Namibian Churches and Funding: A Critical Introduction (Thorsten Prill)
To Tithe or Not to Tithe? Biblical Principles of Giving for the Namibian Church (Johann van Wyk)
About the Authors
We dedicate this book to all members of the Rhenish Church in Namibia.
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
(2 Corinthians 9:7)
We are very grateful to Daan van der Kraan, Kathleen Demircan and Ryan Peter McKernan for their helpful comments and corrections.
Johann van Wyk & Thorsten Prill Windhoek & Edinburgh, May 2020
Money can be a hot topic in Christian churches and the Namibian church is no exception to that. While many traditional mainline denominations struggle to raise the funds they need for their various ministries, prosperity type churches and Pentecostal church bodies seem to flourish financially in Namibia. Some people are quick to point out that the main reason for this phenomenon lies in the churches’ differing attitude towards the concept of tithing. While tithing plays a central role in Pentecostal and prosperity churches, most Protestant denominations rely on other ways of funding. In his paper, Thorsten Prill gives a critical overview of the various methods Namibian churches use to raise funds. These methods include collections, membership fees, fundraising events, commercial activities and investment trusts as well as encouraging members to give a tenth of the income to the church. In a second paper, Johann van Wyk examines the concept of tithing from a biblical perspective. He demonstrates that New Testament teachings do not support the claim that Christians are obliged to tithe. There are, however, a number of helpful biblical principles of giving which Namibian churches should apply. Most importantly, van Wyk argues, that giving in Namibian churches needs to become a matter of the heart; giving must be driven by love and grace.
Blessing Chishanu Bristol, May 2020
Namibian Churches and Funding: A Critical Introduction Thorsten Prill
Today, about 80 to 90 percent of Namibia’s multicultural population of 2.5 million is affiliated to a church (CIA 2020). The majority of them belong to churches of the Lutheran tradition (Tonchi et.al 2012:57-58). There are, however, other denominational groups, such as Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, African Methodist Episcopalians, Charismatics, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and Reformed Christians (:57-58), as well as an increasing number of African Initiated Churches and Christian sects (cf. Tjimbundu 2018). The Christian Church has played a prominent role in the history of Namibia and is still a visible and important part of Namibian society today or, as Anene Ejikeme (2011:43) puts it: ‘Christianity has deeply affected all strata of contemporary Namibian life, whether in rural or urban areas, in elite suburbs or poor neighbourhoods.’ Since they receive no funding from the state and very little support from international church partners, as in most parts of the world, Namibian churches have to raise the money they need to finance their ministries. The methods Namibian churches use to raise funds can differ significantly.
Collections, Membership Fees and Fundraising Campaigns
In 2012, The Namibian, Namibia’s largest daily newspaper, reported that the financial situation of Namibia’s largest Christian denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN), had reached crisis point. The church was N$2 million in debt (Shivute 2012). Since the country’s independence from South Africa in 1990 funding from Finnish and other Western churches and parachurch organisations had continually ebbed away. As a result, ELCIN was struggling to fulfil her financial obligations and decided to have ‘a fundraising campaign to collect as much money as possible from members’ (Shivute 2012). Such fundraising campaigns have become a common feature in the life of Namibian churches and para-church organisations.
Many Namibian church bodies, especially mainline denominations, rely not only on membership fees, gifts, and collections taken in the Sunday services (cf. Nangula 2013:57), but also on fundraising activities, such as church bazaars, potjiekos competitions, gala dinners, or the sale of braaivleis (grilled meat) or lottery tickets, to meet their financial needs. These methods of financing ministry may be helpful but they are not without challenges. While gala dinners, for example, might be an easy and effective way of generating extra income for a congregation, they tend to exclude less affluent church members who cannot afford to pay N$750 or more for a three-course meal in an upmarket hotel or lodge.
Likewise, a system of fixed membership fees can be problematic. In some Namibian churches the failure to pay membership fees can have far-reaching consequences. Non paying members might thus be denied their voting rights in church affairs, disqualified from holding a church office or suspended from enjoying other privileges (cf. ELCRN 2009:12). It is not uncommon that church members are told that a new-born child cannot be baptised or a deceased family member cannot be buried in the church cemetery because the family membership fees are in arrears. Failure to ‘bring regularly all contributions and offerings which have been decided upon by the Church’, as stipulated by the constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN 2009:11), is considered a serious offence.
In many Western cultures, Christians are encouraged to make a lasting gift by leaving a legacy to their church (cf. O’Neill 1999:101). Helen Cameron (2010:67) writes the following about such gifts: ‘Legacies are invested in catch-up repairs to buildings or the purchase of an item (such as an organ) that would require extensive fundraising otherwise.’ In Namibia, this practice is more or less unknown. The main reason being that the inheritance systems of the various Namibian ethnic groups guarantee that traditional offices, rights and material wealth, such as land, livestock, and personal belongings, stay in the maternal and/or paternal family of the deceased (cf. Bollig 2007:198). In many Ovambo cultures, for example, the traditional custom of matrilineal inheritance means that upon a man’s death his wife does not inherit from him since she does not belong to his clan (cf. Lebert 2005:75). Instead, possessions are reclaimed by his maternal family (: 84).
Likewise, significant one-off donations to Namibian churches tend to be a rarity. So rare, in fact, they are considered worthy of coverage in the national press. Thus, in September 2018, The Namibian, for example, reported the following about such a donation:
Prominent businessman Johannes !Gawaxab donated half-a-million dollars towards the construction of the Ebenezer Evangelical Lutheran Church at Mariental a week ago […] The construction, estimated to cost N$6,5 million, will be completed in the first week of September 2019. !Gawaxab, who is also the project’s patron and his wife, Paulina, offered to pay half of the construction’s costs. “The new church will triple the capacity of our beloved church at Mariental due to the growth of the congregation over the last 80 years,” !Gawaxab said.
Some Namibian churches receive extra income by renting out church premises, organising hospitality events or offering leadership conferences and workshops for which they charge commercial rates. So far, income from such activities has been exempted from income tax. In 2018, however, the Namibian government announced plans to tax income made by churches and charities from any business activities. In October 2019, Tonateni Shidhudhu (quoted by Kambowe 2019), spokesperson of the Ministry of Finance, explained the government’s plans:
Churches will be required to declare and pay tax on income received from commercial activities such as property rental, hospitality industry, transport industry and other types of income derived from activities of a commercial nature. It is anticipated that religious, educational and charitable institutions will be taxed at the current tax rate of 32%.
The government stressed that their decision would enhance the fairness of the tax system (Kambowe 2019). Churches were assured that income derived from membership fees, donations, etc., would continue to be tax-free. Ludwig Beukes, general secretary of the Council of Churches, expressed his doubts about the effectiveness of this new policy. In an interview, he said that ‘it remains to be seen if [the] Inland Revenue will manage to get its way in collecting significantly from the already struggling churches’ (Chiringa 2018).
To generate additional income some mainline Namibian denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) and the Rhenish Church in Namibia, have established for-profit investment trusts.1 These trusts or business arms, which are legal entities in their own right and which operate independently of the church leadership, invest money in various business activities and transfer the profit they make to the respective church. The ELCRN Business Trust, for example, manages several conference centres and guesthouses to create extra revenue for the second-largest Protestant church in the country (World Council of Churches 2020).
The idea of business activities financing Christian ministries is not a new one. The apostle Paul, for example, worked as a tentmaker to support his evangelistic work (cf. Acts 18:3). He deliberately waived his right to receive a benefice from the Christian communities among whom he served (1 Cor. 9:15). Paul chose to do so because he did not want to be a burden to the church (1 Thes. 2:9; 2 Thes. 3:7-8).
For Namibian churches that want to go down that route, the challenge is to raise enough seed capital and make sure that each investment is socially responsible and in line with agreed ethical standards (e.g. no immoral activities, high standards of employee welfare, respect for the dignity and sanctity of human life etc.). The socio-economic conditions in Namibia present another challenge. In a country with an unemployment rate of over thirty percent and one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world (World Bank 2019), only larger denominations or churches that serve the more affluent segments of Namibian society will be able to launch their own business trusts. Smaller churches whose members belong to the forty percent of the population which are ‘classified as multi-dimensionally poor’ (Melber 2020) will need to cooperate with other church bodies if they want to benefit from an investment trust.
Recognising that many Namibian churches are lacking sufficient income, Martin Mwinga (2012), a Namibian economist, suggests that churches should set up one common trust under the umbrella of the Namibian Council of Churches to raise funds for socio-economic projects, such as Aids programmes or health facilities. In a research paper he writes:
We recommend the establishment of a Christian Investment Fund to be owned by all participating churches in Namibia. One of the challenges faced by many churches in undertaking socio-economic projects is lack of capital to finance projects. Traditionally churches in Namibia raise capital through tithes and offerings by church members and sometimes these are not enough to cover both operational and capital budget of the church. We recommend that the Church use their limited resources and undertake leveraged investments to generate more income for the church. To this end we recommend that the Church collectively establish a Christian investment fund that will be used as an investment vehicle by churches, individuals, and other investors such as pension funds, companies and international organizations (:27).
Tithing and the Prosperity Gospel
In other Namibian church circles tithing is a widely accepted practice. Christians are asked to give ten percent of their income to their church. However, tithing is also a practice that has received sharp criticism. In 2018, the Namibian online magazine The Villager, for example, published an article entitled ‘Beware of Greedy Pastors’. In this article, tithing is presented as the favourite doctrine of a certain type of church leader:
This is the big daddy. This is their sacred cow. This is the beating heart of their evil empire. The crown jewel. The Death Star. The one ring to bill them all. The pot of gold. Their matrix (into which they want to plug you). The Wizzard of Oz. Their magic spell. The special power. Their secret recipe with the elven herbs and spices. Their Golden Goose. The very air upon which they breathe! Question this doctrine and watch these money hungry pastors bare their fangs. This is a teaching that they will bear no compromise on tithing, or at least their own version of tithing, is their one true love.
Similarly, the New Era (2018), a government-owned newspaper , writes: ‘At the moment a good number of the clergy are more preoccupied with material gains they derive from the tithing by unsuspecting worshippers who flock to the charismatic Pentecostal prosperity churches […], for reasons other than grace and salvation.’ Vitalio Angula criticizes the practice of tithing in prosperity churches, claiming it is characterised by manipulation and threats. He notes:
Great emphasis is placed on the followers to give 10% of their income to the church, along with other “offerings”, contributions and gifts. These contributions are gained through several psychological tactics, with coercion being the main form of motivation. There is a subtle threat of God not blessing those who are unwilling to part with their money, and the corresponding reward of blessing those who do.
Namibian prosperity preachers are heavily influenced by Nigerian prosperity theology which ‘shuns asceticism and seeks abundance in all areas of one’s life’ (Nogueira-Godsey 2016:256). In the mushrooming prosperity churches of Namibia (cf. Mulunga 2019) giving in general and tithing in particular play indeed an important role. Referring to passages like Malachi 3:10, prosperity preachers not only tell their congregations that they are stealing from God by not tithing, they also challenge them to test God by giving more to him. Basilius Kasera (2012:26), a systematic theologian and ethicist who teaches at the University of Namibia, speaks of the principle of a hundredfold return. This principle, central to the militant form of the prosperity gospel, suggests the more money people give to God, the more money they will receive in return. Kasera identifies several reasons why this message is so appealing to Namibians. He states: ‘With growing social, spiritual, and economic issues which hamper living conditions PT [Prosperity Theology] claims to be holding permanent answers to these problems. It also presents itself as a way of hope for all the downtrodden of society and promises to offer a renewed spiritual vitality which the mainstream churches are said to be lacking’ (:71). In 2018, the Namibian magazine The Patriot published an article entitled Namibian Churches: A Story of Challenges and Hope, in agreement with Kasera’s observations:
In the midst of abject poverty and increased violence, Namibians have turned to religion for relief. Subtle, effective and dangerously, religion and the worship of “men of God” has become widely spread acting as a substitute disguised as truth. But instead of spreading the message of love, churches are now infamous for [their] ability to lure followers into ‘cult’ type arrangements clouded with secrecy and fragmentation. Where churches once were an agent to unite people, religious activities are fast posing a threat to family cohesion and dividing communities. […] Rituals to access God or blessings now include congregants compelled to eat sand and live dubious lifestyles, pastors who allegedly exploit the female flock sexually, desperate members seeking wealth and prosperity and the sick refusing medical care preferring holy waters coming all the way from Nigeria.
One cannot but agree with David Jones and Russell Woodbridge (2011:102) when they write that the doctrine of giving as it is promoted in prosperity churches is built on wrong motives. They explain: ‘Whereas Jesus taught his disciples to “lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35), prosperity theologians teach their disciples to give because they will get a great return.’ In other words, while Jesus encourages his followers to care for others and to give selflessly, the prosperity gospel’s doctrine of giving nurtures selfishness and greed.
Tithing and Good Stewardship
However, it is important to note that not every Namibian church that teaches and practices tithing falls into this category. Tithing can also be found in non-prosperity churches of a traditional Protestant or Pentecostal background, which consider it to be an expression of good Christian stewardship. Thus, Joseph Gawaseb (2020), a Namibian pastor, writes:
Tithing is meant for individuals who understand who God is, [w]ho recognise that God is the creator incomparable, transcendent, immanent and owner of everything in this world and beyond. That is crucial. Without understanding these attributes of God, it would be impossible to understand tithing. I return tithe and give offering to the church, not to a pastor, because God told me so to do. He has also determined the reason to return a tithe, because I am his steward looking after his possessions.
Gawaseb continues to argue that tithing serves two further purposes: it encourages Christians to recognise their dependence on God and it reminds them of their covenantal relationship with him.
Finances are a hot topic for many churches in Namibia. How should churches raise money to support their activities and pay their pastors, evangelists, and other staff? Should mainline churches that rely on collections, membership fees, and fundraising campaigns embrace tithing? Or are there other principles of giving which Namibian Christians need to apply? What are the true biblical principles that should govern our giving in Church? All these are questions that require an answer.
To Tithe or Not to Tithe? Biblical Principles of Giving for the Namibian Church Johann van Wyk
When I joined my current congregation as their new minister a few years ago I noticed that the congregation had no official policy regarding the issue of Christian giving. Shortly after my arrival, the congregational council decided to undertake a major building project, i.e. the building of a new church hall. Several appeals were made to the congregation to give towards this building project but, for a long time, the giving was below the council’s expectations. Other Namibian churches that require members to tithe, i.e. to give one-tenth of their income, seem to be more successful in raising funds for buildings and other projects. My experience is shared by other church leaders. Victor Kuligin (2066:21), for example, writes:
While working as a missionary in Namibia, southwestern Africa, I serve[d] as a pastor of a small church in the capital city of Windhoek. After several years meeting in a high school auditorium, we began to build a church on the outskirts of the city. For two years we raised enough money to complete the building up to the roof […] We hoped that sitting in a church without a roof would spur our members to give enough to complete it quickly. Two Easters later, we still did not have a completed roof. Mercifully, God never allowed it to rain on a Sunday morning or during any other church meetings. A gift bequeathed to us by a faithful member who died provided us with enough funds to finance the roof shortly thereafter. It was over four years from the time we broke ground until the time we had a church building with a roof.
Kuligin continues by telling the story of a new prosperity church, which required members to bring a tithe each week (:21). The course of their building project was very different from that of his church:
During this time, another church purchased a plot of prime real estate in downtown Windhoek, on the main street running through the capital. In less than a year they constructed a church building five times the size of our church, a magnificent structure that could seat nearly 1,000 people. (:21)
This common phenomenon has encouraged me to look into the biblical teaching on tithing and to carry out a more in-depth study on the subject. The purpose of this research paper is twofold . First, it seeks to clarify the question if tithing is still an obligation for Christians and therefore should be encouraged in Namibian churches. Secondly, it seeks to identify principles of Christian giving which can help Namibian churches to deal with their finances in a godly way. Though my investigation focusses on Paul’s teachings in 2 Corinthians 8:8-15, other Old Testament and New Testament passages are also examined.
Tithing in Scholarly and Popular Literature
Most authors, who argue that Christians have an obligation to tithe, place tithing within the context of Christian stewardship (Croteau 2010:59). Conrad Mbewe (2011:18), a Zambian Baptist theologian, for example, writes: ‘If you are to be a good steward in this area, your financial giving in the church must be systematic and proportionate to your income. Tithing is giving to the church at least 10% of your income.’ The notion that ten percent is the minimum a Christian should give is also promoted by John Bridges (1993:20) who writes about tithing:
The old covenant ‘written on tablets of stone’ gave laws to be followed religiously, requiring legally-enforceable giving to the priesthood. We now live to serve Jesus as our priest, and the law is ‘written on our hearts’, so legal enforcement has ceased. But if God has given us a better covenant, should we give him less?
In his book The Tithe George Salstrand (1952:19) states that tithing was the historical practice of the Christian Church, while Herschel Hobbs (1954:17-18) claims that Jesus himself taught tithing. The same view is held by Keith Tondeur (1996:91) who writes: ‘Jesus commends tithing in the New Testament in Matthew 23:23. Whilst He condemned the manner in which the Pharisees tithed, He indicated that this was what they should have been doing.’ Larry Burkett (1991:36-39) stresses that tithing is not a legalistic practice but a demonstration that people are committed to God. Tithing is considered a helpful spiritual discipline that fosters spiritual growth. Michael Foss (2000:105) notes:
[L]ike all spiritual disciplines, tithing often leads people beyond their original expectations. Many, if not most, of the people I have known who began to tithe, didn’t stop there. They began with a commitment to grow to a full tithe, but once that goal was reached they continued to expand their giving. They did so not out of duty, but out of joy and a deep abiding trust in the goodness of God.
In his popular work, Tithing: A Call to Serious, Biblical Giving, R.T Kendall argues that withholding the tithe equates to robbing God (:20). The same point is made by Mbewe when he writes that ‘[t]the Bible considers lack of tithing as theft’ (:18). For Kendall tithing has a strong spiritual dimension: ‘Tithing, in any case, does more for us spiritually than it does at any material level. It releases the Spirit’ (:27). The idea that there is a connection between the giving of the tithe and the receiving of blessings from God is also promoted by the American preacher and author John Piper. In a sermon on Luke 11:37-42, preached in 1991, Piper said the following: ‘Finally, tithing will bring the blessing of God into your life in many ways. I see nothing in the New Testament that suggests that the promises of Malachi 3:10 are not valid still today for God’s people.’
Some advocates of tithing stress the negative effects it has if one does not tithe. Stephen Olford (2000:28), for example, states: ‘The principle of material giving to God is consistent and absolute throughout Scripture. When we give, God blesses; and conversely, when we withhold, God curses. So God says, “You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation.”’
Other authors promote the concept of storehouse tithing. Storehouse tithing teaches that Christian believers should give their tithes exclusively to their local church. Lee Jenkins (2009:94) explains:
“Storehouse Tithing” means to bring your tithes to the church where your membership is established, your spiritual life is nourished, and your church privileges are enjoyed. If you give elsewhere, then it should be over and above the required tithe to your church, if at all possible.
A similar view is expressed by Mbewe and Tondeur who both stress that the local church needs the tithe in order to be able to carry out her mission. Mbewe states that the tithes together with free will offerings are ‘[t]he main source of funding for the church’ (:17), while Tondeur writes:
Ideally, the local church should serve as the ‘storehouse’ today. After all, God intends the Church to carry out her certain functions which include looking after the poor and needy and reaching out to the lost at home and abroad. But even if your church is not doing all these things and you would like to support a Christian organization that is, remember you cannot sit under the teaching of a local church and not support it financially (1996:91).
While recognising that tithing is clearly taught in the Old Testament, Howard Dayton (1996:70) argues that the ‘tithe is neither specifically rejected nor specifically recommended’ in the New Testament. In other words, the Bible is unclear on how much Christians should give. Dayton holds that there is a reason for this lack of clarity:
I believe this lack of clarity is because the decision concerning the amount an individual gives should be based on a personal relationship with God. As we seek the guidance of the Spirit through an active prayer life, sharing suddenly becomes an exciting adventure (:70).
Other authors, such as David Croteau (2010), William Gregory (2003), James Quiggle (2009) and A. Bruce Wells (2011), are much stronger in their rejection of the idea that Christians are obliged to tithe. Gregory (2003:194), for example, writes: ‘There is no scripture where Christ ever enjoined tithing on born again believers. Christ nowhere taught his disciples to observe tithing. Tithing was for the disciples of Moses, not for the disciple of Christ.’ Wells (2011:viii), who shares this view, points out that one has to differentiate between tithing and giving. He notes: ‘And just so there is no confusion, let me also say that when we speak of tithing, we are not talking about giving […] The New Testament definitely teaches giving, but it never teaches tithing.’ Likewise, Anastasios Kioulachoglou (2008) argues that, for Christians, the Old Testament law of tithing is as irrelevant as the requirement of sacrificing animals. He writes:
The same reason that we use for not sacrificing animals is also true for tithing. Tithing was, along with animal sacrificing as well as other ordinances, part of the Mosaic law. Whatever is valid to one is also valid to the other. The Mosaic law became obsolete about 2000 years ago, with Christ’s sacrifice. Together with it, animal sacrifices, tithing and the other ordinances of the law became obsolete too! We can learn from them, but they are not meant to be for our direct application. Is, therefore, tithing biblical? Yes it is. It is biblical as it is in the Bible. However, is tithing relevant and valid for the Christian? Here the answer is no! (:26-27).
The Concept of Tithing in the Old Testament
Tithing is a very prominent theme in the Old Testament. As John Goldingay (2009:652) points out tithing is seen as a norm throughout the books of the Old Testament and on into the New Testament. However, its significance varies. While the practice of tithing hardly changes, ‘its aim and meaning are worked out anew in different contexts and connections’ (:652). In this chapter, I will discuss some of the central Old Testament passages about tithing. I will show how the practice is motivated in the various contexts of the Old Testament.
Tithing in the Books of the Pentateuch
In the books of the Pentateuch, we read that people made different kinds of offerings. Offerings in the form of animals or food were given to God, leftovers were given to the priests or the poor (cf. Numbers 18:8-32; Deuteronomy 24:19-22; Exodus 23:11).
According to Joyce Baldwin (2009:119), the practice of tithing, i.e. the giving of a tenth portion ‘to the God one worships is very ancient, going back before the law of Moses, and to other Near Eastern peoples’. That tithing was a common practice in the ancient world is also argued by Donald McKim (2001:1202) and J.A. Thompson (1974:180).
Pre-Mosaic Tithing: Genesis 14:18-20
Tithing in the Bible is first mentioned in Genesis 14:18-20 when Abram gave ten percent of the spoils of war to Melchizedek. John Walton (2001:419) explains the motivation behind this act when he writes:
The meeting between Abram and Melchizedek takes place in the Valley of Shaveh. The designation of it as the King’s Valley connects it to the valley just south of Jerusalem, most likely where the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys meet. The communal meal they share typically indicates a peaceful agreement. Hittite treaties refer to the provision of food in wartime by allies. Melchizedek is anxious to make peace with such a proven military force, and Abram submits to the chief king of the region by paying a tithe, thereby acknowledging Melchizedek’s status by giving him a portion of the spoils.
Walton’s interpretation is shared by Baldwin (1999:48) who writes that Abram recognized Melchizedek’s ‘superiority by giving him a tenth of all the spoils.’ Derek Tidball (2005:326) explains Abram’s action in a different way: ‘It was a sign of Abram’s gratitude to God for Lot’s deliverance, voluntarily, perhaps even spontaneously, given, and it resulted in blessing for Abram.’ Goldingay (2009:652), who agrees with Tidball’s view about Abram’s motive, reminds us that Genesis 14 does not mention any particular instruction about tithing which Abram received from God. In other words, tithing here ‘is not a special revelation from God but a human instinct or a part of general revelation’ (:652). Tithing is a human activity of gratitude towards God and Abram can expect Melchizedek to understand his gesture in such a way (:652).
Pre-Mosaic Tithing: Genesis 28:22
Another example of pre-Mosaic tithing can be found in Genesis, chapter 28. In 28:22 we are told that Jacob promised God a tenth of all God would give him: ‘[…] and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’ Again, the initiative to give the tithe lies with the human protagonist and is not in response to a divine commandment or as Derek Kidner (1967:159) puts it: ‘The gift of the tenth was voluntary before it was commanded.’ However, this time the promise is made to God and not to another human being. There is no explanation in the text why Jacob decides to give a tenth rather than another percentage or how he would give the tithe to God (Davis 1987:87).
Walton (2001:572) points out that tithing was often seen as a means of taxation in the ancient world. Tithes were paid to the rulers or religious leaders. However, Jacob’s tithe does not fall into this category. Walton writes: ‘Jacob’s tithe is clearly voluntary rather than imposed; thus, it is not to be associated with taxation of any sort’ (:572). While Meisha Smith (2007:34) believes that ‘Jacob’s vow showed forth his thanks and faith that God would do what he said’ Goldingay (2009:652) sees Jacob’s promise in a more negative light. Referring to Jacob’s ‘calculating nature’ he argues that Jacob saw the promise of the tithe as part of a kind of business deal. He writes:
It is tempting to read his commitment cynically: “if you are going to look after me and give me food and clothing and bring me back here in prosperity and peace then you can be my God, and I will give you a tenth of all that you give me.” Tithing can be a means of indulging in our instinct to calculate, a means of being selfish (:652).
Similarly, Croteau (2011: 61) argues that Jacob’s promise could be understood as an attempt to bribe God. To support this view he points out that Jacob was an experienced negotiator and that he did not appear to be converted at this stage (:61). Croteau argues that the bribery of Esau recorded in Genesis 32 ‘demonstrates that Jacob still did not trust God’s promises in Genesis 28’ (:61).
However, whether we evaluate Jacob’s attitude in making this promise positively or negatively, this passage demonstrates that Jacob thinks of tithing as a way of showing his gratefulness to God. He seems to think of tithing more as a voluntary act of showing gratitude to God than as a form of taxation.
Mosaic Tithing: God’s Instructions
In the Mosaic Law, we can find four major passages that deal with the concept of tithing and which shed a light on the practice of tithing in ancient Israel.
Mosaic Tithing: Leviticus 27:30-33
During Moses' time, rules for the tithe were given to the Israelites (Appleby 1997:10). The Israelites were instructed by God to tithe not only ‘grain from the soil’ and ‘fruit from the trees’ (Leviticus 27:30), but also ‘every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod’ (:33). Tidball (2005:323) explains the meaning of the phrase ‘under the shepherd’s rod’: ‘Strict enforcement of the procedure was enjoined so that the owner did not fix the results with a view to keeping the best for himself and giving the most feeble to the Lord.’ Goldingay (2009:652) sees these first divine instructions as a warning to God’s people not to try to evade the challenge of tithing. He writes: ‘In Leviticus 27:30-33 tithing is simply an acknowledgment of God; you can’t claim credit for tithing, and you must be aware of evading its demand’ (2016:44). Croteau (2011:63) writes that one of the problems of Leviticus 27 is that it does not explicitly say to whom the tithes are to be given; it only says that they belong to God. However, Croteau has an explanation for this. He writes: ‘This is because Leviticus is not directly compatible with Numbers 18 or Deuteronomy 14; it is simply an introduction to tithing in the Mosaic law.’
Mosaic Tithing: Numbers 18:21-32
While Leviticus 27:30-33 stresses that the tithe is for the LORD, Numbers 18:21-32 says that it was to be given to the Levites. Therefore, this type is also called the Levitical tithe (cf. Croteau 2011:63). In verses 21 to 24, the details of the Levitical tithe are explained. Verse 21 states: ‘I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting’. In other words, the tithe is described here as a kind of compensation for their cultic service and is to be used for their livelihood. The same idea can be found in verse 31, which speaks of the tithe as ‘your wages for your work’. Thomas King (2009) points out that the Levites ‘worked as judges, administrators, cultic functionaries, and laborers’. Gordon Wenham (1981:143) comments:
In recognition of their altar service, the priests are to receive parts of the sacrifice, first-fruits of the harvest and first-born animals. Most of these rights have already been mentioned elsewhere in the Pentateuch […]They are reminded that members of the priests’ families may eat from these offerings as long as they are ‘clean’[…] These sacrificial dues compensate for the priests’ lack of inheritance. Their inheritance is God himself, who provides for their needs through his people’s gifts.
John Gibson (1983:143) points out that the provision for the priests is also called “covenant of salt” or “perpetual due”. He continues: ‘This is obviously an idiom for an irrevocable bond. Salt is invaluable in the Middle East, […] Salt was a preservative against decay and so became a symbol for what will never decay […]’(143-144). Instead of compensation, one could also speak of tithing as a means of ministry support (cf. Goldingay 2016:44). However, the tithe must also be seen as an inheritance as the Levites did not qualify for an inheritance in the land of the Israelites, i.e. they did not possess any agricultural lands which would provide them with a living. Croteau (2011:66) points out that the tithes were always from the agricultural increase. He continues: ‘The Mosaic law never directed the Israelites to give of their increase; it specified particular products that were liable to tithes laws, and these products were always connected to the land. There was a very strong connection of products liable to tithes and the land.’ As landless people, the Levites would not have been able to tithe as all the other tribes did. With the Levitical tithes, the Levites received an inheritance which enabled them to tithe. In verses 25 to 28, this variation of the Levitical tithe is mentioned. This tithe is also called the priestly tithe. Croteau (2011:63) speaks of the priestly tithe as a kind of ‘sub-tithe’ while William Horbury (2003:234) calls it the ‘priestly tithe of the tithe’ (2011:63). Croteau explains:
The Levites received the tithes from the Israelites and then gave tithes to the priests. There were basically two instructions for the priestly tithe. First, the amount was prescribed as one-tenth of all the Levites received as gifts. Second, the quality of the offering was to be the best of what they had received (:63).
In other words, the Levites were given an intermediary position between the priests and the Israelites, or as MacDonald (2015:104) puts it: ‘They receive cultic dues, but are themselves subject to pay them.’ It is from their inheritance that the Levites give ten percent back to the Lord as an offering.
Mosaic Tithing: Deuteronomy 12:17-19
The idea of the tithe as compensation or ministry support can also be found in Deuteronomy 12:17-19. Here the Israelites are asked to consume their tithe not in their town but in a place of God’s choosing and not to neglect the Levites. Thompson (1974:171) speaks of ‘sacred meals’ which ‘are to be eaten at the central sanctuary, and there alone’. These sacred meals are to be shared not only with all family members but also with any ‘Levite who may be in town, in a spirit of happy rejoicing’ (:171). Croteau (2011:64), who uses the term ‘festive tithe’, points out that the givers of the tithe are more or less identical with the recipients. It is not given to others. The festive tithe is kept by the people making the tithe. It provides the worshippers with all they needed during the time of the three compulsory festivals (see Quiggle 2009:16). The purpose of the festive tithe is to enable people to enjoy the Lord’s presence and to rejoice in all their achievements with which the Lord has blessed them: ‘There in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you’ (12:7).
Mosaic Tithing: Deuteronomy 14:22-29
In Deuteronomy 14:22-27 the festive tithe is more fully explained. Verse 23 specifies the place of sharing as ‘the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name.’ In other words, the Israelites were required to bring the tithe into God’s sanctuary. However, if that place was too distant the people were asked to exchange their tithe for silver and take the silver to the sanctuary (:25). They were to use the silver to buy food and drinks which they were to consume in a great feast (:26). Raymond Brown (1994:162) comments:
When they came to the celebration meal, they were to eat it gratefully. It is all too easy to take life’s blessings for granted. They were told that this was a reminder of how they had been blessed by the Lord your God. Here was an opportunity to acknowledge before others that he had helped them with their daily work. He had given them the soil in which the food would grow, the strength to till the ground, the sun, and the showers.
1 The establishment of business arms is recommended by the Lutheran Community in Southern Africa (LUCSA) of which ELCIN is a member. See LUCSA, Strategy 2013-2017: A Work in Progress, 11. http://www.elcz.co.zw/uploads/1/1/4/0/11402736/lucsa_2013-2017_strategic_plan.pdf; Date of access: 18.04.2020.
- Quote paper
- Dr. Thorsten Prill (Author)Johann van Wyk (Author), 2020, The Namibian Church and Money, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/704282