Giving and Government: Why Charity Belongs to Us

Offering plateDouglas Wilson recently posted a rather lengthy piece about tithes and offerings, in which he outlines a “brief theology of designated gifts.” I disagree with him on a few points, but for the most part it serves as a great resource for understanding the importance of giving, as well as the Biblical principles and instructions behind it.

Although Wilson doesn’t wade into the political realm, I think he offers some valuable lessons (or warnings) for those who think the government can or should serve as a vehicle for fulfilling our Christian calling to give.

From the social gospel of the Progressive Movement to the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush, citizens and politicians have shown a fondness for using political economics to execute spiritual acts. Christian giving and government redistribution are incompatible on a number of levels, and we can see this through some of the core features Wilson highlights. Based on his post, I have built a list of essential components of Christian giving that cannot remain intact with a government takeover.

1. Giving must be voluntary. Although government and taxes may be necessary, we should not assume that any sort of coercive redistribution can somehow replace our responsibility to give. Here is Wilson on the importance of giving freely:

Give, and it will be given to you again (Luke 6:38). This is a foundational Christian principle. The foundational Christian principle is not “make sure others give,” or “make sure others give the right amounts or in the right way.” Parishioners should in fact be taught how to give the right way, but they should be taught this largely by example (Heb. 13:7,17) … [W]e are commanded to give freely because we have received freely. Further, as we give freely, more will be given. Give and it will be given to you.

2. Giving should be a lesson in faith and trust. If our charity is co-opted by government programs, we are stricken with a stifling form of security — one that prevents us from depending wholly on God’s provision and blessing. Here is Wilson on the matter:

The giver of the tithe is trusting God. “How do I know that God will bless the remaining 90%?” So also must the recipient of the tithe learn to trust God. “How do we know if God will continue to finance the work we have to do, unless we lean on the givers a little bit?” The whole point of the tithe is to demonstrate our total and complete trust in God. There is no arrangement of ecclesiastical finances under which trusting God becomes unnecessary.

3. Giving requires individual discretion. We are called to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in our giving. The more we centralize and bureaucritize our giving at a secular, political level, the harder it will be to direct our generosity to the specific targets the Holy Spirit leads us to. As Wilson explains:

The principle is that the tither has a great deal of latitude when it comes to the amount a particular recipient might get. But we should not misunderstand what is meant by latitude. He can’t use the tithe to buy himself a new flat screen television, for example, but he does have the authority to decide whether to give it to the poor, or to the Levites, or to poor Levites, or to throw a party for the Levites. Further, he can determine to give 10% here and 90% there, or the other way around. The entire system of tithes and offerings in the Bible presupposes the discretion of the giver. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver (2 Co 9:7).

4. Generosity should be viewed as gracious expenditure, not legal collection. When the government attempts to assume a charitable role, such redistribution is eventually seen as an entitlement by the recipient. Put plainly: a gift should always be seen as a gift, else it lead to a disposition of unhealthy and misplaced dependency.

The task of the authorized recipients of the tithe is in gracious expenditure, not in legal collection. The church should use the tithe to minister, not to collect additional tithes. The poor should use the money given them. The attendees at the Thanksgiving festival should eat and drink the tithe, and do nothing else with it. But there is always pressure on the church to drift away from being a tithe recipient and into being a tithe gatherer. There is a deep problem with this, as we shall see.

5. Only God can judge us on our giving. It is not the government’s role to punish individuals for a supposed lack of charity. Much like any other human institution, the government has no Biblical mandate to punish us for our “greed.”

A sin is defined by Scripture, but unless Scripture also assigns a public penalty that can be assigned by human authority, it remains solely a sin, and not a crime. This means that scripturally speaking, failure to tithe is a sin, not a crime. There is no record in Scripture anywhere of a penalty levied against a non-tither by anyone other than God Himself. God is the enforcer of the tithe, and He does in fact enforce it (Mal. 3: 8-9). The tithe is God’s tax. He collects it, He keeps track of it, and He has no need of an IRS to do His work for Him.

What are your thoughts?

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  • Remnant Culture

    New post: 5 reasons why the government can't do our Christian giving for us: (via @douglaswils)

  • Remnant Culture

    Can the government do our giving for us? Nope!

  • MP Christianity

    RT @RemnantCulture Can the government do our giving for us? Nope! // very interesting post.

  • Pingback: Tithes Untapped: The Economic Power of the Church «Remnant Culture

  • Reyjacobs

    “Charity belongs to us and not the government because we want all the WELFARE SLAVES to be OUR slaves not the government’s slaves.” — Albert Fundie Jr.