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Tithes and offerings

According to Matthew 23:23 Jesus did not do away with tithing (“These you ought to have done [justice, mercy, and faithfulness], without neglecting the others [tithing]”). Also, there is good internal evidence that the early church tithed to support its ministers (1 Corinthians 9:13-14; Galatians 6:6). The question for New Testament house-church believers is not whether to tithe, but how?

There is no concept of “salary” in the New Testament. You might say the New Testament ministers worked on a contract-level basis. Much like a carpenter, once the task of “building” a church in one city was completed, they moved on to the next. If they stopped and stayed, it was to strength the church. However, Paul rarely did this. Usually he would move on, and then come back on a subsequent trip to elect elders and provide additional encouragement. Also, you will note that the New Testament apostles all had a vocation to fall back on (Peter and several of the other disciples were fishermen; Paul was a tentmaker). Even Jesus had a vocation. Note Paul’s reason behind working as a tentmaker:

“Paul knew that those who neglect physical work soon become enfeebled. He desired to teach young ministers that by working with their hands, by bringing into exercise their muscles and sinews, they would become strong to endure the toils and privations that awaited them in the gospel field. And he realized that his own teachings would lack vitality and force if he did not keep all parts of the system properly exercised.” --Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 352.

So, if a house-church has no temple or priesthood (i.e. no building complex to support and no full time Pastor), “What do they do with their tithes and offerings?” The New Testament does not give clear instructions. One suggested approach is the following:

Let each family set aside their tithes and offerings into their own special giving fund. The money can accrue there, stored up until a need in the congregation arises. Giving is done directly from giver to getter, with no middleman involved. In this way believers can give to church planters, missionaries, foreign orphanages, and the needy. The house-church does not pass an offering plate each week. It has no church bank account nor owns property.

The pioneer Seventh-day Adventist Church practiced this approach initially (in the mid-1800s), but found it inequitable. That is, depending on the ministerial “tour” each minister would take, he might get significantly more or less than the other ministers. So they began to pool the money and hence began the need for an organization. Ellen G. White was in favor of an organization, but not too much of an organization.

Today, the matter has gotten quite out of hand. It is estimated that as much as 82% of church revenues go toward buildings, staff and internal programs; only 18% goes to outreach. Who then is better able to advance the gospel, a modern-day church saddled with a mortgage payment, utilities, janitorial fees, building maintenance and pastoral salaries or a network of house-churches with no staff to pay and no buildings to maintain?