June 09, 2003 Q & A

Where should my tithe go?


I want to know where I should offer my tithe. My pastor (who is not in the OPC), told me that I must give my tithe offering to the church I'm attending (the "local church" he termed it). When I search through the Bible, however, it seems that God only says that I should give my tithe to the Church, but not as strict as to the "local church."

I really want to know what God says through the Bible (I have my opinion, but, am not sure since my pastor has a different argument). Right now I send my tithe to another church (different from my local church), and that church uses my tithe to support some missionaries for unreached people. Please advise.


Your question is difficult to answer because I don't know the particular circumstances out of which you're speaking. I will try to suggest some important principles that will guide you.

The only specific Scripture ordinarily cited here is Malachi 3:8-12, particularly verse 10, but to immediately transfer the "storehouse" to the local church is problematic. Malachi wrote after the return of the Jews from the captivity. The temple was rebuilt, and their tithes were possibly brought in kind, i.e. wheat, barley, and wine. And, more importantly, there was but one "church." Even under the law of Moses tithes were brought to the place where the tabernacle resided—Shiloh in Ephraim, then in the City of David in Jerusalem, and finally in Solomon's Temple. It was the place where God's "Name" (the Ark of the Covenant) was found. Since Pentecost, however, there is no one place where His Name is; rather, His Name is in the hearts of His people wherever they assemble to worship.

And to confound the matter, there are thousands of places for worship—independent churches and denominations, all the way from those who have become "synagogues of Satan" (Rev. 2:9), having abandoned the Word of God and the gospel, to churches of impurity, to those who stand on the Word of God alone as the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Only in the day of Judgment will the mixture be sorted out.

The OPC is not a collection of independent churches, but a unified denomination with creeds that we believe summarize all essential biblical truth. We do not, however, consider ourselves to be the only true church. There are many denominations varying in the way they understand the same Bible and of these denominations we recognize as true churches those who hold to basic Christian teaching centered in the one Christ and His cross.

Now where should our tithes go? First of all, every church or denomination is a voluntary association of professing Christians, and almost all have budgets and seek to collect money for the purpose of supporting God's work. Using the OPC as an example, we have programs for missions at home and abroad. We adopt budgets, including diaconal budgets for the poor and unfortunate at home and abroad. In other words, we aim to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19 & 20 and other forms of the same imperative) and its implications.

The local church in which I serve budgets to support these various programs of missions and ministries of mercy. So it is logical and proper that our tithes should, to a large degree, go to the programs with which our church or denomination are involved. The OPC, however, does not "tax" its people, because all giving is voluntary (see 2 Cor. 8:9 and 9:6-15). Supporting our own church or denomination doesn't mean that we cannot support churches or ministries that are not under our church's supervision, but it seems to me that it is reasonably Scriptural that we primarily support the programs of the church or denomination to which we belong.

There, however, are exceptions: The OPC came into existence over the practice of our "mother denomination" to send out foreign missionaries who were not true to the Word of God. They preached good farming and other things helpful to poorer nations, but they didn't preach Christ or the biblical gospel. So a group of ministers and elders within the church formed an "Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions." They sent out Presbyterian missionaries and paid for their support. These ministers and elders were charged with the sin of not supporting the boards and agencies of their own church, were tried, and, with one exception, were divested of their ministerial or elder credentials. Out of that situation the OPC (though with a different name at first) came into being.

We don't assign quotas. We don't "tax" our people. But through all the years of our existence we've used the resources of voluntary giving to send missionaries around the world and to fund small groups of worshipers who cannot afford a pastor till they can become self-supporting. And God has blessed our efforts.

May I suggest that your unhappiness with the church you are in may stem from the fact (if it is a fact) that you are unhappy with the way it uses your tithes. Your problem may be that you are in the wrong church. Perhaps I'm wrong. If so, forgive me for the "shot in the dark."

Or it may be that your church is an independent church. That is, it is not aligned with any denomination. There are thousands of such. These churches may also have a zeal for missions. Being independent, they tend to support independent missionary agencies. The problem with independency in local churches and missionary agencies is the problem of accountability. They may choose their own favorite doctrines and downplay those they don't accept. (I speak of true, biblical doctrines.)

And with the use of radio and television, popular religionists drag money from their hearers without an ounce of accountability. In recent years there has been a lot of scandal from such sources.

I don't say that these independent churches and missions agencies don't preach the Gospel of Christ. What I do say is that the possibility of becoming rich through the modern media can corrupt certain persuasive preachers to rake in millions for which they are accountable to no one. A God-fearing denomination at least must be accountable for what it does with your tithes! And I think it's biblical not to enrich such preachers. We are just stewards of the wealth of God's world.

So, to bring this to a close: No, you are not required to give all your tithes to the church to which you belong, but, if that church doesn't properly use the tithes you bring, you may be in the wrong church, and there are choices out there.

First, however, if that is the problem, use persuasion before leaving. Unless yours is a bad church, you should not leave it without giving your reasons to the spiritual rulers of the church. I presume you took vows to join it. Don't just walk away without first giving them a chance to persuade you otherwise. I was an active pastor for fifty-five years. And that was commonly the practice of some who took solemn vows and then "voted (otherwise) with their feet." That's a terrible thing because of how God regards the sacredness of vows.



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