Since the apostasy at the old Worldwide Church of God (WCG), many of those who still claim to believe "the faith that was once for all delivered for the saints" (Jude 3), no longer believe that they need to contribute what had been referred to as 'third tithe.' Are they correct? Is this what the Bible teaches?
Let's start in the Bible,
"And at the end of every third year you shall bring out a tithe of your produce of that year and store it within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God will bless you in all the work of your hand which you do" (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).
God specifically calls this tithe a "holy tithe" (Deuteronomy 26:13).
Though some have disputed whether or not the children of Israel paid more than one tithe, the expression tithes (the plural of tithe) is used 17 times in the Old Testament. The fact that there are multiple tithes is also confirmed in the New Testament from a Pharisee who stated,
"I give tithes of all I possess" (Luke 18:12).
In the Book of Hebrews it shows that, "those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law" (7:5) and that Abraham paid tithes (vs. 9). In addition, Jewish historian Josephus wrote in the first century,
"Besides those two tithes, which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year, a third tithe to be distributed to those that want" (Antiquities of the Jews. Book IV, Chapter VIII, Paragraph 22).
Another secular writer confirmed this as it is written in Tobit 1:6-8 (a non-canonical ancient book):
"Taking the first fruits and the tithes of my produce and the first shearings, I would give these to the priests, the sons of Aaron, at the altar. Of all my produce I would give a tenth to the sons of Levi who ministered at Jerusalem; a second tenth I would sell, and I would go and spend the proceeds each year at Jerusalem; the third tenth I would give to those to whom it was my duty".
A Presbyterian minister wrote:
Tithing was built into the foundation of Israel's way of life. "A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord" (Lev. 27:30).
The word tithe means "a tenth part." Tithing means 10 percent. For Israel, however, tithing was really only a start.
There were three "tithes" collected from Israel—one to support priests and Levites (Num. 18:21); another for a sacred celebration (Deut. 14:23); and a third—collected only once every three years—to support the poor, orphans, and widows (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12-13). So the actual income percentage given was closer to 23 than 10.
(Ortberg J. Tithing: Law or a Grace? The place of giving in the gospel. Christianity Today: Leadership Journal. Spring 2013. http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2013/spring/tithing-law-or-grace.html)
The Bible itself says:
"When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year--the year of tithing--and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then shall you say before the LORD your God: 'I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which you have commanded me: I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten any of it when in mourning, nor have I removed any of it for unclean use, nor given any of it for the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that You commanded me. Look down from Your holy habitation and bless Your people Israel and the land which you have given us, just as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey'"(Deuteronomy 26:12-15).
Of course, those who do not pay third tithe cannot pray this. Third tithe was historically paid in years 3 and 6 of the seven year cycle (with the seventh year a land sabbath, Lev 25:4) and this fiscal-year began with one of the fall holy days (there is controversy surrounding which). The tithe for the third year also seems to be mentioned in Amos 4:4 (KJV/NIV).
The New Testament shows that certain widows still need to be provided for:
3 Honor widows who are really widows. 4 But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. 5 Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day. 6 But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives. 7 And these things command, that they may be blameless. (1 Timothy 5:3-7)
Jesus taught, "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8 ).
The concept of second and third tithe was something that Herbert Armstrong claimed in his 12/17/83 sermon was one of the truths he restored to the Philadelphia era of the Church of God. He claimed that this was one of the truths that the Sardis era did not have, but that at least one of the earlier eras of the Church of God had.
Here is a quote explaining why WCG used to believe that at least part of the Thyatira era of the Church paid third tithe:
"The three-part division of tithes paid the Waldensian Church is significant. Even in the 1500's the same division continued. "The money given us by the people is carried to the aforesaid general council, and is delivered in the presence of all, and there it is received by the most ancients (the elders), and part thereof is given to those that are wayfaring men, according to their necessities, and part unto the poor" (George Morel, Waldensian elder, quoted by Lennard, "History of the Waldenses"). 1. Compare this practice with Num. 18:21 and Deut. 14:22-25, 28-29. Isn't it exactly what the Bible commands?... Most authors have ASSUMED the "wayfaring men" were the traveling "barbel." But THEIR expenses would have been paid from the money given the elders, at EVERY time of year, for the direct conduct of the Work -- "first" tithe and offerings. Notice that in Numbers 18:21. What Morel then mentions is a "second" tithe, for those traveling to and from the festivals -- wayfaring men; and following it, the "third" to the poor. See the explanation in Deut. 14. Feast goers who had more "second tithe" than they needed shared their excess with those who had need, even as they do today! (LESSON 51 (1968) AMBASSADOR COLLEGE BIBLE CORRESPONDENCE COURSE "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place ..." Rev. 12:6).
We in the Continuing Church of God follow basically the same practices.
As the scriptures in Deuteronomy show, the primary purpose of this third tithe was to provide for the Levites. Secondarily, it was to help support the "the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates". Most who do not believe that third tithe is required anymore like to say that the government has taken over these responsibilities. Others, who cited a decision made by Herbert Armstrong to exempt some in countries outside the USA, say there is no reason that Americans should have to pay third tithe (whether this exemption is or was correct will not be the subject of this article).
Since I live in the USA, I would like to confine the following comments to the USA. First, in spite of various government programs, there are often gaps which do not always cover those four groups mentioned in Deuteronomy. Second, while Herbert W. Armstrong was alive, the US ministry did not pay into Social Security (in the US it is possible for religious organizations to be totally or partially exempt). Thirdly, the WCG did not have and through the end of the 20th century did not have (according to the 11/2000 issue of the Worldwide News) a compulsory retirement system.
This means that many of those who were (or still are) faithful in the ministry do not have Social Security or similar programs to support them. Also, there are many problems with the USA welfare system which means that it does not always help those in the Church of God who need assistance. Thus, the Churches of God who do not teach their members to pay third tithe are faced with the choices of 1) not properly compensating the ministry, 2) not providing third tithe assistance to those who need it, 3) not providing for a retirement for those ministers who attempted to remain faithful, and finally 4) diverting money which should have been used to proclaim the Gospel to providing this type of assistance.
Sadly, all of these have been done by those groups and individuals who no longer believe that Church members need to pay third tithe. These are the 'fruits' of not paying third tithe.
We in the Continuing Church of God do teach first, second, and third tithe.
As a general rule, is it appropriate to take resources that should be used to proclaim the Gospel and instead use it for third tithe purposes? The Book of Acts suggests that it is not.
"Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, 'It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word' " (Acts 6:1-4).
This not only suggests that the work should not be affected for this purpose, but that providing for the widows was still needed in New Testament times by Gentiles!
Interestingly, Jesus addressed the specific issue of monetary substitution with the Pharisees,
"He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God"-- Then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' " " (Matthew 15:3-9).
Thus, Jesus' words suggest that He did not endorse monetary substitution practices authorized by the religious leaders of His day. Jesus also taught,
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Luke 12:34).
Would He agree that third tithe need not be paid?
The book of Proverbs has a verse those who do not pay third tithe may wish to meditate on, "He who gives to the poor will not lack, But he who hides his eyes will have many curses" (Proverbs 28:27).
The Bible supports the concept that third tithe is still valid today. Historical proof exists that multiple tithes, including third tithe, were paid by the Jews. The 'fruits' of not paying third tithe are not good.
Jesus taught, "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8 ).
The apostles felt that the work should not be hindered in administering to the widows, but that providing for the widows needed to be done. Jesus taught that humanly devised substitutes do not add up as far as God is concerned.
The logical conclusion, then, is that third tithe is a valid obligation that Christians should pay.
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