Mel Rees, former Stewardship Director of the General Conference.

O ne of the devil's most carefully laid and wellexecuted plans has been to destroy the sovereignty of God. His rebellion in heaven was designed not only to overthrow God's government but also to place himself in a position of power equal to that of God. "I will ascend into heaven," he boasted to himself. "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: ... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most high" (Isa. 14:13, 14).

Two of his most subtle and successful efforts to erase the image of God from the minds of men and women have been in the substitution of a false Sabbath and in the adulteration of the tithing principle.

False Sabbath substituted

By instituting a false Sabbath he has almost obliterated man's belief in God as the Creator. This unbelief has resulted in the fantastic, man-made theory of evolution. Mankind, through science socalled, has been willing to accept the most preposterous deductions in order to erase the image of God, the Creator. So well has the devil's plan succeeded that some self-styled Christians have even proposed the theory that God is dead.

The attack on the tithe

Another, but not quite so obvious, attack on God has been through a false concept of the tithing principle. By distorting the true principles involved, the devil has nearly eliminated the concept in people's minds of God as the owner of the world. His attacks have been subtle and tireless. In the past, his two most successful methods were conformity and compulsion. Today his attack is centered in creating strange attitudes regarding both the tithes and the offerings. 

To really understand why these incorrect opinions are prevalent today, one must study the history of church finance. This will show how and when these concepts were adulterated.

Adam understood God's ownership

God impressed upon Adam His ownership, by giving him only the dominion over the earth. As a constant reminder, a tree was planted in the midst of his garden home that he was forbidden to touch on penalty of death. After the entrance of sin, God gave men and women another reminder of His ownership-the tithing system and the requirements regarding freewill offerings.

Patriarchs understood

The Bible clearly shows that the patriarchs understood these requirements. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, "priest of the most high God" (Gen. 14:18). Jacob vowed that he would be faithful in this requirement and asked God to provide for his necessities. He recognized that his daily sustenance was entirely dependent on God, that he was incapable of providing these things for himself. But as one of God's managers, he had every right to request and expect them.

To keep the Owner-manager principle in the minds of the Israelites so that they could have the certainty of God's favor and protection, the divinely-ordained plan of tithes and offerings was brought to their attention. As they faithfully set apart one tenth of their increase and gave freewill offerings to God, they would be constantly reminded of His ownership.

Somehow, as time passed the people gradually began to consider themselves as the owners of the houses and lands that God had given them; they forgot that they were only tenant farmers. As God's

managers they were guaranteed fertile soil, freedom from pests, and the right amount of rain at the right time. But when they started considering themselves as owners they released God of His responsibility and proved themselves to be very poor rainmakers!

After a time they lost their dignified position as managers and became slaves, serving a cruel people in a foreign land.

The swing to conformity

After their return from captivity, the pendulum swung completely to the side of conformity, but they lost sight of the significance of the requirements that God had given solely for their protection. The Sabbath became a day of minute exaction, the tithe an oppressive burden. Peter referred to these when he said, "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" (Acts 15:10). The religious leaders of Peter's day laid down arbitrary rules that were so complicated that no one knew when his obligations were met. The freedom that God had provided in every requirement was buried under stern regulations. The great lessons that He designed these ordinances should teach were completely lost sight of in the sanctimonious rubbish of man's interpretation.

Jesus sets the record straight

Jesus taught that in God's sight motive was more important than conformity. He explained that love for God was the only basis for doping God's will. Conformity was only the fruitage of this love. He emphasized the spiritual rather than the material aspects of life and taught that material things were important only as they were used to advance the kingdom of God.

He said that a changed heart was the prerequisite for a changed life. He unloosed the chains of oppression with which the enemy had enslaved men and women. He set the record straight, showing that God is a loving Father who looks after His children with tender care.

He made the Sabbath beautiful again by saying that it was made for man and was to be a delight. He placed the tithe back in its true perspective, calling attention to some of the weightier matters of the law—judgment, mercy, and faith. For all the legalism He substituted a divine message of love.

Early church follows right principles

After Pentecost the believers who had been indoctrinated with these principles faced an unusual situation. Many of them were cut off from their families and incomes and were in dire need of the bare necessities of life. All believed in the imminent return of Jesus.

In order to relieve the suffering of the believers and spread the good news of the gospel, men and women were willing to sacrifice everything they possessed. Their motive was a pure, unselfish love for God and for their fellowmen. This unusual situation was met in an unusual way, not practiced in any other great religious center.

Paul continued in the early churches the education that Jesus began. He reemphasized that all giving must be a heart experience. "As he purposed in his heart," he wrote to the Corinthian believers, "so let him give; not grudgingly or of necessity" (2 Cor. 9:7).

This was a restatement of God's instruction to Moses in the Old Testament. "Of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering" (Ex. 25:2).

For the first three centuries after Christ, tithes, freewill offerings, first fruits, and gifts of property supported the church, most of which were given from the right motives. The Didache, a Christian manual of the second century, instructed the Christians to give from principle, not because of specific needs. They "first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God" (2 Cor. 8:5). Paul had taught the believers well.

Heresy makes adulteration possible

Eventually, as heresy came in to adulterate the doctrines of Christ, the great principle of man's responsibility as God's managers was lost sight of in the demands for more and more money to support in idleness those who had tainted these doctrines. The church's rapidly expanding structure became a mammoth fund-raising institution. In its insatiable desire for personal gain, the gospel commission was forgotten and every kind of abuse came into being.

Tithing became first a law of the church, then of the state. Offerings lost their freewill nature in the revenue, producing doctrine of salvation by works; the significance of first fruits was lost in the moneyhungry demands of the clergy. The property of deceased members found its way into the hands of unscrupulous priests.

When the church and state united under Constantine, secularization became complete and the original purpose of the tithes and offerings was once more obliterated. For centuries Christendom was not only compelled to follow the dictates of an apostate church but was forced to support it, as well. The devil nearly succeeded in completely blotting from men's minds the eternal truth that God is the owner of all.

With the legal powers to enforce its demands, the hierarchy instituted every form of compulsory support that the evil minds of men could devise in order to satisfy its unquenchable hunger for more and more wealth. As it became top-heavy in administration, its demands for money became its primary objective, materialism its main aim.

Reformation reverses the tide

Luther spoke out against the abuses of the church. He taught that salvation is free; it cannot be bought or sold. Countless thousands who had been chained in religious darkness eagerly sought to escape their shackles and reached out toward this first glimmer of the light of freedom. Cod had allowed sufficient time for Satan to demonstrate to the entire universe the evil results of apostasy; now He was about to bring His great truths back into prominence.

Tithes still buried in error

The reformers taught the great principles of New Testament stewardship but failed to put these into practice, accustomed as they were to the traditional methods of church support. England, during the time of Wesley, imposed one of the most rigorous systems of tithing in history. With the power and resources of a state-controlled church, an entire nation was enslaved in a vast, complicated tithe-tax structure. The laws were so complicated it was practically impossible for anyone to really understand them or to fulfill their requirements. As a result there were tithe lawyers and tithe courts.

Men and women suffered martyrs' deaths for refusal to comply with these laws. Others were thrown into prison for failure to pay unbelievably small sums. In order to escape from this and other abuses in the church, dissenters such as the Quakers, Puritans, and Pilgrims left their native lands, their homes, and their livelihood. Suffering extreme hardship, they eventually made their way to the wilderness shores of the New World.

Church finance in early American history

The financial needs of the early churches in America were limited for the most part to new buildings, their maintenance, and the support of the minister. Foreign missions were not a factor, and offerings for other than local needs were uncommon.

After their unfortunate experience with the tithing system in their native lands, it is little wonder that it was rarely mentioned. Tithing, to the people and to the ministry, was something to be avoided. John Smyth, an early American preacher, is reported to have said, "We hold that tithes are either Jewish or Popish." Once more the devilish plan to erase this reminder of God and His ownership from the minds of otherwise honest believers was accomplished. In this land where they could have followed God's instructions without opposition, they once more resorted to the inventions of men.

After having seen the evils resulting from a statecontrolled church, it is amazing that many of these churches turned back to compulsory support. Some of them held the view that to have a good government and a pure church, the two must be combined. This churchstate combination compelled men by law to support the church. Dissenters were dealt with harshly. Thus many found themselves under the same oppressive system from which they had so recently escaped.

Writing on the subject of compulsory support, Benjamin Franklin once said, "When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of fts being a bad one."

People rebelled other means sought

Eventually the people rebelled against compulsory support, and other means had to be sought if the church was to survive. Incredibly, one of these methods was an excise tax on rum and wine! Other means included ministers' fee, church fines, and pledges and assessments of flour, corn, lard, tallow, hides, tobacco, and whiskey!

Many large churches were built by funds received from lotteries, and their ministers were paid from pew rent. Fancy fairs, bazaars, and many other forms of amusement and entertainment were employed to secure the funds necessary for their operation. Instead of following God's plan for church finance, they persisted in using methods of their own devising and never found a satisfactory solution.

Out of the multitude of fund-raising schemes, one of the most successful was the every-member canvass. These were conducted by trained "outside" specialists. Regardless of their success, there must be something lacking in the spiritual life of any church when hired professionals, using high-pressure methods, have to be employed to get the members to give money to their church that they would not otherwise have given.

Results of these methods

For centuries erroneous ideas regarding the tithes and offerings have poisoned people's minds and are responsible for some of the strange attitudes that are commonplace in the church today. To illustrate, one day a middle-aged Christian secretary stopped by the door of my office. After wishing me good morning, she surprised me by saying: "I resent every dime of the tithe I pay, because it keeps me from buying the kind of clothes I would like to wear. I resent every cent of the offerings, too, because it keeps me from going to really nice places to eat."

Somehow the thought had never crossed my mind, as I saw her going quietly and efficiently about her duties each day, that she had an inner longing for fashionable clothes or a desire to dine in some exclusive restaurant.

When I recovered from the initial shock, I replied, "If you really feel that way, then I think you should take your tithe and buy the kind of clothes you want.

I also think you should use the money you give in offerings to dine in some really nice places."

It was her turn to be surprised. She hesitated for a moment, a look of utter disbelief on her face, then replied, "How can you, of all people, say such a thing! Paying my tithe and offerings is my duty-and I'm going to do it if it kills me!" What a strange attitude from one who seemed so mature and satisfied in her religion. Where had her education into the beauties of God's plan in the tithes and offerings been neglected?

It was in the paneled office of a businessman that I received another shock. He began our conversation by saying, "I pay an honest tithe, but as far as I'm concerned it is just a tax, like income taxes . . . and the offerings, they're taxes too."

Why do these unfortunate attitudes regarding this Christian practice exist in this enlightened age? Could it be because today's professing Christians are the descendants of the people who fled the persecution of a tithe-tax system? Has this warped attitude been inherited from generation to generation?

Results of this attitude

One has only to look around to see the unhappy results of this erroneous thinking. Churches face a constant struggle to match their incomes with their maintenance costs. Mission programs are restricted for lack of funds. People, considering themselves owners of the goods that they possess, show reluctance in parting with other than token amounts. Many feel themselves generous to a fault when giving amounts far below their potential. People are praised for their philanthropy. God is left out of the picture.

But even more serious than the limiting of church and mission programs is the lack of spirituality within the sacred confines of God's house. The result is a spiritually dead church in a dying world. God has such a simple, workable plan for financing His work here on the earth, but Satan has repeatedly tried to destroy it by inducing men to use methods that actually encourage selfishness rather than counteract it. This has been the devil's carefully executed plan to erase the image of God, the Owner. 

Mel Rees is a contributor for the stewardship program of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.