Friends in Christ,
This Eastertide I have been asked by the Diocese to write a reflection on the biblical Tithe, or Tithing in the Episcopal Church. The Diocese is currently producing a “Covenant Plan” for parish giving and as I saw the teaching and biblical Tithe as foundational to this new plan, I was asked to contribute.
I share portions of this reflection (below) less as a teaching to you, my Creator family, but more as an offering of my own, in thanksgiving to the generosity and true stewardship Creator has practiced and is continuing in response to God’s love and provision. Those of you ever involved in leadership at our parish know that our financial health has waxed and waned over the years, as it has for so many parishes. It’s no secret, only sadness, that we have lost members over the years and we struggle with increasing our faithful community. The recession, the pandemic, the “growing and going on” nature of a family-sized parish, the larger changing choices our society makes about religious life at all—all of this has taken its swipes at our Stewardship—financial and otherwise. Nevertheless, our Creator family remains faithful and intentional about giving. And I must say, beyond the heartwarming and affirming nature of this “Wow!” reality, I am very very grateful to be among Christian brothers and sisters who understand the deep theological and spiritual significance of honoring the Tithe. And now a portion of the paper I am presenting…
The Tithe: Church Background
1.The Episcopal Church has officially upheld the biblical tithe (10%-- the “first fruits”) as the minimum standard of giving since 1982. There have been seventeen subsequent General Convention resolutions reaffirming this standard.
2. Each year, our Vestries are required to sign the “Stewardship Commitment” in which they proclaim that they are “…committed to tithing or working towards the tithe as a minimum standard for their own giving.”
3. The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church require that all rectors and priests-in-charge instruct members of the congregations they serve regarding the teaching of the Episcopal Church on stewardship, Christian giving, and the tithe. (Title III.9.6.2.iii)f
The Tithe: Biblical Reflection
It starts where any action of a gathered church Body begins: with God, the giver of all good things. Throughout the Pentateuch we read of the Tithe as God’s command (law) to the people and a building block of the Mosaic Covenant (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:26; Deuteronomy 14:24). Later, in 2 Chronicles 31:5, God’s people, realizing they were not living by this command (and others) and suffering because of it, took drastic action to reform their lives and their community. The willing surrender of material “wealth” (wealth being a relative term when we place in Christian context the reality that “our cups runneth over”) has always been part of the commitment sealed into our Covenant with God, something from within and not without.
In the New Testament, Jesus never commanded tithing, though he repeatedly upheld the teachings of the Old Testament. In Luke 11:42 and Matt. 23:23, Jesus condemns the Pharisees and hypocrites for applying the Tithe as a rule-based action, affirming that the Tithe is to be observed, but with a spiritual awareness and devotion. Jesus illuminates the spiritual aspects of the tithe by asking, “Where is your treasure—where is your heart?” (Matt.6:21). He extols spiritual devotion and divine relationship through such parables of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44, and Luke 21:1-4), and the spiritual and practical cost of giving in Luke 6:1ff. In each of these telling illustrations, the act of giving is inseparable from the intensity and intentionality of the relationship.
The overwhelming truth is, the Tithe cannot be separated from our spiritual relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Tithing is an important, multidimensional act of devotion on our part and a profound teaching tool from God. We remember what Jesus told his disciples: “Do not ask anxiously, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What shall we wear?’ These are the things that occupy the minds of the heathen, and your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well” (Matt. 6:31-33). Jesus is once again placing ‘asking’ and ‘giving’ side by side as the spiritual and relational truth. The act of giving oneself over to God eliminates fear and redirects the heart, mind, and spirit to trust.
The Tithe: Spiritual and Practical Reflection
The financial Tithe is a spiritual and practical action through which we are challenged to live out our weekly liturgical proclamation, “All things come from thee O Lord, of thy own have we given thee” and in very real and tangible ways reprioritize our commitments while in life. In these or similar words we are called to recognize Jesus Christ as the true center of what the secular world mistakenly reveres the most—money; or, if not money, then the security and satisfaction that comes from having it.
The Tithe, as a 10% sacrifice to God of God’s own, is an amount tied to a divine spiritual truth—how we understand our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit will be reflected in our ability to give sacrificially. We can’t tell people to “give till it hurts,” but we can teach financial giving as a first act of basic stewardship of any economy—be it individual, household, parish or diocese. Any Body giving along these lines will know the impact, will feel the impact, because it is the sacrifice and not the size of the gift that prospers the relationship. It is through devotion and trust that true Tithing becomes possible and those who practice it will know it.
The “why” behind our giving must be to love God with all our heart and mind and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the laws…including the law of Tithing.
If, after reading you would like to discuss or throw some questions my way, I am happy to continue the conversation. As in any of our life and faith walks, one can always seek greater understanding and more perfect practice. We benefit by discussing and recommitting to the practice of daily, weekly, monthly stewardship in our lives. Thanks be to God and to you for keeping the matter close in your heart and tangible in your daily life and in your acts of stewardship to our parish.
Father Bill Burk†