David A. Croteau, You Mean I Don't Have to Tithe? A Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2010.
Dr. Vic Reasoner
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2013. Volume 31.
Date Posted Nov., 2013
The question of tithing illustrates the need for a consistent theology. Dispensationalism holds to the discontinuity of the Mosaic law. The law was given to Israel, but the Church is under grace. We don't have to tithe. We don't have to keep a Sabbath. We don't even have to attend church. In fact a "carnal" Christian may not exhibit any spiritual fruit, but may be living in disobedience to his Lord. Since only about 9% of "born-again" Christians practice tithing anyway, this book does not seem necessary
This is antinomianism and it is all connected. Wesley published three standard sermons on the proper function of the law, sermons #34-36. Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 9:21 that he was not free from God's law, but was under the law of Christ. Christian freedom consists not in freedom to sin but in freedom from sin.
Methodist theology has always held that the Church is God's true Israel. As Robert Brush explained in a 1986 Arminian article, the antithesis of the law is not grace, but lawlessness. The tithe was established by Abraham, the father of faith, in Genesis 14 and practiced by Jacob in Genesis 28. The people of God are challenged to tithe in Malachi 3 and are accused of robbing God when we fail to tithe.
If the New Testament said no more about tithing that would be sufficient, since we uphold the continuity of the old and new testaments. But Jesus does affirm tithing in Matthew 23:23. Paul taught proportionate giving in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. Here Wesley explained that as God increases a man's income, he will increase the size of his offering. "If a man when he has or gains one pound, give a tenth to God, when he has or gains ten pounds, he will give a tenth to God, when he has or gains a hundred, he will give a tenth of this also." Wesley felt that the tithe was the lowest rule of Christian prudence. However, without denying the legitimacy of tithing Wesley then advocates a more excellent way. Do not restrict yourselves to any proportion at all, but lend to God all you can.
According to Croteau, Wesley did not tithe (pp. 36-37) and was ambiguous about tithing. This is simply not true. There is nothing ambiguous about Wesley's notes on 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. Above all, Wesley hated antinomianism — the doctrine that because faith alone is necessary to salvation the moral law is of no use or obligation.
However, since tithes were mandated by state law in England, there was little need to defend tithing in Wesley's day. Adam Clarke's comments on Genesis 28 document some of the abuse of that era. The Methodist Societies would not benefit from the tithe which was paid to the state church. However, if tithing was the law of the land, would Wesley - the good Tory that he was - break the law?
In Wesley's Sermon "On the Danger of Increasing Riches," he declared, "Unless thou givest a full tenth of thy substance, of thy fixed and occasional income; thou dost undoubtedly set thy heart upon thy gold, and it will "eat thy flesh as fire!" But the tithe for Wesley was only the initial threshold of giving. Wesley gave away the equivalent of $4 million in his lifetime, going far beyond the lowest rule of Christian prudence. He received an annual stipend following his election as a fellow of Lincoln College at Oxford in 1726 until his marriage in 1751. As his income increased he determined to maintain his same standard of living and give away the rest. Thus he declared in 1744, "If I should die with more than ten pounds, may every man call me a liar and a thief."