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A BRIEF HISTORY OF TITHING AFTER CHRIST’S CRUCIFIXION

 by Dr. Fillmer Hevener



Most Christians understand that with the death of Christ on the cross, the Ceremonial Laws, requiring such practices as the sacrificing of animals, circumcision, and tithing, were abrogated.   The animal sacrifices pointed to the coming Messiah, whose spilling of His blood, would annul the sacrificing of animals and all other requirements associated with the Ceremonial laws.

After the crucifixion of our Savior, therefore, the New Testament Church was supported by free-will gifts.  Since there was no longer tithing, how did the Church survive financially? 

For several hundred years after Christ’s death, churches were not institutions with large buildings or paid leaders supported by the members.  Instead, the churches were similar to modern-day home groups.  They met in homes with leaders who supported themselves through such labor as carpentry, fishing, farming, etc.  Therefore, the early church groups had few expenses.  The vast majority of the funds given could be used for missionary purposes, for spreading the gospel at home and in distant places.

The Apostle Paul, a tentmaker, notes that although he had the right to receive support from the congregation, he refused to accept this support.  Why, because he did not want to take money from mission needs and because he did not want anyone suspecting that he was preaching the gospel out of a desire for money. (1 Cor. 9.)  He did not wish to hinder the spreading of the gospel of salvation through Christ.  The churches did frequently support widows, the poor, and orphans. (1Tim. 5.)  Paul did at times accept gratuities from friends (food, shelter, and friendship).  Paul, being of the tribe of  Benjamin, could not have legally accepted tithe; only the Levites could have done this. 

THE CHURCH CONTINUED WITH THIS VOLUNTARY APPROACH TO GIVING AND TO THE SUPPORT OF THE CHURCH FOR OVER 300 YEARS.  

In the fourth century, the Roman Emperor, Constantine, converted to Christianity. He is credited with bringing status to Christianity and with starting the first large church building program. (Note: he is also credited with instituting the first Sunday law in 321; his edict required the people to rest on the “venerable day of the sun.”)  Constantine wanted the church to have impressive buildings that would honor his name and his contributions to the church.  Consequently, the church groups moved out of homes and into finer buildings and began employing full-time ministers.  Therefore, there was a need to support these buildings and these salaried bishops.  The New Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes the situation: 

“The early Christian church had no tithing system.  The tithes of the Old Testament were regarded as abrogated” by Christ’s death.  However, as the church’s material needs grew because of its vast building program and paying of bishops, it adopted the pre-cross, Ceremonial Law-method of support, tithing.  Therefore, “the Council of Macon in 585, ordered the payment of tithes and threatened excommunication to those who refused to comply.”

From the sixth century forward, tithing was adopted by the Catholic Church and later accepted into many protestant churches from the 1500’s onward. 

The Encyclopedia Brittanica notes: “Despite serious resistance, tithing became obligatory as Christianity spread across Europe….It was enjoined by ecclesiastical law from the sixth century….”  In the 14th century, Pope Gregory VII, outlawed …lay ownership of tithes.”  In other words, Pope Gregory VII, concluded that only paid clergy could receive and direct the use of tithe, not lay, unpaid, Christians. (Note: A similar position is taken by E. G. White when she states that the tithe is to be used for ministers, only. Testimonies, Vol. 9, 248-249.  This position is contrary to Deut. 14, which teaches that tithe was, among other things, to be used for strangers (refugees), orphans, and widows.)  The following statement is made by the Archdiocese of St. Louis: “TITHING IS ABSOLUTELY STILL NECESSARY IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TODAY. (See their: Office of Stewardship and Development statement on the www.) 

In 765, the Carolingian King Pepin III (the Short) sent a letter to all bishops making the payment of tithe by each individual to his parish church a legal obligation. Also, everyone was forced to tithe 800 years after Christ when Charlemagne founded the Holy Roman Empire, blending church and state and making tithing a state law. 

Unfortunately, when the Protestant reformers of the 1500’s broke with the Catholic Church over such issues as “salvation by grace, rather than by works,” they did not reject the spurious Sabbath, Sunday, nor the Ceremonial Law’s practice of tithing. These reformers could have had much greater credibility if they had adopted the post-cross method of support of the church through free-will giving.  See: Matthew 10:8;  Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35; II Cor. 9: 6-7; I Tim. 5:8. 

In summary, this is what we know: 

1.    Tithing was a part of the Ceremonial Law, which was abrogated by Christ’s death.

2.    The early Christian church was supported by free-will giving for at least 300 years.

3.    Tithing  first came into the Christian church when Constantine was converted; he needed money for fine buildings and for bishops’ salaries.

4.    The Catholic Church made tithing a law nearly six centuries after Christ’s crucifixion.

5.    Some 800 years after Christ, Charlemagne required the paying of tithe under the penalty of imprisonment.

6.    Priests cursed for their tithe, telling those who didn’t tithe that they would lose their salvation and go to hell.

7.    In the 1500’s, Protestant churches preached “salvation by grace,” but they continued to preach and practice tithing and the false Sabbath, Sunday. 

Friend, reject erroneous  traditions!  Prepare for eternity by accepting Christ as your Savior and by following His teachings in Holy Scripture, the Bible. 

May our Lord bless and keep each of you! 

Pastor Fillmer Hevener, Ed. D.

 

 © 2005 Guthrie Memorial Chapel