Here’s another one of those commonly-held beliefs that most Christians never question.  Yet, the belief distorts the believer’s view of reality, and causes a whole list of negative consequences.  I call those kinds of beliefs cataract beliefs. Like a cataract in our eye – they come on slowly and gradually diminish our ability to see clearly, until they blind us permanently.

So, let’s ask the question, “Am I really required to give my tithe to the local church?” What does the Bible really say about that?

One of the favorite verses to quote when it comes to giving is Malachi 3:10.  This oft-quoted passage really speaks to the giver’s heart and the amount of the gift, but that isn’t the question here.  We are not, in this article, considering those issues. Instead, we are focusing in the ‘giftee.’ To whom, or to what, should we be giving?

Bible verses

There are a number of passages in the New Testament that shed light on that.

I Corinthians 9:1-14 speaks to the issue.  In this passage Paul asserts that he and Barnabus, being itinerant apostles/evangelists, have a right to be supported by the folks they disciple. They just chose not to exercise that right. So, clearly, we have the apostles teaching that it is appropriate for Christians to support the itinerant evangelists who disciple them.

II Corinthians 8 & 9.  In this passage, Paul encourages the Corinthians to give more. It includes the other most often quoted passages on giving, verses 7 & 8:  “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in ever good work.” The only problem is that the verse really doesn’t speak to the question – give to whom?  But, the next verse does, as Paul quotes Psalm 112:9:  ”They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.”

So, who should be the recipient of the gift?  The poor.  Earlier in these two chapters, Paul refers several times to the recipient of the gift in ways that clearly indicate it will be given to Christians who are suffering and are in need.

I Timothy 5:17 – 18 teaches that the elders within the local church can also be supported.  Elders, as I’m sure you know, are always plural, were raised up within the local group of people, and meet the qualifications listed in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Most pastors are not Biblical elders.

Galatians 6:6-7 continues to expand on that theme, indicating that we should share “all good things” with the people who teach and disciple us.

Romans 15:25-28 introduces an additional ‘approved’ focus for gifts.  In this passage, Paul describes the gift to the poor Jewish Christians that some other Christians had made.  While this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive, it’s not a big leap to see that giving to other poor Christians is encouraged.

James 1:27 expands on this theme: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  While “look after” implies a greater relationship then just money, certainly giving and supporting orphans and widows is implicit in the phrase.

There is one passage that speaks specifically to the question.  I Corinthians 16:1 & 2.  “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.  On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.  Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.”

So, the one clear, unambiguous teaching in the New Testament about giving says exactly the opposite of “you are required to give your tithes to the church.”  It says that you shouldn’t give it to the church, you should save it every week, and then make one gift of the saved up money when the opportunity is right  — to “God’s people”, other Christians who are in need.

Let’s consolidate what these passages teach about the tithe:

It is appropriate to support itinerant apostles/evangelists, the elders among you who oversee the congregation, those who disciple you, and others in need, particularly needy Christians and orphans and widows.  You are not to give it regularly, but save it up and make personal gifts when the opportunity presents itself.

In spite of this direction from the New Testament writers, a lot of people just decide to give their gifts to the local institutional church, accepting the teaching they hear from the pulpit without ever questioning it.  Therefore a lot of people believe they are “required to give your tithes to the {institutional} church.”

The people who most convincingly proclaim this message, are, of course, those who have a vested interest in receiving it.

There are a couple of problems with that. First, you are giving your gift to someone who then decides what to do with it.  This intermediary step creates a distance between you, the giver, and the person receiving the gift, makes the gift seem impersonal, and robs the transaction of some of its spiritual power.  Additionally, it puts a lot of pressure on whoever is running the congregation to make decisions for someone else’s gift.

And, while a case can be made that giving supports the pastor, the problem is that typically institutional churches spend money on a lot of other things that aren’t on the ‘approved list.’  For example, typically a large percentage of the income goes to pay off and maintain the church building.  The New Testament knew nothing of this.  In his book, Pagan Christianity, George Barna traces the use of church buildings to the pagan practices of Constantine in 300 AD.  Church buildings are man-made entities that serve to siphon money from the biblical uses of it to something else.

In addition, some portion of the income typically goes to support the denominational bureaucracy. And, of course, denominations are clearly denounced in the Bible (I Corinthians 1:10-17; John 17: 20 – 23).

Let’s just imagine, for a minute, what would happen if just 10% of the church-going Christians in this country decided to give scripturally. Probably several hundred million dollars would be re-directed from church buildings and professional staff to directly impacting the poor and needy.  While some pastors may have to get jobs, and some congregations merged with others, image the impact for the cause of Christ.  Literally millions of hurting, needy people would receive personal gifts from people who knew them – gifts made in the name of Christ.  How many of them would respond to this personal act of Christian love and turn toward a relationship with our savior?

That one act alone might be enough to start a ground swell of activity in this country that could result in a revival, and a reversal of the trend toward anti-Christianity in the culture.

Here then, is one person’s opinion:

Are you required to give your tithe to the local institutional church?  No. In fact, the overwhelming weight of New Testament teaching supports just the opposite.

Your giving should be personal, directed by the Holy Spirit, and in keeping with the examples and directions in scripture. Giving to the local institutional church violates these guidelines. Do exactly what Paul commands us to do:  Save up, every week, some portion from that with which you have been prospered.  Then, seek to make personal gifts in accordance with the guidelines described in the New Testament.

How does that look?

For over a decade, my wife and I have adhered to this system based on I Corinthians 16: 1 & 2.    First, we put aside a percentage of every piece of income we receive.  This goes into a seperate checking account we call the “give” account.  As you can imagine, the account increases over time.  Our position is that the money has already been given, it just hasn’t been distributed.

Then, we keep our eyes open for individuals who could be blessed by a gift from that fund.  I regularly ask the Holy Spirit to bring us those people.  We generally prioritize them this way:  First , family and extended family; Second, other Christians; Third, everyone else.  When we have identified a possible candidate, we pray about it and then both of us must agree to make the gift and the amount of the gift.   While we don’t have any guidelines for the amount of each gift, they generally range from $500 to $1,000.

We believe this system is far closer to the scriptural intent.  Over the years, we have been able to impact dozens of people with a small  touch of God’s love and providence, funneled through His people.

In the last few decades, the institutional church system has spent 530 Billion dollars, has not expanded the percentage of Christians by even one percentage point, and has lost the culture.  Isn’t it time thoughtful people asked some questions?  This is one of those issues that deserves your thoughtful investigation.


The Institutional Church has spent $530 Billion on itself, and not increased the percentage of Christians by even one percent.

Isn’t it time you asked some questions?

Learn more here.