“We affirm the minimum standard of the tithe is personal giving…”
These words make up the heart of point one of the Stewardship Statement made by the Standing Committee of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast on April 20, 1989, and reaffirmed on January 24, 2004. With similar words, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church has set forth “a personal spiritual discipline that includes, at a minimum, the holy habits of tithing, daily personal prayer and study, Sabbath time, and weekly corporate worship…” (2003-A135). Still, it seems there is no better way to get the collective hackles of Episcopalians up then by discussing the tithe as a standard of giving.
The response will typically fall into one of three camps. The vast majority will gasp at the idea of giving away 10% of their income as they throw a crumpled up $5 bill in the plate. Others will hold firm to 10% as The Standard of giving to the Kingdom as found in Scripture. A third group will be very adamant that the tithe is the Minimum Standard of giving.
So what is the right answer? What does the Lord require of the faithful? In the lessons appointed for this coming Sunday, it seems as though God asks that we trust him enough to offer everything we have back to him. In the ever popular stewardship story of the Widow’s Mite, Jesus lauds the poor woman who drops her two copper coins in the kettle. “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” The Widow trusted God enough to know that she would be taken care of, even in her poverty.
The Widow at Zerephath shows us the same sort of trust. Surely, she looked at Elijah as if he were crazy when he instructed her to make him a small loaf of bread first, but she did as he asked. She trusted in the God of Elijah, a God who was not her own, enough that in the midst of a 3 year drought, she gave away the last little bit she had.
I’m not suggesting that we should sign over all our assets to the church. Nor would I dare to say that the poor should give more than their fair share. And don’t get me started on the heretical scam that is the “seed offerings” of television preachers. What I am suggesting is that all the arguments of percentages of giving, before or after taxes, is missing the point of giving back to God. More than our money, more than our time, more than anything else, God desires our trust. The giving of our time, talent, and treasure is the sacramental sign of our trust in God. When we give sacrificially, we show that we trust that God has provided everything that is, was, and ever will be, and the hard truth is that very few of us trust God in that sort of way.
Truth be told, even as my family gives away 11%, there are days, lots of them, that I don’t trust God, and so my offering is as pitiful as the tattered $5 bill. In the end, it isn’t the money that matters to God, but rather, it is what the money symbolizes – our trust in the Lord’s never-ending provision of everything we have, even down to the air we breathe and the blood in our veins.