Sending tithe to independent ministries

A Union president shares his views on independent ministries, tithes sent to them, the rumor mills, and how they affect the ministry of the church.

Cyril Miller is the president of Southwestern Union Conference, Burleson, Texas.

Most independent ministries are not ministries at all. They are private organizations!

That's right! They are private organizations owned and operated by a few private incorporators who primarily advance their own personal views and interests.

Also, a number of these private organizations circulate publications that criticize the church and malign its leaders with a barrage of false, misleading, or even lying accusations.

Why? Some think it is for the sole purpose of generating tithe and offering support from our members whose love, confidence, and loyalty for the church are strained. Others say not so; but it is happening anyhow.

Is the church at war?

Yes, many of the so-called independent ministries do nothing but attack and harass our pastors or conference leaders and depreciate our educational and medical institutions.

Recently one very loyal and loving pastor confessed that both his congregations had several independent ministry supporters, and they were depressing him and making him physically ill.

He said, "The pressure is too great! Their attitudes produce tension and strife, and they in turn give our church very little financial support." He sounded like he wanted to leave and find a better place to serve.

How many independent ministries are there?

The General Conference has identified nearly 800 private organizations, most of which seek our members' financial support. I sincerely wonder why some of our good church members send them God's tithe and do not support their local church and conference. It is almost like a conspiracy.

Again, most of the so-called independent ministries are not ministries at all.

True gospel ministry extends loving care to heal the hurts of people. However, most of these private-interest organizations do not!

What do they do for you? Almost nothing! Do they call when you are discouraged? No! Do they visit when you are sick? No! Do they support your Pathfinders or youth camp? No! Do they subsidize your church school? No! Do they pay your pastor's salary? No! Do they support your academies and college? No!

They won't even be around to conduct your funeral when you die! Well... what do they do, anyway?

How much tithe do private organizations receive each year?

Enough for the General Conference to cut back its home and overseas budgets $8 million this year and call home some missionaries.

In addition, North American conferences have been forced to cut back their budgets and reduce pastors and teachers drastically. One local field has reduced one third of its workers during the past three or four years. The church is suffering.

Last year alone, one private organization received $1.6 million. Yet it spent $1.8 million. So, they face grave financial problems and are intensifying their publications of outlandish criticisms of the church to raise more tithe and offerings from our members.

Obviously, the more sensational their charges, such as pastors using hypnotism in the pulpit, the more money they seem to raise. This is the same method used by certain radio-TV evangelists.

They are using the church and its leaders as a whipping post to stir up our people emotionally and draw increased financial support. When we respond to such tactics, we become pawns in their hands to be manipulated and misled. All this undermines the church.

Someone must speak out.

Yes, I know these are strong statements, but someone must speak out. Someone must help our members think it through for themselves. Why? Because the future of our church and many precious souls are seriously in peril.

Another former pastor who challenged our denomination's doctrinal teachings and the gift of prophecy received more than $5 million in tithes and offerings during one calendar year. That's a lot more than many conferences receive annually and enough to live in luxury for a lifetime.

Another group, which regularly mails its two-color publication to our homes, was taking in $200,000 to $300,000 just a few years ago. And today I am sure the figure is considerably higher, because the group is very aggressive and is attracting more attention.

What do private organizations do with God's holy tithe?

We do not know, but U.S. federal law requires private nonprofit corporations to file annual 990 IRS forms to report their financial operations. I also believe donors have a right to know.

Again, how much tithe do the nearly 800 private organizations receive each year? No one but God and the IRS actually knows. Obviously, some re search could reveal the facts. I think it would be good to know. Don't you?

Could it be that some may be person ally profiting and perhaps becoming rich as their private organizations take multiplied millions away from God's store house each year? Many think this is possible.

What difference does it make? Some members, standing on the side lines, may say, "What difference does it make?" But those who love the church say, "It makes a lot of difference." Our already overworked pastors must now serve additional churches, and that's not all.

Conference subsidies to our church schools, academies, and colleges are not able to keep pace with our higher than national inflation rate in the field of education. As a result, tuition must be raised disproportionately each year, and it is pricing Christian education out of reach.

What can we do?

First, when others approach you personally or by mail with the latest rumor or scandal about your church, beware. They are spreading deadly poison that is destroying your church. And I fear many who are being shaken out of the church will eventually lose their souls.

Second, when you ask, "Have you heard?" or "What about this or that?" recognize the "stirring the pot," and the possibility that you are a partner with them in creating suspicion and loss of credibility.

Third, and most important, please join those of us who are praying that God will lift us out of this tragic rut and move us forward to fulfill our mission to prepare for the coming of Jesus.

My greatest concern is for the newly baptized members and our youth, who are easy targets for the deceitful and devastating attacks of certain private organizations that destroy confidence in the church and its leadership.

Private organizations challenge God's remnant church.

Let me share an experience that illustrates their bold, determined efforts to secure God's tithe. One leader of a private organization came to my office to protest one of my articles that stated that all of God's tithe should be placed in God's storehouse through the local church treasury.

I asked him why he believed his and other private organizations should benefit from God's tithe. He answered, "Because our conferences are using it incorrectly." I asked, "What do you mean?" He said, "Davenport."

Knowing it wasn't so, I asked, "Can you name a conference that has used tithe for Davenport investments?" It soon became obvious that he could not name a single one, because conferences don't use tithe that way.

Then I responded with concern, "Is it honest to say that Davenport is a reason for not returning tithe to the conference when you cannot name even one conference that has used God's tithe for that purpose?" He didn't answer.

Then I said, "What else? What other reason do you have for our members not returning tithe to the conference store house?" He said, "Ford preachers in your pulpits." Again I asked, "Can you name any?" He couldn't identify one, not even one.

So I asked again, "Is that honest?" Again, he did not answer. Then I said, "I do not understand how you can say there are 'new theology' pastors in our pulpits when you cannot name any."

Strangely enough, this didn't seem to alter his opinion. And so it is, religious bigotry and fanaticism always believes what it wants to believe regardless of the truth.

And now I ask you, how can you or anyone else believe such things when they obviously are not true? Could it be, as the Bible says, some will be given over to strong delusions so they will actually believe lies? I hope not!

What about celebration churches?

I have encountered similar experiences with criticisms against celebration churches and charges that our pastors are using hypnotism in the pulpit because they received Lab I and II training for winning souls and reclaiming backsliders. Needless to say, this hypnotism allegation is utterly ridiculous.

Actually, I know of only four true self-proclaimed celebration churches in all the North America Division, one on the East Coast and three out West.

Yet the rumor mongers make it sound like celebration churches are spreading like a plague and have become a major problem to Adventism.

I personally attended the most castigated celebration church in California and found it considerably different from what all the misleading critics claimed was happening. Still some believe what they want to believe, even when it isn't true.

A retired pastor and his wife said to me, "We draw the line when it comes to dancing in the aisles." I answered, "That isn't happening." Yet they were strongly aroused and resisted my statement. Later they attended this famous celebration church, saw for themselves that dancing in the aisles did not occur, and changed their minds.

Also, a leading layman met me in the church lobby one Sabbath to ask, "What has happened to ... ? When he was our pastor he did not even lean toward celebration worship."

I replied, "Do not believe what you read in the independent publications. They are very misleading." Then I suggested, "The next time you visit out there, go and see for yourself."

Later, when I met him at camp meeting, he said, "Brother Miller, the celebration church wasn't anything like they said it was." So I said, "You need to help others understand and expose the false fund-raising propaganda coming from certain independent organizations."

Do pastors practice mind control?

It is grossly misleading and downright sinful to say that our pastors are practicing hypnotism and mind control from their pulpits. Our dedicated pastors who received Lab I and II training were not taught these things at all. May God help all of us to be factual and honest.

If you meet someone who believes these absurd allegations against our pas tors, why not ask this person, "Can you name any?" His/her answer will be either silence or no! Then ask, "Is it honest for you or anyone else to repeat such non sense just because you read it in a very unreliable independent publication?"

Friends, when we meet people who deliberately raise serious questions about such nonsense, it is a dead giveaway that they are being adversely influenced by those seeking financial support for their private organizations.

You see, leaders of independent ministries have discovered that the more they condemn the church, the more money they receive. And today they are straining hard, even to the point of absurdity, to cook up new and more sensational issues to harp on! So please be careful, and do not be fooled by the deceptions of their psychological onslaughts.

All of us should earnestly ask God to help us keep our beautiful love relationship with Jesus Christ and His wonderful church. Some obviously are being shaken out of the church by these extremists operating outside the church.

True or false shepherds?

Are you aware that the speakers, writers, and leaders of the so-called independent ministries are not currently licensed or credentialed ministers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Also, some very prominent ones have been removed from church membership! They are certainly not role models or safe leaders to follow.

You see, the General Conference does not allow anyone not employed by the church to be licensed to preach or teach in our churches and schools. (This does not include local church elders.) So you can understand why some are so adamant against our pastors and denominational leaders.

Yes, they are on the outside by choice. Yet if they have a valid ministry, they should come inside to give support and not war against the church.

Private organizations do not give financial reports to donors.

Are you aware that these private organizations, previously called independent ministries, are not audited by the General Conference Auditing Service, as all of our conferences and their educational and other institutions are?

They probably are not even audited by an outside auditing firm as required for our Adventist health-care institutions. May I ask, is it safe to give your tithe and offerings to private organizations that operate totally in the dark?

You see, none of these so-called independent ministries reveal how much they pay themselves and their associates, as our conferences do! Who knows what they are doing with the millions of tithe dollars they receive?

The church is an open book.

By contrast, our conferences give monthly annual financial reports so that elected people from our churches and conferences may know and understand everything that happens and give reports to the churches when needed.

Our conferences also disclose how much money each employee receives for salary, educational, health benefits, and travel expenses.

We are fully open and transparent. This gives our members confidence in the credibility of our duly constituted church organizations. Truly, we are accountable to our members and conference organizations.

Checks and balances.

What controls do independent minis tries have to keep self-serving and other financial abuses from developing in their private organizations? How do you know such things are not already occurring? They are accountable to no one!

Does God approve of His tithe being given to a few pious, extremely critical, and divisive persons who operate independently and totally on their own judgment without accountability? No, of course not!

Neither should anyone with sound judgment take such a position. Such a course would not be safe, and further more it would not be right. God doesn't work that way. He never has, and never will.

The Sabbath and tithing are a test for God's people.

Do you think God is pleased when we knowingly misdirect our worship to some other day than His holy Sabbath? All true Seventh-day Adventists will give only one answer—no! The Sabbath is a test of our loyalty to God.

Likewise, do you think God is pleased when we as Seventh-day Adventists knowingly misdirect the use of His holy tithe to any other place than His divinely appointed conference storehouse? Again, all true Seventh-day Adventists will give only one answer—no! Tithing is a test of our honesty as God's stewards.

What about Ellen White?

Didn't Ellen White regularly give her tithe to independent ministries? No! Neither did she advocate it. Read the article on Ellen White and her tithe published in the Adventist Review, November 7, 1991, and you will discover the truth on this subject.

Please do not be misled by just part of the story. You must have the whole picture to understand it fully.

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Cyril Miller is the president of Southwestern Union Conference, Burleson, Texas.

April 1992

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