I've been reading this essay and found it really interesting. Basically what the guy is saying is that the early church gave nearly all of the offering and tithings it received to the poor. Not just to be nice, but as a principle.
I'm not about to say what's the right or wrong way to do things, I'm fully aware of the cost of running a church in terms of the building, rent, taxes, electricity.. all that stuff that comes even before paying the staff.
But I do find it interesting that the early church made it priority to give back to the community first, before worrying about their staff, whereas today's church makes it a priority to look after all its costs first, then whatever is left, may or may not go to the community. Today's tithings and offering benefit the church whereas before they benefited the non-church.
You can take one page out of the tribes of Israel's book. The Levites were assigned to take all the offerings and tithes and give them to those who needed it, ie the poor. The bible says that the clergy were to be entitled to a tithing of the the tithing, which is basically 1%. So we are looking at 9% for the poor and 1% to the church of the total 10% tithe.
If we were to pick a side without knowing the big picture and past history and how these early churches arrived to the decision to give back to the poor.. I mean if i were to just throw caution to the wind, I would tend to agree with the early church. It's really hard to argue against some of these historical leaders and clergy such as Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Irenaeus, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Jerome, John Chrysostom, Aristides. Not that I know really who any of these people are, but I have heard of them and I do know that they did great things.
I'd arrive to the conclusion that indeed all that money *should* go to the poor. As Shane Claiborne once wrote "I'm convinced that God didn't mess up and make too many people and not enough stuff."
What I'm really talking about here is justice. We need to bring justice. As I mentioned I am fully aware of what it costs to run a church. But if there is no justice, then what's the point of church?
Here's what God has to say about church with no justice, from Amos 5:21-24:
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
I can't pretend that I have come up with a grand solution as to how our church could survive if all tithings and offerings were given to the poor. I can't and I won't. Back in the days, they used candles and maybe their sanctuary was outdoors, maybe they lived in countries where there weren't 6 months of winter.
So to sum up:
God is telling me that tithing should go to the poor, and God is also telling me I have to tithe to the church, and the church is spending the tithing on itself.
As Christians we must tithe, and if tithing was meant for the poor and isn't going there, then I must give 9 percent to the poor. If I give my money to the middle man, he or she may put it all into the electricity bill instead of giving it to the poor.
Therefore I need to skip the middle man and give it directly to the poor.