What we could do . . . if we all tithed

Following on yesterday’s post, I came across this review (from December) of Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money

If just the “committed Christians” (defined as those who attend church at least a few times a month or profess to be “strong” or “very strong” Christians) would tithe, there would be an extra 46 billion dollars a year available for kingdom work. [Note: No doubt this figure has lost some of it’s shock value in light of the recent Wall Street bailouts.] To make that figure more concrete, the authors suggest dozens of different things that $46 billion would fund each year: for example,

  • 150,000 new indigenous missionaries;
  • 50,000 additional theological students in the developing world;
  • 5 million more micro loans to poor entrepreneurs;
  • the food, clothing and shelter for all 6,500,000 current refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East;
  • all the money for a global campaign to prevent and treat malaria;
  • resources to sponsor 20 million needy children worldwide.

Here’s the breakdown of giving:

  • Twenty percent of all Christians give 0 – nothing
  • Twenty percent of all Christians give 86.4 percent of the total.
  • Five percent give well over half (59.6 percent) of all contributions.
  • Higher-income American Christians give less as a percentage of household income than poorer American Christians.
  • As our personal disposable income quadrupled, the percentage donated by American Christians actually declined.

. . . the widespread consumerism and materialism of the culture—expressed above all in our incessant advertising—seduces many people into making extravagant decisions about major purchases like houses and cars and smaller things like recreation, eating out, vacations, etc.; and the result is that most families are financially pressed in spite of enormous wealth.

Read the whole review –  A Lot of Lattes – to find out five reasons “the wealthiest national body of Christian believers at any time in all of church history end up spending most of their money on themselves.”

Maybe there are some advantages to living next door to poverty.

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4 thoughts on “What we could do . . . if we all tithed

  1. John C. Poirier says:

    Whether or not one tithes should have something to do with whether the Bible enjoins Christians to tithe. Since the Bible nowhere even remotely suggests that Christians are supposed to tithe, then the language of tithing, and the figure of 10%, should be altogether dropped from the discussion.

    There are so many things about what Scripture says about tithing that preachers simply ignore. When’s the last time you heard a preacher refer to the fact that the only profession in the Old Testament that had to tithe was that of farming within the Holy Land?

  2. Simon says:

    This post was more about how most assume a 10% income gift was the right thing to do, but how few actually follow through with it. The point is that, just as in any institution (Boy Scouts for instance) has a level of financial involvement they shoot for to reach a desired level of operation. Simply put: if Christians would pony up the 10% that they purport to be proper, their own initiatives (the wellbeing of the world) would be much more accomplished.

    Paul seems to take up collections for the poor many times, and was often supported on his missionary efforts by communities of fellow Christians (I mean, how did he pay for those boat rides?), so we can probably argue that collecting money to reach the church’s goals is following a biblical precedent. In many agricultural poorer nations around the world, many still do tithe grain to support their pastor (and probably the widow/orphan though I haven’t heard of it directly), which seems to mirror the Levite tithe in the OT.

  3. John C. Poirier says:

    I’m alright with people giving 10%, as long as they don’t do so because some preacher has lied to them by telling them that the Bible teaches that they must do so.

  4. Ben says:

    Thanks for pinch hitting, Simon. (Network problems as usual.)

    John, you are right about needing to be biblical, I’m personally critical of a lot of preachers’ manipulation techniques to “fleece the flock” for their own programs. However, as Simon has already pointed out, the issue here is generosity, wealth, and poverty – and the Bible has quite a bit to say about all those subjects. I’d dare say that in the affluent in America (and just about everyone there is affluent compared to here) could be giving away a lot more than 10% to the world’s poor. (Or maybe I should say investing in the wellbeing of the poor.)

    I do have to caution you about one direction of your logic when you refer to the “tithe” (first fruits) of farming only. One of the great tragedies of the way we approach the Bible is that we expect to find a rulebook with references for specific guidance in each case – like a book of case law or legal precedent.

    To give you an extreme example of where this line of thinking could go, I wouldn’t want to say that because the world of the Bible didn’t have any Wall Street bankers back in the day, they are pretty much free to do whatever they want.

    In other words, I’m much more interested in the general ethos of the Bible than specific proof-texts. We have to be able to think clearly in ways that says, “In light of the cultures of that time, the Bible says X; now that we live in a very different setting, what are some of the core values and ways of being that we can apply in our own environments.”

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