because the other tribes got the land.  But today, no one has the land.  We are no longer a geographically centered religious movement.  If we are going to compare our ministers to Levites, we must compare the parishioners to the other tribes who have been given a specific inheritance.  That analogy simply does not work.  In a post-resurrection church, each of us has the same promise.  One group does not need to give to another group because their spiritual promise is different.

Even if we get past salaries, thinking that our tithe goes to the church also neglects the image of communal sharing that is embedded in the scriptures.  Families did not give their tithes to central entity to throw a party, rather they came together to a place of communal significance and each family celebrated in their own way.  Their unity was through individual contribution, not through corporate design.

Finally, and most importantly, our current model of a tithe going directly to the church neglects the third year.  Remember of Deuteronomy 14:28-29, “At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns,  so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

Every three years the tithe is supposed to go to meet the needs of the marginalized in society.  Not only that, but the needs are to be met within the confines of the community.  I doubt many churches can claim that 33% of their income goes to meeting the physical needs of the those on the fringes of society.  Even then, when our tithe goes to the church, it often misses the key connection between individuals and the marginalized.  Each family is to play a role in meeting the physical needs of those in their community.

God will bless us if we tithe

First, let me say not everyone believes this, but I have heard it enough that it is impossible to ignore.  Second, it is not that I don’t think this is true, but at the same time I don’t think there is a causal relationship.  It is not an “if-then” situation.

This misunderstanding of the nature of tithing is rooted in a bad analysis of Malachi 3.  The prophet argues that Israel is stealing from God by withholding tithes and offerings.  After repremanding the nation, he says this in 3:10:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Sure, the straightforward reading reveals that God promises to bless them if they bring their whole tithe.  However, it is the details that are most important.  The people are to bring FOOD to God’s house.  Why are they bringing food?  Based on the scripture we have examined, the only reason they would bring food as a tithe to a storehouse would be so it could be distributed to marginalize — to the Levites, aliens, orphans, and widows.  Also, the blessing promised revolves around there being so much food that there will not be a place to store it.  But, again the storing of food is intended for those on the outskirts of society.  So… God is not just promising people that if they give to the church, he will bless them.  Rather, God is saying that if the people of Israel are diligent in setting resources aside for those who need them, he will always ensure there is enough to give.

So what does it all mean?

Let me be clear.  I am not arguing that we should not give 10% of our money to the church.  Instead, I am saying we need to understand what scripture really says about the tithe and apply that to our giving.  Here is what I have concluded:

  • The tithe is an Old Testament concept.  Instead of focusing on giving a part of our assets, we need to wrestle with understanding what it means that nothing truly belongs to us — it is all God’s and it is for all his people.
  • There is nothing special about 10% and in all honesty, focusing on this number might do more harm that good.  When we put a percentage on what we give, it is easy to feel satisfied with our giving level.
  • We should give so that some people can minister full time.  That being said, our giving should be designed so they can live and not in exchange for ministerial services.
  • In both the Old Testament understanding of tithe and the New Testament witness to giving, there is a definite bent towards helping the marginalized.    Not only should we give so others can live, but we should do it not only corporately but individually as well.  This means we have the homeless over to our home for dinner and not just give money to a soup kitchen in the city.
  • We are to celebrate the blessings of God communally and include others in the festivities.    We are not just talking about Sunday worship; we are talking about complete throw downs with unbelievable extravagance.  This is the place where rich and poor all eat the finest meals together because God has called them all to be fulfilled and to be his people.

All of this is tied to the promise bestowed on all of God’s people:  We are blessed so we can be a blessing to all.

The “Biblical” concept of tithing

August 3rd, 2009 No comments

Go to church, read your Bible, pray and tithe.  If you have these things down most people will consider you to be a pretty good Christian.  In fact, while mainstream Christians may disagree about other points of Christian orthopraxis (correct action / behavior) it seems these go without questioning.

That being said, the concept of tithing is not as clear cut as we may think.

Photo of a Collection Plate

First, the New Testament is virtually silent when it comes to tithing.  In Matthew 23 and Luke 11 Jesus critisizes the religious leaders for strictly obeying the tithe concerning spices, yet neglecting weightier issues.  Luke 16 also mentions it directly, but again, the person who brings up tithing is revealed to be insincere and misguided.  Beyond that, the only mention of tithing is in Hebrews 7 where it refers to an Old Testament example.

Instead of a tithe (litterally a tenth), the New Testament witness seems to point to a more holistic understanding of wealth: its all God’s and it is for everyone.  The epitomic example is surely Acts 2:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Now what about the Old Testament… surely the OT concept of tithing is universal and refers to giving money to God… right???

Well actually, the concept of tithing found in the Old Testament is a bit different than I think most would imagine.

The practice of giving a tithe is initially found in Genesis.  First, Abram gives a tenth of his property to the mysterious king/priest Melchizedek in chapter 14.  Then, in chapter 28, Jacob promises to give a tenth of his possessions to God.  Neither of these tithes are commanded, instead the action was initiated by the giver.

In Leviticus, we find the tithe is part of a much larger system of giving that includes offerings (just read the opening chapters to get a a gist of things). Chapter 27 of Leviticus describes the tithe formally.  It is to be 10% of everything from the land and it is to go to Levities (those who cared for the Tabernacle / temple and did not have a land inheritance).  Numbers 18 expands on this and says the Levities are to give 10% of what they receive “to the Lord.”  This probably means it goes to support the priests.

The Book of Deuteronomy provides a more complex (and I would argue less familiar) description of tithing.  Chapter 12 offers a brief description of tithing but it is chapter 14 that really expands on the concept:

22 Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field.  23 In the presence of the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.  24 But if, when the LORD your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the LORD your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you,  25 then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the LORD your God will choose;  26 spend the money for whatever you wish– oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your household rejoicing together.  27 As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you.  28 Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns;  29 the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.

What?!?! Let me make sure I get this straight.  We are to take our tithe, bring it to the temple (implied) and there we are to have feast with our family and friends! BUT… if we have a long way to travel, we can take our tithe, sell it, travel to the temple and then buy all the supplies we could ever want to throw a massive party…. AND…. we are encouraged to buy wine or strong drink.  Why is this not preached more often?!?!?

So we learn the primary purpose of the tithe is to celebrate with family, but what about the people it is to be shared with?  The Pentateuch says  each year we are to share the tithe with the Levities, and then, on the third year, rather than going to the temple, we are supposed to take our tithe and give it to Levities, the aliens, the orphans and the widows.

We need to be clear here.  Being a Levite does not just mean a person works in “God’s house” and ministers to people.  It also means this person has no inheritance of their own.  When it came to divvying up the promised land, this group got left out.  They have no land and no potential to raise their own crops or animals.  Their material blessing must come through the generosity of Israel.  This firmly places them among the marginalized of society.  This understanding is strengthened when they are listed about the trirfecta of societal fringe groups: the aliens, orphans and widows.  In ancient Israel, these 4 groups represented those in most need because they could not have land of their own.

When we take the time to explore it deeper, we find the Biblical tithe was designed to provide a celebration of God’s blessing with special attention to bringing the marginalized into this celebration.  This seems much different than the understanding that is usually taught (or implied)

Beyond the Pentateuch, mentions of tithing is sparse.  It is most often found when a group is being called back to obedience.  (i.e. During the Hezekian reform in 2 Chr 31 and in Nehemiah and Malachi during the post-exilic period.)  The only other occurrence “tithe” is a brief mention in Amos 4.

Once we realize what scripture actually teaches about tithing, perhaps we can honestly explore some of the larger implications.