"What Hath God Wrought!"
IT IS the evening of October 26, 1959. From a basement window of the General Conference headquarters in Washington a light gleams. Seated comfortably in an office chair, quietly reading, is one of the faithful General Conference switchboard operators. Through the open door in the next room are the two telephone switchboards, closed now for the night, and against one wall stand two teletype machines—instantaneous connection with the busy downtown office of Western Union Telegraph Company, and through it, the wide world.
The General Conference chapel, in another wing of the building, is well filled, for this is the final session of the 1959 Autumn Council, and adjournment is only minutes away. At the microphone on the rostrum sits Elder O. Blake, the undertreasurer, flanked by Elder Figuhr and Elder Torrey, the president and treasurer of the General Conference. Elder Blake is just concluding his reading from a slender sheaf of papers before him: "And thus we have a total budget for the world field for 1960 of $27,881,182.64, an increase of $2,556,419.66 over last year's budget and the largest amount we have ever submitted in the history of the church. Brother Chairman, I move the adoption of the report."
The motion is seconded, and most appropriately is passed unanimously with a fervent prayer of thanksgiving, the assembled delegates standing with heads reverently bowed.
Now the girl in the teletype room lays down her book and moves to one of the machines. The switch clicks, the bell rings, and the staccato clatter of the teletype echoes down the deserted corridor—cables and telegrams on their way, to Miami and Montevideo, to Berne and Beirut, to Sydney and Salisbury and Singapore: "Autumn Council approves budget 1960 . . . your base . . . specials ..."
And in a few hours division presidents will gather with their secretaries and treasurers, heads bent over their cables, pencils scratching—"An increase of 5 1/2 per cent in the base!" "Look at these specials!" "Wonderful, wonderful. Thank God!"
Who says figures are dry and uninteresting? There is real drama here; lives and the souls of men and women in the far corners of the earth hang in the balance. As these appropriations are studied in the overseas divisions and the unions of North America, as the funds are further apportioned to missions, schools, hospitals, and special projects, a wave of gratitude and rededication goes with them—a vow to make them stretch and stretch, to cover the ever-growing needs of the work in all the world. There are pangs of disappointment, of course; this cherished plan, that additional worker, the other projected expansion, may have to wait for another year or be curtailed to fit the funds available. But over all is that pervasive reaction of thankfulness, and a unanimous feeling of wonderment: "What hath God wrought!"
***This presentation by E. L. Becker, General Conference auditor, will be read with appreciation and interest. In soliciting this article we felt that many of our workers would be helped if thev understood more clearly the method of our denominational finance. The expenditure of God's means is a matter of deep concern to all of our members but especially to our ministers. Not all, however, have had opportunity of an inside -new of procedures, and sometimes those who know the least about it proceed to criticize. The principles and policies set forth here will not only enlighten our minds but will strengthen and inspire the confidence of all. In these tense days the church of God must stand together. As ministers and leaders in the cause of God we are honorbound to close the ranks and "hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." This article, which will be concluded next issue, may open up questions for further study. As we think of those brethren who carry the heavy burden of the finance in this rapidly growing movement, let us pray that the Lord will give them wisdom and understanding. r. a. a.***
Ellen G. White wrote nearly seventy years ago, "It is the rills flowing into one that finally make the river."—Counsels on Stewardship, p. 299. Perhaps even her sanctified vision was deprived of the sight of the tremendous river to which all these rills, from the purses and the hearts of dedicated believers everywhere, would grow. Twenty-eight million dollars in one year's budget! Where did it all come from? How was it gathered? How- is it distributed? These are pointed questions, and their answers are interesting and vital to every worker in the cause today. We shall try to give those answers in this article, and if you are about to say that you have no head for figures, please don't stop reading now! We'll try to keep it simple.
The Headwaters of the River
Even the ever increasing millions in the annual budget of the General Conference tell only a small part of the story. For a real concept of the magnitude of God's blessing and the almost unbelievable liberality of His people we must go back to the individual church—the little congregation of believers meeting in a wallless atap-thatched structure in Malaya, or in a humble church building in Kansas. For it is there that the little rills of local church funds, tithes, and world mission offerings originate.
Let us not forget these local funds, for they are important. The individual church has pressing needs of its own—for the upkeep of its place of worship, and for the support of its struggling elementary school, and most important of all, for financing its local missionary work. Each of these congregations is a light set on a hill, and in the winning of souls in its own neighborhood it must look first to its own resources for the purchase of literature, and for the many incidental expenses of spreading the gospel in its own community. All of these local needs are supplied by the individual congregation, and the money for these purposes—local church funds, we call them— are retained by the church treasurer and administered by the church board. They never reach the General Conference, or even the local conference treasurer's office.
Except for the local church funds, all the money received by the local treasurer is passed on to the local conference or mission office, and it feeds the widening river of means for the support of the world work.
Perhaps it should not be necessary to remind our Seventh-day Adventist worker family that it is a worldwide work, but as we go on with this survey we shall find at every step of the way that the whole financial structure of the denomination is built around the concept of world evangelization. That is why we hear so much, so often, of world missions. We long ago abandoned the idea of promoting foreign missions as such. Granted, there are tremendous unex-ploited areas in lands outside our American, Australian, and European home bases; but "foreign" is a relative term at best—the Michigander is just as foreign to the Filipino as the Cebuan is to the man from Detroit. And who is to say that the gospel is more important in a land ten thousand miles away than it is in the dark counties or the great cities of your home conference? No, it is truly a world mission program, and all along the course of the river we are faced with the problem of apportionment of means in accordance writh the needs and opportunities.
So, at the close of the month the local church treasurer writes a check to his conference treasurer, and the funds go on their way. tithes, conference funds, and mission funds. They never belonged to the local church in any event; they were held in trust for the day of settlement. Now, in the hands of the conference treasurer, they undergo a further apportionment.
The Stream Widens
Conference funds, as the term denotes, are those that become the property of the local conference, and are administered for the needs within its territory. Most conferences have an educational fund, for example, available for assistance to the academies and church schools of the conference.Religious liberty offerings are administered on the local conference level; most conferences build up a special fund by means of camp meeting pledges or other special appeals for conference evangelism.
Mission funds include, of course, such categories as Sabbath school offerings, Week of Sacrifice, Ingathering, et cetera, all of them together known as the Dollar-a-Week Fund. All of these world mission offerings are passed on intact, through the respective unions, to the General Conference, where they become one of the two major sources of General Conference income. More will be said about their distribution later in this discussion. For the present, let us note only that they are for the support of our work in all its phases, in all parts of the world, and are apportioned according to the needs of the world field.
The last and in some respects the most important of the three categories of the funds coming to the local conference is the tithe. Probably there are few workers who have not thought at one time or another, "All that tithe income, from all the churches in this conference! What do those folks do with it?" If that wonderment still lingers in your mind, dear fellow worker, ask your conference president. I have talked to many of them, and so far not a single one has complained of an embarrassment of riches.
In point of fact, there are two considerations involved in the handling of the tithe by the local conference. The first—and it is not limited to the local conference, but applies to any tithe funds wherever they are handled throughout the denominational framework and determines to a large degree the organization of our accounting systems—is the restriction placed upon the use of the tithe by divine direction. We have numerous testimonies from God's messenger bearing on this subject. The following are selected as summarizing the use of the tithe, and its limitations:
The tithe is set apart for a special use. It is not to be regarded as a poor fund. It is to be especially devoted to the support of those who are bearing God's message to (he world; and it should not be diverted from this purpose.—Counsels on Stewardship, p. 103.
Light has been plainly given that those who minister in our schools, teaching the word of God, explaining the Scriptures, educating the students in the things of God, should be supported by the tithe money.—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 215.
One reasons that the tithe may be applied to school purposes. Still others reason that canvassers and colporteurs should be supported from the tithe. But a great mistake is made when the tithe is drawn from the object for which it is to be used —the support of the ministers.—Ibid., vol. 9, pp. 248, 249.
It is wrong to use the tithe for defraying the incidental expenses of the church.—Counsels On Stewardship, p. 103.
These restrictions are important to us, because they are important to God; and at every level of our denominational administration our officers are exercising meticulous care to see that the divine mandate is carried out. We of the auditing staffs of union, division, and General Conference make this a specific interest in our annual examinations of the records.
Our leaders have tried to avoid a phari-saical interpretation of this instruction, however, and from the earliest years have constructed it to mean that the support of those in administrative lines in the gospel work, and the necessary expense of operating the evangelistic branches of our work, are not excluded. The tithe cannot be, and is not, used for the construction or maintenance of buildings, for the payment of teachers (other than Bible teachers and principals, who stand in a pastoral relationship to their students) or for the support of our literature evangelists.
The second consideration as to the use of the tithe brings to our attention again the concept of a worldwide task. By action of our various boards of management, certain claims are made on the tithe income of the local conference. In general they are as follows:
(a) Following the tithing principle, 10 per cent of the local tithe income is passed on to the union conference or mission, for the support of those whose ministry is at the union administrative level. (The unions in turn remit 10 per cent of their tithe income to the General Conference, where it is still handled in accordance with the basic limitations mentioned above.)
(b) Eight per cent of the tithe income of local and union conferences is appropriated to the support of the Sustentation Fund. Although we shall discuss this fund more fully in a later paragraph, it should be noted that our institutions also pay for the support of sustentation beneficiaries. Thus even the retired literature evangelist or sanitarium worker is not supported from the tithe.
(c) Under God's hand, our conferences, especially in North America, have been greatly blessed in increasing tithe. In view of this trend and the pressing needs in all the overseas fields, and in many special situations in North America as well, a plan was evolved back in 1926 for a special apportionment of tithe that provides for the conferences to contribute to the world budget an additional percentage based on their annual tithe income. The large majority of the conferences in North America now appropriate the maximum percentage—20 per cent—for this purpose. (This plan, with some modifications, has also been adopted in a number of the overseas divisions.)
(d) There are various smaller apportionments of tithe too—the radio and television budgets are made up in part by the tithe from the local conferences; many of the unions call for a percentage of tithe income to assist in the support of college ministerial courses; a fund for the assistance of smaller conferences is maintained in part by contributions of tithe money.
All these plans put quite a different light on the matter of tithe income available to the local conference. Adding the percentages in the four preceding paragraphs, it is evident that the moderate-sized conference in North America passes on at least 40 per cent of its total tithe income for various needs outside its own field, and retains for its own needs about 60 per cent or less.
Thus is the great stream of worldly wealth of our church initiated, and thus it grows. From thousands of churches large and small, from hundreds of thousands of individual believers, it flows in—dollars and dinars, piasters and pesos, francs and florins, shillings and schillings. As much of the water flowing toward the sea is absorbed along the way, to refresh the woodlands and fertile fields of the countryside, so a great deal of the bounty of our people is used in the support and strengthening of the work in the areas where it originates. Yet, in the providence of God, there is a vast river of means flowing on, from the local conferences, through the unions and divisions of the world field, to the treasury of the General Conference.
(To be continued)
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