In the past, this often meant the collection of animals or harvested goods, but today cash, checks, and stocks are the preferred donation. Some denominations strongly support tithing, while others shy away from it, thinking it has no place in modern Christianity.
History of Tithing
The practice of tithing is thought to have arisen for the Jewish people after Exodus. Its appearance in the Christian world, however, is placed much later, during the 6th century AD, as it was discussed and noted at the Council of Tours, in 567, and again at the second council of Macon, in 585. It was officially adopted as a custom of the Roman Catholic Church in 787 by Pope Adrian I. The custom has continued in various forms to the present day, and is currently practiced by various sects and individual churches - most notably those of the Mormon faith, for whom tithing is a requisite act for church membership.
Tithing in the Bible
Most of the evidential support in the Bible for tithing occurs in the Old Testament. The first reference is found in the book of Genesis, and concerns the story of Abraham. There are a number of mentions of the practice during the period of Mosaic law, when it was common for the church to collect goods from its members on a regular basis. There are, however, very few allusions to tithing in the New Testament. In Matthew 23:23, we find a recounting of Jesus' speech:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law -- justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (NIV)
The same statement can also be found in a similar form in Luke 11:42. For those who tithe, the reference to "without neglecting the former" (combined with the numerous mentions to tithing in the Old Testament) is evidence enough that Jesus supported both spiritual and material forms of giving, and that he specifically cited ten percent as the proper amount. They believe that setting a minimum guideline for giving encourages Christians to support their local congregations, to be more aware of their true needs, to better budget their finances, and to generally foster a more giving and charitable perspective in their members.
Those Who Choose Not to Tithe
For other Christians, however, the Biblical evidence cited above is not enough to make them take up the practice of tithing. They believe that the percentage of giving should be arrived at through prayer and internal communion with the Lord. In their view, this helps to foster proportionate giving, with each donating according to their means and as their relationship with the Lord dictates.
Often, those who choose not to tithe will cite Matthew 21:22, in which Jesus says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (NIV), meaning that one should give the government what it needs to be self-sufficient (money, through taxation), and should give to God what is asked of him or her (love and faith). In ancient societies, governments were often theocracies -- in such cases, tithing would be permissible, as the collected moneys would be used specifically for the running of God's government on Earth. In modern governments, however, the separation of church and state is often a constitutional condition, and as such some Christians believe that the process of tithing has no place in the current non-governing form of their religion.
Even so, for many churches, tithing remains a valuable way of raising funds for all sorts of necessary expenses -- salaries, housing, social programs, and new construction, to name only a few. It can be a valuable and reliable source of income for those Christians who choose to engage in the practice.