One of the underlying assumptions is that money from the offering or tithe belongs to the church. But the Scriptures consistently teach that the offering is God’s instrument of redistribution and that it belongs to the poor. Giving to the poor should not make its way into the budget; it is the budget. One could argue that small portions of the Israelite offering (no more than 10 percent) was given to the Levitical priesthood (Neh. 12:47), and that in the early church an even smaller contribution could be given to the church’s itinerant evangelists, who, incidentally, were themselves poor (1 Cor. 4:11). But it is not a coincidence that the first major organizational structure in the early church was created to assure order in the redistribution of resources to widows and orphans (Acts 6:1 – 6).
So historically, church offerings were part of God’s economy of redistribution, and over 90 percent was to be given to the poor. We live in an age when we have nearly reversed what God set in place. An average of 85 percent of the church offering is used internally, primarily for staff and buildings and stuff to meet our own needs. And this borders on embezzlement, as theologian Ray Mayhew points out in his essay “Embezzlement of the Church: The Corporate Sin of Contemporary Christianity.” No wonder most churchgoing Christians give only less than 3 percent of their income to the church and find other ways of giving money to the poor.
Claiborne, Shane (2008-09-09). The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Kindle Locations 3015-3025). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
I have made it known in the past that Shane Claiborne is one of my heroes. He lives out his faith in an inner-city church called “the Simple Way”. The book from which the quote above came has a place on the back of my desk reserved for those I consult on a regular basis. As one of the reviews for the book mentions Shane is on a genuine search for the authentic church. That has basically been my goal that founded this blog more than four years ago.
One of the most embarrassing things to me when I was attending a small Lutheran church was to see so little of my weekly offerings actually going out into the community. As a matter of fact there really was practically none of it used for that purpose. The vast majority of the money collected by this small congregation of about forty families went to pay the clergyman’s salary. What was left was for the mortgage on the building and utilities. There was literally nothing left except the expected 10% tithing back to the national bureaucracy. When I pointed this out on more than one occasion there was for the most part a silence in the group.
I, like Shane mentioned above, reserved a good portion of my charitable giving to go to an organization that directly dealt with the poor. It seemed shameful to spend almost all that tax-free money on ourselves. It almost seemed like we were embezzling God. It was not until after I left that congregation that I learned that this is more or less the norm for most churches today. Very little gets beyond the church’s doors.