Is the Church Oppressing the Poor by Demanding a Tithe?

Is the church taking advantage of the poor with its teaching of the tithe? Does it not insist that 10 percent of one’s gross income belongs to God (hence the church) and that one is robbing God (and the church) if one does not “return” it to the Lord?

Notice how we present our case in the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe...A Biblical Exposition of 28 Fundamental Doctrines (page 304, as taken from a PDF file on the NAD Stewardship website):

1. Tithes. As one seventh of our time (the Sabbath) belongs to God, so does one tenth of all material things we acquire. Scripture tells us that the tithe is "holy to the Lord," symbolizing God's ownership of everything (Lev. 27:30, 32). It is to be returned to Him as His own.

The tithing system is beautiful in its simplicity. Its equity is revealed in its proportional claim on the rich and on the poor. In proportion as God has given us the use of His property, so we are to return to Him a tithe.

When God calls for the tithe (Mal. 3:10), He makes no appeal to gratitude or generosity. Although gratitude should be a part of all our expressions to God, we tithe because God has commanded it. The tithe belongs to the Lord, and He requests that we return it to Him.

God “has commanded it.” And this tithing practice is equitable and is applicable to “the rich and on the poor.” In other words, Malachi 3 and Leviticus 27 apply to all Christians today.

Later in the same chapter (p. 306), we read the following:

God's response to Israel's unfaithfulness gives a clear insight into how He regards this matter. When they used the tithes and offerings for their own benefit, He warned that it amounted to theft (Mal. 3:8) and attributed their lack of prosperity to their fiscal unfaithfulness: "You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation" (Mal. 3:9).

“Theft!” Who wants to be accused of stealing from God? This is serious stuff. On the Stewardship website is a reference to another paper entitled “General Conference Tithing Principles and Guidelines,” which was written in response to conscientious church members’ questions as to how to calculate their tithe in our modern day. On page 32, there is even a section entitled “Welfare, donations & grants.” Here, welfare recipients are encouraged to pay tithe “on the portion of their income over which they have discretionary control.”

Are such suggestions going a little too far? Are we in danger of devouring “widows’ houses” (Lk 20:47)? Are Malachi 3 and Leviticus 27 applicable to all Christians today? And if so, how does it apply to us?

Malachi is specifically addressed to “Israel” (1:1). The very next verse following the passage on tithes in Leviticus 27:30-33, verse 34 reads: “These are the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites.” (Emphasis mine; unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references are from the 2011 NIV.) We know from the book of Hebrews and elsewhere in the New Testament, that not everything in the Mosaic law applies to us. So, the church needs to be able to make a strong case in this regard, which in my opinion, they have not. Their position is very problematic. I will only submit two main points.

1. Tithing did not apply to everybody

God did command tithing in the Mosaic law, but not from all Israelites. Notice that in Lev. 27, the products that are liable to tithing are all connected to the land of Israel. In Lev. 27:30-33, Moses mentions grain, fruit, and animals from the herd or flock. He never mentions income earned from other enterprises, like those who worked with metal (Gen. 4:22) or those who were builders. Though Israel was primarily an agricultural society, it was not solely agricultural.

So, tithing in the Mosaic law was not based on income; it was only from crops and cattle. In the New Testament period, artisans, fishermen, and tradesmen did not pay tithes on their income, and Jews who lived outside of Israel did not pay tithes on anything. (For references, see further reading below.)

The words money (nine times) and silver (26 times) occur in the book of Genesis. Even though the minting of coins did not begin until the late seventh century BC, money was available and used in trade much before this. In fact, Leviticus itself refers to silver five times and money twice. For instance, in Lev. 25:37 money is referenced against charging interest. Hence, the Israelites used money before tithing is ever given as a command.

Although money existed before tithing, the source of God's holy tithe was solely food from the land of Israel, as documented in Scripture, from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus (Lev. 27:30, 32; Num. 18:27-28; Dt. 12:17; 14:22-23; 26:12; 2 Chr. 31:5-6; Neh. 10:37; 13:5; Mal. 3:10-11; Mt. 23:23; Lk. 11:42).

2. The poor did not pay tithe and were recipients of the charity tithe

In the Mosaic law, God commanded Israelite landowners and herdsmen within Israel's borders to give three tithes. The first was for the support of the Levites and Aaronic priesthood (Num. 18), the second was for national religious festivals and was eaten by all (Deut. 12:1-19 and 14:22-26), and the third was every third year for the poor which included the Levites (who were considered poor because they had no inheritance), and the foreigners (Deut. 14:28-29 and 26:12-13). No tithe was collected every seventh year because no crops were planted.

According to Numbers 18, the first full tithe of ten percent was given to the non-priestly Levites who performed servant duties to the priests. They, in turn, gave their best ten percent of what they received to the priests. The latter are nowhere commanded to tithe.

If the poor were landless and did not own ten or more animals, they were exempt from tithing, and were recipients of the charity tithe. They were also allowed to glean in other people’s fields for food.

If tithing was not a universal command, should we not make believers aware of that fact and free them from feeling guilty of robbing God, if they are unable to give a tenth?

Do we not have an obligation to admit to the people of God that our interpretations of Scripture in regards to tithing passages are problematic when it comes to corelating them to us under the new covenant? The same is true with regards to our application of 1 Cor. 9:11-14, which does not say that tithes are for gospel ministers.

Does God expect the poor to be deprived of their basic necessities? When does 1 Timothy 5:8 come into play: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Isn’t that our first responsibility? How different is this from when Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day for the “corban” practice (Mark 7:9-13):

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) — 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Is it right to press people to tithe when they cannot afford their basic necessities?

Furthermore, we should beware of using Malachi 3 to entice poor people to give beyond their means by promising that by so doing they will be blessed financially. They will indeed be blessed by God, but not necessarily financially, to the point of lifting them out of their poverty. Let me quote Russell Earl Kelly:

Churches showcase success stories but fail to mention the testimonies of those who have tithed for generations without escaping poverty. Today the very lowest income class pays the largest percentage to charity. Yet most remain in poverty. Meanwhile many atheists become wealthy by simply following principles of money management which also makes many tithers successful. Neither the lottery, nor the tithe is a magic get-rich-quick answer to replace education, determination and hard work. If Malachi 3:10 really worked for New Covenant Christians, millions of poor tithing Christians would have escaped poverty and would have become the wealthiest group of people in the world instead of remaining the poorest group. There is no evidence that the vast majority of poor tithe-payers are ever blessed financially merely because they tithe. — Russell Earl Kelly, PHD, “Tithing is not a Christian doctrine,” January 31, 2015, www.tithing-russkelly.com

The words of David Croteau are also appropriate:

Has anyone who faithfully tithed gone bankrupt? Absolutely! There are many news stories on the internet explaining how certain individuals have gone bankrupt while tithing… So many have had this issue of going bankrupt while tithing that the [U.S.] federal government has been wrestling with how to adjudicate this situation. President Clinton signed the Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act in 1998 to allow those who are bankrupt to continue tithing. But a 2005 law overturned that decision: The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. The fact that the [U.S.] federal government has had to monitor this so much demonstrates that this is not a rare situation.” —David A. Croteau, Tithing After the Cross: A Refutation of the Top Arguments for Tithing and New Paradigm for Giving.

Again, is it right to press people to tithe when they cannot afford their basic necessities? Is this not abuse?

As Russell Earl Kelly states on his website: “God honors the amount of sacrifice in giving more than the value of the things given (Mark 12:42-44). He makes it clear that oppressing the poor is sin (Deut. 10:19; Prov. 14:31; Jer. 22:16-17; Ezek. 16:49; Amos 2:6-7; 4:1; 5:12; 6:4; Zech. 7:9-10; Mal. 3:5-6). God will certainly punish those who oppress the poor (Isa. 3:14-15; 10:1-2; 11:4), and the righteous will be known according to their treatment of the poor (Deut. 12:13; 15:11; Ps. 140:12-13; Prov. 19:17; 31:20; Jer. 22:16).”

A lesson from taxing practices

In many countries, the poor are not required to pay income taxes if their income is below a certain threshold. Should the church not accord the same grace to those who live below the poverty line, and have trouble making ends meet?

For the impoverished, a tithe is unduly harsh. I believe the church needs to let poor Christians off the hook in regards to tithing, and recommend that they only be expected to give freewill offerings. Poor Christians who want to support the Gospel should only be encouraged to give as they are able:

“For if the willingness [to give] is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. 13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.” —2 Corinthians 8:12-13

Notice that the apostle is saying that those who have more should give more in order to make up for the inability of those who cannot afford to give as much. This principle of "equality” giving allows the poor to have some degree of self-respect in knowing that they gave all they could without depriving their families of essential food and shelter. These persons also have spiritual gifts and should be allowed to hold church offices (contra the Church Manual) according to their God-given abilities.

Paul encourages Christians to give out of love: freely, sacrificially, generously, regularly, and joyfully.

For Further Study:

For further study on tithing and its applicability to Christians today, I especially recommend David A. Croteau’s books (I have the Kindle editions):

You Mean I Don’t Have to Tithe? A Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2010.

Perspectives on Tithing: Four Views, edited by David A. Croteau, 2011, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN.

Tithing After the Cross: A Refutation of the Top Arguments for Tithing and New Paradigm for Giving, Areopagus Critical Christian Issues, 2013, Energion Publications, Gonzales, FL.

Also see his co-authored article: Köstenberger, Andreas J., and David A. Croteau. “‘Will a Man Rob God?’ (Malachi 3:8): A Study of Tithing in the Old and New Testaments.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 16, no. 1 (2006): 53-77.

Russell Earl Kelly’s website is also very informative: www.tithing-russkelly.com.

Yvon Caza is a Small Group Bible Study Leader in Ponoka, Canada.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10147
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Yes, they are disproportionately oppressing the poor.

Tithing as presented by the church isn’t biblical in any case.

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On the Biblical perspective, your argumemts seem very reasonable. While this may be so, does this view not conflict with EGW’s firm counsels on the stewardship?

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It may. Establishing traditions, traditions formed past the time when the church was in its infancy, is not foreign to Christian churches. Whether the customs go against Biblical intentions or are assigned the same level of importance, may be a different matter.

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I’m guessing it’s a rhetorical question?

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What kind of advocacy is this? In the name of religious freedom. This is akin to abusing an audience & adventist public space to advocate for teachings that have no place in our church. The fundamental teaching in stewardship is the God first principle not wealth creation thru tithing. Its about total dependance on God for both rich & poor people. We ll always have the poor amongst us & tithing was never meant to emancipate the poor. We tithe because God gave us an increase & we merely return the 10% + free will offering. People who shld first study the stewardship principles are now given space to teach heresy while ignoring all the other scriptures that support tithes. This is an abomination.

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You’ve followed your opening question with about 15 more uses of the word “this”, and I can’t figure out what you are referring to. My little reply?

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Do you call this abuse?
The Widow’s Offering
Mar 12:41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
Mar 12:42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
Mar 12:43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
Mar 12:44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

What about the widow with a son of whom Elijah asked to make him something to eat? Is Elijah one of those horrible patriarch men? What actually happened?

I tithed whatever I got when I hardly had anything as well as in more ‘comfortable’ times. There is a purpose in one’s personal situation. Our individual job is to be a light unto the people in the world around us, not to groan and moan and trying to find nit picking faults with EGW and the ‘church’.

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We are truly blessed in the USA, in that our charitable contributions are TAX DEDUCTIBLE—. this is not true in many countries. This deductibility allows us to give MORE.

Atheists might quibble that allowing tax deductibility for contributions to churches, violates the separation of church and state.

Some of us who give ten per cent ( and more ) to charity, do not always give one hundred per cent of our donations to the Adventist Church or ADRA.

Would a donation to DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS — the greatest humanitarian outreach on earth, be considered as an appropriate charitable contribution by the Adventist hierarchy ?

Or a contribution to the Salvation Army?

Probably not — the hierarchy would prefer that every penny of our charity go to Adventism.

When the preachers whose very livelihood, depends on the tithing principle, are dictating rigid rules to the parishioners, is this not a conflict of interest situation ?

Is giving part of our tithe to SPECTRUM / ADVENTIST FORUM acceptable ??

How about to SDA KINSHIP — the LGBT support group ?

There are multiple off shoot entitles SIPHONING OFF Adventist contributions from the main church structure —- Maranatha, Amazing Facts, Adventist World Radio , Frontier Missions ad Infinitum.

Who determines which of these off shoot entities are “kosher “ and worthy of donations that fall into the ten per cent / tithe category ??

When the poor / impoverished give their “widows mite “ the reward need not necessarily be a windfall of financial gain—- just the glow of having done the right thing, of having contributed, might be its own reward !

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I’m not sure where in the line of comments this will show up. I tried posting a couple of sentences yesterday, and after 4 hours “pending approval” the conversation had moved on, and so I deleted it.

This article is not advocating against principles of stewardship.

I am wondering about the comment of “all the other scriptures that support tithe.” Of course, Scripture supports tithe, the question is, who does it apply to? There is no command that says New Covenant believers are to tithe. If there was, that would be the end of the story.

Consider the reference to tithing in the book of Hebrews. How are we to interpret that? Here is one way of looking at it, from the Seventh Day Adventist Believe book:

“Because Abraham is the father of all believers, he is the model for tithe paying for Christians. As Abraham paid tithe to Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God, so New Testament believers give tithe to Christ, our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9, 10; 7:1-22).”

Here is another way of looking at it, as taken from Croteau’s book, Tithing After the Cross:

"The literary argument of Hebrews as a whole, and of this passage in particular, is important to consider. The entire letter to the Hebrews is basically arguing that Jesus’ sacrifice is superior to the Old Covenant sacrifices; therefore, the Jews were encouraged not to turn back to their former ways. The author goes through many steps to prove the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice. He demonstrates Jesus’ superiority to the angels and then the superiority of Jesus’ high priesthood to Aaron’s priesthood. Then the author proves that Melchizedek’s priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood. Then, on the basis of Psalm 110:4, the author shows that Jesus’ priesthood and Melchizedek’s priesthood were of the same kind. Since Melchizedek’s priesthood was just proved to be superior to the Levitical priesthood, Jesus’ priesthood is also superior to the Levitical priesthood. The section of Hebrews 7:1-10 is attempting to prove that Melchizedek’s priesthood is greater than the Levitical priesthood.

The first three verses of Hebrews 7:1-10 have one major theme: Melchizedek remains a priest forever. This text is not about a pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus or whether Melchizedek is Jesus. In verse 4 there is a shift to the next phase of the argument, the “proofs.” Three reasons are provided to support the contention that Melchizedek’s priesthood was greater than the Levitical priesthood. First, Melchizedek is greater than Abraham because he received tithes from Abraham. Since Levi and Aaron were both descended from Abraham, Melchizedek’s superiority to them is proven. Second, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and the greater always blesses the lesser. Third, Levitical priests would begin their service in the Temple at a certain age and then they would cease serving. They would eventually die. Israel paid tithes to priests who would die, but Abraham paid his tithes to a priest who lives on: Melchizedek.

This last point is significant because verse 8 is talking about Melchizedek, not Jesus. Verse 8 does not declare that Jesus receives tithes, but the contrast is specifically between Aaronic priests who received tithes and died versus Melchizedek who received tithes but did not die. Hebrews 7:3 says that Melchizedek has “neither beginning of days nor end of life” and that “he remains a priest perpetually” (NASB). The author only turns his attention to Christ in verse 11 and following.

Also, is Abraham a picture of Christians giving tithes today? If Abraham was intended to be a picture of Christians paying tithes today, what about the inconsistencies between his act of tithing and what is taught today? First, Abraham’s tithe was voluntary, not compulsory. Scripture never declares that he was required to give a tithe or that he was commanded to give it. Second, his tithe was given as a thanksgiving to God for his victory in war. This is very different from the picture of tithing in the Mosaic Law. Finally, the main objection, the author of Hebrews was not attempting to argue for a continuation of the practice of tithing in this passage. The issue of the continuation or cessation of tithing is totally irrelevant to the author’s theological purposes in Hebrews. The reference to tithing in Hebrews 7 is illustrative, not prescriptive. Ellingworth’s conclusion is judicious: “Abraham’s action is unrelated to the later Mosaic legislation on tithes… and this is not Hebrews’ concern.”" [Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 361]
Tithing After the Cross: A Refutation of the Top Arguments for Tithing and New Paradigm for Giving by David A. Croteau (Areopagus Critical Christian Issues- Energion Publications; Gonzalez, FL; 2013; Kindle edition)

You weigh the arguments. As for me, I agree with the latter interpretation.

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No, I do not think the church is oppressing the poor at all by teaching it’s members to tithe. I disagree with this article wholeheartedly and think it is wrong on so many levels.
Tithing is a way to give back to God, to strengthen our faith and to show our obedience to Him. To thank Him for taking care of us and sustaining us at all times. Even those in dire straits have something to be thankful for. If they have a relationship with Him they will want to show their love and devotion by staying in obedience to Him. It was God Himself who told us to tithe. Not the church. And it was God who said to test Him on this. He is the one who said we would be blessed beyond measure if we are faithful to give a tenth of what we have. It is not the church’s way of oppressing people to give.
I believe God and His promise. My husband and I are faithful with tithe. Even when we have been dirt poor, and had nothing to give. God has kept his promise many times throughout our lives. He has sustained us and blessed us. Maybe not always financially. However, there has always been a blessing with our faithfulness and obedience to tithe. We have had our needs met at all times.
Tithing is a way of showing God He is in control and we have complete faith in Him. That is what He wants from us and that is why we should tithe. Even if we are poor.

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The tithe is 10% of increase, being 10% of what is left over after basic necessities and the cost of producing the income. Even though in certain countries workers cannot deduct for income tax purposes certain costs of earning income (transportation, appropriate business attire, etc.) these expenses are not part of one’s “increase” for tithe purposes.

This of course is leaving aside the whole issue as to whether or not tithe is a New Testament doctrine, or under what biblical authority the SdA professional clergy and ecclesiastical hierarchy proclaimed themselves successors to the Levites.

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Is the church taking advantage of the poor with its teaching of the tithe?

The church has generated pronouncements on tithing which, although using tithing as a founding principle, has used ecclesiastical authority to frame tithing practices which are different from OT practices. I have read some of the judgmental comments of some on this subject and let me simply say, whether I tithe or not, is a matter between me and God and no-one, no church, has the authority to compel me or anyone, by argument or by pronouncements of doom culled from proof texts, to do what ecclesiastical policies mandate. To answer the question: I agree that there is a compelling argument that the tithing policy does take advantage of the poor. It also takes advantage of poor churches and the communities they serve by siphoning proportionately high amounts up to the higher organizations and out of the reach of local mission. This a a huge taboo subject in the church for reasons that are patently obvious.

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The poor often don’t have an increase. For many poor, their expenses equal or exceed their income and hence there is no increase. It’s not that they need not tithe, but if the increase is $0 (or negative), then 10% of zero is still zero.

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Exodus 12:49:“The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.”
Leviticus 24:22 “You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am YHWH your God.”
Numbers 15:15, 16: “The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before YHWH: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.”

Solid article and very biblical! The early church model was a free will offering not a tithe. Tithes was more of a catholic thing since a regular 10 percent really gets the gold flowing. Ive noticed the people who disagree with this article arent really debating its biblical basis but are throwing out buzzwords like stewardship or ellen white.

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So far as I know, the only sub-population of church members of whom the church “demands” a tithe are conference employees (as it is included as a requirement in the employee contracts for our local conference). The church has never “demanded” a tithe from me or from anyone that I know (who is not a church/conference employee). Has the church ever “demanded” a tithe from you? In the Christian church, a teaching is not a “demand”, but something with which one agrees prior to becoming a member. If anyone can cite a particular instance where the church has demanded a tithe from a poor person, then please report on that instance so it can be dealt with publicly and practically.

There is nothing about the “teaching” of tithe that has recently been sprung on unsuspecting members, and I have certainly never heard of any instances of tithe being “demanded” of poor people under any circumstance. I have heard plenty of testimonies, though, from poor people who have determined - of their own free will - to return a tithe in spite of their financial condition (even so far as to tithe from government assistance) and to report later having experienced blessings from doing so.

Biblical tithing was an invitation from God to “prove” Him by participating in a practice which He himself guaranteed with a promise to “open the windows of heaven”. The church may have defective ways of communicating, that fact is disputed by no one. With that understanding we can avoid making mountains of molehills.

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How is it possible for the Scriptural plan of tithe to be “an abomination” or “heresy?”

The 1st tithe was to the Levitates and in turn they gave a tithe to the priestly family of Aaron. The Levitates performed all the responsibilities of temple care and music ministry. Thus the proper use of tithe should be the care of the local church, its property and providing a music ministry.

Take note: Tithe consists of food items only: called “tithe of the land” [fruit & vegetables] (Lev 27:30) and a “tithe of the herd” (Neh 10:37) and “tithe out of the fields” (Neh 12:44), “count off every 10th animal” from your hard (Lev 27:32). The silver & gold (currency) were freewill offering. No other occupations were tithed. All gold or money were free will offerings.

The 2nd tithe was for the support of the 3 annual feast (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles) — enough for your family to feast on inviting strangers and Levitates to share with you. Your family will feast on their tithe. So tithe or offering funds can and should be used for such events as campmeeting meals.

3rd tithe - Every 3rd year tithe was for the poor, agricultural crops only—Levitates acted as social workers. Tithe could be laid in-store, locally (in small towns) managed and dispersed, for the needs of the poor and disadvantaged. This means that a years worth of tithe can and should be given to the poor in the community, not the the Conference.

For the church to demand tithe as part of its baptismal formula is not Biblical, it is ecclesiastical.

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It is stated multiple times as a teaching of the Adventist church in multiple documents. It is often part of baptism vows. No one may be demanding it, but it is a requirement. Also…you aren’t countering the biblical argument listed in the article…at all.

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No, it’s not demanded. It’s more of a guilt trip that is laid on people. The church was always wanting money, beginning with tithe (at least 10%, but 20% is better), church budget, church building fund, school building fund (or other school related issues), it just went on and on. I felt that there was a lot of manipulation and guilt that was part of the asking.

In the NT, it seems that money was for the widows, orphans, people in the church who needed help, help for those spreading the gospel, help for other churches who needed it. It seemed to me, the money in the SDA denomination was rarely used to help people who were in the church that were in need. Not saying it never happened, but seemed to be rare, at least in my experience.

At any rate, the SDA tithing set up isn’t really biblical according to the Old Covenant, and certainly not in line with the New Covenant.

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