One of the growing church’s most important decisions was made in 1859. The Three Angels’ message, the truth about the sanctuary, and the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath constituted a teaching treasure that was different from what other Protestant churches were preaching. In 1857, an economic crisis had affected the believers’ incomes. In spite of that, the desire to know more about the teachings of God caused the members to ask for pastoral help. At the time, the few existing pastors were dedicating only weekends to visiting churches; during the week, they dedicated themselves to different work in order to provide sustenance for their families. This meant that groups of believers received only one or two pastoral visits per month. So it was that a commission, presided over by J. N. Andrews, met on January 29, 1859, in Battle Creek, Michigan, to present its report to the church. The commission recommended the practice of systematic benevolence—weekly donations to the church. 

It has been more than 150 years since that historic decision; the question, however, is this: What did they really find, and what did they recommend? The Protestant churches highlighted the study of the New Testament because they believed that the books of the Old Testament indicated more of a Jewish economy in contrast to a Christian church that had a fresh, new, and different message. Thus, the pioneers initially concentrated on the New Testament and on what the apostle Paul had recommended to the churches located in the Roman province of Galatia and to the church in Corinth. He said, “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come, no collection will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:1, 2, NIV). The pioneers discovered several significant principles in these texts:

• They noticed that Paul indicated a principle of regularity (“the first day of every week”). Why the first day of the week? At the time (A.D. 57), Rome was the governing power. Its pagan religion recognized Sunday as the day of the sun, an important day for religion and commerce.
• In the text, they noticed that Paul also indicated the principle of participation (“each one of you”). Even though some received greater income and others received less, every one had the opportunity to be part of the church and part of the mission.
• The third principle they noticed was the principle of foresight/ planning ahead (“set aside a sum of money”). The decision to give to the Lord was not to be made at the last minute, just as the offering was being collected. It was something that was to be considered at home and set aside according to the dictates of a believer’s heart.• The fourth principle was the principle of proportion (“in keeping with his income”). Everyone was not expected to give the same amount because all did not receive the same amount. Thus, it was logical that those who received more were able to contribute more. It was not fair to require the poor to give the same amount as those who had more resources.
• The fifth principle was the principle of promotion. How frequently and how intensely should promotion be done? Compared to Bible study and the preaching of the Word, how much time should be dedicated to promotion? Paul was clear in his recommendation: The service should be dedicated principally to worship and spiritual development. Thus, the apostle indicates, “When I come no collection will have to be made.”

Today, more than 150 years after the historic decision of the early Adventist church in 1859, we see a world church that uses modern means of communication to proclaim the Three Angel’s message to every nation, tribe, and people, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The principles discovered by the Adventist pioneers are valid, practical, and applicable to us today. The church must be careful to preserve not only this historical inheritance of Bible study and the proclamation of the message but also the practice of these vital principles of systematic benevolence. 

Mario Niño is associate director of the General Conference Stewardship Ministries Department.