It’s all too common for us to complain about how churches are always asking for money; many pastors expect us to support them with a tenth of our gross income, claiming anything less is robbing God. (Ma 3:8) Most take a public collection every Sunday to remind us, making us feel a bit uneasy if we don’t fall in line.
The Bible has a lot to say about money and how to use it, and the clergy are quick to point this out. What they don’t tell us is that when Paul the Apostle addressed the topic of supporting Christian ministry, he didn’t mention the tithe; he quoted an obscure Mosaic law about not muzzling an ox as it was treading corn. (1Co 9:9-10) The reason is simple: the tithe has nothing to do with supporting Christian ministry; it never has and it never will.
Tithing is God’s way of providing for the judiciary and temple system within the nation of Israel, as well as a safety net for any poor living in the land (De 14:28-29), and a means of funding an annual family pilgrimage to the Feast of Tabernacles. (De 12:17-18)
The Levites are charged with maintaining the temple and sacrificial system (Nu 18:6), and also for administering justice in civil disputes. (De 17:8-9) In this role, the Levites haven’t been given their own farmland, and so have no way to earn a living for themselves (De 18:1); they depend on God’s chosen people doing the right thing and taking care of them. So, as keepers of the law (De 17:18), the Levites have a vested interest in ensuring the people have access to and understand God’s law, encouraging God’s people to earnestly follow it, and in being exemplary spiritual guides of the nation. Think of it as the basis of separation of powers in government.
Although the temple system vanished in 70 CE (He 8:13), it isn’t obsolete – the temple’s been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. It will return, and the biblical sacrifices restored. (Re 11:1) The church hasn’t replaced Israel, and has no right to our tithes and offerings.
Even so, giving financially to support christian laborers is definitely taught in scripture; as they invest so much time in caring for our spiritual well-being that it’s difficult for them to support themselves, this is perfectly reasonable. (1Co 9:11) When men of God are pouring into our lives like this, by all means, taking care of them is the right thing to do. (1Ti 5:17-18) This is not, however, an application of the tithing principle; it’s free-will giving based on spiritual relationships, and varies by circumstance.
Evidently, most Christian pastors are not feeding the flock like this; very few have a personal relationship with any of their members, or any real clue how any of them are actually doing spiritually. They believe they’re entitled to a comfortable salary for producing a weekly sermon, running the church as a commercial business, and providing counseling or consolation from time to time. This isn’t God’s intent, not by a long shot; it’s actually quite harmful to the church, preventing the regular, organic participation of brothers in the assembly.
While I wouldn’t say supporting the typical Christian church is necessarily a sin, I do think it’s unwise unless there are no better options, which may indeed be the case. Biblical foundation is exceedingly rare today, yet we’re called to be good stewards of our time, energy and money, focusing all, everything we are, on honoring God the best we know how. (De 6:5) We must make the best of what opportunities we have, but we shouldn’t be ignorant of the underlying principles, or let anyone guilt us into supporting what’s essentially corrupt, foreign to the Word of God.