Reconsidering the Tithe

Tithing: Purposes and Implications

By Rev. R.J. Rushdoony

It is urgently important that we think now of Christian reconstruction, but our thinking cannot be idle talk: it must be both Biblical and also practically applied in our daily life. There are many people ready to eliminate statism, but they have nothing but wishing to replace it. How then will independent schools, private welfare, and individual initiative deal with the vast complex of our social problems? Already most of our Christian conservative causes, and Christian schools, are continually short of funds. What is the answer? In any advanced social order, social financing is a major public necessity. The social order cannot exist without a vast network of social institutions which require financing and support. If a Christian concept of social financing is lacking, then the state moves in quickly to supply the lack and gain the social control which results. Social financing means social power.

The Bible provides, as the foundation law, in the practical realm, of a godly social order, the law of the tithe. To understand the tithe, it is important to know that Biblical law has no properly tax\ the right to tax real property is implicitly denied to the state, because the state has no title to the earth. Repeatedly, the Bible declares, “The earth is the LORD’S (Exodus 9:29, Deut. 10: 14, Ps. 24: 1,1 Cor. 10: 26, etc.); therefore, only God can tax the earth, For the state to claim the right to tax the earth is for the state to make itself the god and creator of the earth, whereas the state is instead God’s ministry of justice (Romans 13: 1-8).

The immunity of land from taxation by the state meant liberty. A man could not be dispossessed of his land: every man had a basic security in his property. As H. B. Rand, in his Digest of Biblical Law pointed out, “It was impossible to dispossess men of their inheritance under the law of the Lord as no taxes were levied against land. Regardless of a man’s personal commitments he could not disinherit his family by being dispossessed of his land forever.” The land is not the property of the state, and no state therefore has the right under God to levy taxes against God’s possessions. The Bible cites it as a sign of tyranny when the state claims the right to take as much as God, i.e., a tithe, or ten percent of one’s increase. Thus, Samuel said of the tyrant, “He will, besides, take a tenth of your grain crop and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants…He will appropriate a tenth of your flocks, too, and you yourselves will become his servants” (I Samuel 8:15,17, Berkeley Version). Today, civil government takes more than a tenth of our income: it takes about 45 percent!

When America was colonized, the settlers in every colony made Biblical law their basic law. There was no tax on property: this was basic to Biblical liberty. The inscription on the Liberty Bell is taken from the Biblical land law: “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof (Lev. 25:10). In the first session of the Continental Congress in 1774, Congress denied that Parliament could tax real property. Gottfried Dietze has summarized the American opinion then: “As to property, the delegates felt it should be free from seizure and taxation.” The property tax came in very slowly, and it appeared first in New England, coinciding with the spread of Deism and Unitarianism, as well as atheism. Such anti-Christian men saw the state as man’s savior, and as a result they favored placing more and more in the hands of the state. The South was the last area to accept the property tax, and it was largely forced on the South by post-Civil War Reconstruction. Moreover, as far as possible, when the property tax was adopted in the pre-Civil War era, conservative elements limited it to the county and retained the legal requirement that only owners of real property could vote on the county level.

Today, the property tax is in effect a rent for the use of our own land; the state has the power of confiscation for non-payment, and also the “right” of eminent domain. This is, in terms of the Bible, a mark of tyranny, as both the law, and the story of Naboth’s vineyard, makes clear.

The tithe is God’s tax for the use of the earth; it is not a gift to God. Only when the giving exceeds ten percent is it called a gift and a “freewill offering” (Deut. 16:10,11; Ex. 36:7, Lev. 22:21, etc.). The tithe is required of all men by God. Failure to pay the tithe brings on God’s curse; yielding God His due results in so great “a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:8-10).

The tithe was used for a variety of purposes. It supported the religious and educational institutions of Israel, and also of colonial and early America. In fact, in the United States the tithe was for many years legally binding on all men, and failure to pay it was a civil offense. The tithe supported the churches, Christian schools, and colleges. When Virginia repealed such a law, which made payment of the tithe mandatory, George Washington expressed his disapproval in a letter to George Mason, October 3,1785. He believed he said, in “making people pay toward the support of that which they profess.” The position Washington took was one which the early church had established as soon as any country became Christian. State laws began to require tithes from the 4th century on, because it was believed that a country could only deny God His tax at its peril, and therefore the various civil governments required all their citizens to pay tithes, not to the state but to the church. From the end of the 18th century, and especially in the last century, such laws have steadily disappeared as a result of the atheistic and revolutionary movements of our times.

In the early years of this country, virtually the only taxing power of the federal government was duties and excise taxes; the taxing powers of the states and counties were also exceedingly small. The total take in taxes was originally scarcely more than one percent. The functions of civil government were very limited: justice and defense, mainly, plus the mails. The tithe and giving took care of most religious and social needs, voluntarily and economically.

Before going further, let us examine the Biblical law concerning the tithe. The tithe is described in Leviticus 27:30-33. A tenth of all produce or production was claimed by God as His due and was holy or set apart for Him. If the owner wanted to retain this tenth in its original form, i. e., as fruit or grain, he could do so by paying its value plus a fifth.

This tithe belongs to God, not to the church, nor to the producer. It cannot be given to an apostate church without being given thereby against God, not to Him. It must be given therefore to godly causes. The Priests and Levites, to whom it was originally given, had charge of religion, education, and various other functions. The tithe was paid six years in seven, the seventh being a rest for the land and the people.

But there was a second tithe, called also the festival tithe (Deut. 14:22-27, 16:3,13,16). The purpose of this tithe was to rejoice before the Lord, “and thou shalt bestow the money for whatsoever thy soul desireth” in order to “rejoice, thou and thy household: and the Levite that is within thy gates.” This second tax required by God was thus for the family’s pleasure.

There was also a third tithe (Deut. 14:28f.), every third year, or twice in seven years. Some scholars feel that the correct reading makes this a substitute for the second tithe in the appointed year. Henry Lansdell, in The Tithe in Scripture called attention to I Tobit 1: 6-8 (in the Apocrypha), and to Josephus (Antiquities, bk. IV as well as to Jerome (Commentary on Ezekiel, XIV, i, 565 ) and Chrysostom (Homily Ixiv on Matt. xx. 27), to hold that a tithe in addition to the first two was meant. Maimonides in the 12th century held that this third tithe was the second tithe shared, but Aben Ezra disagreed. This tithe was a kind of social welfare tithe, to be shared with lowly foreigners, not as a hand-out, but in common feasting and rejoicing before the Lord. As Lansdell pointed out, Christ did not repeal the law of tithing (pp. 117-126). Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for tithings: “these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone”, that is, “the weightier matters of the law, judgment (justice), mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23: 23). Chrysostom declared, “If under the law it were dangerous to neglect tithes, consider how great a danger there is now” (Horn, iv, in Eph. ii). Joseph Bingham, in The Antiquities of the Church, wrote of the early church that “the ancients believed the law about tithes not to be merely a ceremonial or political command, but of moral and perpetual obligation” (v. 1).

Now, what did the tithe do? First of all, the tithe was an admission that the earth is the Lord’s not the state’s, and the only legitimate tax on land is by Almighty God. The tithe established property as a right and privilege under God. As Rand noted, “Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication that property rights are to ever be abolished. On the contrary, such rights are emphasized and safeguards are placed around that property to protect a man and his possessions. Liberty for the individual is non-existent apart from freedom of possession and the protection of personal holdings and property, with adequate compensation for its loss or destruction.”

Second, when men forsake God’s law and His sovereign claim as Lord of the earth, they are cursed by Him and sold into bondage (I Samuel 8, Malachi 3:8-10). What belongs to God must be rendered to God. We cannot have God’s blessing if we deny Him His due, the first tithe in particular. To be blessed by God, we must obey God.

Third, the tithe made a free society possible. If every true Christian tithed today, we could build vast numbers of new and truly Christian churches, Christian schools and colleges, and we could counteract socialism by Christian reconstruction, by creating Christian institutions and a growing area of Christian independence. Consider the resources for Christian reconstruction if only 25 families tithed faithfully! Socialism grows as Christian independence declines. As long as people are slaves within, they will demand slavery in their social order. The alternative to a godly society, as God made clear to Samuel, is one in which men, having forsaken God make man their lord. And, when their decision finally comes home to them, and they cry out to God, God refuses at that late date to hear them (I Sam. 8:18). The time for repentance and reconstruction is before judgment strikes. Conscientious and intelligently administered tithing by even a small minority can do much to reconstruct a land.

Fourth, the tithe is thus the financial basis of reconstruction. Good wishes, votes, letter-writing, attendance at meetings, all have their place, but they are not enough. Reconstruction requires a financial foundation, and this the tithe provides. The tithe can recreate the necessary Christian institutions.

Fifth, the tithe restores the necessary economic basis to society: it asserts the absolute lordship and ownership of God over the earth, and the God-given nature of private ownership under God. To pay the tithe is to deny the foundations of statism. To pay the tithe means therefore also, not only the practical steps possible towards Christian reconstruction, but also the sure blessing of God in our battle against socialism. Having now sided with God, we have sided with victory.

Sixth, the tithe restores the necessary spiritual basis to Christian action. Today, many people do give generously to various causes, but their giving is impulsive and emotional. They like to give to a church or program which provides excitement and glamour, and the result is irresponsible stewardship. The person who provides the best Hollywoodish production, and the best press-agentry, gets the money. When people are disillusioned with such a project, they move on to look for another exciting and glamorous action. But the law of the tithe makes clear it is God’s money and must go to God’s causes, to Christian worship, education, outreach, and reconstruction. The tithe cannot be channeled to “exciting” causes but to godly causes, to solid, steady, consistently Biblical causes. And the tithe must bear the whole burden of Christian reconstruction. Conservative giving goes much of the time to fighting against the inroads of the enemy, which is of course necessary; the tithe goes for reconstruction.

Seventh, the tithe restores power to the little man. Today, it is the rich man who dominates most causes, his money counts; he can donate a hundred thousand or a million and make his influence felt. But a thousand little men who tithe can far outweigh the rich man. They can keep a Christian cause from being dominated by a handful. Tithing is the way for the little man to have power with God’s blessing. A hundred men paying an average tithe of $100 a month means $10,000 monthly, which means that a relatively small group is capable of great things and will gain God’s blessing in the process. Socialism has filled a void vacated by Christians. The spread of Unitarianism and atheism in the United States was closely followed by the spread of socialism. It was not by accident that the early American socialists of 1800-1860 attacked the tithe. To break down tithing meant that another source of social financing had to be forthcoming, the central civil government. And it was the total social impact of the little man’s tithe that was so over-powering: the millionaires were few, but the little people were many. Make no mistake about it: social financing is a social necessity. It will either be done by an irresponsible and godless state, subsidizing irresponsibility and godlessness and penalizing the godly, or it will be done by godly men, who, through Biblically grounded administration and godly wisdom, will further social order, true churches, Christian education, and a society flourishing in liberty under God.

*****

(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 605; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 24, September 1, 1967)

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) was the founder of Chalcedon and a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical Law to society.

Article from Chalcedon.edu

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