In 1979 my father, Rousas John Rushdoony, co-authored a book with Edward Powell entitled Tithing and Dominion. They very cogently presented the tithe as the means God has appointed to finance the work of His Kingdom, and showed that the tithe was, in effect, God’s tax on His people. Surprisingly enough, this gem of a work has never sold well, for at least two reasons. First, it represented the tithe as a requirement, a tax that God demands. This goes against modern antinomian Christian attitudes. Many wish to think of anything they give God as a gift of, in effect, grace on their part to God. The idea of obligation runs counter to the modern Christian’s mindset. They see their wealth as their own and all they give to God, if anything, as an act of piety. Second, many churchmen have had no use for my father’s teachings on tithing because he saw the tithe as distributed by the tither and not the church. Failure to understand and obey God’s requirement of tithing is, however, a great impediment to the reconstruction of a godly order, as it represents an overt rebellion within the number of those who identify themselves as citizens of His Kingdom.
In a godly society, the state would be small and limited in power. In Israel, God made no allowances for a property tax or an income tax. The predicted demands of the state for a tenth (equal to the social tithe due to God) was considered a sign of oppression (1 Sam. 8:15-17). The poll or head tax (Ex. 30:11-16; Num. 1:1-3) was a uniform tax on each adult male that was to finance the necessary administration of justice and defense. Because it was uniform, and not progressive, it had to be small enough that all could afford it. God’s taxation required a limited funding for a limited state.
God, however, demanded far more of man than He allowed the state. God required tithing. It is common to refer to “the tithe,” though there were actually three distinct tithes. The first, or “social” tithe (Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:20-32) was a tenth of one’s increase and was paid to the Levites who, in turn, gave a tenth of their tenth to the priests for use in worship (Num. 18:25-32). The second, the “festival” or “rejoicing” tithe (Dt. 12:17-19; 14:22-27; 16:3,13,16) was used by the family to celebrate God’s goodness. The third, or “poor” tithe (Dt. 14:28-29) was made every third year of labor.
The tithe was not a gift; it was God’s tax. Only what was beyond tithing was an offering. As a tax, it represented what all taxes do, a claim to priority. If you do not pay your state or federal taxes, you will suffer property forfeiture and possibly the loss of your freedom (imprisonment). An article this week in my local paper told the story of a local man who ignored a $120 bill from his homeowner’s association. His house was recently sold at a public auction. The tithe, likewise, is a claim of God’s sovereignty over all we own and represents man’s obligation, not his offering.
The Benefits of Tithing
Tithing allows for a free society. It means the individual has the authority to put his tithe where he sees a godly work performing a necessary service and necessitates that the recipient be worthy of the tither’s confidence. Every ten tithers represent more financial clout than their average income. This represents a tremendous power by the tither completely lost in the economics of the modern state. In a tithing society, not only property but also social functions are private.
The financial basis of God’s Kingdom is tithing. Without tithing, the Kingdom will lack the resources necessary to its growth. While God’s power controls the extent of His Kingdom, if we expect its growth without the obedience God requires, we are in the dangerous position of demanding miracles while in rebellion.
Tithing would provide systematic, planned giving with a concurrent requirement of financial responsibility, both on the part of the tither as the dispenser of God’s tax, and on the part of the recipients to demonstrate that theirs is, in fact, the Lord’s work. The power of such a society would lie, not in the state or in the recipients of state funding, but in a very large segment of society, one too large to be controlled. The power of such a society would rest with its productive citizens. Centralism and tyranny would have no source of funding.
Man must be responsible for how his tithe is used. This is impossible with statist taxation and social welfarism. It is also impossible with church-managed tithing, as the tither is many degrees removed from the end use of the tithes. The believer must see God as the owner and Lord of all creation (Ps. 24:1), who upholds all things with His power (Heb. 1:3). The believer, then, is the steward of God’s creation and, in particular, the resources entrusted to him. The question must constantly be before us: “Who owns and who stewards?” Modern statism assumes ownership and control by the state (again, try not paying any tax). The state owns, the state collects, and the state stewards “its” property, all with a view to increasing its power and control while its leaders seek political rewards for “their” benevolence. In statist tyrannies, this is brutally apparent. In statist democracies, however, we often overlook the same phenomenon. In an attempt to represent the “will of the people,” various groups seek to manipulate the public treasury and the law in order to control others through the legislative power of the purse strings. Still, the state owns the resources of society and stewards them, only hypocritically doing so as the voice of the people. God’s tax meant freedom for the individual to steward his wealth according to his conscience before God. God’s tax means freedom for men. Statist taxation means both society and freedom are controlled by the steward state. Church taxation means the church is assuming the responsibility that is rightfully that of the tither. The church must be funded but it need not be the steward of all tithes and offerings.
How God Enforces His Tax
God will enforce His tax, but not through any human agency. Despite the fact that the tithe was mandatory and avoidance represented the theft of God’s property (Mal. 3:8-9), Scripture provides no method of nor grounds for enforcement by any human agent. God, however, says He will enforce the tithe by means of blessings on obedience (Pr. 3:9-10; 19:7; Mal. 3:10, Dt. 14:28-29) and judgment for disobedience (Pr. 28:27).
We are called to tithe and to enforce it upon ourselves as an act of obedience and self-government. If the church claims all rights to the tithe, it claims an authority and a social regulatory function God never intended for it. If the state claims the right to administer what is God’s (such as in colonial America’s enforced tithe) it attempts to assume the power God confers on the tither. Church and state are essential spheres of authority in society but neither is its ruler.
A false ascetic view of Christian ministry continues to plague the modern church. We associate poverty and want as the marks of pious Christian service. We then respond only in crisis or when emotional pleas tug at our heart. Too many godly works are under- funded because people give to emotional appeals rather than the godliness of a work as part of their own disciplined tithing.
While not borrowing nearly enough from the Bible, it is Mormonism’s use of the tithe (though it is paid to the church) that has made it such a powerful social force. If Christians tithed to the extent Mormons do, the results would be world-changing within a generation. How sad that a cult can use God’s tax to spread its false faith!
We tempt God when we ask, in the Lord’s Prayer, for His Kingdom to come, yet dodge His Kingdom tax.