Privately Reforming from Inside
"Exploitative Triple Tithing"
November 7, 1994 Letter to Joseph Tkach, Sr.
Dear Mr. Tkach:
Thank you for considering the letter I sent you regarding the fall festival. I really appreciate the atmosphere of honesty and openness that you have brought the church.
Mr. Feazell mentioned that you were studying tithing and were eliciting input from the ministry. Four years ago, I did an in-depth study of tithing to prove for myself what the church taught. I studied what we had written and was able to form a basis for our current understanding through some obscure quotes from Josephus, the apocryphal book of Tobit, Cruden's Concordance and by piecing together a number of scriptures. I was content that I had substantiated our view of three tithes and seven offerings.
However, I believe we have done it a particular way for so long that it is difficult for us to be objective. I am certainly not a theologian, but I would like to offer a few practical points to consider along with your study. I believe it is easy for us to be too close to the subject and not see the forest for the trees, as it were.
In fact, I am giving you nine meaningful reasons why I believe you should consider the following: eliminate second and third tithes and implement a more grace-oriented approach to "first" tithe and offerings that emphasizes freedom in Christian giving. In other words, encourage members to support the ministry through tithing and free-will offerings rather than requiring 10% of one's gross (or net, for that matter) for membership.
I realize that we have never been able to physically force anyone to tithe. However, psychologically we have used condemnation toward those who were not willing to assume these restrictions. We have not baptized certain people because of tithing. We have told people their financial trials were due to their not properly tithing. In short we have controlled their behavior through subtle punishments.
1. Our current tithing policy gives rise to suspicion of our true intentions. People listen to the words we speak but they trust our behavior. Our words have been generous. We have said on the telecast that we have been freely given the gospel so we freely give it. We have criticized others for selling God's truth. But, our behavior is that we require members to pay 30-plus percent of their income two years out of seven in order to be members of our church.
Why should people not suspect our motivation? Our ministry does not pay second or third tithe nor do we pay social security, all of which we expect members to pay. We receive a substantial tax break for a parsonage. We are given a fleet vehicle. We receive comprehensive medical care. And we receive a higher base salary than more than 60% of our church households. But there is more! We work on the Sabbath and during the festival, receive three weeks of vacation and are not in danger of losing our jobs due to either the Sabbath or festival. Changing our tithing policy in the way I have outlined above would remove many seeming inequities and/or doubts as to the sincerity behind our ministry.
2. Our current tithing policy appears hypocritical and presents a double-standard. I do not believe that most of our ministers are capable of understanding what it is like to be a member of the Worldwide Church of God. We simply do not live by the same standards that we require of the members. Let me add a personal note to describe what I mean.
The year before I was hired into the ministry my wife and I were in our third tithe year. We were both college-educated working clerical jobs at Vanderbilt University. I was receiving $****** a year while my wife was paid about $****** for a combined income of $******. In that year over $****** was relegated to three tithes and offerings. Social security took another $****. Income taxes were responsible for $****. The net result is that $******, or 56% of our gross salary, was gone before we started, leaving only $****** (Exact figures of our personal income have been edited out of the original letter for our own privacy.)
Today, as a minister my salary alone is $30,000. My wife is not gainfully employed. I pay over $4,000 in first tithe and offerings. But I receive $2,700 in festival allotment and pay no second tithe. I pay no third tithe. I pay no social security. I pay about $2,000 in taxes. However, I receive about $3000 for my vehicle for church business. The net result is that only 10% of my total salary disappears leaving 90%, a full $27,000 remaining, not even adding the festival allotment (see figure below). I understand what it is like to be a member only because I remember when we could not afford a car or a phone and lived in a trailer.
Case 1. Member (Name Withheld) Working
$****** total income, Tithes/Taxes 56% = $******, Remaining 44% = $******
Case 2. Minister (Name Withheld) Working
$30,000 total income, Tithes/Taxes Minus Perks 10% = $3,000, Remaining 90% = $27,000
(Figure 1 does not take into account a fleet vehicle or mileage reimbursement.)
3. Our current tithing policy seems to hinder people from the kingdom. Christ derided the pharisees because they "tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them" (Matthew 23:4). Do we stop people from entering the kingdom by placing burdens on them we ourselves will not touch? I know you are considering changing the policy and permitting brethren to tithe off of their net income instead of their gross. Why not rather allow the Holy Spirit to guide members to tithe and offer as they will from their heart and make their own decisions?
4. Our current tithing policy lacks New Testament foundation. There are a variety of views in regard to the Old Testament system of tithing. "Scholars have debated whether there were two tithes or even three (see Jos. Antiq. IV. viii. 22). Modern studies hold that all the references are to the same tithe, explaining differences as arising from the variations in time" (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 5, "Tithe"). We have taken the most extreme explanation of tithing in the Old Testament and compelled New Covenant Christians to follow it. I do not believe there is a fragment of substantiation for a second or third tithe in the New Testament, nor is there much to support our demanding first tithe.
5. Our current tithing policy seems contradicted by Paul's example. Paul's motivation for ministry was never in question. It was clear his intention sprung from his burning desire to share Christ and him crucified. It is true that Paul did not say we ought not tithe. In fact, he was clear that "the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:14). In addition, the Bible gives examples of Paul being supported by the brethren (2 Cor. 11:9).
However, his approach was one of encouragement, not compulsory requirement. "What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:18). In fact, Paul often worked for his living in addition to preaching the gospel. "We were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you" (2 Thess. 3:7-8). See also 1 Thess. 2:9 and Acts 18:3. Paul acknowledged a responsibility on the part of the church to provide for those who ministered to them, but it was always very clear Paul's motivation was not their money but their spiritual salvation and growth in Jesus Christ.
6. Our current tithing policy seems questionable in light of Jesus' example. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:28). He was rich but became poor for our sakes by taking on humanity (2 Cor. 8:9). On two occasions Jesus turned over tables and cleared the temple of moneychangers. He even made a whip of cords to accomplish this. I believe a lot of people have difficulty with a passage where Jesus got angry and used force against wrongdoers. However, he did so because he was indignant that these people were taking financial advantage of those coming to worship God. Jesus loved the attitude of gratitude and generosity demonstrated by the widow who gave all she had (Mark 12:41) and he was angered by those who would utilize such a precious attitude to their own advantage. Jesus was angered that some had turned his father's house into a den of robbers.
7. Our current tithing policy seems legalistic rather than grace-driven. God has called us to be holy, but sometimes it seems we settle for being weird. Worldwide Church of God members were willing in the past to be weird as well as pay tremendous costs. But one could say in a carnal sense that they at least got something in return. They were told they would be kept from the tribulation, Mafia protection money as it were. In addition, being a member of our church meant you really knew God and were special above everyone else. But thankfully you have changed that approach. Why then should members tithe or give offerings now? Only out of a willing heart. However, if we continue to require tithes, where is the room for willingness? Either I have to or I want to. How can giving be from a willing heart given our current tithing policy?
8. Our current tithing policy will not be as financially profitable in the end. I believe that in the end we as an organization would benefit financially from such a change. Most members would continue to give a tithe of 10% plus additional offerings. In fact, I have no doubt some of the 10% once used for second tithe would be given in offerings. But more importantly, I believe our growth would greatly increase. We have a family now who attends in Memphis but will not commit to baptism because of our tithing policy.
9. Our current tithing policy does not seem to be driven by faith. Our judgment is clouded because we ministers benefit so much from the current system. Of course, it does not seem extreme to us! And the members do it because they are told they must sacrifice to obey God. If we take away our legalistic tithing policy and preach the gospel, members might willingly and generously give more. And, they might not. No one knows for sure. Looking to God in faith rather than laying heavy loads upon members is not as predictable.
Certainly, the ministry needs to be provided for to do the work of the gospel, but let us walk in faith looking to God to provide. I applaud you for the fact that you have not written the letters begging the membership for money that Mr. Armstrong used to write. But I believe we are still laying burdens on the brethren that we in the ministry are not willing to bear and that God has not demanded.
Is it necessary to be a theologian to know that what we are doing is wrong? Perhaps not, but the theologians agree as well. Church fathers such as Irenaeus and Epiphanius did not believe Matt. 10:10, Luke 10:7 or 1 Cor. 9:7ff could be used to establish a pattern for the church based upon the practice of the Jewish synagogue. They believed "freedom in Christian giving [should be] emphasized" (Zond. Pict. Encycl. of the Bible, Vol. 5, "Tithe").
Mr. Tkach, with all sincerity I do not say any of these things to accuse. Rather, I say them to implore you to consider the best interest of our members when making these decisions. I believe we are abusing our membership. Please be an advocate for the members. Frankly, I am angry. I have a close friend whose parents grossed $10,000 a year in their family business when she was growing up. Can you imagine them tithing 30%, giving offerings, and paying 15% self-employment tax plus taxes two out of seven years?
Thanks for your courage and faith. Praise God for your focus on our Savior Jesus Christ. And thank you very much for allowing me to give this input.
With love, (Name Withheld)
 From: J. M. Feazell at CPA 11/22/94 7:41 AM (1522 bytes: 1 ln)
To: (Name Withheld) at USFIELD
Subject: Re: Tithing letter
Yes, I did receive it and passed it on to Mr. Tkach. He hasn't really commented on it specifically, but I'm sure he found it helpful. These are many of the same thoughts he has been working with. Where he will come out with it I don't know. I appreciate your willingness to contribute your input on these things, and welcome any other thoughts.
I neglected to choose "receipt requested" on the tithing information that I sent you a couple of weeks ago, so I wanted to verify that you did indeed receive it, and see if you had any initial thoughts on it.
The fact that you did not respond as you had with the festival information made me wonder if I had overstepped my bounds. I certainly did not want to be disrespectful in any way, but rather to convey my personal feelings on the subject with the hope that they might be helpful.
I look forward to hearing from you. Have an enjoyable Thanksgiving.
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