April 7th, 2011
12:48 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
Thou shalt not be required to financially support your church – but you should anyway.
That’s the upshot of a new informal survey of evangelical leaders finding that less than half believe that the Bible requires church members to tithe, the practice of giving at least 10 percent of one’s income to the church.
The survey, conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) among its 100-member board of directors, found that 42% of evangelical leaders believe the Bible requires tithing, while 58% do not.
“The Old Testament called for multiple tithes, sort of combining government taxes with religious stewardship,” NAE President Leith Anderson said, reacting to the survey.
“Since there is such a strong evangelical tradition of tithing, I was a little surprised that a majority of our evangelical leaders say the tithe system of the Old Testament does not carry over to the New Testament or to us,” Anderson said in a statement.
The National Association of Evangelicals, the nation’s biggest evangelical umbrella organization, would not say how many of its 100 board members responded to the survey, which was conducted in February.
The board includes such influential figures as the heads of the Salvation Army, the Assemblies of God - a major Pentecostal denomination - and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
The injunction to tithe comes from the Old Testament, or what Jews call the Hebrew Bible, which tells of Abraham and others giving ten percent of war spoils, a harvest or other goods as offerings to God or religious leaders.
Dan Olson, a Purdue University sociology professor who has studied tithing, says the new survey doesn’t mean Christian leaders think those in the pews shouldn’t give.
“Most of those leaders would probably say, ‘you really ought to tithe, but the term ‘requires’ gets at a theological point,” he said.
“Most Christians would say the laws of the Old Testament are not what save you – you’re supposed to be giving out of a spirit of freedom, not because you’re bound to laws,” he said.
The National Association of Evangelicals’ survey found that 95% of evangelical leaders say they give at least 10% of their salaries to church.
A recent study by group that tracks church giving, called Empty Tomb, Inc., found that evangelicals on a whole give an average of 4% of their income to their church, though Olson suspects the average is much lower, around 1% or 2%.
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