First Things – part five, about the tithe

But I alone went often to Jerusalem for the feasts, as it is ordained for all Israel by an everlasting decree. Taking the first fruits and the tithes of my produce and the first shearings, I would give these to the priests, the sons of Aaron, at the altar. Of all my produce I would give a tenth to the sons of Levi who ministered at Jerusalem; Tobit 1:6-7a RSV (about 8th century BC)

Tobit leads an exemplary life, a model of faithfulness observing all that has been commanded, in spite of the apostasy that was rampant among the Hebrew tribes living in exile in Nineveh. If Tobit had been a Christian, he would be a hero of the faith.

Many Christian teachers dance carefully around the subject of tithing and giving, a topic that deserves more than passing notice. Although it is true that Christians are not bound by Old Covenant laws such as feasts, fasts, sacrifices, ceremonies and rites, “no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.” (BCP, Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, article VII) The greatest moral law is love: love God and love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40 and BCP, Order for Holy Communion)

We give to the church because we love God and we want to support His ministry in this place and in the world. Under the Old Covenant, “the church” was the temple, the Levites, the synagogues, and God commanded the Levitical tithe for their support. Under the New Covenant, the Christian church is the body of Christ and represented by outposts like Holy Trinity. It is a moral imperative to support the church, and in the tithe God has revealed one consistent standard for giving that pleases Him.

But a tithe, which God gave to His chosen people as a standard for giving, should be seen by Christians as mere training wheels for New Covenant giving. Most children learning to ride a bike start with training wheels, but as they gain experience the training wheels come off and real riding begins. The early church fathers did not teach keeping the Old Covenant tithe. Irenaeus wrote, “The Jews were constrained to a regular payment of tithes; Christians, who have liberty, assign all their possessions to the Lord, bestowing freely not the lessor portions of their property, since they have the hope of greater things.” (Against Heresies, Chapter XVIII)

The matter of the tithe is a two-edged sword. It’s very helpful to have the tithe in its Old Covenant context as a standard for giving, but Christian giving is not so straight forward as just paying your tithe. For some people, giving a mere tithe to the church might be unsatisfying and unfaithful. In other cases, compelling the gift of a tithe might be tantamount to stealing the widow’s mite. (Luke 21)

In his book, Answers to Questions, F. F. Bruce wrote, Each Christian must come to a conscientious decision on this subject before God, and not be content to submit to the dogmatic statements of others; and it will be surprising if grace does not impel him to give a larger proportion than ever the law demanded.

Finally, now that you are thinking about it, if you have not yet participated in the in-gathering of 2017 Estimated Tithes and Offerings, please complete your card and place it in the gray box near the baptismal font or drop it into the offering.

Posted in Stewardship | Comments Off on First Things – part five, about the tithe

First Things – part four, acts of worship

And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him,“… behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.” And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God. Deuteronomy 26:3 … 10

First, a stewardship message: Each year at this time, we ask households to complete a card for us with their good faith estimate of next year’s ordinary offerings. For most people, these are your weekly gifts that are brought to the altar. Although your card is not a pledge (no obligation) it is important. We hope you will consider returning a card an act of faithfulness. Receiving your Estimated Tithes and Offerings card, is the best possible source for estimating the parish’s 2017 income. Therefore, if you have not yet participated in this in-gathering, won’t you please prayerfully complete your card and place it in the box near the baptismal font.

Now, let’s turn back to the subject of worship. In the First Thing we do in the Order for Holy Communion after the liturgy of the word, we act out Deuteronomy 26, bringing our gifts to the altar and saying, “All things come of thee or Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” These are the words that David’s used in his great prayer recorded in 1 Chronicles 29:14, paraphrasing what is found in Deuteronomy 26:10

How important is worship through offering? Did you know that the first recorded act of worship in the Bible is offering? In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. Genesis 4:3-4. That’s it. A little later, Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. Genesis 8:20 And it was recorded that God was pleased.

What is offering? Offering is worship. The Offertory is one of the best parts of worship. In offering we get to give back a little bit of what has been given and have it taken to the altar of God. Offering is a First Thing. (You) shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you. Deuteronomy 16:17

Posted in Stewardship | Comments Off on First Things – part four, acts of worship

First Things — part three, counting the cost

Jesus Said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Luke 14:28)

This is a very different kind of First Thing. Here, in fact, Jesus is telling his potential disciples that they must first determine if they have what it takes to persevere in the faith. Although Jesus is talking specifically about the cost of discipleship, the general principle of counting the cost holds true for most important work, and that’s why we ask you to give us an estimate of your next year’s gifts.

Like the builder who must first count the cost of his tower, the vestry will preside over the development of a parish budget for 2017. Our budget is a lot like a household budget. Like most households, we pay our expenses with current income, and that income is your weekly tithes and offerings. By responsibly counting the cost and planning well, the vestry is able to squeeze the best value from your weekly gifts.

How are we doing? For this year, we will know how we’re doing once all of you have participated in the on-going in-gathering of Estimated Tithes and Offerings. By tithes and offerings we specifically mean the people’s ordinary giving. This specifically excludes special gifts that are made from time-to-time that may be designated for such things as foreign missions, building projects, and memorials. Your ordinary giving is our ordinary income. We keep a balanced budget, so our ordinary income equals our operating expenses.

Here is a snapshot of the current and past two years showing the number of households that participated by returning their Estimated Tithes and Offerings and the resulting ordinary income:

Year Paraticipants Ordinary Income
2016 47 $204,000 budget
2015 44 $196,899 actual
2014 44 $187,532 actual

As a parish, we are growing and we have growing needs. Your tithes and offerings are the fuel for the engine of our ministry. Thanks to the generosity of the people of this parish, estimated giving and actual giving have kept up with our needs. Of course the more you give the more we are able to do as a parish. As of 11/13/2016, we have received 26 cards, so keep them coming so we can finish up by next week.

If you have not yet participated in the in-gathering, won’t you please thoughtfully help us count the cost by completing your card and placing it in the box near the baptismal font.

Posted in Stewardship | Comments Off on First Things — part three, counting the cost