Friday, February 8, 2013

The Law of Tithing

As a brief introduction to this, I came across an article that really disturbed me.  The author presented many historical examples and provided many lengthy explanations trying to explain the nuts and bolts of tithing, with an air of haughtiness and pride that was rather uncomfortable.  I found myself balking time and again at what he was referring to as changes and perversions that he had witnessed to the law of tithing across the Church. Precious little of what he said could be supported by leaders of the Church, and I thought I'd share some of what I'd encountered along with my simple testimony of this law.

The Law of Tithing has been instituted among the members of the Lord's Church from the beginning of time.  There are verses in the Bible mentioning that Abraham and Jacob paid tithes and even specifically mention the amount of one-tenth.

In latter-day revelation the Lord restored the Law of Tithing, but only because the Saint's were unable live the higher Law of Consecration.  It's short enough to include it all here:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion, 
2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church. 
3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people. 
4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord. 
5 Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you. 
6 And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you. 
7 And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.

What does "interest" mean?  What is a full tithe?

It is interesting that the Lord says he requires all surplus property, and after that, one-tenth of all interest annually.  He then restates this law in verse 5.  Interest is separated as a distinct offering from property.  In a 1970 letter from the First Presidency, they clarify that "one-tenth of all their interest understood to mean income....  No one is justified in making any other statement than this.”

Some contend that the word "interest" means just that, a surplus or extra funds remaining after one has taken care of his basic needs.  This would make sense if we had not had more recent clarifications by some of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency.
  • President Eyring, "The law is that we give to the Lord one-tenth of all our income." (Liahona, June 2011)
  • Elder Hales, "Members who freely give a full 10 percent of their annual income receive all of the promised blessings of tithing." (General Conference, October 2002)
There are numerous other examples.  No where are we told precisely what we have to pay tithing on.  Some say it should be paid on our gross income given that even though we don't see some of it, we benefit from all of it.  We pay taxes to the government for benefits (even if they aren't tangible).  Money gets paid for healthcare, set aside into a retirement fund, etc.  Others come to the conclusion that it should only be paid on what is left over after we take care of our necessities - similar to a business that has to take care of operating expenses before counting any profit.  

There are obviously amounts between these two extremes that could be interpreted as a full tithe too.  As we study the words of the prophets and make this a matter of prayer, we will understand for ourselves what it is that we need to do.  The Lord will never punish us, nor will we feel our sacrifice has been in vain if we "freely give a full 10 percent"; however, we will fall short of blessings if we begin to put other expenses before what the Lord has asked of us.

Why can't I choose where my interest goes?

Some wonder why we have to give to the Church at all.  Why not be free to choose which charities to give to?  It's all going to help someone right instead of just going towards some administrative expenses that get covered anyways by the majority of Church members, right?
"We pay tithing, as the Savior taught, by bringing the tithes “into the storehouse” (Mal. 3:10; 3 Ne. 24:10). We do this by paying our tithing to our bishop or branch president. We do not pay tithing by contributing to our favorite charities. The contributions we should make to charities come from our own funds, not from the tithes we are commanded to pay to the storehouse of the Lord." (Oaks, General Conference April 1994)

Does the Lord really want us to pay tithing before we take care of our family?  If we're in the most dire of circumstances, shouldn't we feed our children first?  Isn't tithing supposed to be easy and not a sacrifice?

“My mother was a widow, with a large family to provide for. One spring when we opened our potato pits she had her boys get a load of the best potatoes, and she took them to the tithing office; potatoes were scarce that season. I was a little boy at the time, and drove the team. When we drove up to the steps of the tithing office, ready to unload the potatoes,one of the clerks came out and said to my mother, ‘Widow Smith, it’s a shame that you should have to pay tithing.’ … He chided my mother for paying her tithing, called her anything but wise or prudent; and said there were others who were strong and able to work that were supported from the tithing office. My mother turned upon him and said: ‘William, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Would you deny me a blessing? If I did not pay my tithing, I should expect the Lord to withhold His blessings from me. I pay my tithing, not only because it is a law of God, but because I expect a blessing by doing it. By keeping this and other laws, I expect to prosper and to be able to provide for my family’” (in Conference Report,Apr. 1900, p. 48). 
Some people say, “I can’t afford to pay tithing.” Those who place their faith in the Lord’s promises say, “I can’t afford not to pay tithing.” (Oaks, General Conference April 1994)
Elder Hales explains that,
"Tithing also teaches us to control our desires and passions for the things of this world. Payment of tithing encourages us to be honest in our dealings with our fellowmen.... The law of tithing prepares us to live the higher law of consecration—to dedicate and give all our time, talents, and resources to the work of the Lord." 
Without putting the Lord first, even before our family, we can't expect to receive the fullness of the blessings that he promises us in two sacred books of scripture.

Does Malachi's warning and promise in Malachi 3:10-12 really apply to us individually?  Or is it only meant for leaders of the Church with financial responsibilities?

Tithing is a commandment with a promise. The words of Malachi,reaffirmed by the Savior, promise those who bring their tithes into the storehouse that the Lord will open “the windows of heaven, and pour[them] out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”The promised blessings are temporal and spiritual. The Lord promises to“rebuke the devourer,” and he also promises tithe payers that “all nations shall call you blessed, for ye shall be a delightsome land” (3 Ne. 24:10–12;see Mal. 3:10–12). 
I believe these are promises to the nations in which we reside. When the people of God withheld their tithes and offerings, Malachi condemned“this whole nation” (Mal. 3:9). Similarly, I believe that when many citizens of a nation are faithful in the payment of tithes, they summon the blessings of heaven upon their entire nation. The Bible teaches that“righteousness exalteth a nation” (Prov. 14:34) and “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9; see Matt. 13:33). 
The payment of tithing also brings the individual tithe payer unique spiritual blessings. Tithe paying is evidence that we accept the law of sacrifice. It also prepares us for the law of consecration and the other higher laws of the celestial kingdom. The Lectures on Faith, prepared by the early leaders of the restored Church, part the curtain on that subject when they say: 
“Let us here observe that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things" (Lectures on Faith, 6:7).
(Oaks, General Conference April 1994)
The Lord found it crucial to share Malachi's promise with the Nephites and personally made sure that it was properly recorded along with the fulfilled prophecies of the resurrection.

I realize that there's a lot of details in the history of the Church that could be brought up to show the mistakes of men with regards to the handling of the tithes of the members, but that doesn't change the fact that the Lord continues to trust the leaders of the Church and has promised us that we will not be led astray. 
“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so he will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. God bless you” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 212–13; see also Official Declaration 1).
Read the scriptures, listen to the latter-day leaders of the Church, pay your tithing and you will receive a witness of the truthfulness and blessings that come with obeying the law of tithing.