Guest essay by Martin G. Selbrede
I have suggested a way to measure the progress of Christian Reconstruction in our culture: that Christians tithe all the tithes commanded in the Bible, which includes the Levitical tithe, the poor tithe, and the rejoicing tithe. All of it. Every last, decentralizing, state de-bloating cent of it. It is truly pitiful that one of Chalcedon’s worst selling books is the 1979 volume Tithing and Dominion, by Edward A. Powell and R. J. Rushdoony (T&D for short). We can conclude that meaningful progress has been made when Tithing and Dominion has become a Chalcedon bestseller. That day is still only a sparkle in God’s eye.
In general, the modern Christian view of the tithe is a preposterous caricature that utterly misses the true power of tithing. We assume sermons on tithing are calls to boost funding — in effect, calls for throwing money at a problem. Unfortunately, the content of such sermons tends to reinforce these impressions. The radical social consequences of the tithe, the fact that God’s Kingdom cannot properly grow without the tithe, are alien to modern Christians.
Worse yet, our attitude to the tithe decisively marks who or what we truly regard as lord over our lives: God or the state. Our views concerning it will color how we go about building God’s Kingdom. The tithe, then, reveals much about our deepest loyalties. In a sugar-coated world, it’s no wonder that these aspects of the tithe are too frightening for most Christians to dwell on. When we factor in the institutional churches’ use of the tithe, which tends to compound the flocks’ shortchanging of God, we find ourselves drifting toward a world of hurt beyond our power to imagine.
Except the Lord Build the House
The paradigm Psalm 127:1 sets forth is perpetually binding. “Unless the Lord build the house, they that build it labor in vain.” Just as Moses was to build according to the pattern shown to him by God, so are we to stay in His paths, turning neither to the left nor the right. The consequences of offering “strange fire” (Lev. 10:1-3) before the Lord, rather than obeying Him in all particulars, can be catastrophic. There is only one way to build the Lord’s house in any day and age: The Lord’s way. Rushdoony exposes our core pretensions in the concluding chapter of Tithing and Dominion thus:
Our sins, and the sins of our forefathers, box us in… Because of our sin of apostasy, we are today heavily taxed by our rulers (I Sam. 8:10-18). We are under their power because of our sins. We have refused to pay God’s tax, and we are instead burdened by the property tax, the inheritance tax, the income tax, the sales tax, and thousands of other taxes. Naturally, we are now very unhappy, and we want and crave an easy way out. In effect, we say, “All right, God, now I believe in you. Bail me out, so that I can start tithing.” This is not repentance but impudence. To pay taxes and tithes means a considerable part of our income, but there is no easy way out, nor any other way out. We can only create God’s ordained society in God’s ordained way….
There is no easy way out, but there is a good way, a godly way, the way of obedience to God’s law. A godly society will not come by waving a magic wand, nor by dictators, nor by any other way than God’s ordained way as set forth in His law. And basic to that is the tithe. The tithe is the a,b,c’s of godly reconstruction, the alpha and the omega of a Christian society. (p. 141-142)
In the same volume, Powell expresses the identical thought from the point of view of the reconstruction of economic theory. The Christian economist must adhere solely to Biblical law, and regard all other ground as shifting sand.
The Christian economist … must begin with the conviction of faith that economics can only be the study of God’s management of this world by His law…. He must begin with the absolute conviction of faith that, because God’s law rules all of creation, only God’s law can be productive and fruitful for man and his environment. (p. 53)
The Consequences of Not Tithing
We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that since God makes the tithe so socially important, when we fail to obey there will be serious repercussions. In fact, we’ve been suffering those repercussions for a long time. Rushdoony lays out precisely which benefits are obliterated when tithing is bypassed or neglected:
First, in God’s plan everything depends on this fact of tithing. It provides the funding for a variety of activities, worship, health, education, and welfare, and also scholarship. The tithe is God’s tax, the rent which is His due, but no man or institution is empowered to collect it. Thus, a people get the kind of society they pay for in their tithing. “It is plain to see that everything in the Israelite economy really depended on the principle of tithing being adopted and strictly adhered to. Only thus would the system work.” The alternative to a tithing society is a tyrant state and its oppressive taxation.
Second, “the spiritual impoverishment” of our time is due to the failure to tithe. Men seem to prefer the Internal Revenue Service and its power-state to tithing and a free society….
We can add, fifth, that a non-tithing culture is a dying one, because it does not provide for its future under God. Christendom has been unique in world history, in that Christian scholarship has again and again revived culture by providing a framework for the future.
The social implications of not tithing are bad enough, but the theological implications are worse. Failure to tithe strikes at the Lordship of Christ, at the sovereignty of God Himself, in the most profound way, by making God a debtor to man:
God does not tax each and every item owned by man. He makes His claim to sovereignty by taxing all areas in principle. This is why the failure of man to pay all of God’s taxes is so destructive. When he fails to pay any one tax, he is claiming that God has no authority whatsoever in that particular area of life and thought…. [man essentially proclaims that] God has no claim of ownership on [him] other than what he is willing to render to God. It is a denial, in principle, that God owns all of a man’s time. (p. 56-57)
Tithing: God’s Appointed Way to Counter Socialism
It is true that Biblical Christianity is pitted against socialism. But what we forget is that the tithe is the primary Christian weapon against socialism. Rushdoony again pinpoints for us where the socialist camel stuck its nose under the tent, where voids were left when tithing began to disappear:
Socialism has filled a void vacated by Christians. The spread of Unitarianism and atheism in the United States was closely followed by the spread of socialism. It was not by accident that the early American socialist of 1800-1860 attacked the tithe. To break down tithing meant that another source of social financing had to be forthcoming: the central civil government. (p. 5)
The tithe has a major social function which needs restoring. It is futile to rail against statism if we have no alternative to the state assumption of social responsibilities. (p. 8)
Sadly, Christians by and large have been lulled into an unthinking reliance on the power state. The high calling of liberty under God is sold for a mess of statist pottage. God’s blessings are within visible reach, but we grasp for everything but His way to build a godly society. When given a choice between falling into the hands of God or men, David selected God (2 Sam. 24:14), but we routinely prefer men over God.
Third, the tithe made a free society possible. If every true Christian tithed today, we could build vast numbers of new and truly Christian churches, Christian schools, and colleges, and we could counteract socialism by Christian reconstruction. Consider the resources for Christian reconstruction if only 25 families tithed faithfully! Socialism grows as Christian independence declines. As long as people are slaves within, they will demand slavery in their social order. (p. 4)
The ultimate choice is simple. It is irrevocable:
Either we work to establish a godly order, or we go down into the hell of total statism. (p. 10)
The Antithesis: Tithing vs. Socialism
We should expect that faithful tithing will create a socialist backlash. Socialism will attack opposing worldviews that advance upon it. The tithe was attacked in the 1800s in America despite its success, because the issue (then and now) is lordship in the political realm.
Christian economic thought and theory can never be compatible with secular humanist economic thought and theory. They cannot be reconciled because they have totally divergent world and life views. They are at war with one another because each aims to glorify their owner, as well as indicting the other for apostasy. The Christian seeks to glorify God and condemn fallen man for his treason against the Lord. The humanist seeks to glorify man and indict God for His abuse of mankind… [Humanistic economic] theories see man as trying to create paradise out of the cruel creation of God’s handiwork. Or they see nature as normative and fruitful beyond limits, and God’s law as the instrument which has corrupted nature and caused man untold misery. (p. 52-53)
The Tithe as a Personal Message from God to You
Christendom is awash in various study aids, video and DVD programs, devotional books, and Promise Keeper meetings, all ostensibly designed to help us develop a deeper, more spiritual relationship with God. As a group, we Christians tend to spend an inordinate amount of money to salve our consciences, to improve our walks, to get closer to Him and His Word. There are hundreds of thousands of such programs floating around. To be brutally honest, only one way is found in Scripture. While others accumulate teachers to suit their own liking, God has appointed His own tutor:
The payment of God’s taxes by man forces man to think continually in terms of the Word of God. It forces him to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ in every area of life and thought… Failure to pay any one of God’s taxes leads to an inability to think God’s thoughts after Him properly in that area of life. It leads to an improper understanding of how God rules man and creation… (p. 63)
Part of this educational process is the re-definition of discretionary income. Tithing slams the brakes on humanistic thinking about ownership of income, but in the process it frees us from hypocritically serving two masters. Powell first develops this in terms of the offering of the first-fruits and the theological sledgehammer hidden under its surface:
[A] man could not use the results, or rewards of his labor until he had made an offering of a portion of them to God. Since a man could not use his harvest, or income prior to his offering of the First-fruits from it, this meant he did not own his income. What a man owns he controls, and vice versa. Ownership is meaningless if a person cannot control the use of what he “owns.” Hence, the payment of the First-fruits signified that a man did not own his income, but that God did… The tax of the First-fruits on a man’s productive efforts establishes the principle that man is owned, lock, stock, and barrel, by God. (p. 71-72)
Powell then illustrates that the same principle informs the tithe as well, arguing that the tithe paid by the Levites to the high priest (1) had to be paid before the Levite could use any of it, and (2) was no different than the harvest tithes paid by Israelites to the Levites, meaning that (3) the Israelites, too, had to pay their tithe first before they could make any legitimate use of the results of their labors.
The Levites were required by God to tithe out of their increase the best thereof to the High Priest prior to their own use of the tithes that they had obtained from the Israelites…. The tithes that they received were recognized as being in essence the same as an increase of the “corn of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress” (Num. 18:27)…. Since both the increase of the Levites and the increase of the remaining Israelites were seen by God as being the same, and since the Levites were required to pay the Tithe prior to their use of their increase, we can understand that the Tithe was required to be paid by all the people of Israel prior to any personal use of the rewards of their labors. (p. 90)
Modern man likes to cynically point the finger at churches and Christian ministries, accusing them of sticking their hands into his pocket to take “his hard-earned money.” Imagine the victim of theft being labeled a pickpocket by the actual thieves! Rushdoony, in his magnum opus The Institutes of Biblical Law, quotes a pseudo-Augustinian sermon on this point that is even more direct in its denunciation:
Whoever will not give the tithe appropriates property that does not belong to him. If the poor die of hunger, he is guilty of their murder and will have to answer before God’s judgment seat as a murderer; he has taken that which God has set aside for the poor and kept it for himself. (p. 512)
Apart from the message of God’s sovereignty that the tithe embodies (for those who obey His ordinances in regard to it), the blessings associated with the tithe have some remarkable components. Rushdoony draws attention to the fact that tithing can be instrumental in shifting power into the hands of the “little man.”
Seventh, the tithe restores power to the little man. Today, it is the rich man who dominates most causes; his money counts; he can donate a hundred thousand or a million and make his influence felt. But a thousand little men who tithe can far outweigh the rich man. They can keep a Christian cause from being dominated by a handful. Tithing is the way for the little man to have power with God’s blessing. (p. 5)
Our Lord’s praise for the poor widow who threw her two mites into the temple treasury is poignant proof that God honors those who affirm His Lordship over them and over their substance.
The Hands Are the Hands of Esau
In his book, The One and the Many, R. J. Rushdoony notes that the sixth century Hellenistic philosopher Boethius’s doctrine of the Trinity “was outwardly Christian but inwardly Greek” (p. 186). Rushdoony then cites Genesis 27:22: “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau,” illustrating a principle beyond the scope of the Genesis narrative. It is what the modern world calls cognitive dissonance, a grating mismatch. The Scriptures swell with examples. James asks if the same spring can pour out both pure and polluted water. Jesus quotes Isaiah concerning a people who honor God with their lips, but whose hearts are far from Him. Ezekiel’s wall of undaubed mortar, Isaiah’s wood that is “not-wood,” or our Lord’s mention of whited sepulchres, are similar antinomies.
When it comes to tithing, Rushdoony’s citation is perfectly relevant. Christians say one thing, but do another. Our voice is Jacob’s voice, but our hands are the hands of Esau. We’ll talk like Christians, but our actions may convict us of being statists. We’ll talk about the Lordship of Christ, but affirm the contrary in practice. We’ll raise a stink to retain “In God We Trust” on our money, but in practice find our safer harbor in the words, “Backed by the full faith and credit of the United States” posted at the bank.
We may be sending mixed signals, but Christ’s Parable of the Two Sons (Mt. 21:28-31) shows that God knows full well how to filter out the static. Christians piously make a lot of noise about “rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Yet we are much more faithful in rendering unto Caesar the things that are (allegedly) Caesar’s, which shows where our loyalties actually lie.
When building an altar to God, men were forbidden to touch the stones with tools. The stones were to retain the shape God originally gave them (Dt. 27:5), not reworked by men to achieve a better, more comfortable fit. Figuratively speaking, tithing is a stone of God that has not only been mercilessly chiseled down, it has become chock full of Esau’s fingerprints. Correction: to compare the modern non-tithing Christian to Esau is an insult . . . to Esau. For all his numerous faults, Esau didn’t have a greedy bone in his body (Gen. 33:9).
“Christ’s Kingdom: How Shall We Build?”
The bold subhead above is the title of a 1981 article by Tom Rose that appeared in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. 8, No. 1. It is significant that of the four major categories Rose tabulates in answer to the question How Shall We Build?, three are directly anchored to a tithe-based economy (education, care of the aged, care of the poor and needy). When Christians pay God’s tithe, we are prepared to roll back socialism as Rose has envisioned it. (His fourth category, energy policy, speaks to skewed regulatory policies imposed by governments, which relates indirectly to the tithe but more directly to adopting a broad range of Biblical imperatives on economics.)
With 75% of Prof. Rose’s national overhaul being dependent on the tithe, there can be no doubt that the linkage implied in the title of this article, “Tithing and Building,” is not only real, but grossly understated. While we fight battles on many intellectual fronts in the social sciences, the hard sciences, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ in the realm of the mind, in theory and application, the assertion of God’s sovereignty over us must be proclaimed first in the way He has appointed. Christian Reconstruction without the tithe is lip service, pure and simple. With American Christians giving a mere 2% of their income on average to institutional churches, that’s a lot of lip, considered in the aggregate. We honor God with our lips. But our hearts are glued to our pocketbooks while we feign surprise at God’s distance from us. He knows the truth, even if we’ve managed to corporately numb ourselves to it: by our actions, we’ve chosen a new sovereign and repudiated the Lord of Glory.
Nonetheless, it can be said of tithing as it was said of Christ Himself: the stone that the builders rejected shall become the head of the corner. God’s tithe is the foundation stone for a culture, and until it is properly laid, the only building that can go up is the cardboard shanty town of socialistic humanism. Except the Lord build the house, those who build it labor in vain, while “every plant, which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Mt. 15:13). The stage is set. Choose your stone.
 R. J. Rushdoony, Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Numbers, p. 196-197, which is being released later this year. In this section Rushdoony is expanding on the excellent work of expositor James Philip.
Martin G. Selbrede
May 01, 2006
The original of this article appeared in June 2018 edition of the Chalcedon Report, Chalcedon Foundation, Vallecito, California.
Martin G. Selbrede is vice president and senior researcher for Chalcedon Foundation’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship. Chalcedon is an educational non-profit intended to propagate Biblical thinking toward faith for all of life. Accomplished in Biblical theology, symphonic musical composition, and natural science, Martin speaks on behalf of Chalcedon online and at public events, and serves as chief editor for Chalcedon Publications.
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