January 4, 2015
Cogitations – Dr. Van’s Viewpoint
written or collected by the late Dr. Warren Vanhetloo
Bring all your tithes unto My storehouse (Mal 3:10).
Query on Tithing: Dr. Van, How is it that some preach the importance of tithing and yet say that we are no longer under the law?
Note from Pastor Don: I include this Cogitation even though I would not answer the question exactly the same way Dr. Van does. I do so because there is a variety of teaching on this subject, the differences are not such as should divide brethren, it is good to think about different perspectives, and much of what Dr. Van says is profitable. I will add my thoughts to the end of the piece.
Response (Dr. Van): As I recall, a Bible dictionary listed thirteen different ways the words for law are used in Scripture. There are not different Hebrew or Greek words to help distinguish these. Context is usually clear enough. For purposes of answering this inquiry, three uses are helpful: ceremonial law, civil law, and moral law.
Ceremony has to do with practices of worship or principles of worship. Extensive instruction was given to Moses on Sinai, but there were patterns of worship prior to that, including the giving of tithes (Gen 14:20). The principle of giving one tenth to God may have been from creation. Detail of tithing directly involved with the Tabernacle/Temple was fulfilled by Jesus (Matt 5:17). Things distinctive to the Mosaic instruction do not carry over to the present dispensation unless specifically named.
Civil law pertains to government. A government may tax citizens, but paying taxes is not tithing. Moral law has to do with our responsibilities to God as free moral agents. The best illustration would be the Ten Commandments. These standards are for men as men, not just for believers. From first creation, both heart attitude and action were judged by God. Abel brought of the best for his offering to God, and God “had respect unto Abel and to his offering” (Gen 4:4).
Jesus indicated three areas of giving: tithes, offerings, and alms. The tithe (a tenth) was considered as belonging to God and was brought to Him as rightfully His. Offerings were gifts to God or God’s work from a worshipper presented from his own portion. Alms were donations from one’s bounty to the needy. All three areas of giving were important (Matt 23:23).
Giving directly to God prior to the Mosaic instructions was giving to a priest of God, as Abraham did. Under Mosaic stipulations, giving directly to God was giving to the tabernacle/temple which was God’s appointed agency for that period. His only appointed agency for this post-Mosaic period is the local church, and so we urge that tithes be presented to God at one of His local gatherings. Offerings may go to other religious agencies whose work is true to the Word of God. Alms can be given individually or to some social agency.
The easy way to judge whether we have given God His portion is from our income tax report. We can quickly compare taxable income with the amount received by our local church. If the income is $40,000, and the local giving is $4,000 or more, we have tithed. If not, the charge may well be, “You have robbed God” (Mal 3:8).
Christians are not under the civil law of the Jewish nation, which still persists through this dispensation. Christians are under God’s moral law, which is changeless. We are not under the Mosaic ceremonial law. That has been fulfilled by the Lord Jesus. Tithing was/is present in all of these. We tithe, rather, as under law to Christ, endeavoring to do what He considered important, and as a special act of heart worship.
Pastor Don’s addition: There are two points I’d like to clarify. First, Dr. Van’s division of the Law into three spheres is often the way this is expressed. However, Romans tells us that Christ is the end of the Law – that is, the Law is finished and complete in him. We are not under the Law of the Old Testament any longer. But that does not mean that we have no obligations to God. There is still right and wrong. This is what Dr. Van calls the Moral Law. The New Testament speaks of the law of Christ, and I think it is helpful to call it that. For the Christian, the Old Testament is a guide to knowing God and how God thinks. We can derive principles for application from it, but it is not authoritative as Law over the New Testament church. In answering this question, we need to be clear that the OT Law is finished.
As to the New Testament obligations on Christians for giving offerings, the best place to look is 2 Corinthians 8-9. In these chapters (and elsewhere in the NT), we find an obligation to generosity, cheerfulness, and love – both love for God and love for man (fellow believers and others). If we love God, we should rejoice at opportunities to support his work in the world. The OT tithe is not repeated as such in the NT (it was more comprehensive than merely 10% of income), but a tithe can be used as a guide or standard to measure our own generosity. This is not something between us and the church – there is no accountability to man for this. This is between you and God.
All of us tend to be selfish. Perhaps it would be better to say, all of us are selfish. We can find reasons not to give. In reality, God owns everything, including us. It is important for us to be in love with our God. Our own giving is one way that can provide something of an indicator of our love for God.
The bottom line is this: I believe the New Testament teaches us to give generously, cheerfully, regularly, and with a heart of love for God. Teach yourself to give this way.