God commanded that tithes were to be collected locally by the Levites (Numbers 18:19-24), who were spread throughout the nation in 48 independent cities, as Joshua 21 relates.
The Levites counted the tithes and kept 90 percent for local purposes. Then they sent the remaining 10 percent (a tithe of the tithe) to the high priest and the descendants of Aaron for their financial support (verses 25-29).
God felt rejected
God probably established this local control system as a check and balance in ancient Israel to ensure that the nation's top spiritual leaders never became corrupted by lusts for monetary gain or the perks and privileges of wealth.
After centuries of living under God's system of government, the time came in 1 Samuel 8:5 that the people demanded a human king.
Samuel was displeased, and God Himself felt rejected. Nevertheless, God let them have a human king, even though He told Samuel to warn them that they were making a terrible mistake.
God warned the Israelites that concentrating so much power in human kings would result in personal and financial oppression of the people (verses 14-18).
The three kings
The record of Israel's and Judah's kings is mostly a sorry record of sin, abuse and corruption. But let's consider the examples of just the first three kings, all of whom God personally selected.
These were Saul, David and Solomon. All began their reign in humility, but the insidious corrupting influence of power led them all to go bad. Only David realized what had happened to him and repented.
Saul was humble at the start (1 Samuel 9:21; 10:22), but he became so corrupt and arrogant in office that he literally went mad, and God rejected him.
David was a humble shepherd boy whom God selected to replace Saul, but even he was corrupted by authoritarian power to abuse others (he committed adultery with the wife of one of his generals and then conspired to have him killed).
Let's next examine Jesus' warning to His disciples about government in the New Testament church.
In Luke 22:24-30 Jesus intervened in strife that resulted from the disciples arguing about who would be greatest in the future Kingdom of God. This dispute reveals that the disciples were succumbing to a lust for power just at the thought of being leaders in Christ's eventual Kingdom.
Jesus gave them an example of the kind of church government that he forbade His church to adopt. He pointed to the "kings of the gentiles" who exercised "lordship" and "authority" as the kind of government that He would forbid in the church that would start through the apostles.
Jesus told His disciples that this type of government should "not be so" in the church and that He wanted His church leaders to be humble servants of the people.
The Bible gives us only the text of what Jesus said. It does not give us the emotion and gestures that accompanied the words. If we had a video of what happened instead of just a textual quote, the intensity of Jesus' feelings on the subject would be much more apparent.
Remember that Jesus once whipped the money changers in the temple who were conducting business there under the administration of the Pharisees (John 2:13-17). Jesus was brutal in His condemnation of the Pharisees who governed the Jewish community in Judea via an oppressive oligarchy (the Sanhedrin) that was headed by a chief leader (the high priest).
Jesus denounced the Pharisees' love of power, privilege and money even as they oppressed the people with burdens hard to be borne (Matthew 23; Luke 11).
The Bible records that the corrupting desire for power was present in the early church. Diotrephes is cited as an example of one who had a lust for "preeminence."
3 John 9-10 records that this self-exalting person seized control of the church in a power struggle and "cast out" (or "excommunicated," as a marginal note in my KJV renders it) the converted members of the congregation.
Diotrephes lusted for the authoritarian style of church government that Jesus Christ had forbidden.
Simon Magus also lusted for power and money in the early church (Acts 8:13-20), and Paul warned the Ephesians that their congregation would be ripped apart by those whose lust for power would lead them to try to create their own power base of disciples (Acts 20:29-35).
Paul's warning also reveals that the lust for power is inseparable from a lust for money. "Grievous wolves" would try to draw away members to start their own church with the wolf as the authoritarian leader.
Human nature never changes, so we can expect the same kind of motivations in churches today.
It is evident in both Old and New Testament examples that concentrating power in the hands of a leader (or a small group of leaders) inevitably corrupts the leaders.
Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus is "the same yesterday, today and forever," so the warning He gave to His disciples about church government is the same warning He would give us today.
Modern churches should examine themselves to see if they have heeded Jesus' warnings against having church structures that are authoritarian or hierarchical. If modern churches implemented the same local control method for handling money that God ordained for ancient Israel, churches would exhibit a congregationalist structure.
If biblical commandments pertaining to money flow were followed in modern churches, pastors would collect the funds donated by local members. They would keep 90 percent of the donations for local use and send 10 percent of it to a national office, which would coordinate whatever activities the various congregations had in common.
If this practice were followed, the spirit of the law in how God structured his ancient theocracy would be followed, and the potential for abuses of power in modern churches would be dramatically lessened.
Perhaps you should ask yourself: How well has my church organization heeded the warning of Jesus Christ in Luke 22:25-26?