… just a couple of degrees off center
If someone desires to give a certain percentage of their net or gross income, I honor that as their right and privilege. I also believe that all Christians should give generously and cheerfully.
But full disclosure – I believe that tithing was an Old Covenant rite by which about 23% of goods, usually agricultural products, were given to God for the maintenance of the priests, for the poor. I see no comparable requirement for the church, which is supposed to “honor” its leaders (1 Tim 5:17) and make voluntary pledges to special projects (Paul’s Jerusalem Fund).  I have no argument with tithers so long as they have no argument with me. And I’m not speaking here about legalistic tithing or carnal non-tithing.
But in the past few weeks I have found people preaching what must be held up and labeled perversions of the gospel and of the practice of tithing. I’m not even talking about the protection racketeers made up of Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, and their ilk on TBN, who constantly pound home the gospel of writing a check to their ministry. I’m speaking of heresy – a term I use infrequently and, I hope, with precision. Let’s look at three examples of Tithe-as-Heresy:
Example One: Non-Tithers are Under God’s Curse
Usually people try to dodge around the implications of what they are teaching, but here’s a source that spoke up frankly:
If you don’t pay tithe, the Bible says you are robbing God and you are under a curse. This curse cannot be removed by your good works or the fact that you are born again. You can only reverse this curse if you start paying tithe. Tithe is the only key to prosperity and God’s blessing. The Bible is very clear about this and there is no way around it. 
They add a point that helps the church’s fiscal status, should the pastor turns out to be a wolf:
When Pastors misuse your tithe, do not lose faith in God. Continue to pay your tithe…
This should be a comfort to Creflo Dollar, given the regular claims that he plunders his church’s offerings.
The problem is that, if someone is going to apply words such as “curse” to non-tithers, they should give them their full weight. Being under God’s curse does not mean “you won’t prosper as you should”. It means he has condemned you, damned you. (See Matt 25:41; 1 Cor 16:22; Gal 1:8-9; Heb 6:8; Rev 22:3; Rom 9:3 – accursed by God = “cut off from Christ”).
Which leads us to our next permutation.
Example Two: Non-Tithers Inevitably Go to Hell
In an earlier post I mentioned Angélica Zambrano, a young woman from Ecuador who claimed to have visited heaven and hell and brought back information about who ended up where.  In this modern-day Dante’s Inferno, Angélica found out that non-tithers all ended up in the flames. One young man told her:
“When you return to Earth, tell all those people who don’t want to give their tithes and offerings, not to steal from the Lord, otherwise, they’ll wind up in Hell, and no thief will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I knew the Holy Word, now I regret it and realize I robbed the Lord.” (Malachi 3:8) “Tell the people when they give to God, give the Lord with true love.” (2 Cor 9:7) This man kept pleading, “Lord forgive me”, and the Lord replied, “It is too late, there is no opportunity for you.” 
So, salvation is not through faith in Christ, but through Christ plus tithing.
Example Three: Tithing is the Gospel
This is the worst I have heard, but the month isn’t over yet. “Apostle” Guillermo Maldonado of Miami  teaches that the “original sin” in the garden was the failure of Adam and Eve to tithe. Let me quote parts of what he says, to show that I am not imagining this:
“The original sin of Eden was stealing the tithe…The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents or symbolizes the tithe…And God said to him, Don’t touch what is mine…Everything else you can eat, you can enjoy…In the Garden is where man became indebted to God…The tithe is what we owe to God, it’s the debt when Adam ate, a debt began, so when you give the tithe, you aren’t doing anything by paying a debt.” (He goes on to say that God won’t bless people if they only tithe, they have to give more than that to be financially blessed).
This is about as far from the gospel as we could go – we would have to rewrite Paul’s teaching to “even as by one man’s failure to tithe, we all sinned, so by Apostle Maldonado coming to tell us to tithe, we will live.”
The word “heresy” should not be applied to tithers or non-tithers, not if they follow the gospel. As a professor explained it to us many years ago, denominational distinctives are what distinguish Christian from Christian; heresy is what distinguishes Christian from not-Christian. The three examples above are not-Christian, not-gospel, not-True God. Most heretics you run across quote the Bible plenty. But when they twist its meaning just a few degrees of dead center, voilà, you have a whole new religion.
Again, if you believe that giving a certain percentage to God is right for you, then do so, gladly. And if not, don’t – that is your right. But let us never let anyone take a doctrine like tithing as a means of financial extortion; spiritual abuse; sacrilege against God.
 I have made a study on tithing in the history of the church, and concluded that neither in the New Testament, nor anywhere in the first four centuries of its existence was it taught that Christians should tithe or give a tithe as a minimum. Chrysostom is the first I know of who recommended that they should give 10% as a minimum, but “not as laying down a law.” [Chrysostom, i ad Corinthios 43.7]. The Catholic Council of Mâçon [AD 585] decreed that the tithe is mandatory for believers; Pope Gregory the Great [AD 590-604] reiterated the principle.
Copyright Gary Shogren.
Gary has a PhD in New Testament Exegesis. He serves as Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica