Stewing about Stewardship

Stewing about Stewardship

March 09, 2014
Written by Steven Liechty

Dear Theo,

Is the Christian standard for giving to church still tithing?

Stewing about Stewardship


Dear Stewing,

It's hard to say that there's a single Christian standard for giving. The idea of the tithe, or a tenth part of the harvest to support the priestly cult and community religious festivals, was originally a Jewish practice, hallowed in the Hebrew scriptures, aka the Old Testament.

The earliest Christian church actually took the idea of the Jewish tithe even further. When disciples signed on to join a Christian community, many of them "held all things in common," completely eschewing the idea of personal property. They also took very seriously Jesus' call to support the poorest and most vulnerable among us with our God-given resources.

The book of Acts in particular underscores the standard of open-handed sharing of resources—with dire results for those who held back their capital gains, and lied about it (google Ananias and Sapphira for the exciting conclusion!).

Throughout the millennia, the organized church has had various ways of extracting income from her adherents, from the papal indulgences that Martin Luther so railed against, to the prosperity promises of this century's media-savvy megapreachers.

But what you want to know is:  is a tithe still enough? Or is it too much?

Some church folks hold with the notion of a modern tithe: 5% to one's church, 5% to other charitable organizations that defend and support society's most vulnerable. Back in the day, the church was the only social service organization: it was soup kitchen, domestic violence shelter and civil rights organization, all in one. You might say we have outsourced a lot of that work to more highly trained and efficient organizations since then, hence the 50/50 split between church and charity.

But others still argue that there is still a deep, enigmatic spiritual benefit to giving 10% off the top of your income directly to God—or, closer to the truth, the local or global church, that, one hopes, does with it something as close to God's will as mere mortals can get. For a great story on the blessing of before-tax tithing, see this piece by Lillian Daniel.  

So, there are varying standards for giving to churches, and when it comes to tithe-talk, there's not a lot of tithe-walk. Evangelical Christians come out on top, with 9% of them tithing to their church; Protestants come in second, at 8%, and finally only 2% of Catholics tithe.*

It's also interesting to note that in general, across denominational, religious and every other cross-section, poor people give far more money away, as a percentage of income, than their wealthy counterparts.  Jesus said: the poor you will always have with you! And it's a good thing, too, since they clearly know how to give.

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,


*thank you to the Barna Group for supplying this data

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