Financing the Church -An Insiders View

In the last three years, almost 100 ministers of the Worldwide Church of God declared that the WCG’s tithing system is immoral and unscriptural. These men either resigned or were forced out of the WCG. Some wondered why they didn’t just stay in the church, accept a pay raise, and keep their ideas to themselves. They explained that as a minister of Jesus Christ, they had a responsibility to God to teach the whole truth to their flock, and if they were no longer allowed to teach what the Bible said on a subject, such as tithing, their consciences wouldn’t allow them to remain silent-especially when they knew about the terrible suffering poor members underwent due to practicing tithing.

Nevertheless, about a dozen of the highest paid WCG leaders decided they could remain within the church, continue to claim to be a representative of Jesus Christ, and teach the church’s doctrine of tithing-even though they have all privately admitted that it is totally without biblical support.

Because of the large number of WCG members worldwide that have been adversely affected by the current “commanded-tithing” misinformation (see our Letters section), Ambassador Report has taken the position that members have a right to know any information submitted to the doctrinal committee that could clarify any misimpressions about what the Bible says on tithing and that could relieve any unnecessary financial hardships.

The doctrinal committee has received over 40 papers on tithing from prominent and respected WCG ministers, writers, and researchers. One of these people in particular occupies a position of respected prominence, and as such might be looked upon by many individuals as a promulgator of issues of public importance. He is Brian Knowles, the managing editor of The Plain Truth-a magazine purporting to be “an educational service.”

Ambassador Report feels that the public in general and WCG members in particular are entitled to read a fair representation of his researched, expressed, and written comments on the subject of tithing. We do not impute any positive or negative value to his conduct or performance as a Christian, a corporate official, or a human being but feel the weight of his corporate perspective and his humanitarian judgment ought to be brought to bear upon the subject of tithing for the benefit of the general public. Therefore, Ambassador Report would like to present several papers and memos on tithing authored by this individual. This will allow members for the first time the right to determine the extent to which the Armstrongs have suppressed the doctrinal committee’s freedom to speak out and publish the true nature of their findings on tithing. We ask each member to personally compare and contrast the following material with the church’s most recent booklet, Your Best Investment. (The following material written by Brian Knowles has been edited for spelling and punctuation and the italics have been removed, but his wording remains unchanged.)

THE DOCTRINAL COMMITTEE

Regarding the subject of tithing: I think the doctrinal committee has utterly lost its way. In fact I don’t think they ever found it to the first place. Garner Ted Armstrong pretty well put the kibash on any objective study on the subject. I think his mind is made up, the doctrine (the basic part of it) is obviously an untouchable sacred cow. I see a sign hanging around the tithing principle which says, “Do Not Disturb!”

I’m convinced that at least 2 or possibly 3 other major doctrinal subjects will fall into the same category: (1) the commission. (Actually, the whole basis for our prophetic teaching is included in this.) (2) Church government. (I think changes can be made below the Armstrong level only.) (3) The covenants.

Once the subject of the covenants breaks wide open I’m afraid we’re in for real trouble. This to me is the biggest single priority that exists right now. It deals with the basis of our entire set of practices and beliefs-at least the ones that make us unique…. If the “truth” about the covenants is unveiled to our membership, our entire ship could sink. And I’m sure it will eventually…. I’m afraid our doctrinal and theological house is built upon subjective sand and the winds are beginning to howl with ever increasing intensity.

I have personally given up on the doctrinal committee. When I show up it is only to take notes. It is obvious that Dr. Hoeh and other right-wingers question my attitude, thinking, and right to contribute…. The Game Plan now seems to be “don’t rock the boat anymore. Let’s not make any more changes for awhile. We’ve done enough. Let’s stabilize what’s left and get on with the job of preaching the Gospel according to Ezekiel and Elijah (to come).” I think Dr. Hoeh and others have very effectively neutralized the effectiveness of the doctrinal committee for now. Lester Grabbe is the one voice of reason who is still able to make contributions-and only because of his devastatingly accurate scholarship.

The doctrinal committee deck is being stacked in the same way Nixon loaded the Supreme Court…. Objectivity and honesty have fallen in the streets, and we grope at noonday as in the night. It is now an exercise in futility with all changes being token and minimal The idea is to get back to the winning game of the early and middle 60s.

I agree… that we are likely to continue to lose people from the ministry and the laity unless we are suddenly taken with a massive dose of honesty and repentance….

I’m convinced we lack faith in God to provide for the needs of preaching the Gospel-and we lack confidence in the loyalty of our membership to support it. We have never admitted that the Holy Spirit can collectively lead the entire church into anything. It must always be “from the top down” and by authority. We have a form of godliness but….

TITHING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Christ Upheld Levitical Tithing Law. Matt. 23:23-(a) upholds Levitical tithing law which would prohibit Christ or the apostles from taking tithes since they were not Levites. (b) Confirms that this law was agricultural (mint, anise, and cummin) and not monetary.

Christ came-not to do away with the commandments-but to maintain them (Matt. 5:11-19). This would include the Levitical tithing law since the temple was still standing for 29 years after Christ’s death and all during the establishment of the NT [New Testament] church. If the Jewish NT Christians had been tithing to both the Levites and the apostles, it could have cost them up to 60%+ of their incomes (according to our reasoning!). (cf. Lev. 27:30-34; Matt. 5:17-19; Matt. 23:23.)

Matt. 22:16-21-The money (taxes) was rendered unto Caesar and the agricultural tithe to the Levites as God’s representative.

Like the Pharisees, we have placed greater emphasis on tithing than on the weightier matters of the law!

Did Jesus Teach Apostles to Take Tithes? If he [Jesus] had, he would have been violating the same law he himself had upheld. The apostles were not Levites. (Matthews’ name-Levi-is no proof he was a Levite, as many non-Levitical Jews have that name.) Jesus was of Judah. For Christ and/or the apostles to take tithes-especially while the Levitical system was still functioning (up to 70 A.D.)-would have been to violate Numbers 19.

Christ Set Up a Different System for Financing the New Testament Church. Luke 10:3-16, Matt. 10:9-10, Matt. 6:25-34 are said to show the system Jesus established for the support of His New Testament Church. Essentially, this means living off whatever the people give of their own free will. Under this system, the ministry would rely on faith for sustenance while preaching the gospel. They would not be forced to become corporate executives in order to support a vast financial empire.

Under our system the finances come before the preaching of the gospel. With “Christ’s” NT system the gospel was first preached-the sustenance came later.

Acts 4:32-35 shows how the activities of the Pentecost and Jerusalem gathering period were financed. People sold houses and lands and donated funds which the other less fortunate people-not the apostles-shared. No tithe is mentioned here. They were not coerced to contribute. Rather, they saw where God was working and responded.

Acts 5:1-11. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira had nothing to do with tithing. They were punished only for lying.

Paul’s Teaching. Paul upheld the Levitical tithing law. He said “…the sons of Levi… have [present tense] a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law…” (Heb. 7:5). This was about 64 A.D. or later-long after the NT Church had begun.

Paul taught another way of financing the New Testament ministry: Acts 20:28-35 (v. 35-weak = “needy” -Moffatt; “poor”-Rien).

Paul did not take tithes of the Ephesians. He was not a Levite. It would have been against the law for him to do so. He worked with his own hands, supporting not only himself, but also “them that were with me” (v. 34).

In other cases he accepted support from “other churches,” but not the Corinthians (II Cor. 11:8).

If tithing were a NT law, then Paul would have been causing them to sin when he didn’t accept it. He would have been spiritually negligent if he did not teach tithing. He would have caused them to be “cursed with a curse” for not tithing!

II Cor. 11:9-The Levitical tithing system was never called a “burden”-none of God’s laws were burdensome. Yet Paul said it would have been burdensome to the Corinthians to support Paul financially.

I Corinthians 9. If we take this chapter to prove NT tithing, we are reading into it what is not there. Tithing is not referred to. Paul did show that he was entitled to material support-but that he was not seeking it (v. 15). If tithing were the subject, why then didn’t Paul refer to the tithing law in Leviticus or Numbers instead of to Deut. 25:4 about the ox treading the corn? Because the tithing law referred only to the Levites-v. 13.

V. 14-What “the Lord ordained” is found in Matt. 10, Luke 10, and Luke 12-trusting God in faith for whatever voluntary support was offered.

Did Early NT Church Tithe? The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “The early Church had no tithing system… it was not that no need for supporting the Church existed or was recognized. but rather that other means appeared to suffice” (art. “Tithe”). This is confirmed by the Encyclopaedia Britannica-11th edition-and the Americana.

Is Hebrews 7 “The Tithing Chapter”? This chapter allegedly confirms that the tithing law was transferred to apply (once again) to the Melchisedec Priesthood of which Christ is the representative-thus necessitating payment to his ministers.

The real subject of the chapter, however, is the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over that of the Levites. The subject of tithing is merely one of several examples to show the superiority of Christ’s function over the Levitical system.

In verse 9 we are told, “Levi… paid tithes in Abraham….” Why didn’t he pay them himself if the law of tithing was in force prior to Lev. 27?

The “change in the law” referred to in verse 12 has nothing to do with tithes being paid to the apostles or the New Testament Church.

The only “commandment” referred to in this chapter is that of Levitical tithing and that commandment is said to be “disannulled” (set aside) in verse 18. All commandments concerning the Levitical priesthood are set aside today since it is not functioning.

While Mormonism teaches that its ministry is the Melchisedec priesthood, the 7th chapter of Hebrews plainly states that Christ himself is the only priest after that order. (See Joseph Smith’s work, The Pearl of Great Price.)

Even if we were to tithe today according to the Levitical law, it would still not be a monetary tithe.

When tithing was finally introduced into the Catholic Church long after the first century, it was in the form of a voluntary offering.

By the Synod of Macon (585) it [tithing] became compulsory under threat of excommunication. Civil authorities were used as enforcers. Later, tithing was ended as a law with the French Revolution. (See New Catholic Encyclopedia article “Tithe.”)

There was no law in the Old or the New Testament which ever required a monetary tithe of one’s income. The concept of a monetary tithe is not of God. It was man-ordained because Church leaders could not trust God in faith for support and did not wish to place themselves at the mercy of the people for sustenance.

What If Everyone Tithed? If everyone tithed every time money changed hands (in buying and selling), any given sum of money would be tithed on not once, but many times over. Finally, those who received tithes-if they chose not to spend money-could end up with all the money in circulation. The economy would collapse. Take an $800 salary and see how many times it is tithed on ….

On the other hand, under God’s Levitical system, something was only tithed on once (twice-to High Priest?). A person with nine head of cattle could not tithe until he had ten. The system never impoverished anyone.

Our tithing system, on the other hand, can and does impoverish some people (especially middle class and below). It insures that certain people will never be able to save up enough money to make a major purchase-if their earning power is below a certain level. Witness Australia.

We are beginning to parallel the Catholic Church in which the Popes and Cardinals lived in lavish splendor while many of the people were suffering deep poverty and want.

Does the Church Have Authority to Make Tithing a Law? Matt. 16:19 regarding “binding and loosing” is offered as a proof that we do. This contradicts Deut. 4:2 about adding to the Word of God, however, Matt. 16:19 in the KJV is a mistranslation. Williams’ [translation of the Bible] has it right: “Whatsoever you forbid on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven.”

Other Negative Aspects. We should not be sending money to sustain foreign office and college workers at a level better than the local people. “Ambassador College Quality” can be offensive to local people who are struggling for economic survival. We should live at the standard of the society among which we are working. Are we exporting American luxury or the Gospel of Christ?

In the meantime, we are forcing some (many?) church members to live at a standard below the neighborhood in which they live. (Their gross may be the same or even higher-but their net is less.)

Many P.T.’s [Plain Truths] are wasted-are actually reduced to level of “junk mail.” Fancy equipment is purchased and never used. Whole departments [at headquarters] are in chaos with constant redefining of roles, layoffs, changes, etc. Our efficiency is almost nil.

Oral Roberts and Billy Graham are able to have a far greater impact on society with budgets about a third the size of ours.

If we dropped the man-devised monetary tithing system, we would be forced to draw closer to God, develop greater efficiency and true economy, [and] be less arrogant with the people. We might even see the signs God promised would accompany the preaching of the gospel. God would provide our material needs.

“Second” and “Third” tithes are also misunderstood in their Old Testament usage and don’t apply today anyway since the whole system stands or falls on the first tithe.

RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS

After studying the issues of tithing (all three [tithes]) for some time, I think we may draw certain conclusions which provide a basis for understanding and decision making in this area. Perhaps these points will succinctly summarize the real issues:

(1) As Dr. Hoeh pointed out on one occasion, we still have needs. The ministry and the preaching of the Gospel still have need to be financed somehow. There is a need to finance the annual festivals. We still have the poor and the widows with us and always will, as Christ said. They still need financial help. The Church must arrive at some system of taking care of these three primary needs.

(2) We have no biblical evidence that the Old Testament tithing system was practiced by first-century Christians. There is no New Testament instruction regarding tithing (tenthing).

(3) We know that the Levitical tithing system was still in force until at least 70 A.D. The Church began in 31 A.D. Are we to believe that a double system of tithing was being practiced during those 29 years?

(4) Hebrews 7 does not appear to enjoin tithing on modern Christians. The “change in law” seems to refer to the whole administration rather than to the specific command regarding tithing. The subject of tithing is introduced in this section as an analogy (as D&R in Romans 7) to show the superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood (of which Christ is the only representative) over that of the Levites. The subject of whether Christians should tithe is not under discussion here.

(5) I Corinthians 9 does not mention tithing specifically. Nor is tithing the subject under discussion. If tithing were being discussed, Paul would have quoted the law of tithing from the Torah. Instead he quoted Deut. 25:4 regarding not muzzling the ox that treadeth the corn ….

The subject here is the support of the ministry. It refers to the physical sustenance of the ministry on a personal level (i.e., Paul, Peter, and the other apostles). It does not have-even in principle-anything to do with the financing of a globe-girdling, gospel-preaching corporation. It defines no fixed or minimum percentage. To suggest that I Corinthians 9 teaches tithing or to say it gives us the authority to command the membership to tithe is to distort it far beyond its original meaning and intent.

(6) If tithing was (and is) a divine law enjoined on New Testament Christians, then Paul was grossly negligent in not teaching it. He would have caused people to be cursed financially according to our present understanding (based on Mal. 3). Yet Paul received support only from the Philippian Church (Phil 4:15), and even then he merely spoke of “giving and receiving”-not tithing.

(7) The Church does not have the authority to add to the laws of God. The Pharisees did so and bound “heavy burdens grievous to be borne,” Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Matt. 23:4. We should be silent where the Bible is silent, speak where it plainly speaks, and be vague where it is vague. We dare not go beyond the Bible and add many laws based on “expediency.”

(8) The principle of the New Testament is simple, cheerful giving based on personal volition. God loves a cheerful giver. Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. It is more blessed to give… etc., etc.

(9) What, then, may the Church do without going beyond the authority of God’s revealed word?

We could ask our members-encourage them-to support the Work (i.e., the Corporation) to the extent of 10% of their income, or more, if they feel they can afford it. We should not command or demand the tithe, but we can encourage people to use it as a basic minimum by which the Work can anticipate a reliable and consistent support of its membership.

This would provide a stable figure upon which the corporation could tentatively budget. WE SHOULD IN NO WAY PENALIZE A PERSON WHO DOES NOT-FOR WHATEVER REASON-TITHE. It is not a divine law for New Testament Christians.

Tithing thus becomes a matter of faith-a voluntary act based on the person’s willingness to support the preaching of Christ’s own Gospel.

(10) We might consider the principle of statements of intention regarding first tithe as a means of budget projection.

(11) THE ANNUAL HOLY DAYS:

The principal reason for traveling to Jerusalem in the Old Testament was the Tabernacle and later the Temple. Each Holy Day was connected with a sacrifice.

Today, there is no real reason for long pilgrimages to distant Festival sites. We have no temple, no sacrifices. The main reason to keep the Festivals today is to understand the Plan of God.

This can be done in local areas just as the spring festivals are kept. We will lose nothing of the meaning of the days if we keep them in local church areas.

The Fall Festival could be observed by keeping the first and the eighth days as Sabbaths with AM and PM services on which we could ask for an offering. (Technically, however, only three offerings were required under the Old Testament system. We take up seven- cf. Deut. 16:16).

The remaining days could be regular work days with services held each evening in local halls.

This would have several advantages. The people would hear just as much preaching. They would not have to save a second tithe of their income to attend annual Festivals. They would not lose time (and sometimes jobs) from work. Their income would not be interrupted. They would not have the sometimes impossible logistics of long treks across the country to distant Festival sites in dilapidated autos, with sick children, accidents, etc. We would not have to have congested Festival sites, taxing facilities to their limit, all across the country. (The Feast sites have become large, unwieldy and unpleasant for many people, especially those with large families. The Feast is often an ordeal instead of a joyful occasion. Of course there are others who find it a pleasant break from routine, and probably most look forward to it.)

Under this system, people would have considerably more money they could (in many cases) put into the financing of the first commission! This could mean a considerable increase in income for the Work as a whole! The money would be going where it is most needed instead of down a rathole. It would protect hundreds of jobs (lost annually by Feast attendance). This would mean fewer unemployed people in the Church, and that in turn would help the income.

The Feast days would still be observed and the meaning would not be lost-but the cost would be cut down drastically. It would ease an enormous burden off the shoulders of the people. The income of the Work could increase as a result!

Note: We have no indication (exception: Paul) that the New Testament Church traveled great distances to observe the Feast days. Almost nothing is said of the Feast of Tabernacles in the New Testament at all!

People could be encouraged to keep a savings account for the Festivals. This would amount to whatever their particular needs were. They could save for offerings, special dinners at fine restaurants, gifts for their children, etc. They could share this with widows and others. The ministers would also save this money, preventing a double standard from occurring. It would be no fixed amount ….

Third tithe could be abandoned and replaced by a major Emergency Fund. The needs of this fund-i.e., specific financial goals-could be made known to the membership annually. (This could be run somewhat like the Red Feather campaigns in which a “thermometer” graph is used to show how far from the goal we are, etc.) At the end of the year, members could receive a report showing what was accomplished by the fund. Thus the needs of widows, orphans and other emergencies could be taken care of without the need to levy a “tithe” on the people.

If all of the above is rejected for political, philosophical, or financial reasons, I think any “tithe” that is asked of the people should be on the net. I think the simplest way to define the net is “taxable income.”

Summary: The above recommendations would theoretically not hurt the Work in any way. They could improve the financial picture overall-both for the corporation and for individual Church members.

They are in harmony with biblical revelation. They add nothing to the Bible and take nothing from it. They are within the legitimate bounds of Church authority. They solve the exegetical problems connected with tithing in the New Testament. They do not in any way jeopardize the knowledge of God’s Plan of Salvation as illustrated through the annual Holy Days. They still take care of the needs of the people. They might improve the financial picture for the Work as a whole since they free up more personal money among the Church membership.

I sincerely hope such measures can be adopted by the Church.