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Jubilee Tithing

The organization World Vision suggested these ten urgent millennial issues:

  1. The world's people have livable incomes.
  2. People have enough food.
  3. All children have primary schooling.
  4. All people have clean water.
  5. Poor nations debts to richer nations be cancelled.
  6. We develop peace building programs at the community level.
  7. Girls grow up as equals of boys.
  8. The earth's resources be used in a way that opens up a sustainable future.
  9. Child exploitation be ended.
  10. People have freedom of belief.

According to World Vision, the material cost of handling these questions is only a fraction of world expenditure on arms; the question is whether we can raise the moral will to handle the questions.

I suggest that Christians are now called to tithe their income and to direct their tithes to causes that will provide nourishment, education, basic health care, and health education, for people in the two-thirds world. I suggest that this is the purpose that God wishes tithes to fulfill at the beginning of the third millennium.

In the Christian dispensation the gospel came to belong to the world and not just to the chosen people. It was a logical extension of this that we should apply the jubilee to the world and not only to our fellow-believers. It is the next logical extension of this principle of God's care for the whole world that tithes should be applied for the benefit of peoples "left behind" by economic rules. The object is not the relief of immediate pressing needs but ongoing development that can encourage the realization of people's physical, intellectual, and spiritual potential to something nearer the realization possible in the West.

At the moment people who tithe do so primarily for the benefit of the congregations they themselves belong to. I have heard it suggested that tithing is an essentially selfish exercise: It is the way we ensure we receive goods we desire such as people to pastor us or heating/air conditioning in church. In this sense it is not giving to God at all.

I suggest that if we tithe to maintain our churches and their ministry, this should be a second tithe, following on the tithe that benefits peoples who are more needy than us. Judaism came to understand the instructions about tithing in Deuteronomy 14 and 26 to require a second tithe once every three years, while the Worldwide Church of God used to require of its members a double tithe every year. These practices probably involve misunderstanding of the instructions in the Torah, but the idea of a second tithe may nevertheless be helpful. Believers in the West should first tithe their income for the sake of the two-thirds world. They might then tithe again to pay their pastors and keep their churches ambient.

To tithe in this way would, of course, imply a significant reduction in our standard of living, and that is part of the point. We need to reduce the amount we spend on "necessities" such as education, healthcare, housing, transport, and saving for retirement, in order to reduce the gap between what we have a right to and what we possess. Unbelievers often take the lead in concern for the two-thirds world. Theologically and morally we should be able to expect believers to be the first to want to stop appropriating an excessive share of world resources, and to be looking for ways of doing so.

I do not know how to quantify the reduction we should seek for ourselves, or how to quantify what our income would be if it were to be "fair". I do not know whether tithing will be enough of a gesture to hold God back from acting in punitive discipline on the West for our misappropriation. But I suggest that the biblical practice of tithing gives us something to work with that would make a significant difference to us and to the two-thirds world.

There might be at least four ways in which it could do that. First, such tithing would in itself bring about a significant redistribution of resources.

Second, in the West our lives as believers are characterized by a series of commitments for ourselves. These include high educational standards in school, university, and graduate education, ever-increasing expenditure on healthcare, comfortable and gracious housing, driving and flying many miles, and saving so that we can live in the same way when we retire. It is our appropriation of a disproportionate amount of the world's resources that enables us to do that, but one of the striking features of our lives is that believers generally look no happier with their lives than unbelievers are. By reducing our expenditure on these "necessities" that have not produced the happiness we expected, we could discover that we can live a fuller life on less.

Third, it would not be surprising if the church's calling was to model the fact that human life finds fulfillment and happiness elsewhere than in the abundance of the things we possess.

Fourth, if we tithed in order to contribute to a better distribution of resources, we might find that God will pour out a blessing on us because we are honoring God (Malachi 3:8-12).

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