Messenger of the Lord

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Chapter 20—Stewardship, Government Relations, and Humanitarian Involvement

“We need not sacrifice one principle of truth while taking advantage of every opportunity to advance the cause of God.” 1 MOL 220.1

A pressing question during the 1850s was how to support the ministry. Ministers with families had a most difficult challenge when they had to rely on the liberality of believers, especially when few church groups were organized. Many could preach only on a part-time basis. The Whites sold Bibles and other books to supplement the little income they received from friends. Furthermore, the barter system often prevailed, for money was scarce, especially in a largely agrarian society. MOL 220.2

In late 1858 Ellen White told her husband that the Lord had shown her that J. N. Andrews should come to Battle Creek, hold a Bible class, and in the study they would develop a Biblical plan for sustaining the ministry. In that Bible class held in January 1859, the leaders agreed that the tithing system is still binding, and they suggested calling the program, “Systematic Benevolence on the tithing principle.” On January 29 the Battle Creek congregation voted unanimously to adopt the program and publish the plan in the Review and Herald. The example of the Battle Creek church set the pace for other churches to follow. 2 MOL 220.3

By June Mrs. White was writing that “the plan of systematic benevolence is pleasing to God.” 3 In the early days of implementation, the “plan” did not separate tithes from offerings and all was devoted to supporting the ministry. In January 1861 Mrs. White wrote a candid message that more clearly defined the tithing principle, applying Malachi 3:8-11 to present-day obligations to the Lord. She delineated how the tithing principle was fair to all, the poor as well as to the wealthy, and that “in the arrangement of systematic benevolence, hearts will be tested and proved.... Here is a test for the naturally selfish and covetous.” 4 MOL 220.4

Ellen White said often that the “tithe is sacred, reserved by God for Himself. It is to be brought into His treasury to be used to sustain the gospel laborers in their work.” 5 Gospel laborers are defined as ministers and Bible instructors, Bible teachers in our educational institutions, minister-physicians, retired gospel workers, and workers in needy mission fields in North America and abroad. 6 God has blessed the tithing system. Tithe alone for the members of the North American Division for 1996 amounted to $507,406,823. 7 MOL 220.5