24 November 2016
Black Friday or giving Tuesday? Re-examining the theology of giving
As Black Friday dominates the last Friday of November again we take another look at the theology of giving during a season of spending.
Analysts are predicting sales of £5billion throughout November for Black Friday – that's £1.7billion more than last year.
Yet for many Christians – and many others in the UK who are baffled by Black Friday's popularity in a nation that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving - Tuesday 29 November is a more significant day: giving Tuesday. Attempting to redress the balance, giving Tuesday is a global day of giving financially to causes and charities across the world.
So our challenge to you today is this: this year, why not skip Black Friday and aim for giving Tuesday?
The world – and often Church, too – presents Christians with a multitude of misleading, pseudo-biblical, misapplied messages when it comes to giving and receiving. Give, and God will honour you by giving you back much more money; money is the root of all evil; Christians should sell all their possessions. Concepts originally rooted in scripture are shortened or taken out of context.
In theory, giving was simpler in the Old Testament. Tithes, 10 per cent of produce and animals, were required by law. We know that Christ's death and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament law, even that "Christ is the end of the law" (Romans 10:4). Yet we also know that the majority of Old Testament law is reinforced in the New Testament and subsumed into the new covenant, not thrown out and ignored.
In the history of the world, tithing has a complicated position. Tithing has waxed and waned in popularity in different denominations throughout the centuries.
Varying views on tithing and giving generally are reflected in today's Church; while many have rejected tithing as a cultural Old Testament practice, some evangelical circles have returned to tithing – or tithing as a minimum – as a useful discipline.
Two things are for sure. Firstly, statistics suggest most Christians give away two per cent or less of their income, with a small percentage of Christians never giving at all. Secondly, the New Testament sets a standard for giving that is above and beyond a 10 per cent tithe: give to everyone who asks you (Luke 6:30); give freely (Matthew 10:8); anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none (Luke 3:11).
This standard appears to have been lost in much of contemporary evangelicalism. The sad fact is this: where the doctrine of tithing has been thrown out, often so has generous giving altogether. Conveniently, no compulsion to tithe has resulted in Christians adopting a far lazier approach to giving. Undisciplined as we generally are, yet again we seem to prove that we don't do well when given freedom to respond to general principles, and that rules are sometimes for our benefit. If we can't be trusted to adopt the radical giving modelled in the New Testament, a requirement to tithe might be a good starting point.
The tithe is not supposed to be the goal, the point at which we can sit back and enjoy the rest ourselves. The tithe is only the starting point, the absolute minimum. It's the amount that was enforced on a people who were frequently resistant to giving anything. The immeasurable gift of Jesus to us should result in a desire to give generously to others, and therefore, back to God. But the truth is, and the statistics back this up, most of us aren't giving much at all. We're giving in a haphazard, 'as and when' fashion. Perhaps we intend to set up that tithe, but only after we've finished paying off that debt/after that pay rise at the end of the year/once the children have left home.
Giving is a bit like worship: we should do it whether or not we feel like it, and whether or not we receive in return. We should approach it as a discipline. We should not wait for a call to do something we should already be doing in any case. It should not be based on our circumstances or a lack of substantial income, which is the value of using a percentage to establish giving. In fact, the New Testament suggests that the sacrifice of giving more when you have less is of value in itself, as in the story of the widow's mite in Mark 12.
So why not skip Black Friday and aim for giving Tuesday? Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity to establish a proper, disciplined method of giving. Find a way to be generous with what God has given you, whatever that looks like for you. Take the opportunity to give out of obedience to God, without expectation of gaining anything in return.
And why not use part of your giving to help the Evangelical Alliance continue its vital work? You can do so here.