The Southern Baptist Convention is encouraging a fund-drive this month, perhaps coincidentally. So we’ve had discussions like this in small-group classes recently. (This is aside from the upcoming bi-yearly mission board thrust.)
The short and not terribly useful answer is that “biblical giving” looks like a number of different things, because different scriptures talk about tithing in different ways and to different degrees. Sometimes these look like overarching requirements or principles, sometimes they might be particular requests or applications or considerations of example. The upshot is that there are a bunch of variant answers. And confusion.
I know this will sound like a cop-out, but I guess the general answer is: do what you can. Lewis’ dictum is good–if you aren’t giving so much that you have to do without some things that you yourself wanted, then you aren’t giving enough yet. Giving should be self-sacrificial. Or as the old saying goes, give till it hurts.
Ten percent is a good start. If that hurts too much, take it down to where it only hurts a little. If you can handle ten percent no problem, go up till it starts to hurt. That answers the perennial question about ‘gross’ and ‘net’, too. In today’s society, our gross is raided automatically before we have any control over it ourselves, so the distinction between ‘gross’ and ‘net’ isn’t very practical anyway. Giving ten percent net easily? Start giving ten percent of gross. Or 15% net, whichever is easier for you to figure. Upscale from there.
On the balance, the scriptures seem (to me anyway) to indicate that we ought to be giving more to those less well-off than ourselves than to our local congregation. If our local congregation is already giving more to the poor than keeping for its own upkeep, then take that into consideration–one of the whole points to an ‘ecclesias’ at all is to effectively distribute charity to those who need it. Just make sure however much you give, you’re giving more to those poorer than you than you’re giving to keep up the local congregation. But don’t ignore the local congregation either. If you do a 60/40 or a 2:1 split, or anything like that you can easily keep track of, with the larger percent being money you’re giving directly to individuals or charitable organizations yourself (I prefer individuals, but orgs that specifically write the majority of their income to charity are okay and need help too), then you’ll be safe in giving more to the poor than ‘enriching’ the church, without ignoring the church.
I like to think in terms of “aspiration”, too. I used to give 10%, and aspired to give more; now I’m thankful to be able to give 25%, and aspire to give more. I used to be able to give 33%, but I’ve had to cut back a bit to 25%–I was glad to be able to give the 33% and I aspire to get back to that someday. And beyond that, too, if I can.
One thing that the notion of “aspiration” has helped me personally with, is that I thus look for ways to give bits more here and there off the books, beyond my disciplinary reckoning. So in fact I know I’m giving more than 25% right now, I just don’t know how much. And that’s okay: I would really rather my left hand not know what my right hand is doing in giving anyway. (In fact, I would really rather people not know my tithing percentages either. But sometimes I have to talk about them for purposes of example. So treat those figures as being handy fictional illustrations. ) When I grow back to giving 33% as a formal discipline someday, I’ll still be in the habit of giving more than that beyond the formal discipline.
Personally I prefer not to try to take tax-breaks on charity, but that’s just something I’ve managed to aspire to. I don’t have anything against people who do that. Similarly, I tithe off my tax return (if any), but I don’t have anything against people who don’t. Again, the principle is: give until there are some things you want you can’t buy for yourself now.