The Ambassador Report staff asked several Worldwide Church of God (WCG) members if they believed in paying tithes, and each one responded assertively, “Of course I believe in tithing!” We then inquired how they defined “tithing,” and each one, in essence, replied, “Tithing, according to the Bible, means giving a tenth of one’s salary to the church.”
What these members don’t realize is that they are not following the biblical laws on tithing, and they never have been! Though the WCG has long claimed to follow every word of the Bible literally, it has completely ignored the Bible’s laws and instructions on tithing and has instead substituted an unworkable, unbiblical maze of rules designed mainly by Herbert Armstrong. Herbert’s method of tithing resembles the Bible’s about as closely as Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) resembles Christmas. Let’s look for a moment at how terribly the WCG has twisted the Bible’s teachings on tithing.
Tithing in the Old Testament. God related to Moses precisely how he wanted the Israelites to tithe, and Moses recorded God’s instructions in Leviticus 27:30-32:
“All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s…. If a man wishes to redeem any of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. And all the tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsmen’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord” (RSV).
It is obvious from the above passage that God commanded the Israelites to tithe on (1) agricultural produce and (2) every tenth animal of their flocks and herds. Nowhere here or anywhere else in the Bible does God ever state that an Israelite or, for that matter, a Christian should tithe on anything else. God never told the Israelites or Christians to tithe on their monetary wages-and these people weren’t all farmers by any means. He never commanded them to give a tithe of all the fish they caught or of all the copper they mined, nor did he require they give a tenth of the money they received from selling pottery, chariots, sandals, garments, etc. In fact, even The Jewish Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion (under “Tithes”) state that the Israelites tithed only on agricultural produce and livestock.
Jewish reference sources point out that every seventh year was a sabbatical year and no tithing was permissible therein. (See The Jewish Encyclopedia, “Tithe,” p. 151.) It’s a shame the Worldwide Church of God doesn’t adhere to this aspect of the biblical tithing law.
Recipients of the Tithe. The Bible clearly delineates who was authorized to receive the tithes of the people in Numbers 18:21, 24:
“To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service… in the tent of meeting…. therefore I have said of them [the Levites] that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel” (RSV).
The Levites, however, didn’t retain all of the tenth for themselves, but gave a tenth of their tithe to the priests who attended the altar (Num. 18:25-32). The priests didn’t tithe at all.
It is important to note that the tithe was given only to the Levites who were serving at the tabernacle (or later the Temple). That’s why Moses instructed the Israelites to bring their tithes to the place where God had placed his name (Shiloh and later Jerusalem):
“But you shall seek the place which the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name… thither you shall go, and thither you shall bring your… tithes and the offering that you present” (Deut. 12:5-6, RSV).
Nowhere in the Old or New Testaments is anybody but the Levites authorized to take the tithes of the people. Nowhere are Christian ministers given the right to demand or accept tithes. Jesus or Paul could not have accepted tithes from the church as they were not Levites. Of course, the Gentiles Paul preached to weren’t in the habit of tithing anyway since God never required Gentiles to tithe in the first place, but only Israelites. (In fact the produce of Gentile lands was considered impure until certain rabbis allowed the tithes of a few Gentile lands to be accepted because so many Jews dwelt there.)
Even in Nehemiah and Malachi’s day the Israelites were still commanded to bring their tithes to the Levites who placed them in the Temple’s storehouse (Nehemiah 10:35, 37, 38):
“We obligate ourselves to bring… to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes…. the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers, to the storehouse” (RSV).
The Israelites were often forgetful of their tithing obligation (Neh. 13:10-12), so Malachi also admonished the “sons of Jacob” (Mal. 3:6) to “bring the full tithes into the [Temple] storehouse, that there may be food in my house [the Temple in Jerusalem] ” (Mal. 3:10, RSV).
The preceding facts on tithing in the Old Testament were condensed from a large number of papers submitted to the doctrinal committee, including the papers authored by David Antion, Harry Eisenberg, Don Abraham, Lester Grabbe, Allan de Jager, Garry de Jager, and Brian Knowles. The well-supported conclusions of these papers were basically ignored by the Armstrongs and were quietly relegated to archival files or trash cans and forgotten.
Tithing in the Christian Church. Contrary to the assumption of some, the early Christian church and ministry were not supported by tithes but by freewill offerings. Many Christians pooled their goods and shared their possessions equally (Acts 4:32-37). There was no “third tithe” collected for the poor-as in the WCG-but rather the apostles urged each Christian to give according to his means (II Cor. 8:2-15; 9:6-12; I John 3:17-18).
It was the Catholic church that instituted tithing in the Christian church. Notice this admission in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XIV, pp. 174-175:
“The early Church had no tithing system. The tithes of the Old Testament were regarded as abrogated by the law of Christ…. But as the Church expanded and its material needs grew more numerous and complex, it became necessary to adopt a definite rule to which people could be held either by a sense of moral obligation or by a precept of positive law. The tithing of the Old Law provided an obvious model, and it began to be taught…. The Council of Macon in 585 ordered payment of tithes and threatened excommunication to those who refused to comply.”
Interestingly the Worldwide Church of God brands almost all of the Catholic church’s additions to the early Christian religion-Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc.-as utterly unbiblical, but when it comes to tithing, the WCG eagerly leaps onto the Catholic bandwagon and even goes far beyond the Catholic church by adding a second and a third tithe.
Of course, the WCG’s system of tithing doesn’t even resemble the Bible’s. And nowhere does the Bible say the church has the right to take Old Testament laws-such as those on tithing-delete part of them, reword them, twist them, and then require a Christian to keep the “new, improved” laws. (Besides, the Armstrongs have always stressed that their followers should believe them only if what they say is in the Bible.)
The preceding facts on tithing in the Christian church were taken from several lengthy research papers submitted to the WCG doctrinal committee by Harry Eisenberg, Richard Davey, Lawson Briggs, Don Abraham, Garry de Jager, Allan de Jager, and the managing editor of The Plain Truth, Brian Knowles. Yet their findings were all but ignored by the Armstrongs. When the WCG’s tithing study paper (dated Sept. 24, 1974) emerged, these comprehensive papers were not included. Rather only a few selected papers were reprinted for the ministry to examine, and several of these papers were altered so as to obscure or hide the authors’ original conclusions.
Tithing’s Detrimental Effects on People. The WCG’s tithing doctrine isn’t a quaint, harmless philosophy by any means. Thousands of people will attest to that-though those people are never quoted in WCG publications. Ambassador Report has heard numerous heart-rending stories about how families gave thousands of dollars to the WCG in tithes and as a result were left destitute at retirement. In England and Australia, many WCG members are unable to afford to eat meat more than once a week, according to WCG ministers themselves-all due to the WCG’s oppressive multiple tithing system. It has been reported that a number of members have even had to skip meals every week to pay their tithes.
One former member wrote that after seven years of tithing, “we were never really financially blessed. In fact it will take awhile to get out from under the pressure of accumulated bills caused by tithing and ignoring pressing responsibilities.”
But what is so diabolical about the WCG’s unbiblical tithing system-which demands a first tithe be paid on one’s income, a second tithe be saved from one’s income for use only at WCG festivals, and a third tithe be paid every three years-is that widows and those who can ill afford to give up to 30% of their gross income each year are coerced into allocating their hard-earned money to the WCG through fear and intimidation. In the past the WCG has preached that any member who refused to pay tithes would be cast alive into the lake of fire. Notice one blatant instance where Garner Ted Armstrong, in a Feb. 7, 1977, letter to the WCG members, resorted to similar scare tactics to extort money:
“Some have even begun to STEAL directly from God!… They have forgotten that they are not ‘giving’ God His tithe, since it is not theirs to ‘give’! . .. It is INIQUITY which means SIN, to steal God’s tithe!”
In a recorded sermon originally given on Nov. 6, 1976, and later played in most WCG services worldwide, Ted stressed that “failing to tithe nets death.” In the April 8, 1975, issue of the WCG’s ministerial bulletin, Garner Ted attempted to make those who were lax in tithing feel as though they had all but committed the unpardonable sin:
“I cannot IMAGINE any person claiming to be ‘converted’… claiming to be a ‘Christian,’ yet having an attitude of resentfulness and rebellion toward giving God His prior claim [10%] over our own incomes” (p. 179).
At the May 1976 ministerial conference Garner Ted urged the ministers to “use [in sermons] some of the statistics” he had given them “about the rapid decline in third tithe-meaning the poor fund, the poor tithe” to cause the church members to feel guilty about not paying third tithe. He admonished them to “preach those scriptures [on aiding the poor and on third tithe] fearlessly and remind people that that [paying third tithe] is an absolute obligation that can keep them out of the kingdom more quickly than practically anything else if they neglect it-that you can lose salvation through neglect of the poor just about more quickly than any other way.”
It’s refreshing to learn that the Armstrongs are beginning to show some “concern” for the plight of the poor in the church by urging the members to give more to this fund. (The purpose of the third tithe fund is to help the fatherless, the widows, and the needy-at least that’s what members have been told.) It’s sad to say, but the third tithe fund would be many millions of dollars larger than it presently is if the Armstrongs hadn’t secretly authorized using its funds to buy jet fuel, to furnish and redecorate high-ranking ministers’ homes, and to pay ministers’ salaries. Somehow using this third tithe “poor fund” for these things-when there’s not enough money to help the needy church widows-seems like a “Robin Hood in reverse”-robbing the poor to give to the rich.
The Worldwide Church of God constantly tries to imply, based on Malachi 3, that one who does not give a tenth of his monetary income is somehow “robbing God.” But since God never gave the Christian ministry the right to collect a tenth of anything-be it monetary income or agricultural produce-the church that demands a tithe of its members is in reality “robbing” its members, as God looks at it.
The WCG ministry seems to lack the faith in God to believe that he will reward those who seek him (Heb. 11:6) and supply the finances the ministry needs-so the ministry has instituted a man-made, unbiblical tithing system that takes a much greater portion of a person’s income than did God’s Levitical system, which didn’t require a tithe be paid on a person’s monetary income or a tithe be paid every seventh year. The WCG’s lack of faith in God certainly is unpleasing to God, as is the manner in which it twists the scriptures to try to support the tithing doctrine. Could it be that the WCG ministers are worshipping God in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men? (Mark 7:7.)
WCG Ignores Truth About Tithing. The preceding facts on tithing were taken from over 40 bulky papers advocating Christians do not have to tithe that were submitted to the top leaders of the Worldwide Church of God since late 1973. Regrettably, the WCG leadership has still utterly refused either to openly acknowledge the existence of the facts in these papers or to refute them. In July 1975, however, the WCG did publish a revised booklet on tithing entitled Tithing. Though touted as a “complete, well-researched” booklet by Garner Ted Armstrong in a July 21, 1975, letter, it is little more than a rambling discourse on the mind of God, the merits of Christian giving, and the needs of the Worldwide Church of God, coupled with a complex maze of unbiblical, man-made rules to aid people in determining what to tithe on.
In spite of this well-publicized booklet, the WCG’s income continued to plummet as thousands quit tithing. In April 1977, in the midst of another deep financial crisis, the WCG unveiled yet another long-winded booklet on tithing-Your Best Investment– written by John Schroeder and Ted Armstrong. The authors lash out at Christians who would salt away a portion of their money for a future emergency, rather than giving every extra penny to the WCG. While this is terrible financial advice to give a church member, this advice, if followed, will certainly help the WCG end its financial worries.
As expected, the booklet supplies no scriptural proof that Christians should tithe, though it is replete with gross overgeneralizations, excessive usage of italics and exclamation marks, hollow rhetoric, and intimidating statements such as “it is iniquity, which means sin, to steal God’s tithe!” (p. 36.)
The authors admit “Christ… did not specifically deal with the tithing law anywhere in the Sermon on the Mount. And it is not dealt with specifically and pointedly anywhere else in the New Testament” (pp. 52-53). Yet the authors somehow conclude that since tithing wasn’t specifically abrogated by the New Testament, it is still in force. Now if the old covenant tithing laws given to ancient Israel are still in force, so are all the other Mosaic laws not specifically rescinded. But the WCG ignores 90% of the Mosaic law and doesn’t even come close to adhering to the law’s clear instructions concerning tithing. To get around this obvious discrepancy, the WCG declares that since it is the true church, it has the right to determine “the modern application and expansion of the Old Testament principles and laws” (p. 53). Of course, the authors conveniently forget to mention that the WCG has long condemned other churches-especially the Catholic church-for giving biblical laws “modern applications,” while ignoring the plain commands of scripture.
In fact, neither this newest tithing booklet nor the older one advocate following the Bible’s guidelines for tithing or for supporting the Christian ministry, but rather both advocate following the Worldwide Church of God’s own set of guidelines. Still, the fmal choice belongs to the WCG member. He can follow God’s plain commands or the commandments of men!