Part XI of our series on Doing Good
My answer to these deep theological questions is that I have no deep theological answer.
I’ve known people who would argue passionately that all Christians should tithe and that no Christians should tithe, and each side is convinced that the other is in apostasy or bondage. And I’ve also met people who insist that an offering should be taken every time the church gathers together.
My own solution to these dilemmas is that if something is specified in the Nicene Creed, it is a core belief which all Christians must hold, without exception. We lay no precondition of belief on members other than the Nicene Creed, which, in the words of Vincent of Lerins in 450 AD, specifies “…that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”
So I always say, “If it’s in the Nicene Creed, we believe it and do it, and if it’s not in the Nicene Creed, we do not treat it as if it is.”
So as regards when and how much and how often to give, you’ll notice that these things are not specified in the Nicene Creed. The Scripture gives us ample guidance in these matters, of course, and one recurring theme—which is especially important to note as we conclude this month’s emphasis, on the Work of Mercy of Doing Good—is that our giving should be planned and purposeful.
Some Christians who hate tithing say, “God wants us to give spontaneously and not in a way where we are bound to a set amount that drives the Spirit out of the process.”
But the Scripture does not commend spontaneous giving as the gold standard of Christian giving. Instead, in 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says,
“Each one must give as he has decided [or the King James says “purposed”] in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Purpose—that’s the key word.
The gold standard of Christian giving is not spontaneity but purpose.
If you read the verses around this one in 2 Corinthians, Paul is stressing to each Corinthian Christian the importance of praying and thinking through what they will give to a special offering Paul is raising to send to the mother church in Jerusalem, which is experiencing hardship due to famine and persecution. Paul is saying, “Think about this ahead of time. Pray about it ahead of time.” He uses the analogy of sowing and reaping. Anyone who has planted so much as a single zucchini will know that sowing a seed requires planning, preparation, and ongoing cultivation.
Sadly, most Christians do not put that level of thought into their giving. If they’re immature Christians, they’ll pull out their wallet and toss a few dollars in the offering when they’re asked. If they’re long-time Christians, they’ll compute their tithe or giving budget and put that in the offering.
And some “modern” Christians believe that God wants them to give according to what we call “random acts of kindness,” which means that they give whenever they sense the Holy Spirit is prompting them to give.
But none of these practices get at what Paul is talking about here.
Of course you should give whenever the Holy Spirit prompts you, but giving only when the Holy Spirit prompts you is like cleaning your room only when your parents tell you to. Your goal should be to give as God gives.
God plans his giving very carefully! He gives us what will help us, not whatever we ask for.
How have you navigated this question in the past? What is your personal practice when it comes to giving?