What I Learned: Tithing as Proof of Citizenship

Editor’s note: As many Americans are preparing end-of-year giving, some Chinese believers are facing the reality that financial generosity to the church could lead to prison, not tax credits. This is not ultimately about charity, but allegiance: Christians give because we ultimately belong to Christ’s kingdom. Today, a Chinese-American pastor reflects on how the Chinese house church has encouraged and challenged him in his attitude toward giving.


A few days ago, the two-part reflection by Li Yingqiang, an elder at a church in Chengdu, on tithing and charges of fraud caught my attention. I have been giving to churches for almost as long as I have been a believer, but the question of “fraud” has never crossed my mind.

Tithing in a Chinese House Church

To understand theses accusations of fraud, we must understand the context of the Chinese house churches. Because Chinese house churches are not registered with the government, in the eyes of the state, house churches have the same legal status as cults. Therefore, any solicitation for donations is fraudulent. Pastors and preachers employed by house churches are often accused as crooks and swindlers, and Christians who pay tithes to house churches are often framed as victims. The government even encourages normal Christians to turn on their pastors and serve as witnesses and victims in court, and threatens them if they are unwilling to do so.

>
“Pastors and preachers employed by house churches are often accused as crooks and swindlers, and Christians who pay tithes to house churches are often framed as victims.

A close comparison in the United States would be organizations who solicit tax- deductible donations as a charity, even though they have not obtained 501(c)(3) status. Such an organization would be considered fraudulent in the eyes of the IRS. However, while it is fairly easy to become a charitable organization in the United States, it is much more complicated for Chinese house churches.

House churches refuse to register with the Chinese government because they refuse to submit to the government’s regulations on how they conduct public worship, ordain ministers, and preach the gospel. The state – whether it is a Communist dictatorship or a democratically-elected president – is not the head of the church. Christ is the head of the church, and only Christ has the authority to regulate the religious practices of his church. But that is a reality the Chinese government refuses to accept. They cannot accept the fact that millions of its citizens give their highest allegiance to another authority figure. Therefore, house churches are considered threats to their governing authority, and charges of fraud become one of the most common schemes the Chinese government employs to persecute house churches.


Would You Pray With Us Today?

Sign up to receive our weekly prayer emails with requests for the house church in China

How should house churches continue to operate when they are seen as fraudulent and illegal? Li Yingqiang reminded his church that it is their duty to support those who serve in full-time ministry. Giving is not just an expression of a believer’s love of God. It is also an expression of his love of his neighbors, because his tithe goes to support the families of the church’s pastors and workers. Most importantly, giving is not just a duty, but a privilege for citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Li wrote, “The church is the earthly expression of God’s kingdom. As such, the church is entrusted with managing the ‘national property’ of the kingdom of God.” Tithing is a way believers actively live out their faith by storing up their treasures in heaven, because it demonstrates where their allegiance lies and where their hearts long to be. A Christian’s tithe to the church is much like a passport; it is proof of heavenly citizenship.

>
“Tithing is a way believers actively live out their faith by storing up their treasures in heaven, because it demonstrates where their allegiance lies and where their hearts long to be. A Christian’s tithe to the church is much like a passport; it is proof of heavenly citizenship.

Citizens of a Kingdom

All of this brings me back to my own financial relationship with our church, where I serve as a pastor and benefit from the tithes and offerings of others. For many churches in the United States, the offering portion of the worship service can seem formulaic and predictable. Our church just finished a capital campaign, and it was easily one of the most uncomfortable and awkward projects for us as a church staff, because we do not like to talk about money up front so much.

My family tithes by having our bank send a check to our church each week. Our church’s administrator receives the check, and deposits it. The entire process is seamless and effortless. Most importantly, I don’t have to think about it unless something goes wrong. Our church sends the offering baskets around each week, but most of the time it comes back to our ushers empty because most families either give by sending a check, like we do, or have set up a recurring donation online. For most people in our congregation, tithing is out of sight, out of mind.

We are approaching the end of a tax year, where people tend to give more to charities to maximize their tax deductions. Particularly during the holiday season, charitable organizations encourage people to give more out of generosity and gratitude. In this season, Li’s article came as a sobering reminder for me.

>
“We tithe not just so we can keep our money from Uncle Sam; we give not just so we can be known as generous people; we give not just out of our gratitude for God, although these are all good reasons. It is necessary to be reminded periodically, and to remind our members, that giving to our church is more than just giving to a charitable organization.

We tithe not just so we can keep our money from Uncle Sam; we give not just so we can be known as generous people; we give not just out of our gratitude for God, although these are all good reasons. It is necessary to be reminded periodically, and to remind our members, that giving to our church is more than just giving to a charitable organization. Our tithe is an exercise of our duty and privilege as citizens of God’s Kingdom, much like voting in an election in America.

Whether the government approves of our giving or not, whether we get a tax deduction or not, it is an honor that our King above has made us citizens of his kingdom, and he deigns to use our two copper coins to advance his kingdom on earth. We should still expect our church leaders to use our money wisely and honestly – fraud does exist, even in churches – but ultimately our giving is not just an earthly or a legal matter, but a Kingdom affair.


Ryan moved from Guangzhou, China, to Ohio at the age of 12. He is the pastor for neighborhood ministries at New City Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and also serves as the translation manager for China Partnership.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray that Christians around the world will be thankful for the ability to contribute financially to God’s kingdom, and will do so cheerfully and courageously.

Share This Story

Further Reading

zhang-kaiyv-TS8tN_wA_Mo-unsplash
Busy Intellectuals: Interview with Shenyang Academics
Read More
marcos-rivas-XwoEqypRs-I-unsplash
Reformed Emotions: Affection Towards God
Read More
trung-thanh-rzJ4TEQZe4M-unsplash
Reformed Emotions: The Story Emotions Tell
Read More

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

Videos

Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

Videos

Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Videos

Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

Videos

Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

Videos

Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

Videos

Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

Videos

Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

Videos

Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

Videos

Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

Videos

Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

Videos

Stories from Shanghai

give

A short message about partnering with us.