Guest Editorial
November 2001

TITHING: A ministerial welfare program

by M.A.M.

Roman Coin with head of Claudius

"Render unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto the ministry the things which be God's, and since everything belongs to God, send us everything" -- a typical church of God minister

Read the previous editorial
"The Apostolic Chair": Joe Tkach Jr and the Office of Pastor General

Why do the churches of Armstrongism heavily stress the importance of tithing? It is a matter of self interest. The Armstrongist groups are not able to attract followers in large numbers, but they require large sums of money to operate. In order for their ministers to live without soiling their fingers with menial work, the churches of God must maintain large payrolls. For a minister to work with his hands is a fate worse than the lake of fire. In 1978, "Mister" Armstrong painted this grim picture of the fate of renegade ministers:

An alternative understanding of 2 Corinthians 9:7
Christians should give only what they are comfortable giving. If giving an amount creates anxiety because it puts you in a financial bind, you should reduce the amount you give to a level with which you are comfortable, because God wants you to be cheerful when you give it. He doesn't need your money anyway; and your family's needs come before the church.
About the writer: M.A.M. has published a number of online articles on Armstrongism including Herbert W. Armstrong: Racist and several features on The Painful Truth site.

"In 1974, some 35 ministers left [the Worldwide Church of God].  They incorporated themselves as the 'Associated Churches of God.'  But GOD was not in it -- and it fell flat on its face!  Tragically, a few thousand brethren followed after these men, who were seeking to draw away those already in the Church to follow them!  Where are they today?   I know many of those former ministers have had to take jobs working with their hands to earn a living.  That is JUSTICE! (Co-worker Letter, July 30, 1978)"

Herbert W. Armstrong chose to live most of his life in poverty rather than work with his hands, and it was only when he discovered how to make religion pay that he began to live the life to which he desired to become accustomed. The Armstrongist ministry, always trying to emulate their apostle, emphasize tithing as one of the keys to salvation. They know that if the tithing doctrine is discredited, they will have to earn a living "working with their hands." They try to scare their members into ever greater sacrifice. Tithe payers, say the ministers, will have everything they need in this life, and immortality in the next. Those who refuse to tithe will suffer poverty in this life, and hell fire in the next. "You can't afford not to tithe!" is the slogan favored by Armstrong and his successors.

All church of God members and ex-members are familiar with II Corinthians 9:6-7:

"But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver."

Joe Jr's January '97 Letter on Tithing: 

Comment: Officially the WCG does not require tithing, although they imply that if you don't tithe you are not a good Christian. The classic example of this was in Joe Tkach, Jr.'s outrageous January 1997 member letter. The point of the letter is quite clear: good Christians tithe, bad Christians don't. When this letter came out, the legalist types did not hesitate to point out Tkach's hypocrisy. I was a strong defender of the WCG and the New Covenant teachings. What could I say? Here I was, defending Tkach and the church, and he pulled the rug out from under my feet. All I could do was say I disagreed with the letter and that this was the biggest mistake Tkach made since he became pastor general. Excerpts follow. M.A.M.

"The fruit of God's Spirit includes generosity... And it involves giving our tithes and offerings so the church can do its work of building up the body of Christ and spreading the good news.

"... Yet in the area of tithes and offerings, it seems that some have decided to forsake their responsibility to God and to the church. There are many reasons, and every reason may sound plausible. But I have to tell you, when you decide to hold back tithes and offerings from God, you are deciding to close up your heart from doing your part in spreading the news of what God has done in your life.

"God has given each of us his indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15). When we decide merely to take what we can get from God and not give anything back, we are hardening our hearts toward one of the ways God wants to release his power in us.

"As you know, our church was once caught in the legalism of the old covenant three tithe system, and by God's grace we have been delivered from that. But we must not forget that the principle of tithing itself remains appropriate for Christians. As my father explained, tithing is legalistic for those who make it that way by trying to earn merit with God. But Abraham, the father of the faithful and the one whose children we are if we have faith (Galatians 3:7), tithed long before the old covenant (Hebrews 7:2, 4). For Abraham, tithing was not legalistic. The father of the faithful tithed in grateful response to the goodness of God. Tithing is the appropriate act of gratefulness and thankful appreciation for God's gracious mercy toward his people.

"Whether you decide, before God, to tithe on gross, on net or on some other calculation called for in your situation, the real issue is your own love of God and faithfulness to him. Tithing reflects our true values. It reflects our thankfulness for God's gift of his Son. It reflects our true commitment to him. It was not I who said, 'Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.' It was Jesus (Luke 12:34). Because he knows that we give to what we love and believe in.

"Brethren, our church is laying off ministers and having extreme difficulty paying for the upkeep of the headquarters property pending its sale, and a large number of members have simply decided not to tithe. Dear brethren, God is calling our hearts back to him. Are we to be like average Americans, who don't yet know or value God and who put their trust in possessions and the pride of life instead of in their God and Savior (verse 21)?

"Or are we going to be God's faithful, who give from the heart? Who tithe, as Abraham did, because they love the Lord who saved them? Do you think God doesn't bless those who are faithful to him? He says he does. And, please understand, I don't mean you should tithe if you really don't want to. I'm writing to those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28) to those who are truly thankful for what God has done for them-for eternal life and salvation. If you are, then you should be tithing. And I know that doesn't offend you, because you know it's true.

"Brethren, I'm calling on every man, woman and child in the church who loves God and is grateful for his love and salvation to begin tithing faithfully. If you find yourself in a situation where you must begin at first with only 1 percent while you ask God to lay what is right on your heart, then start there. If all of us are truly doing our part, this church will be able to produce the necessary gospel materials for Bible teaching and outreach and support its congregations with trained and effective pastors, as it ought to be able to do."

This was the scripture of choice when ministers badgered the membership for offerings during "holy day" services. The meaning of this verse in the Armstrong belief system was that the members should give as much as they could scrape together. God would not look at you kindly if you held back. You had to give even if you had to do without. And you had to do it cheerfully. If you gave reluctantly, you wouldn't find favor with God, even if you gave thousands of dollars. It was a difficult balancing act: the only way you passed the test in God's eyes was to give so much that it hurt, and did so without any second thoughts. If you had the slightest hesitation or regret, you would not find favor in God's sight. It was as big a sin to give reluctantly as it was not to give at all.

Does this scripture have another interpretation? A few years ago I heard a taped sermon by a minister who never had a connection with any Armstrongist group. He did not think the tithing command applied to Christians. In fact, he criticized the average Christian minister because although most of them claimed to follow the new covenant, they insisted on holding on to the old covenant tithing command. They were followers of the new covenant except when it came to money.  He believed that II Corinthians 9:6-7 meant that Christians should give only what they were comfortable giving. If giving an amount created anxiety because it put you in a financial bind, you should reduce the amount you gave to a level with which you were comfortable, because God wanted you to be cheerful when you gave it. He doesn't need your money anyway; and your family's needs come before the church. Remember, "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel (1 Tim 5:8)." In Mark 7:9-13, Jesus condemned those who neglected their families in order to give to the priesthood.

Of course, this interpretation will not fly in the churches of God. By encouraging members to follow rigid tithing and offering rules at the expense of their families, the Flurrys, Merediths, Tkachs and McCulloughs are teaching their followers to violate the teachings of Paul and Jesus. The various ministers simply don't want to work with their hands because it is not in keeping with the station into which they believe God placed them. They believe they are entitled to the the income of their followers. They demand that tithe monies be turned over, and they accompany their demand with threats of damnation.

Among the many privileges church of God ministers enjoy is the financial support of the membership. The churches of God are not churches at all. They are ministerial welfare programs. Each minister lives on hand-outs, not on the fruits of his own labor. The ministers are on the dole, and they expect to be well taken care of.  At the same time, they are the most arrogant and self-important bunch you'll ever see. They believe that they are so important, the ordinary laymember should not call them by their first names. Most church of God ministers insist on being addressed as "Mister." This is the upside-down world of Armstrongism, where the beggars are not only choosers, they are also the most highly esteemed and even feared members in their organizations. The ministers are the ones respected for their hard work and sacrifice, but it is the ordinary laymembers who actually do all of the sacrificing. Thankfully, this is becoming obvious to more and more people. The Armstrongist movement loses members every year. The plight of the tithe grabbers becomes more desperate. Hopefully, we shall soon witness the complete collapse of church-of-Godism.

Note: Unlike almost all the splinter groups, the Worldwide Church of God no longer officially teaches tithing (see an unsigned article on the WCG site). However the constant appeals from Pasadena for financial support continue unabated, and Joe Tkach doesn't seem to mind having "a dollar (yours, not his) each way" - see the letter excerpt above.