Christian History Home > 2003 > The Ancient Rise and Recent Fall of Tithing
The Ancient Rise and Recent Fall of Tithing
Is yet another time-honored Christian practice fading from view?
The early church's expectation that every Christian would tithe found formal expression at the Synod of Mâçon in 585, which embedded the practice in canon law. A millennium later, the Council of Trent sharpened this law's teeth: it provided for excommunication if any Catholic declined to contribute his tithe. This, despite the stain in the Church's monetary record that Luther had so recently uncovered in his critique of papal indulgences.
Post-Reformation Europe, however, didn't do much better: in the centuries after Luther, secular governments often acted on behalf of the churches by collecting mandatory tithes. These more closely resembled American property taxes than Jewish monetary offerings.
Without a state-imposed tithe, giving in the United States developed quite differently than in Europe. American church leaders have often emphasized the New Testament's command to give freely and cheerfully, which some leaders have cited to advocate giving less or even more than ten percent. As a result, tithing has been practiced only sporadically in the modern church, though some revival has been seen in recent decades among Baptists and elements of the Wesleyan holiness movement and Pentecostalism.
Still, Barna's new research reveals that the vast majority of Christians apparently remain unmoved by the message of John Bunyan's couplet: "There was a man, some called him mad; The more he gave, the more he had."
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