As has been stated previously, but is important for this conversation, the core and heart of all generosity is God. Because of Him and His generosity towards us first in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus our Lord, our response of generosity matters in our worship, both as a lifestyle and a weekly sabbath, and in our relationship to God as He has created and gifted it for our good, promises relational blessings with both Himself and other people and even seeks to free us from the financial tyranny we too easily fall prey to and become slaves of. To help maintain this freedom, percentage giving is one biblical system that helps accomplish this goal.
Martin Luther says in his Large Catechism, “Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after.” He then calls people to a lifestyle of repentance and forgiveness saying, “If you live in repentance, therefore, you are walking in baptism, which not only announces this new life but also produces, begins, and exercises it.”
Rightly, he does not go on to describe what this principle looks like in the life of an individual since he writes for a wide variety of contexts and cultures. This doctrinal principle is for all people of all times and places and for the Lutheran Confessions to contain a wide variety of individual examples would not only be fruitless, but impossible as times and cultures change all too rapidly.
Yet, the people of God need contextualization of biblical principles as they seek to live a sanctified life as good stewards of the many capitals they have been given. This is where the pastor comes in. One of the roles is to contextualize and teach sound Lutheran doctrine to their people so it might be lived out in their community.
That said, the most evident challenge for any Biblical teacher is how the defined concept of the “tithe” belongs to the Old Covenant, put into effect at Mount Sinai. It is not part of the New Covenant. Tithing is part of the Mosaic Law as we see it delivered in the Pentateuch, namely Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but is also found throughout the Old Testament in both command and practice. But Christ is the end of the Old Covenant Law as Romans 10:4 tells us: “For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” So, tithing can be recommended, taught as beneficial for a variety of reasons, and even as important for the situation of individuals and the Church, but it cannot be explained as a mandated requirement for the New Covenant follower of Jesus.
Instead, the desire and impetus to give a percentage of our income back to God needs to be seen as an established biblical principle that, although not a mandate, just works well. It is good for us and a practical way to, among other things, express our love for God and love for our neighbor, especially in the Christian faith. While it is no longer a mandate, it is a natural response to the love and generosity of our Lord Jesus towards us first. Also, it helps to address one of the most likely false gods in our life, security, namely financial security. This is why it was mandated in the Old Testament, so they would have no other gods in this area before the Lord God.
It is no surprise that in the New Testament, the first major conflict in the young Church had finances at its root. In Acts 5, we see the deception of Ananias and Saphira over a gift that came from the sale of land. They said they were giving all the proceeds to the Church but lied and withheld some for themselves. The judgment on their deception is swift and complete, but the root of the problem was a reliance on their financial security. So, just as this was a problem under the Old Testament, our flesh and sinful self continue to struggle with it in the New Covenant. We need a system, habit, and method of dealing with this lurking idol, which percentage giving provides.
To this end, the Large Catechism of Martin Luther also talks about the use of habit in the life of the Christian. As he discusses the Second Commandment, he deals with habits that are useful and effective against the temptations of Satan. In this case, it is the habit of keeping the name of the Lord on our lips. He says:
To defy the Devil, I say, we should always keep the holy name upon our lips so that he may not be able to harm us as he would like to do… For this purpose, it also helps to form the habit of commending ourselves each day to God… with simple and playful methods like this we should bring up young people in the fear and honor of God so that the First and Second Commandments may become familiar and constantly be practiced.
It is a short walk from this discussion to the topic of teaching finances and generosity in the life of the Christian.
Furthermore, the requirements of the Old Covenant, even though they are no longer commands for the Christian, are wonderful guidance under the New Covenant. One way we observe this is through the lens of Two Kinds of Righteousness (2KR). 2KR, at its essence, gives us the answer to the question: What does it mean to be human? It means our righteousness before God is always passive and a gift from Him as He sees fit. In contrast, our life before the world calls on active responsibility and comes in a wide variety of forms. The Christian concept of “Stewardship” fits well here.
Next week will deal with the idea of Christian giving specifically.
Check out more of this discussion on RINGSIDE PREACHERS PODCAST with Tim Barkett “Sex and Money”: https://radiopublic.com/ringside-preachers-G7q39E/s1!4ce8c