Do Southern Baptists Really Tithe?

Do Southern Baptists tithe (give 10 percent of their income to the local church and other ministries)? The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 does not specifically refer to a tithe or 10 percent. It does say, “Christians should contribute by their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer’s cause on earth.”

A discussion that has continued through many years is that a Christian is not under obligation to tithe because we are not under the law but under grace. In their book explaining the Baptist Faith and Message, Charles Kelley Jr., R. Albert Mohler Jr., and Richard Land write, “Some people argue that Christians, no longer under the law, are now free from the responsibility of the tithe. Responsible believers understand, however, that Christians bear no less responsibility for giving than God commanded of His people in the Old Testament. Those who have been transformed by Christ are called to an even higher level of giving that is motivated by more than law and mere obligation (Matthew 6:19-21; 23:23).”

In 2013, Southern Baptists averaged giving 2.3 percent of their annual income to the local church. In 2015, Joe McKeever, cartoonist, retired pastor and director of missions, wrote an article, “Why Southern Baptists Are Not Tithing.” His conclusion was that we do not tithe because we do not teach tithing, even though pastors may occasionally preach on the subject. His answer to the problem was for churches to systematically teach what the Bible says about giving and tithing.

Bryan Holley, chief financial officer for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, stated that his perspective on giving is that “people don’t understand that everything belongs to God, and they don’t trust Him to take care of them, so they are afraid to give anything away. We should teach people that what we do with the amount we keep also matters. That is where stewardship comes in.”

Former Lifeway President Thom Rainer wrote that our giving is decreasing because of lower church attendance, generational shifts, giving to purposes rather than organizations, little teaching on tithing, not as much discretionary income among churchgoers.

Jayson D. Bradley, writing for Pushpay, an organization that offers fundraising help, stated that tithers make up no more than 25 percent of any congregation, and that about 80 percent of those who do give have no credit card debt.

Our lack of tithing reaches beyond the local church. For example, even after reducing the budget, the South Carolina Baptist Convention is on course to miss budget needs for the second year in a row, even with a reduced budget. According to Holley, budget needs through July 2019 were $16,333,335. He stated, “We have received $15,866,734, which is a shortage of $466,601 or 2.9 percent.” This year’s giving is also behind, compared to last year’s giving from the churches.

Why aren’t Southern Baptists giving more? Or why aren’t more Southern Baptists giving? While several factors can be cited, the obvious determinant is that we choose not to tithe because we do not want to tithe, or we do not believe in tithing. When Christians say they cannot afford to tithe, preachers usually answer with something like, “You cannot afford not to tithe.” While some Southern Baptists give beyond 10 percent of their income, many do not give anything.

Dave Ramsey believes that those who cannot live on 90 percent of their income will not be able to live on 100 percent. A major issue that cannot be overlooked is, simply, commitment. If we are committed to tithe, we will — or at least we will find a way to give generously. If we believe that God loves a cheerful giver, we will cheerfully give — or as Kelley, Mohler, and Land write, “Christians must seek to give generously to the local church and to gospel causes, knowing that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).”