Stewardship and character

The greatest days for the evangelistic wit­ness of the church are just ahead. Let us by precept and practice prepare our members for their part in the great advance when the message of God will lighten the whole earth with His glory. Faithfulness on the part of each will supply the needed funds for the advance of God's work. And let us never forget that it is upon a faithful people that God will pour out His Spirit in the showers of the latter rain.

THE acid test of a man's character is his relationship to his money. "If you know how a man deals with his money, how he gets it, spends it, keeps it, shares it, you know one of the most important things about him," says Henry Taylor. Blessing and cursing are bound up with our money, and of all the many things that stand between a man and his God, this is one of the most vital, "for the love of money is the root of all evil." A minister, therefore, to be faithful to his flock must deal with this question because it is so definitely related to the spiritual nature of those under his care.

In the twenty-nine recorded parables of our Lord, thir­teen refer in some way to money. When He spoke of talents He was referring to a denomination of money, or, as we would say, $12,000. All too frequently the word "talent" is turned into an abstract noun and we think of a talented man as one who has many gifts or abilities. But originally a talented man was a man who possessed money or had the ability for making money. Some do have special ability in this line. But wherever a man's sphere of service may lie, he is a steward of his Master's goods, and God holds him accountable for the use of that which He has given. The New Testament sets forth that principle clearly. It is "ac­cording to that a man hath" and "as he may prosper" that our responsibility as stewards is determined. It is this that makes the principle of tithing so equitable.

From the earliest days of our denominational history the tithe has been a well-recognized principle. It was first emphasized under the title of "systematic benevolence." That phrase may or may not have originated with us, because as far back as 1858 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian denomination set up a special committee for the consideration of Christian stewardship, and when the report was rendered it was under the title of Systematic Benevolence Committee. One or two of the statements sound familiar to us, such as "Every man is a steward of God in the use and management of the talents, time, and substance which God has entrusted to him." Then again emphasizing the importance of this trust, another state­ment says it is "for God's glory and the good of the world." The report also takes cog­nizance of the spirit of covetousness so nat­ural to the human heart, emphasizing that if one were to "neglect or slightly perform at his own pleasure" this ministry of giving, it would reveal that such a person could not be a consistent Christian.

Just about that time, or perhaps a little before, the founders of our movement were studying the whole question of church fi­nance, and some were under the strong con­viction that tithing was the principle the Lord had laid down for the support of His work. Inasmuch as these had no relation­ship whatsoever to the above-mentioned committee or to any of the other move­ments of Protestantism, for in those days we were much misunderstood by the great ma­jority, it is therefore self-evident that our founders received their convictions not from others but directly from the Word of God. Actually, Adventists were being criti­cized as legalists, and on two counts mainly —their Sabbathkeeping and their practice of tithing. A few voices here and there among the other churches, however, were emphasizing the importance of tithing. In more recent days, instead of being censured for this so-called Mosaic principle, Advent­ists are being eulogized.

We were interested to note in a recent publication, The Story of Stewardship in the United States of America, that the author, George A. E. Salstrand, Th.D., claims that Thomas Kane, a Chicago businessman, was the pioneer among modern Christian tithers and says that in 1876 this man did not know of another tither in the Christian church. While we esteem this good man for his earnestness, yet it is a matter of record that more than a decade earlier Adventists had accepted the tithing system not only as something advocated by a few sincere people but also as a principle and doctrine of the church. Actually, we were pioneers in this field of study, and what wonderful blessing the Lord has poured upon His people in fulfillment of His promise! Although many other Prot­estant denominations today are emphasizing the tithe as a divinely appointed means of support of the ministry, yet many of these suggest that tithe may be used for offerings in general, and for worthy causes in both the church and the community. Adventists, on the other hand, have from their earliest days taught that the tithe is sacred; it is God's money and not theirs, and is for the support of the ministry and that only. The Scriptures speak of tithes and offerings, thereby making a clear distinction.

The January, 1959, issue of the Roman Catholic journel Information, published by the Paulist fathers, contains the article "What Protestants Can Teach Catholics," by William J. Whalen. With remarkable candor this Catholic writer emphasizes that in many ways Protestants can teach Catholics quite a lot. He suggests that Roman Catholics would benefit from the study of the Protestant "manner of church support, their use of the vernacular and congrega­tional singing, their charitable friendliness, their wholesome respect for temperance in drinking liquor, the extent of lay participa­tion in the operations of their church af­fairs, and their dedication to reading of the Word of God."—Pages 5, 6.

Then he goes on to say that Catholic "parishioners with the oddest notions about church giving often are the very ones who criticize Catholic pastors for undignified, annoying and even illegal methods of fund raising. They dislike Bingo, raffles and car­nivals, but consider fifty cents or a dollar a week to be an eminently general contribu­tion toward the support of the pastor and his assistants." Then he points out that some of "the smaller Protestant sects put most Catholics to shame when it comes to supporting their churches." He mentions us by. name, saying, "Seventh-day Adventists, for example, contribute an average of $173 per year per member. They give another $32 for foreign missions." He further says, "Many sects such as the Adventists and the Mormons insist on tithing as a membership requirement. Other denominations repre­senting 35 million Protestants are promot­ing tithing as the preferred system of church giving: the Methodists, Southern and American Baptists, Presbyterians, Dis­ciples of Christ, and others."—Ibid., p. 7.

It is interesting that three times in this article we are mentioned by name. Who among us would have thought that Advent­ists would be held up as examples by Ro­man Catholic writers! But we must not be surprised at that, for it is the Lord's pur­pose that this message shall come into prom­inence, for the whole world is soon to be lightened with the glory of God's final mes­sage to mankind.

This Roman Catholic writer continues: "Tithing need not be considered a Protes­tant monopoly. The Jews and early Chris­tians believed tithing to be the normal and just method of supporting religion. Some 20th century Catholics tithe and many others will find tithing as satisfying and re­warding as it was to their spiritual ances­tors."—Ibid. In this he certainly is correct, for in the earliest decades of Christianity, tithing was taught and practiced. True, the New Testament does not give specific in­struction as to how to pay tithe, but it defi­nitely recognizes the principle. There was no need for any specific instruction on this, because it was a well-established practice not only among the Jews but throughout even the pagan world. Tablets dating back as far as 3800 B.C. (nearly 2,000 years before Abraham) contain references to tithing. Throughout ancient Egypt the principle of tithing was a recognized duty. From Pharaoh to the humblest citizen, all were expected to give for the support of their temples, and "it seems to have been not less than a tenth, and in some cases is believed to have reached a sixth."—Henry Lansdell, The Sacred Tenth, vol. 1, p. 20.

Assyriologists, such as Professor Sayce, have traced the importance of the tithe in the support of the temple worship of both Assyria and Babylon. Both Nabonidus and Belshazzar, his son, were tithe payers, Na­bonidus paying as much as six minas of gold, or an amount equal to $2,500 just after his accession in 555 b.c. In fact, it can be said that all the kings of the Euphrates Valley—Tiglath-pileser, Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, Belshazzar, Cyrus—paid a tenth and even more for the support of their re­ligion.

The same principle was practiced among the Greeks from the earliest mythological times as is ably attested by writers and law­givers such as Hesiod and Draco. King Agamemnon, who played such an important part in the Trojan War, consecrated a tenth of his goods to the temple service, and the custom was just as definite among the Romans. Tithing was recognized from the earliest Roman times, even as far back as Romulus in 753 b.c. Many of their writers refer to the tithes and first-fruit offerings of the crops.

The tithing system, therefore, is certainly not just a Jewish custom: it was well estab­lished long before the Hebrews ever existed or became a separate nation. Consequently, there was no need for any special instruc­tion to be given by the apostles or by Christ on this matter. However, our Lord sets forth the principle with the strongest possible emphasis saying, "These ought ye to have done." And it was to the scribes and Pharisees that He was speaking, who excelled in their exactitude in the paying of tithe. Moreover, this group and the Jews in gen­eral paid not only one tithe but two tithes of their income a year, and a third tithe each third year, this latter being required for the poor. A reference in Tobit, one of the apocryphal books written about 190-175 B.C., tells us that it was the definite custom of the day that these three tithes were prac­ticed by the devout Jews.

The same practice was observed in the time of our Lord, for Josephus says, "Be­side those two tithes which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, and the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a tithe to be distributed to those that want, to women also that are widows, and to children that are orphans."—Ibid., p. 64. When the Lord spoke of tithing, saying, "These ought ye to have done," He was not only approving of the tithing principle but by His use of the word "ought" He chose the strongest Greek word possible to emphasize its importance. It is therefore a New Testament doctrine taught by both Christ and the apostles.

As ministers of the new covenant, it is our privilege and responsibility to teach and urge the importance of tithes and offerings. How can we do it most effectively? The fol­lowing suggestion may prove helpful; at least we have found it so. It is easier to enunciate the principles of tithing if we go back to the beginning. When God created Adam He placed him in a garden in the midst of which was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil* On the side of good it reminded Adam that

God was the Creator.

He owned all.

Man was the custodian of God's prop­erty.

Man's life depended on faithful obedi­ence.

On the other hand, it was a tree of the knowledge of evil. Failure to recognize God's full ownership could lead to

Covetousness

Theft

Breaking of fellowship with God

Expulsion from His presence, and fi­nally death.

These two great principles, life and death, were clearly set forth in Eden. Today we have no such tree, but exactly the same principles are emphasized. Man must learn outside of Paradise what he should have recognized inside—that God is still the owner of all, that He is the one who gives man power to get wealth, that everything we own comes from His bountiful hand, and that we are only stewards of His goods. As long as we recognize this, we will not take that which is the Lord's. Speaking to ancient Israel, God said, "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me." Failure to return to God the tithe or making wrong use of tithe is actually breaking the eighth commandment. And as James says, if we break one we are guilty of all, for all sin begins with covetousness.

Setting these great principles before our members helps them to grow in grace and understanding. Every minister, whether evangelist or pastor, administrator or edu­cator, promoter of church plans and pro­grams or leader in the field of evangelism, has the duty as well as the privilege of hold­ing up before our dear people the impor­tance of faithfulness in tithes and offerings, for this is part of the development of Chris­tian character. Paul definitely had in mind a systematic method of support when he wrote: "Let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him." Note that it says everyone. This includes each member from the oldest to the youngest, from the richest to the poorest. And nothing will develop the character of a child more than to help him to see that he too is a steward of God's goods. A pastor is wise who helps children and youth to cooperate in this part of the church program. To each of us comes the call: "Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord."

Faithfulness in the support of God's work guards against the perils of avarice. It also promotes thrift. It increases faith. It proves our sincerity and love. The Lord who gave His all for us permits even the least of His children to have a part with Him in making known His salvation. And that sal­vation is by grace and grace alone. The price of our salvation has been fully met. Nothing that we can give in tithes or offer­ings can in any way add to the great gift the Saviour has made for us. Nor do we pay tithes and offerings as a payment in any way for what the Lord has done for us, for noth­ing that we can do can add anything to His finished work of sacrifice. But our gifts and service, our faithfulness in returning to Him what is His, are expressions of our love.As we look back over the centuries and millenniums and see what others have done we could well ask, "Shall a pagan give more to his god than a Christian gives to the Lord Jesus?" Surely a pagan's religion cannot mean as much to him as Christianity does to us. To ask the question is to answer it. Then, too, our righteousness should surely exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. They were meticulous in their tithing. Should not our service and faithful­ness exceed theirs? And could one really call himself a Christian if he refuses to do the very thing that Jesus emphasized? "These ought ye to have done," said our Lord.

Leading our churches to faithfulness in the support of God's work will bring untold blessing upon the members individually and upon the church as a whole. It will be a faithful church upon which the Lord will pour out His Holy Spirit in the power of the latter rain. We cannot by our faithful­ness in tithing buy that blessing which brings all other blessings in its train, but our faithfulness is the expression of our love to Him who owns all and has given all to redeem us from covetousness, sin, and death.

The greatest days for the evangelistic wit­ness of the church are just ahead. Let us by precept and practice prepare our members for their part in the great advance when the message of God will lighten the whole earth with His glory. Faithfulness on the part of each will supply the needed funds for the advance of God's work. And let us never forget that it is upon a faithful people that God will pour out His Spirit in the showers of the latter rain.

*When presenting this publicly the use of a visual aid makes these points impressive. Picture a tree with positive and negative points on either side.

 

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September 1961

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