The Christian’s Checkbook, Part II: The Christian Manifesto

So, we see that giving is a Christian duty, albeit one to be done with willing cheerfulness. In fact, so much stress does the Bible put on giving that at points it sounds downright socialistic. We are told of the earliest Church in Jerusalem that, “All that believed were together and had all things common and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45). Paul writes as a principle of Christian giving, “But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He that had gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack’” (II Corinthians 8:14-15). That sounds an awful lot like the refrain of the Communist Manifesto: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” Most famously, Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give to the poor.

Well, I couldn’t affirm or deny the obligation to tithe, but I can categorically state that socialism isn’t really what the Bible has in mind. For one thing, if socialism was God’s ideal, it wouldn’t have such an appalling track record. Socialism has wrecked countless countries and brought misery to their citizens while capitalism has created the richest societies of all time. When God was designing a state to be governed by His direct decree (Old Testament Israel), He made ample provision for the poor but nowhere insisted on socialism. In fact, two of the Ten Commandments, as Dr. Sproul observed, are designed to protect private property. It seems God recognizes what Lord Kames called mankind’s propensity to appropriate. The Pastorals and James have instructions to rich Christians dealing with them as rich Christians, an underlying assumption which makes no sense if all Christians are to give all their belongings to the poor. After the first few chapters of Acts, you don’t see any of this Christian socialism at work as the Church spreads.

Which leaves Paul’s seeming anticipation of the Communist Manifesto. I think what Paul is getting at is found in his explanation in the preceding verse: “For I mean not that other men be eased and you burdened, but by an equality” (II Corinthians 8:13-14, KJV). I think Paul means that Christians should care for one another such that they all have to work about equally strenuously for their daily bread. It’s a qualitative, not a quantitative, equality. If you want to go above and beyond and snag the really well-paying job to provide more abundantly for yourself and your family, you’d just be prospering through diligence like Proverbs praises.

So, how much should Christians give? Tithing is obviously neither wrong nor unreasonable since God required it of believers at one point. If you tithe with a joyful heart, God certainly won’t be displeased. But, really, the New Testament calls us to give as much as we are able. C.S. Lewis thought a good rule of thumb was that we should give such that it cuts into our lifestyle, that is, that we can’t live at the same level of comfort as our peers in our wage level. That’s Christian sacrificial love right there.