OneClimbs commenter Chip recently asked:
“…just curious if you have any insight or analogy for tithing. I love the whole symbolism of climbing the mount that you apply to principles. So was just curious if you had examples or ideas on tithing like that.”
I realized that after all these years and closing in on 400 posts, I haven’t said anything about tithes. There are several topics that I have intentionally not referenced at this point because I’ve been pondering them for years and I don’t have anything to say or share on those things as of yet; they are still growing in the garden.
Tithes, surplus, and consecration
There is a lot to say concerning tithes and the principle seems to practiced differently at different times. For instance, KUTV reported recently about the way tithing was understood in the early LDS church:
Current LDS leaders say interest is typically interpreted as “income.” But that’s not what it has always meant.
“Bishop Partridge understood ‘one tenth of all their interest’ annually to mean 10 percent of what Saints would earn in interest if they invested their net worth for a year,” Harper wrote. He cited an example from Partridge who was reportedly in the room when Smith received the revelation.
“If a man is worth a $1000, the interest on that would be $60, and one/10. of the interest will be of course $6. thus you see the plan,” Partridge wrote in a letter just days after the revelation was received.
That information expanded on some of what I already knew from reading the seven simple and clear verses in D&C 119. “Tithing” in those verses was not 10%, it was “all their surplus property” and after that, one-tenth (which is kind of another ‘tithe’) of all their interest annually as indicated by Bishop Partridge. It is important to remember that the members were also trying to live the law of consecration around this time as well.
There’s actually nothing stopping us from living the law of consecration today if we so choose to:
[We] should live strictly by the principles of the United Order insofar as they are embraced in present church practices such as the fast offering, tithing and the welfare activities. Through these practices we could as individuals, if we wished to do so, implement in our own lives all the basic principles of the United Order…. What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations. (Marion G. Romney, Improvement Era, June 1966, p. 537.)
I guarantee that consecration combined with the old way of tithing would require much more from those that have larger surpluses and much less from those that have very little.
The priest class
This is a pretty hotly debated topic and I’ve engaged in some of the discussions on this topic in forums. There are many that cry “shenanigans” and accuse the church of over-tithing people so to speak. There have never been a shortage of those in the ‘priest class’ throughout history who have glutted themselves unjustly off the money of the people, even promising salvation if they only turned over their money ‘to God’.
This kind of rhetoric, to a degree, is even found in some LDS discourse. In the Book of Mormon, this is also one of the exact things Korihor accuses Alma and the priests of doing to their people:
“And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges.” (Alma 30:27)
While Alma and his priests were not guilty of this accusation, we have many cases in the Book of Mormon where we see a ‘priest class’ guilty of that exact thing. In more recent times, the meaning of tithing has been adapted to an across the board 10% of your “increase.” Simply put, whatever you are blessed with, 10% returns to the Lord. While this is far easier to understand, I’ve seen many argue that this isn’t the way tithing was intended to be implemented originally.
I think there’s a valid point to be made as to how this affects many of those that are poor and struggling. 10% feels like quite a bit to require of a person barely getting by and I know because I’ve been there (more on this shortly).
So what’s the truth? Is the Church just taking advantage of people, or do critics have it wrong, and perhaps there is some truth mixed in between.
A personal experience with tithes
Just like most people, I have my opinions on this subject. However, I have also had some experiences with the principle tithing and I’d like to share one of them in the hope that it can be of use to someone else out there.
This is a true story that happened over the course of several months during the first year of our marriage. Here is a short account from my personal journal dated Nov 29, 2003:
I have lacked in my faith. It’s been hard with money lately. It’s been slowly slipping through our fingers to almost nothing; and with Thanksgiving and the holidays approaching, there didn’t seem to be enough time to earn the money to pay the rent, not even close. Hundreds of dollars short. I gave a lesson on tithing the other Sunday, it helped a lot, but… I still wondered. Can the Lord help this time? How can he, it’s too late and I don’t feel I’ve done enough to earn a blessing. I tried to believe “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” I feared, I doubted just a bit. But we paid our tithes in full and I still waivered in the promise of Malachi. How soon we forget the ultimate power of God. He heard our prayers and poured us out a blessing and our cup is truly running over! Money came from everywhere this week, hundreds of dollars, some from generous job offers and from late wedding gifts. We not only have enough for all this month’s rent, but almost half of next months! I testify that the law of tithing is true, I pray that I will never doubt again. I never saw this blessing coming. I still am in a state of shock; and yet it’s true. It’s a miracle!
A skeptic could suggest that this was just one fluke coincidence that happened to coincide with a tough spot I was in. Not so, this didn’t just happen one time, it happened six times for six months in a row.
We struggled a lot that first year, I even remember one Friday night where we had literally $1.97 to our names. We were determined to go on a date but didn’t even have enough money for two tickets at the dollar cinema! So we went out and searched a couple of parking lots like a gas station and a hospital looking for change. We found the three pennies we needed to buy our tickets and though popcorn wasn’t available, we were kind of delighted in our little accomplishment.
Now for the rest of the story. Christmas was approaching and my wife and I had hardly any money at all, maybe a couple hundred or so from odd jobs. The month went by with hardly anything rolling in and we needed a couple hundred. We were ashamed to ask for a handout and wanted to earn our money. Only a couple days away from Christmas made receiving any more money seem hopeless again. To pay tithes would leave us short and our faith was being tested.
Fortunately we landed a job delivering phone books, so my wife and I packed them up and went out to deliver them to earn $150. After we finished, we went back to collect our money. We were the last ones in line and they were writing out checks. The lady looked at us and said, “So $150 for you two then?” but something changed and she said, “Well, since it’s Christmas, we’ll make that $350 here you go!” To us this was just incredible, it was exactly what we needed and almost to the dollar! We could pay our rent and return tithes to the Lord.
It didn’t get easier though, the next month, and the month after had us in the same circumstances. At the last minute some miracle would deliver us but then doubt would creep in again and again. Throughout this experience I found myself pondering the scriptures, particularly Ether chapter 3. I read it every day for a whole month because it felt like something in there was trying to tell me something.
I remembered something I learned from my good friend and Institute teacher, Bro. King. He was talking about Ether 3 one day and pointed out some interesting thoughts about the scene where the Lord is touching the stones.
He asked us to think about the setting. Where was the brother of Jared looking? Were the stones just piled up, or were they in a line or a circle? How many stones did the Lord touch before the brother of Jared saw his finger? What was going through his mind as the stones were lighting up? What was the level of his faith like before the first stone was touched, then after the first stone, the second, the fifth, etc.
It was then that I realized something. These months that were passing in my life were like those stones. The hand of the Lord was touching them and I saw the light but I had not yet seen his hand, so to speak. This increased my faith, because I knew God was intervening in my life and blessing me even as he had blessed the brother of Jared. So I took courage and put all my trust in God, I refused to allow myself to doubt or fear and I put it all in his hands.
Then as I pondered Ether 3, a wonderful realization came to mind as I read the following verses:
9 And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
10 And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
11 And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?
12 And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.
13 And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
The brother of Jared asks boldly for God to show himself and I thought this was pretty bold at first, perhaps even bordering on inappropriate to be commanding God in this way. But then I remembered the brother of Jared’s words earlier in verse 2 where he says, “O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.”
The brother of Jared had a desire to see God and he knew that he was commanded to tell God his desires so this is what was going on. The Lord gives a condition in response to the question and it’s an interesting one. He doesn’t ask the brother of Jared if he believes the words he is speaking, he asks if he believes the words he hasn’t even spoken yet, the words he “shall” speak.
This seems like a tricky question and it stumped me for a long time. But then I realized what the question was all about when I examined the brother of Jared’s response. He doesn’t focus on the words which ‘shall’ be spoken and say something foolish like, “Well, how can I believe your words if I haven’t even heard them yet?” No, the brother of Jared was much wiser, he knew that he could believe the words because he trusted the one speaking.
He cannot lie
He replied, “Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.” Now think about how powerful that is. Too often we focus on the words, we either trust or distrust them based on how challenging or easy they are don’t we? Shouldn’t our focus instead be cultivating a relationship with the one speaking the words? This idea of knowing that God cannot lie seemed like I heard it somewhere before, and I had, I found the reference quickly in Enos 1:5-6.
“And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.”
Note that the guilt was not swept away until Enos recognized his knowledge that God could not lie, again, his focus was on the character of the speaker and not the words themselves.
Lastly, note that the Lord says, “Because though knowest these things…” what things? Well, knowing that God couldn’t lie, understanding that dynamic of his character, results in him continuing, “ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence…” Wow, those are some powerful words! Knowing those things enables you to be redeemed from the fall?
In the third Lecture on Faith, six essential characteristics for us to understand the Character of God are presented and number four is:
“Fourthly, That he is a God of truth and cannot lie.” (vs.16)
Now that language looks like it is pulled directly from Ether 3 if you ask me, although similar language is found in Titus 1:2, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;” Lecture 3 continues in verse 22:
“And again, the idea that he is a God of truth and cannot lie, is equally as necessary to the exercise of faith in him, as the idea of his unchangeableness. For without the idea that he was a God of truth and could not lie, the confidence necessary to be placed in his word in order to the exercise of faith in him, could not exist. But having the idea that he is not man that he can lie, it gives power to the minds of men to exercise faith in him.”
The hand of the Lord
I pondered all these things and went forth with great faith and expectations. Though I knew God to a degree, I could not say that I had the same knowledge of the brother of Jared and Enos, my faith was weak in that respect. Nevertheless, my will and determination drove me forward, I only believed in these words of hope but I acted to prove them.
Month by month, stone by stone as it were these miracles followed, miracles we would never have seen or known if we were not poor and struggling. Then on the sixth month, the sixth stone, the veil of my mind was parted and I saw the hand of the Lord. It was enough, and I learned something very important about tithes.
It HURT to give that 10% each month, it was a burden. But if I didn’t endure that burden I wouldn’t know what I know now and because I did, I understand that my life is in the hands of God and I no longer fear any hardship. I do not fear going hungry or naked because I know that God keeps his promises. We can argue all day long about what tithing is and should be, but obedience to the principle in it’s current form opened the windows of heaven to me and poured me out a great blessing and I still don’t have enough room to receive it.
I don’t have all the answers, but I know that God is trying to help us get to a place where we do not fear the loss of material things, where we do not rely upon the fickleness of economies, weather, and opportunities. He is our God and he clothes the fields and provides for the sparrows. Obedience to any principle is a path to understanding for ourselves the character of God.
I love the gospel because I love God and I see it as a path to know him better. Where I once felt blinded by a mist of darkness, I now see that I’m climbing a mountain, where once I saw trials and obstacles, I see hand and footholds placed so that I may continue upward.
The truth is that we are all climbing the mountain and there is a purpose to it that we will come to understand if we can but endure by faith.