Should Tithing Count as 'Charitable Giving?'

The Cedar Creek executive pastor said God's blessing can come in the form of "peace and joy in giving," although it is not unusual for it to also be in the form of a financial return. "The Bible never really specifies that that is the case each time," he said.

"Instead, we're instructed to give without expecting any return in this life (Luke 6:35). I say, 'this life' because the Bible does indicate that when we serve and give to those in need that we are 'storing up treasures in heaven.' Our motive must be pure and not with an attitude of gain when we give."

Pastor Hutmacher is an advocate of tithing and said not even church leaders are excluded from the 10 percent contribution. "Tithing has nothing to do with a person's position or even ability," he said.

Link, who holds a Master of Divinity degree in Biblical Theology, disagrees with the modern concept of tithing – that believers are required to give 10 percent of their income to their church. The Bible does teach, however, that Christians are to give, and not under compulsion.

"Am I saying that to give people permission to give less than 10 percent? The answer's no. I think we want to give because we're in love with our savior, not because we owe him a bill," Link said.

He suggested that what the Bible actually teaches about giving and expecting a return is related to what the ordained minister calls "the law of resupply."

"As I give away my current resources, God is going to resupply those resources so that I will constantly be able to keep giving and keep meeting needs as I see those needs. But it's not so that I'm going to give so that I can expect a check for $10,000 so that I can go out and buy a new flat screen TV," Link explained.

"The prosperity gospel is kind of half right and half wrong, and because it's half-wrong it's all wrong."

Whether tithing to one's church or donating to an organization, Link advises Christians to know for certain how their money will be spent.

"My advice to people is always track the outcomes. Give to places where you can see what the outcome is," he said. "When you write a check to some organization that goes and does something and you don't know what it does or you don't know how it's being done, you're at risk of maybe giving away money and it doing not really what you intended for it to do."

Link also encourages families he works with to do their giving directly – if they see a family in need or there is an opportunity to help a student with a scholarship, it's best to just meet those needs directly.

"It's not that I'm opposed to ministries or anything like that. You can do that kind of thing, just directly be involved so that you can see the outcome," he said.

Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation suggests that Christians give to people they know.

"Fundamentally, you should donate to people you have relationships with, not through the television screen," Anthony advised. "You should give where you know the people and see the people and trust them."

"Of all the charitable organizations I know of, I think the church does the worst job of connecting people's giving to outcomes," said Link.

One might "hear people say 'well, somebody has to pay the light bills, the pastor's salary.' … It's not just all about having the light on. It's not just paying the preacher's salary. It's who's hearing the message and coming to Christ as a result of his preaching."