From time to time events occur that lead some well-intentioned church members or congregations to consider deviating from returning tithe to their local conference/mission/union of churches through the local church where they hold their membership. Our practice which is detailed in appropriate policies and procedures has been developed and adopted by the world Church based on its understanding of the teachings of the Bible and the counsel given to us through Ellen G White. God has given to His church clear instructions related to the nature of tithe and its recipients, and any deviation from these divine instructions is not in the best interests of the Church and the fulfillment of its mission, and is to be avoided. This call to submission to the Lord on this matter is based on the following biblical information, supplemented with statements from Ellen G White.
Tithe Is Holy—The Bible makes it unquestionably clear that tithe is holy. It belongs to the Lord (Lev 27:30). This biblical principle is the very foundation of tithing. Since it seems to be a result of our labor, the tenth of our income may appear to be ours. But the Lord has stated that this is not the case. The tithe belongs to Him. This brings with it several implications. First, since the tithe is not ours, we have to return it to Him. This is the way the holiness of tithe is preserved. Using it for other purposes makes it common and violates its sanctity. Second, returning tithe is not a payment to a pastor or to any other person for benefits received from him or her. We do not give the tithe to humans; we return it to the Lord and He decides who should get it and how it is going to be used (Num 18:21, 24). Third, since tithe is holy, and, therefore not ours, it should not be used to put pressure on others in order to produce any change that we would like to see taking place. Nor should tithe be withheld in order to achieve a personal objective. The only thing we can properly do with the tithe is return it to the Lord in a timely manner as a sublime expression of love and respect to our Savior.
God Identifies the Recipients of Tithe—Since tithe belongs to the Lord, He is the owner and the one who determines who should receive it. In the Scripture tithe was assigned by the Lord, not by the Israelites, to the Levites (Num 18:21). The only thing He expected from the Israelites was to return the tithe to Him. The storehouse was the temple, from which it was distributed to priests and Levites (Mal 3:10; Num 18:24). In the Christian dispensation tithe has been assigned under inspired instruction from the Lord to the organized ministry of the church (1 Cor 9:13; cf. Matt 23:23). The writings of Ellen G White clearly indicate that tithe is to be returned to the treasury of the conference/mission/union of churches for the work of the gospel ministry (TM 308; 7MR 366). Any deviation from God’s revealed plan for His tithe is a human expression of independence from Him and calls into question allegiance to the very Church we are members of. As it is the local conference/mission/union of churches (where an individual lives and where they should hold their membership) that provides the members pastoral support, it is appropriate for the conference/mission/union of churches to receive the tithe.
Tithe and the Failure of Leadership—It may seem logical to some to think that if we believe leaders of God’s people have failed, then we should not give our tithe to the conference/mission/union of churches. The nature of tithe and some clear examples from the Bible indicate that this logic is not an appropriate guide. During the time of Nehemiah there was among priests and Levites a serious religious and spiritual corruption (Neh 13:4-5, 15). As a result the people decided to stop returning God’s tithe (13:10). When Nehemiah realized what was happening he did two things. First, he condemned the decision of the people (13:11) and, second, he initiated a reform among priests and Levites (13:9, 13). Malachi, writing during this crisis, accused the people of robbing God and ordered them in the name of the Lord to return to Him the full tithe (3:8-10). He also publicly spoke against priests and Levites for their spiritual failure (1:6-13; 2:1-8).
It is clear that our primary spiritual responsibility is to return God’s tithe to those appointed by the Lord to receive it. This is what Jesus also taught. He knew very well the spiritual condition of the spiritual leaders of Israel. But when asked about tithing He did not encourage anyone to retain it or to give it to someone else. On the contrary, He supported what He had revealed to Israel—to return tithe to the Lord via the temple (Matt 23:23). We find a third example in the writings of Ellen G. White. In 1890, the spiritual condition of the Michigan Conference was low and depressing. The situation was so bad that she stated, “The churches would be far better without such elders and ministers” (2SAT 73). Because of that situation many church members began to withhold the tithe. To them she said, “Cannot you see that it is not best under any circumstances to withhold your tithes and offering, because you are not in harmony with everything that your brethren do? The tithes and offering are not the property of any man” (p. 74). Then she added, “Unworthy ministers may receive some of the means thus raised . . . but do not commit sin yourselves by withholding from the Lord His own property” (p. 74).
We appeal to our church members to pray for God’s church and its leaders and to remain loyal to the Lord in the matter of tithe. The Lord is more concerned for His church than anyone of us is, and we can rest assured that He will guide us to safety.
This document was approved and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee, October 16, 2012.