Our system of tithes and offerings is not merely an arrangement of convenience, a policy that can be changed or altered or set aside. It is Heaven's appointed means for the support of the work of God. Back of it is the infinite wisdom of God. The experience of the advent movement has demonstrated its superiority over every other method of church finance.
Some years ago we gave a news story to the Parkersburg, West Virginia, Sentinel concerning the reports of the annual church business meeting. This story featured the financial achievements of our little church and included facts concerning our world work.
It so happened that the national minister of finance of the Disciples Church was leading out with the pastor of the local church in a campaign to reduce a crushing debt of $130,000. After interviewing me regarding the system by which our results were obtained, these men arranged for a banquet in their large social hall, inviting a full attendance of their twelve hundred members. They arranged with me to present our system of tithes and offerings at this meeting.
As I sat at the speakers' table, flanked by the ministers, and looked over the sea of faces, I thought of the promise that if we diligently observe every statute of God's He will make us the head and not the tail; if we are faithful in tithes and offerings all nations, all denominations, we might say, will call us a delightsome land.
The method of approach that I presented is the method that we try to follow in the presentation of every requirement of God. The ministers had at first been a bit solicitous as to whether we dealt with the matter from the standpoint of legality or privilege. After commending these followers of Alexander Campbell for their published stand that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice, I assured them that we took our stand a hundred per cent on that same platform, including the divine arrangement for the support of the gospel.
My text was John 3 :16, "God so loved, . . . that He gave"—He gave the most precious gift in all heaven, His only-begotten Son, to die for a lost world. You can give without loving, but you cannot truly love without giving. The measure of our gift is the measure of our love. How insignificant our largest offerings in comparison with what the Lord in infinite love bestowed upon us.
I tried to help those good people to see that it is for our own good that provision is made for us to have a part in the saving of the lost through the dedication of our means to the proclamation of the gospel.
Angels could proclaim the message of God's love, but He has reserved that blessed privilege for us. The God who rained manna from heaven for forty years and kept the shoes of several million people from wearing out during those long years of wandering, could feed and clothe His ministers miraculously if He chose. The God who transported Evangelist Philip through the air long before the airplane was heard of, could miraculously transport His workers if He chose. But in His infinite wisdom and love we are privileged to share of our substance with the worker for God, that we may share in the joy of the eternal reward.
I tried to make plain that this is God's way of breaking up the selfishness of these hard hearts of ours, and of developing characters after the likeness of God, who is love. I pointed out that when the Lord called a people to be a light to the world, He did not leave the support of that work to haphazard, hit-and-miss methods. He definitely reserved a tenth of our income directly for the support of the ministry. The very same language is used of the tithe as is used of the sacredness of the Sabbath.
Reference was made to the explicit language of Leviticus 27:30-32 : "All the tithe is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord.... The tenth shall be holy unto the Lord." The very same language is used to set forth the sacred nature of the Sabbath in the fourth commandment : "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God." No effort was made to intrude our peculiar beliefs upon these people. I was merely complying with their request to explain our financial program, and how people can be brought to conscientious observance of the law of tithes and offerings.
When I had finished telling that great audience of the blessings that had come to our people and to the work of God, through loyalty to the divine plan of tithes and offerings, the minister of finance sprang to his feet and said : "No apologies are needed, Brother Moffett, for setting forth the marvelous results of following God's plan in the tithing system, as demonstrated in the work of your people. Here is a small people, but they averaged nearly a hundred new missionaries sent abroad each year during the depression years of the early thirties, while our church and every Protestant mission board have been calling back ,missionaries by the wholesale."
I shall never forget his words, "Why, folks, if that were our work, I would climb to the top of the church steeple and shout it to the world." As a result of this meeting, a member-by-member canvass was made to get as many as possible to adopt the tithing plan for the support of their church and the payment of debt. The results far exceeded their original expectations. Here is a concrete example of what I believe to be the proper method of approach to the tithing question. I do not believe in the cold, argumentative presentation. True, the reasons should stand forth like beacon lights for every point of our faith. But that which moves hard hearts and recovers backsliders is a message warm from the heart that touches the lost chord with the finger of love. When the balm of Gilead is applied to bruised and breaking hearts, it is amazing how the purse strings are loosened.
I was visiting a wealthy member in an out-of-the-way place in the vast stretches of Maine. She had grown cold and had discontinued her tithing. She was clinging to her money. "Sister," I said, "tell me, how did the truth find you 'way out here ?" As she told me of those early days of her first love, the memory of them warmed her soul, and she said with great earnestness, "Brother Moffett, I still believe these things are so." We had found the key to her heart, and from that time she was liberal in giving to the cause.
Every sermon that lifts the soul nearer to Christ and establishes confidence in the Advent movement is building for faithfulness in tithes and offerings. I like to devote an occasional sermon to some phase of the subject, but find it very helpful to slip in a pointed lesson now and then at some appropriate opportunity. A pointed reference to straightening our account with God in the matter of tithes. and offerings, made in the midst of a heart-stirring sermon, often brings in large windfalls of back tithe. It is also helpful from time to time to read a short quotation from the Bible or the Spirit of prophecy just preceding the taking up of the tithes and offerings in the Sabbath service.
The effect of our endeavors will depend upon how deeply our own hearts and lives are imbued with the Spirit of God and how much confidence the people have in us as they observe our manner of life. It makes a world of difference whether a worker's experience is fresh and warm, or whether he is going along on the momentum of past experiences, preaching from the same old outlines, handling the work of God carelessly.
The spirit of sacrifice and self-denial on the part of the worker or the piling up of expensive luxuries on the other hand, even the style of our clothes and the type of car we drive—all have their silent influence. It makes a great deal of difference whether we are little popes trying to lord it over the flock, or whether our relations with the church are marked by fairness, sympathy, and consideration.
Certainly a man who expects his members to pay a faithful tithe must set the example and not try to cheat the Lord. In a certain conference the treasurer reported to me that out of a force of sixty workers, four ministers were unfaithful in the matter of tithes. I did not write them a letter. Neither did I ask them to come to the office. I called on them in their homes, where we had frequently talked over the problems of their work and prayed together for the blessing of God on each worker, his family, his church, and his work.
I shall never forget one young worker whom I had started and trained in the work, and who had advanced to heavy responsibilities. He said, "In the pressure of getting along with the present high costs of living, I held back my tithe for a month, expecting to make it up. Little by little we fell behind. I thank God for your kind interest. Tell the treasurer to take out $100 from my next pay to bring us up to date. We will live on bread and water, if necessary, before we will touch the Lord's money again." That man today is the president of a large conference, and the Lord has greatly blessed his faithful labors through the years.
But one of the workers, an older man, getting top pay, never truly reformed, although we labored with him faithfully. After a long time he was dropped, not for unfaithfulness in tithe, although that persisted in his life, but for immorality.
Vital Phase of Christian Life
In laboring for souls one must never forget that this matter of loyalty to God in returning to Him the holy tithe is a vital phase of one's spiritual life, a question of character, a question that will affect our eternal destiny.
A worker cannot lightly let such matters drift, secure in the thought that his pay check comes along each month. He must watch for souls as they that must give an account to Him who will judge the quick and the dead.
Every member in one's church or district should have the blessing of personal visits by the pastor. As the heart is touched by this personal ministry, the Spirit of God impresses the soul to renewed consecration, and if faithful work is done in declaring the whole counsel of God, back tithe, where necessary, will be made up.
Sometimes our brethren are honestly perplexed as to how to figure their tithe, especially in these days of withheld taxes and complicated costs of production. A free and frank discussion of these specific problems is highly desirable.
The Autumn Council of the General Conference Committee, held in November, 1943, at Takoma Park, gave consideration to the request for counsel that came from various parts of the field in regard to the question of tithe paying in relationship to the payment of income tax. After a full discussion the following action was adopted:
"Whereas, It is our understanding that Government taxes on earnings or salary, whether withheld at the source or otherwise, should not in any way diminish that portion of the income which we recognize as being the Lord's; therefore,
"We advise all our believers that according to our best knowledge we should adhere to the principle under which this denomination has carried forward its work from the early days, and not permit income tax or any other expense from the salary to affect that portion reserved by God for Himself. This would mean the paying of the tithe on the full salary and earnings before any deduction and payment has been made by way of income taxes."----Actions of the Autumn Council, 1943, P. 24.
The problem of the costs of production and distribution is often complex, and may require individual study, especially where the purchase of costly equipment is involved. We recently had such a case. An apple grower and his wife readily accepted every point till we came to the tithe. He acknowledged the principle but felt that it would be impossible to get at the exact deductions, and anyhow, he did not believe that he was making any profit.
We told him of Jacob's pledge to pay a faithful tithe if he had only bread to eat and raiment to wear, and this took care of the one point. A neighbor who owned an adjoining farm and who was a faithful tithepayer was our answer to the other question. But right there the matter deadlocked.
Although we do not disfellowship nontithepayers, so far as I am concerned we do not baptize them into Christ when the Lord labels them as robbing God. The church is losing too much of the blessing of God because of the Achans in the camp. So we kept on working with our apple grower, and the Spirit of God impressed his heart regarding the tithing. He fully accepted the truth along with his good wife. As his love of the message deepened and his confidence grew, the duty and privilege of tithing became clear to him.
"My good brother," I asked him one day, "what is your system of deducting expenses?"
"Brother Moffett, the Lord is blessing me so since I began to tithe that I just don't bother about deductions. I used to have to haul my fruit to market. Now everybody is coming after it. I never did so well in my life."
The importance of heart-to-heart pastoral visits cannot be overestimated. It is too bad when members say, "The only time a minister calls on me is when there is a financial campaign on or when he is after money."
Over in Jersey City, years ago, while the interest from our tent effort was getting underway, we called on every member. There was an elderly sister living all alone, who had not attended church for years and was very much in the background spiritually. It was a happy experience, as I called upon her from time to time, to see her getting back to her first love. I never directly mentioned money. One day she said, "Elder, you have been very kind to me ; I want to make you a personal gift."
"Sister," I said, "I do not accept personal gifts. My reward is in seeing you renewing your consecration to God. Put your gift in the treasury of the Lord."
She answered, "I am getting old. I have neither chick nor child. Here is $5,000 for God. Jersey City must have that church building you are praying for." After we had deducted a liberal back tithe, an inspired church came forward with generous gifts, and the Jersey City No. i church stands as a memorial today to that consecrated gift.
The best way to secure a faithful tithe is for the workers to lead out in a revival of primitive godliness. That will bring pentecostal power. And the pentecostal experience will bring pentecostal giving.