Episcopalians and Tithing: A Perspective

Episcopal News Service. November 4, 1982 [82231]

David E. Sumner, Diocese of Southern Ohio

CINCINNATI (DPS, Nov. 4) -- The 67th General Convention passed a resolution affirming the tithe to be the "minimum standard" of giving for Episcopalians, with the deputies and bishops pledging themselves to tithe, or work toward it, and urging all Episcopalians to follow them.

The Convention action is not a mandate or rule, and it is not meant to send anyone on guilt trips. It simply recognizes the tithe as the biblical standard for giving and upholds this as a standard for a'1 Episcopalians to work towards. This was the first such action by a General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

What is the tithe? Basically, it has always been defined as a tenth, or 10 percent, of one's income. Tithe, tithes, or tithing, are mentioned 39 times in the Bible, 32 in the Old Testament and 7 in the New Testament. While the tithe has clear biblical precedent, it raises some common questions amongst most modern Christians.

Is it after taxes or before taxes? Christians do not have a consensus on this matter, and it is generally left to be a matter of one's conscience. Those who do practice the "gross tithe" generally do so on the basis of discipline and dedication, and do not uphold it as necessary for everyone. In the era in which the Bible supported tithing, we did not have the plethora of taxes and deductions that most people have today. One's gross income and net income were probably nearly the same at that time.

What the Bible does teach clearly is that giving should be of the "firstfruits" of one's labors. Translated into today's terms, it means the check for giving, whatever the amount, should be written before the other bills are paid, and not after. The concept of giving of the "first-fruits" of one's work is mentioned in roughly twenty passages of scripture.

Christian stewardship leaders generally urge that those who wish to begin tithing, unless usually able, begin with a lower percentage of net or gross income, and work towards the tithe over a defined period of time. Thus, one might say, "I will give 3% now, but work towards 10% by the end of 1983." The practice and discipline of regular giving is more important than the amount itself.

Must all of one's giving go to the local church or can some go to other Christian ministries? Again, this is a matter of discretion or conscience. The majority of those who tithe probably give some to other Christian concerns. For those who give the entire tithe to a local church, it is again generally a matter of discipline and dedication and not a recognized standard.

Does tithing bring "practical rewards"? While many emphasize that God brings "prosperity" and immediate rewards to those who tithe, this is not a biblical teaching. If one enters into tithing for this reason, it will probably not happen. Most people who tithe feel that they do not go lacking in any physical necessities and that over the long run (of perhaps years), it does bring greater financial stability.

Jesus never commanded tithing, though he repeatedly upheld the teachings of the Old Testament. His specific words on the matter were harsh ones directed towards the Pharisees and hypocrites who saw it only as an external matter. This suggests it is not to be taken as a "rule" to be obeyed, but as a voluntary response of love and gratitude towards God.

Presiding Bishop John Allin stated in Ten Who Tithe, "I can add to the testimony of others who tithe my own testimony, arising out of the experience of whose (40) years. When offered in thanksgiving, tithing continues to be an affordable, affirming, and reassuring experience of and in the faith that is gracious and the Grace that is faithful."