Catholics in Ghana, and perhaps other parts of the world, are divided on the issue of paying tithes. One school of thought holds that paying of tithes should be practiced and encouraged in our Catholic Churches. Another school of thought opines that paying of tithes is not Christian and consequently, we should lay emphasis on thanksgiving and not tithe-paying.
In this article, I will share my humble opinion. It is my hope that this article will ignite a dispassionate and mature discussion among priests and the lay faithful alike on the issue of paying tithes in our parishes so that the oneness of the Catholic Church is kept intact in this part of the Catholic world.
Tithe, according to the Harper’s Bible Dictionary is “a tenth of one’s yearly income set aside for sacral purposes.” Common biblical texts often quoted by proponents of tithe-paying are: Gen. 14:16-20, Lev. 27:30-34, Nb. 18:21-24, Mal. 3: 8-10, Mt. 23:23, Lk. 11:42 and Heb. 7. Clearly, the practice of paying tithes has its basis in the Bible. But the fact is that there is no text in the New Testament, which commands Christians to pay tithes. With reference to the texts in Matthew and Luke above, note that Jesus was addressing people who were living under the Law of Moses – the scribes and Pharisees. With reference to the text in the Letter to the Hebrews, note that the focus is not the justification of tithe-paying, but the affirmation of Christ’s priesthood as being higher than the Levitical priesthood.
When Abraham gave 10% of what he had to Melchizedek, he did so not because a law had asked him to do so (the law of paying tithes came four hundred and thirty years later). Abraham gave the 10% out of his own generosity and volition. Again, as far as the Old Testament is concerned, the 10% Abraham gave was a one-time event in his life. The Law of paying tithes is Mosaic, i.e. it was given through Moses to the nation of Israel. The Law of paying tithes is among many other Laws given to the people of Israel and attributed to Moses. It is true that Christ did not come to abolish the Law of Moses. But the fact is Christians do not live under the Law of Moses; Christians live under the authority of Christ. Yes “the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
On one occasion, the disciples of Jesus made reference to a practice attributed to Moses -- writ of dismissal in cases of divorce (cf. Mt. 19:1-9). In response Jesus said, “It was because you were so hard-hearted, that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning” (Mt. 19:8). It is therefore paramount and important that we should also go back to what pertained in the beginning to understand better what God expects of us when making a religious offering or giving something to God.
The first act of giving/offering to the Lord in the Bible can be found in Gen.4: 1-6 – the Story of Cain and Abel. Whereas “Cain brought some of the produce of the soil as an offering for Yahweh”, Abel on his part “brought the first-born of his flock and some of their fat as well.” Take note, neither Cain nor Abel was obliged by law to give 10% of their produce. They each decided on what to give to the Lord. Cain gave “some of the produce of the soil” and Abel gave “the first-born of his flock”. By giving the “first-born of his flock”, Abel exhibited an exceptional generosity and made a pleasing offering in relation to God. It was this generosity of Abel that made God to look with favour on him and his offering.
St. Paul throws much light on the theme of giving generously to God in his second letter to the Church in Corinth (Read 2Cor. 8 &9). In one instance, Paul says, “But remember: anyone who sows sparsely will reap sparsely as well – and anyone who sows generously will reap generously as well. Each one should give as much as he has decided on his own initiative, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2Cor. 9:6-7). Paul emphasised that the decision on what a Christian should give lies with the giver and the Christian giver should give generously. A very good model of Christian giving is the poverty-stricken widow who put her two small coins into the treasury –she put in all she had to live on (cf. Lk. 21:1-4).
With reference to giving, one Robert Rodenmayer has this to say: “There are three attitudes toward giving: grudge giving, duty giving and thanksgiving. Grudge giving says, ‘I hate to’; duty giving says, ‘I ought to’; thanksgiving says, ‘I want to.”
Christian giving is one of thanksgiving. A Christian gives because he wants to and not because a law says he should give. I share the opinion of Errol Fernandes in his article Tithing (cf. Good News Magazine No. 202), where he says “Under the New Covenant, a tithe is a free but committed and regular giving of an amount decided in prayer.” It is praiseworthy, if from your heart and out of your own volition you have decided to give 10%, 15%, 20% or 50% of your monthly earnings to the Church. But then no one should ever feel cursed if he/she is unable to give 10% of his/her earnings to the Church. God is not going to withdraw His favour from you because you did not give 10% of your earnings to the Church.
It is not the paying of tithe which brings a person God’s favour. We cannot buy God’s favour. Rather, it is the generosity of a person’s heart in relation to God which makes one to experience the favour of God. Confer the story of the tithe-paying Pharisee and the sinner who went to the Synagogue to pray (Lk. 18:9-14). It was the sinner, generous at heart in prayer, who found the favour of God and not the tithe-paying Pharisee.
It is true that the Church needs a lot of money for her work of evangelization. Yes, more than ever, all of us need to give generously to the Church. Our giving, however, must be thanksgiving and not duty giving. Let those who are called by the Lord to give 10% of their earnings to the Church do so generously and let those who are called by the Lord to give an unspecified amount at any given time to the Church do so generously. Presently, in the Catholic Church, as in the early Christian community, there is no law obliging Catholics to give 10% of their earnings to the Church.