For those ignorant of the revolutionary nature of the New Testament teachings the idea of the tithe seems straightforward. The Old covenant stipulated that Israel give a 10th of the produce to the Levites to support the work of the Temple. In fact many modern day evangelical churches make the claim that the Levitical role has been filled by the ordained pastor and the role of the Temple has been filled by the local church. In fact a local Baptist church puts it like this:
In Christian life, the role of the Levites has been filled by ordained pastors, and the role of the Temple has been filled by the local church.
This fallacious claim is presented to new church prospects for membership. But is this bold statement true. Consider the following. 1.) The Levites were a distinct caste of members in the commonwealth of Israel. 2) To make a one to one correspondence between Levitical priests and “ordained” pastors is to contradict the clear testimony of the New Testament:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a Holy Nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
3.) The Temple was a physical structure that represented God’s presence on Earth. The Temple was a sign of God’s holiness and utter distinction. The Temple was so Holy that the high priest could only go into the Holy of Holies once a year. If the local church corresponds to the Temple than clearly most of the gatherings should be in the foyer. And the “ordained Pastor” should be the only one allowed in the “sanctuary” and only once a year!
“… the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance (Hebrews 9:7).”
The distinction inherent in the statement: … the role of the Levites has been filled by ordained pastors, once again erects the veil between God and Man. The Levites were set apart to minister to God. When Christ came all such distinctions were abolished. The Veil of the Temple was torn in two. The distinction that the Levitical priesthood represented, Paul declares “… which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14)” has been taken away. All believers can now enter the Holy of Holies. As the writer of Hebrew declares, “…let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).”
At the root of the desire to equate the Levitical priesthood with the “ordained” pastor is the Old covenant concept of the Tithe. When attempting to bind the law of the Tithe onto the backs of Christians.
Modern-Day Pastors will often make long expositions of Old Covenant practices which bound the Israelites to the Tithe. Malachi 3:10 - 11 is an oft quoted passage used to vex the consciouses of New Covenant believers. In fact one local Baptist congregation places the verse:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of Hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows (Malachi 3:10).”
Onto a “Tithing Challenge” card. The card than uses a psychologically manipulative appeal to tithe by challenging believers to tithe for forty day and give God a chance to bless. Two boxes are presented, one yes and one no. The card states:
I commit to put God to the test by tithing for forty days and giving him the opportunity to bless me as He promises.
By checking ‘No’ a person in effect is saying, “I do not commit to God by tithing, in fact I don’t want to give him the opportunity to bless me and I really don’t care about his promises.” The card also appeals to a magical, superstitious view of ’40 days’. This magical 40 day formula has become en vogue among evangelical Christendom. It was derived from the self-help, pop-psychological methods propagated by the best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life. Many denomination has bought into this concept of ’40 days’ without question. You will see “40 days of Purpose, Community, Love, etc…
In fact, the author of the Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren claims that “Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days (p. 9).” While there are example of God using ’40 days’ to prepare someone this number can not be used a Christian formula for blessing. If tithing really is a command to New Covenant believers why have them commit to tithe for 40 days. Tithing should be a life long action. The very statement “… put God to the test by tithing for forty days” makes a mockery of the notion of tithing. The Christian life does not consist of formulas.
40 days + T (tithing) = B (Blessings) to the power of 100.
On what basis will you determine that this ’40 day’ God test has worked? This formula is as psychologically manipulative as the “Pray of Jabez.” Jabez prayed “… enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me (1 Chronicles 4:10).” A believer can not use this verse to stroke a lamp and have a magic genie pop out to grant wishes. The Apostle Paul clearly did not have enough faith. He was given a “thorn in the flesh” to torment him. He states, “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).” The purveyor of Purpose Driven methods would have told Paul that his problem was that he only implored the Lord three times rather than over a 40 day period!
Rather than teaching that “whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days,” it is more accurate to say that sometimes God took 40 days, but not all the time, and not even most of the time. Rather whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, He took however much time He deemed necessary to prepare that person (Fool’s Gold? Pg. 52).
What of the Malachi 3 passage. First, the context of the passage deals with oppression of the widows, the fatherless, and the stranger. These groups were the rightful benefactors of the tithe. Israel was ignoring these three groups by not bring in the full tithe to the storehouse (located in the chamber of the Temple, these chambers were set apart to hold the tithes which were produce not money, in fact a local Baptist church indicates that their tithe is divided up as follows: 40% salaries, 30% Building and Land, 20% General Operations, and 10% missions; Talk about building treasures on Earth). The passage was directed to the ancient commonwealth of Israel when they were under the Law of Moses. Hence, the desire to make a correspondence with the Levities and the ‘ordained’ pastor; the temple and the local church. If this relationship exists than Malachi 3:8-12 can be used as a proof text to bind on the conscisouses the Old covenant practice of tithing. But from the clear New Testament teaching this relationship is non-existent. We, as New Covenant Believers, are freed from the burden of the tithe and given liberty to give cheerfully and from the heart. There are not set amounts of cute formulas. Each is to give as purposed in his heart (2 Corinthians 9:7) not under compulsion. For the letter (tithe) kills but the spirit (cheerful giving, not out of obligation) gives life.