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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In For a Penny

"In for a penny in for a pound?"  In the case of some Orthodox Church members  it is "In for a penny, and that's all I'm paying."

There are too many readily available teachings on the topic of tithing, so I will let you, the JTO readers, decide to which to adhere. My comments on the subject are Pauline in nature in that they are personal.

My wife and I grew up in a Protestant ethos where tithing was the law of the land, so to speak. To give at least 10% of one's income to the church, was a given, a natural part of Christian stewardship. Some pastors were not afraid to preach an annual sermon on the topic, not just because the church needed money, but for the edification and building up of the individual. To give was part of a full Christian life. To not give was to miss the mark.

Cynthia and I gave 10-25 % of our income for almost 25 years of our marriage. There were seasons where we had little income and our faith, at times, wained. It especially wained when we entered the charismatic movement, where every Scripture ever written was ten degrees of separation- where everything had to do with money. We were peppered with anecdotal manipulation such as, "Joe gave, and the next day a $1000 dollars came in the mail." "The Lord says it is the day of prosperity a double portion is yours! Just write the check out to..." There were times when I gave and my own family suffered loss. The natural outcome of that was to grow bitter at God for not fulfilling his promise. It took me a while to realize that I was following the hollow promises of charlatans and false teachers, not the promises of God. I grew tired of being manipulate and decided to put a stop-payment on the tithing. I figured if it was man jerking me round, then there was not much they could do to me, if I stopped giving. I also figured that God would honor my sincere desire to find the truth on the matter and perhaps could bear the financial loss if I short-changed him for a while. In either case, I stopped giving, cold turkey. In fact, I made an official announcement, of sorts, to my pastor. He was none too happy and met with me to compel me to change my mind. I would not budge. I needed time to allow God to renew my mind. It took a while, but, He did. My focus changed from man to God. I was no longer influenced by a charlatan's chiding, but by Christ's Church. I no longer wanted to give to receive, but I wanted to give because I believed.

One day, a traveling man asked me for gasoline for his car so that he could get to another state. I had the cash, so I was willing to fill his tank. He repeatedly told me that he would pay me back. I told him that it was a gift and that I did not expect him to do that. "But I will anyway," he said. I never heard from him again, but I was not disappointed, for I did not expect to be repayed. The same principle applies here. "Don't ask what your Church can do for you, ask what you can do for your Church." This is the Orthodox way. Having said that, God does bless a cheerful giver and his blessing are great for, "He owns the cattle on a thousand hills."

The Orthodox principle of tithing is very simple.

First-Give
Second-Give with a joyful heart
Third-Give as unto the Lord
Fourth- Tithing is as valid a practice as is baptism. The Church, being Jewish, took the forms of the Mikvah (Jewish baptisms) and incorporated baptism into the life of the Church. The Church, being Jewish, took the forms of Tithing (which literally means "a tenth") and incorporated it into the life of the Church. If you buy in to the old line, "Tithing is just an Old Testament practice and is no longer in effect today," then so is baptism no longer in effect.
Fifth- Tithe 10% of your gross income in money. Gifts and other offerings are above and beyond that. In reality, 100% of what you have belongs to God. All that is asked is that you manage the 90% and He, through the Church, manages the 10%.
Sixth- If you don't accept any of the above as valid, then at least take the humanistic approach..."Pull your own weight!"  If you eat at the table, live in the house and receive of its benefits, why would you not help in paying for it?  Is this not the accountability and courtesy you would teach your child?
Seventh-If you find you cannot trust the clergy to rightly handle the money, ask who has the trust issue, the clergy or you?

What if?
What if there were just ten families in a Church?
What if there was an average of three wage earners per family?
What if the average annual wage of those earners was only $30,000?
What if all of the wage earners tithed?
The tithe to that church would be $90,000 annually!

If all tithed...

The Church Could!
The Church Could help the widows and the Orphans and others in need.
The Church Could give to missions.
The Church Could expand the Temple or make needed repairs.
The Church Could relieve the stress from the Priest and Matushka.
The Church would be blessed!

...and you along with it!

Frankly, tithing is not an option. It is the responsibility of every Orthodox Christian. What If you started tithing this week? The Church Could...

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