THE CHALLENGE OF TITHING
by Matushka Lydia Westerberg
In his book, Tithing: A Call to Serious Biblical Giving (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), R.T. Kendall quotes numerous biblical texts and provides humorous anecdotes about a subject which he says is not only sensitive, but threatening as well. Very often, he says, talk about tithing arouses hostility in us; and he quotes Voltaire who said, "When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion" (p. 13). It is Kendall's intent to make "thrilling" that which is considered "threatening." He explores the reasons that the Christian can really do no less than treat his money as a gift from God, and take seriously the words of our Lord: "He that is faithful in that which is the least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). He maintains that trying to "bypass" or to move beyond "the least" is "sheer folly" (p.15). It is like going from AZ without passing over the other letters of the alphabet.
Christians must come face-to-face with the matter of stewardship of money. Not to do so, as he reminds us, has "awesome consequences." Kendall maintains that because most Christians do not tithe, the church (Kendall's reference is to all Christian churches) remains in a generally discouraged state. "It struggles to pay its own bills: electricity, water, heat, pastor's salary." (p.14) "A handful of the faithful carry on most Christian work with precious little money." (p.14) According to Kendall, the world is unimpressed with the church, because the church has not commanded the world's attention and respect; generally Christians pay lip service to the Christian way of life in regards to money, and prove Voltaire right.
Although Kendall is not an Orthodox Christian, his questions can very well apply to our Orthodox condition: "What is sadder than a church building that is run down? What is sadder than a minister of the gospel who can hardly pay his bills? What is sadder than the general feeling of financial oppression insofar as the church is concerned? All of this can only be true because the people of God have robbed God of what is His. It is not only disgraceful, it is sad." (p.81) He maintains: "There is not a church in the world today that should have any financial problem whatever if all its members would tithe." (p. 34) And he cites the work of the Southern Baptists as an example of a Christian group that through tithing supports the largest Christian colleges in the world, the largest seminaries in the world, and the largest missionary organization in the world.
The question that we as Orthodox Christians should ask is, "Why is tithing a serious principle used by the Southern Baptists (and others), and not by us?" Is it because we are not knowledgeable about the Biblical teachings (and there are numerous teachings)? Is it because we are not aware of the fact that our Lord talked about stewardship of money more than about any other topic, i.e., more than about resurrection, transfiguration, honesty, sin, integrity, love, family, holiness, and so on? Is it because we are still "living in the Depression of the thirties mode"? Are there Southern Baptists who tithe, also having lived through the Great Depression? Is it because we are still thinking of ourselves as immigrants who were once generously supported by our Mother Church, the Russian Orthodox Church? Is it because we assume that our participation in our beautiful liturgical cycle will of itself guarantee salvation? Is it because somehow we have placed emphasis on mysticism while neglecting responsible Christian action?
Kendall's book is very entertaining, informative and easy to read. In his 107 pages he voices a call for the Christian reader to at least genuinely contemplate the issue of responsible Christian attitude toward money and particularly toward tithing. At only $5.95, this book ought to be a well-used resource in every parish library.
Tithes and Firstfruits