Archive for May 19th, 2012
An interesting controversy has been hitting the charity scene recently. Congregations are encouraged (and have been encouraged since the dawn of Christianity) to tithe – i.e. give a tenth of their income – to their churches, but a number of high-profile figures have started asking whether this constitutes charitable giving. Some people have even questioned whether a church should be considered a charity at all, if it doesn’t carry out identifiably charitable work such as assisting the poor.
Underlying this debate is an even deeper philosophical question about what motivates anyone’s giving to help others. Can donations be considered charitable if we expect something in return (even if very indirectly – such as increased social standing or just plain ‘feeling good about ourselves’)? Of course, if this kind of thinking is taken to its logical conclusion it tends to call into question the whole concept of unselfishness. What has raised this particular line of reasoning is the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ or ‘seed faith’, which teaches that tithing can bring its own directly-linked rewards, as suggested by the Old Testament’s Malachi 3:10, which says, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
Although this quotation doesn’t actually promise financial gain as a result of tithing, many people have interpreted it that way, which rather overlooks the suggestion in James 1:27 that our beneficence should also extend to those who have no hope of ever paying us back. What the Malachi quotation does promise us, however, is that we will receive our just rewards in one way or another – though not necessarily in the way that we expect, or (perhaps) even during our present lifetime.
However, the real issue here is how much (if any) of churches’ income actually goes towards helping the needy, and how much is swallowed up in administrative expenses – in perpetuating their own existence. This is perhaps a question that those of us who are members of congregations should be asking ourselves. And by extension, perhaps all of us – church-goers or not – should look very critically at those non-church charities we support, and reassure ourselves that their operating costs aren’t too excessive. I know that my own church – the Salvation Army – which is 100% a charity as well as 100% a church, manages its overheads very tightly, and pays its employees only modest salaries. But that cannot be said for all charities – and certainly not for all churches. And in the case of those churches which do little for the needy, perhaps they should consider exactly why they exist at all… particularly in the light of the guidance we find in Biblical verses such as Matthew 5:16 and 20:28 and Galatians 6:10.
So… are you a churchgoer, and is so, do you tithe? And if you do, do you consider this to be charitable giving? Let’s have some feedback with the following poll:
Do you consider your tithing charitable?