When it comes to the returning of tithe, is the storehouse the local conference or the local church? Some believe the storehouse is the local church. The world church considers the local conference/mission as the storehouse. Which is biblical? Unfortunately, the Bible does not provide a clear answer. A review of ancient Israel's usage of the storehouse principle can help us ascertain what latter-day Israel's practice ought to be.
The storehouse in the Old Testament
The earliest reference regarding the remittance of tithe is that of Abraham returning tithe to the high priest Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20). In this case Abraham considered Melchizedek to be the storehouse.
Before crossing the Jordan River, the Israelites were instructed by the Lord to return all tithes to Him (Lev. 27:30, 32) and He would "give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting" (Num. 18:21, NIV). The Levites also were instructed to tithe (verse 28).
After the conquest of Canaan, the Levites, given the fact that they were to "have no allotment in their land," nor "any share" (Num. 18:20)* lived in scattered areas, usually near one of the 48 specially designated cities (Num. 35:6). Soon after the crossing of the Jordan the Israelites pitched the tabernacle at Gilgal, then later at Shechem, Shiloh, Nob, and Gibeon. All male Israelites were enjoined to come and worship at least three times annually (Ex. 23:17) and were instructed to bring their offerings with them for "no one shall appear ... empty-handed" before the Lord (verse 15). Only at the place designated by the Lord could sacrifices be offered (Deut. 12:11).
Those who view the local church as the storehouse may cite Deuteronomy 14:22- 29 as support. This is seen by Jewish scholars as the "second tithe."1 Ellen White concurs with this interpretation. Just as there were many ceremonial sabbaths but only one holy weekly Sabbath, so also there were other tithes along with the sacred tithe used only for Levitical support.2
Period of the monarchy
Early in his reign David brought the ark of God to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6). His son Solomon constructed a beautiful temple in Jerusalem that became a permanent place for the storehouse (1 Kings 6). With the passing of time the practice of returning tithes and offerings to one of the nearest 48 designated cities was discontinued. It appears that all Israelites returned the required tithes and offerings directly to the Temple storehouse.
Note the practice in vogue during Hezekiah's reign. "He commanded the people who lived in Jerusalem to give the portion due to the priests and the Levites, so that they might devote themselves to the law of the Lord. As soon as the word spread, the people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. The people of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of the dedicated things that had been consecrated to the Lord their God, and laid them in heaps. In the third month they began to pile up the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month. When Hezekiah and the officials came and saw the heaps, they blessed the Lord and his people Israel. Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites about the heaps. The chief priest Azariah, who was of the house of Zadok, answered him, 'Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat and have plenty to spare; for the Lord has blessed his people, so that we have this great supply left over.' Then Hezekiah commanded them to prepare store-chambers in the house of the Lord; and they prepared them. Faithfully they brought in the contributions, the tithes and the dedicated things" (2 Chron. 31:4-12).
This passage suggests that after the division of the 12 tribes, the 48 specially designated cities with the Levites living near them, no longer functioned as the cities had during the period of the judges. Now with different conditions in the cities, it was more expedient to return the tithes and offerings directly to the Temple in Jerusalem.
After the Babylonian captivity, under Nehemiah's reformatory leadership, he reintroduced the tithing and remittance systems as practiced earlier. "And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse" (Neh. 10:38, 39).3 "On that day men were appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the law for the priests and for the Levites from the fields belonging to the towns; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered" (Neh. 12:44).
Later, between Nehemiah's two terms as governor, the people lapsed into apostasy and stopped returning the tithe. Upon his return, Nehemiah remonstrated with both leaders and people for neglecting the house of God (Neh. 13:11). They repented and re instated the tithing system (verse 12). It was during this time that God, through the prophet Malachi, called on His people to reform in both corporate and individual lifestyles. "Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, 'How are we robbing you?' In your tithes and offerings" (Mal. 3:8). Then follows God's command and promise: "Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing" (verse 10). Notice that the words "storehouse" and "my house" refer to the same location.
Where was the storehouse? Clearly it was the Temple in Jerusalem.
The thrust of Malachi's words and the people's understanding of them was clear. Both understood the word "storehouse" to refer to the sanctuary, the Temple in Jerusalem. There may be some validity in the argument that the remittance locally of tithe to the Levites took place in small villages and towns at certain times in the past. But at the time of Nehemiah and Malachi, it was unequivocally understood that Malachi was referring to the Temple in Jerusalem as the storehouse.
New Testament practice
Only 11 verses in the New Testament re fer to tithe. Not one of them gives any in formation regarding the storehouse. Thus we are unable to ascertain how early Christian believers practiced the "storehouse" principle. The New Testament does tell us that Paul collected funds from some churches for the poor believers in Jerusalem suffering from famine (2 Cor. 8:19). Apart from a few instances about offerings there is no information on collecting the tithe. Hence we are left to rely on the Old Testament for understanding the meaning of "storehouse" and its usage.
Two years before the organization of the General Conference, a small group of leaders and believers convened in Battle Creek, April 26-29,1861, to prepare for the incorporation of the publishing association. Prior to this meeting many members felt that the time had come to consider de nominational organization as well. (There were many who opposed formal organization of the church.) Thus during the publishing conference it was voted that the nine ministers present write an address for the Review and Herald on that subject.
The outcome was a carefully prepared conference address entitled "Organization," signed by J. H. Waggoner, Joseph Bates, James White, J. B. Frisbie, J. N. Loughborough, M.E. Cornell, E. W. Shortridge, Moses Hull, and John Byington. It set forth the basic principles that have guided the denomination ever since. The writers proposed (1) a more thorough organization of local churches; (2) proper organization of "state or district conferences," which would grant ministerial credentials; and (3) the holding of "general conferences" that would be "fully entitled to the name" as representing the will of the churches. The article appeared in the June 11,1861, Review and Herald.
The local church would appoint elders and deacons. At the state level, the conference would authorize the licenses of ministers to preach, pay the ministers, hold title of church properties, and receive the tithe. The general conference was to be a convening of delegates of all state conferences and reflect the will and thinking of all the local churches.
By October 1861 the first conference of the future Seventh-day Adventist Church was organized the Michigan Conference. One of the first items of business was to arrange a fixed salary for the ministers of the Michigan Conference. It also issued letters of credentials that were renewed annually. Funding came from the members via the churches composing the new conference. This resolution in essence had the practical effect of making the conference the storehouse.
Two years later, in 1863, the General Conference was formally organized. At the same meeting a model constitution for state conferences was prepared and recommended to the delegates for all state conferences. Article III of the model constitution said that funds were to be raised by the Systematic Benevolence plan and other gifts, and reported regularly to the conference treasurer. This article in forms us that our pioneers intended that the source of funding for the local conference should be the members of constituent churches of the state conference. Thus the tithe and other offerings would form the base for conference finances. This fund was to be used for the support of evangelistic/ministerial work.
The General Conference work was at first financed by irregular appropriations from the state conferences. In 1878 the General Conference Committee recommended that conferences pay a tithe on their income to the General Conference. Later, when union conferences were organized in 1901, the conferences paid a tithe of their income to the unions, which in turn paid tithe to the General Conference.4
It must be noted that local churches did not employ and pay the ministers. Nor did they grant licenses and credentials. It was the local conference that assumed these responsibilities. Today local churches are not legal entities, but the local conference association is. Churches join together to form a conference/association that serves their needs as a legally recognized body to hire and supervise the ministry, to pay the ministers' salaries, and to collect tithe and offerings from the churches to fund evangelistic endeavors. The local churches, having no legal status, delegated to the lo cal conference the responsibility of employing individual ministers. At present newly organized local churches are accepted into "the sisterhood of churches" in the local conference based on these same conditions. This is done at regularly called constituency meetings.
Ellen White's understanding
What was Mrs. White's understanding of "storehouse"? Very little can be found in her writings about the "storehouse" principle, simply because it was not an issue. How ever, note what she says: "If our churches will take their stand upon the Lord's word and be faithful paying their tithe into His treasury, more laborers will be encouraged to take up ministerial work." 5 The context clearly suggests that by "treasury" she meant the local conference.
Mention should be made of a time when Dr. Kellogg was returning to the local conference all the sanitarium workers' tithe and was contemplating discontinuing this practice. Mrs. White was greatly distressed at this. "For him to separate the tithe from the treasury," she wrote, "would be a necessity I greatly dread." 6
Advantages of the conference storehouse
To suggest that the local church become the storehouse is possible. But at what cost? It would seriously disrupt the organizational and governance structure of the denomination, as we now know it. It would, in all probability, destroy one of the most remarkable systems of church financing witnessed in the past century and a half. The world mission program, as it now exists, would cease to function.
We are grateful our Lord led early Adventist leaders to establish the present system of church finance. By adopting the concept of the local conference as the store house, a small band of believers laid the necessary foundational financial support for the miraculous development of our church into one of the most remarkable world missionary movements in modern times. It is based on the biblical principle of returning an honest tithe and designating the local conference as the storehouse. Ellen White never disagreed with this procedure, a practice paralleling nearly 50 years of her ministry. Mrs. White upheld the principle of designating the local conference as the storehouse. If it had been morally wrong, she would certainly have had much to say to right that wrong. But this is not the case.
Our discussion leads to the following conclusions:
1. Scripture teaches that tithe is to be returned to the storehouse.
2. Tithe remittance practices always involved either the tabernacle storehouse or the Temple storehouse in Jerusalem.
3. In the Old Testament the location of the storehouse was not always permanent, because the tabernacle storehouse moved from place to place until it was located permanently in Jerusalem.
4. In the place of the Temple storehouse in Jerusalem, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in general assembly decides the lo cation of the storehouse.
5. Actions taken by our founders to designate the local conference as the store house were within the will of God. No inspired message came from Mrs. White to contradict this action. She in fact wrote that church members should obey the voice of the church because Christ has delegated to His church the right of decision. 7
6. There is no prohibition in Scripture to designate either the local conference or the local church as the storehouse, and from the inception of the organized church, the local conference has been designated the storehouse.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture
passages in this article are from the New Revised
1 See "Tithe in Rabbinical Literature," Jewish
2 See Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets
(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub.
Assn., 1958), p. 530. Deuteronomy 14:28
indicates there was even a "third tithe."
3 These verses give the impression that the
only tithe brought to Jerusalem was the Levitical
tithe and that the rest was stored in the local
villages. However, Nehemiah 12:44 is not as clear
as we would like; the meaning is not certain.
"The portions required by the law for the priests
and for the Levites" were brought to the Temple.
These portions included the tithe, as suggested
in verse 47: "All Israel gave the daily portions
for the singers and the gatekeepers. They set
apart that which was for the Levites; and the
Levites set apart that which was for the descen
dants of Aaron." All these tithes were stored in
the temple. Perhaps Nehemiah 10:38 is simply
saying the Levites brought their own tithe of the
tithes to the temple, and the people brought
theirs to the local storage places in the villages.
The other passages indicate that all tithe went
to Jerusalem for storage.
4 Information in the preceding six paragraphs
graphs is from "Organization, Development of,
in the Seventh-day Adventist Church" and
"Tithe," Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia
(Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub.
Assn., 1996), vol 11, pp. 258-270, 778-780.
5 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church
(Mountain View, Calif: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1948), vol. 9, p. 249.
6 Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol 7,
7 See "The Unity of the Church," Bible Echo, Sept. 1998