Q: Does the Church of the Eternal God believe in and teach tithing? Does the Church believe in three tithes? If so, how, and for what purpose are those three tithes to be collected?
A: The Church of the Eternal God believes in and teaches the Godly command of tithing. Our booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound,” explains on pages 18-20 that tithing is a binding command today that was not abandoned by Christ. (Our booklet explains that Hebrews 7 did not abandon tithing – contrary to what some may erroneously claim.) Our Updates have consistently upheld and referred to God’s command to tithe — compare, for example, Edwin Pope’s Editorials in Updates #38 (dated April 12, 2002) and #53 (dated July 26, 2002). That tithing is a command for today is taught in many Scriptures, including Matthew 23:23; Luke 18:12; and Malachi 3:8-10.
The Church of the Eternal God also believes and teaches that God has indeed instituted THREE different types of tithes – commonly referred to as the first, second and third tithe.
Some teach that the Bible never instructed second and third tithes. However, this conclusion is clearly false, and historical records show that ancient Israel practiced a tithing system of three tithes. The apocryphal book of Tobit, which was apparently written about 250 BC (compare Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 22, p. 264, copyright 1959, under “Tobit”), confirms the practice in ancient Judah of a three-tithes system. Although apocryphal, the book of Tobit is useful from a strictly historical standpoint to show that Jews of that day were knowledgeable of and practiced the same tithing commands as revealed through Moses. Tobit 1:6-8 (New Revised Standard Version) states the following:
“But I alone went often to Jerusalem for the festivals, as it is prescribed for all Israel by an everlasting decree. I would hurry off to Jerusalem with the first fruits of the crops and the firstlings of the flock, the tithes of the cattle, and the first shearings of the sheep [describing the FIRST tithe]. I would give these to the priests, the sons of Aaron, at the altar; likewise the tenth of the grain, wine, olive oil, pomegranates, figs, and the rest of the fruits to the sons of Levi who ministered at Jerusalem. Also for six years I would save up a SECOND tenth in money and go and distribute it [use or spend it] in Jerusalem. A THIRD tenth I would give to the orphans and widows and to the converts who had attached themselves to Israel. I would bring it and give it to them in the THIRD year, and we would eat it according to the ordinance decreed concerning it in the law of Moses and according to the instructions of Deborah, the mother of my father Tobiel, for my father had died and left me an orphan.”
Our Statement of Beliefs discusses the FIRST tithe as follows, “We believe in the Godly institution of tithing to enable the Church to carry out its commission of preaching the gospel and feeding the flock.”
The first tithe is the first ten percent of someone’s “increase” (compare Proverbs 3:9) – his or her job earnings and/or other income (such as proceeds from rental, interest, gains from stocks, etc.). The Worldwide Church of God, under Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, had made the administrative decision that in certain countries, such as Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, because of the extremely high income tax rates and the inability to deduct most or all contributions from individual tax returns, “increase” is defined as the amount of earnings after the deduction of the income tax. The Church of the Eternal God is following this teaching and practice. On the other hand, each individual is responsible before God to determine the amount of his or her “increase” in his or her individual circumstances.
The first tithe is to be sent to the Church on a regular basis (compare the principle in Exodus 22:29-30), to be used by the Church for the preaching of the gospel and the feeding of the flock. Since the Church has to rely on such regular contributions to be able to meet its expenses, it is important, of course, that those contributions are generally received on at least a monthly basis. It is also important for the contributor to recognize that the first ten per cent of his or her earnings or increase belong to God (Leviticus 27:30, 32), and that we honor God best if we give Him first, what is due to Him. An interesting example of the reinforcement of the tithing command in ancient Judah can be found in 2 Chronicles 31:4-12.
The SECOND tithe (or a second ten percent of one’s earnings or other income) is an additional tithe of one’s “increase” (Deuteronomy 14:22-26). Soncino confirms that Deuteronomy 14:23 discusses the “second tithe.” They state, “This refers to the second tithe, because the first tithe was to be given to the Levites who were allowed to eat it anywhere (cf. Num. xviii. 26, 31).” The Ryrie Study Bible has a similar comment pertaining to Deuteronomy 14:22-27, confirming the existence of a “second tithe.” So does “The New Bible Commentary: Revised,” copyright 1970, on page 220: “This is the so-called ‘second tithe,’ as contrasted with that tithe of the produce given to maintain the Levites (see Nu. 18:26-28).”
The individual saves the second tithe each year for use in observing God’s annual Holy Days – mainly the Feast of Tabernacles (FOT), as members are commanded to travel for the FOT to one of God’s designated feast sites. This tithe is to be saved for use by the individual. Only “excess second tithe” — the portion of the second tithe exceeding necessary individual use — should be sent to the Church. The Church will distribute such amount to members who were unable to save sufficient second tithe for the Holy Days, and it might use remaining funds for necessary Church-related Feast expenses (such as hall rentals).
In addition, God instituted a THIRD tithe system for the purpose of assisting and helping “Levites, widows and orphans.” The third tithe is an additional tithe of one’s “produce” or “increase” and is described in passages such as Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and Deuteronomy 26:12-15. (The third tithe was paid on the third and sixth year out of a cycle of seven years. On the seventh year, no third tithe was to be paid, as the land rested during the seventh year, Leviticus 25:4.)
Soncino confirms this understanding. They comment on Deuteronomy 26:12: “[The term] in the third year [refers to] the tithe of the produce of the third year…the year of tithing, i.e. the third in the cycle of seven years in which a special tithe was to be given to the poor.”
The principle of paying third tithe on the third and sixth year out of a cycle of seven years still applies today. Many members begin counting their third tithe years from the annual festival nearest the date of their baptism. Others decide to begin from the date that they first began tithing. It is the responsibility of each member to decide when he or she should begin the cycle, and the observance of that cycle should be carefully maintained.
Our Statement of Beliefs addresses the third-tithe system as follows, “We believe that needy members are to be helped and taken care of, through the tithing system described in the Bible, by other members of the Church (Luke 3:11; 1Timothy 5:8; James 2:15-16).” Traditionally, the Worldwide Church of God, under Mr. Armstrong, had taught that the Church can use third tithe income for first tithe expenses, if the Church has enough third tithe funds and is able to provide adequately for those of its members who need third tithe assistance. At the same time, it has been understood that if the Church does not have enough third tithe to help its needy members, it can use first tithe income for this purpose. The Church of the Eternal God is following this teaching and practice.
It should also be mentioned that “third tithe” is FOR the poor and needy, not BY the poor and needy. It is therefore not necessary for a “poor” person to pay third tithe. Someone who receives assistance from the government does not have to pay third tithe. It would also be following a wrong principle to take out a loan in order to be able to pay third tithe. Based on this principle, the Worldwide Church of God, under Herbert W. Armstrong, had made the administrative decision to excuse Church members in certain countries, such as the United Kingdom, from paying third tithe because of the high rate of taxation and mandatory social security payments in those countries. In addition, much of social security benefits constitutes, to an extent, the equivalent of third tithe payments in those countries. The Church of the Eternal God is following this teaching and practice. On the other hand, each individual is responsible before God to determine whether he or she is “poor” or “needy” and therefore excused from paying third tithe.
God expects of us to obey His tithing commands faithfully. God is the giver of all things, but He wants to know how much we appreciate His blessings. We can show Him our thankfulness by obeying Him cheerfully and willingly.