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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, Chapter 9: The Law of Tithing

During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is in boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015

Teachings of Howard W. Hunter

The Lord’s definition of the law of tithing is simple.

The law [of tithing] is simply stated as “one-tenth of all their interest” (D&C 119:4). Interest means profit, compensation, increase. It is the wage of one employed, the profit from the operation of a business, the increase of one who grows or produces, or the income to a person from any other source. The Lord said it is a standing law “forever” as it has been in the past.

Like all of the Lord’s commandments and laws, [the law of tithing] is simple if we have a little faith. The Lord said in effect, “Take out the decimal point and move it over one place.” That is the law of tithing. It’s just that simple.

The law of tithing existed from the beginning and continues today.

The first distinct mention of the word “tithe” in the Bible is in the very first book of the Old Testament. Abram … was met by Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. Melchizedek blessed him, and Abram “gave him tithes of all.” (Gen. 14:20.)

A few chapters later in the same book, Jacob, at Bethel made a vow in these words: … “Of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” [Gen. 28:20–22.]

The third mention is in connection with the Levitical law. The Lord spoke through Moses:

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.” (Lev. 27:30.)

Under the Levitical law the tithes were given to the Levites for their maintenance, and they in turn were charged with the paying of tithes on that which they received as shown by the words of the Lord as he instructed Moses:

“Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the Lord, even a tenth part of the tithe.” (Num. 18:26.)

This clearly indicates that the law of tithing was a part of the Levitical law and paid by all people—even the Levites themselves who were directed to pay tithing on the tithes which were received by them.

There are some who take the position that the law of the tithe was only a Levitical institution, but history confirms the fact that it has been and is a universal law. It was basic in the Mosaic law. It had existed from the beginning and is found in the ancient Egyptian law, in Babylonia, and can be traced throughout biblical history. It was mentioned by the Prophet Amos [see Amos 4:4] and by Nehemiah who was charged with the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem [see Nehemiah 10:37–38; 12:44; 13:5, 12]. Shortly thereafter Malachi began an even greater task of rebuilding the faith and the morale of a nation. In his supreme effort to strike out against the covetousness of those who were religious only in name, he lashed them with the accusation of a crime against God.

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.

“Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Mal. 3:8–10.) …

The words of Malachi close the Old Testament with a reiteration of the law of tithing, indicating there had been no abrogation of this law which had existed from the beginning. The New Testament dispensation, therefore, commenced under this admonition. …

Tithing is highly emphasized in Mormonism. Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball told a 1980 general conference audience:

My brethren and sisters, again I say, tithing is a law of God and is required of his followers. To fail to meet this obligation in full is to omit a weighty matter. It is a transgression, not an inconsequen­tial oversight. Brethren and sisters, the law of tithing is a divine commandment and applies to all the children of our Heavenly Father. All who believe the Bible ought to believe that it is a law of God. But none understand it and live it like the Latter-day Saints attempt to live it, because it has been renewed to us by modern-day prophets (“The Law of Tithing,” Ensign (Conference Edition) November 1980, p. 78).

According to Marion Romney, a person who doesn’t tithe cannot expect the celestial glory. It is, in essence, “fire insurance.”

Tithing is a part of the celestial law referred to in this revelation. Obedience to it is a prerequisite to being quickened in the resur­rection by the fulness of the celestial glory. Without such fulness one coming into the presence of the Lord would be consumed, for God dwells in “eternal burnings.” So you see, my young breth­ren and sisters, tithing, is in a very real sense, a form of fire insur­ance – insurance against burning both in this life and in the life to come (Look to God and Live, p. 153).

How do Christians view tithing? Some pastors stress a strict ten-percent tithe, using the Malachi verses to support their case. I am uncomfortable with this position because it is so legalistic. I have even heard debates over whether a person should “tithe” off the gross or net income. Talk about having a camel go through the eye of a needle!

We must ask, if the “law” of tithing is a mandate, then what other Old Testament dietary and ceremonial laws are as well? Besides the moral law, what other laws ought to be kept? According to the New Testament, the Old Testament law was completely fulfilled by Jesus. Galatians 2:15-16 says,

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Paul writes this in chapter 3:

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

He added in verses 25-26, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Interestingly enough, the New Testament never once mentions the tithe in a positive way. While generous giving is commended (but not commanded), the Mosaic law is never utilized for supporting evidence. For instance, consider the widow and her “mites” in Luke 21:1-4:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

This woman gave everything she had, much more than those who were giving their obligatory 10%! And those putting in their tithe very well could have afforded more. If the tithe is so important, then we must wonder why the concept isn’t taught or commanded in the New Testament. Could it be that God is more interested in the attitude for why giving is done, not in the legalistic ten percent? Paul writes this in 2 Corinthians 9:6-9:

…whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency[e] in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

In the Old Testament, the faithful believer gave much more beyond the tithe. For instance, there were a number of offerings commanded by the Mosaic law. Some scholars have determined that up to a third of a faithful Jew’s income could end up at the temple! While the tithe was required in the Old Testament, a new “law” has taken effect: generous giving! Second Corinthians 9:5 says that the offering that was collected was supposed to be made “ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.” In the previous chapter, Paul wrote that his teaching to give generously was “not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine” (8:8). He added,

12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

This passage is saying that ten percent might be adequate or inadequate depending on the individual’s means. In my estimation, ten percent is a good starting point, but this number is not written in stone. I believe that someone who earns $10,000 and gives away $1,000 is making a larger sacrifice than someone who makes $100,000 and gives away $10,000. Each person needs to make a personal decision on how much is considered “generous.”

Mormonism, however, has an exact rule, making it a law for today. Brigham Young said, “The law of tithing is an eternal law” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 177). If a Mormon hopes to go to the temple, which is a necessity for having a chance to get the very best this religion has to offer (the celestial kingdom),  a ten-percent tithe is required.

We make a gift and also pay an obligation with our tithes.

The tithe is God’s law for his children, yet the payment is entirely voluntary. In this respect it does not differ from the law of the Sabbath or from any other of his laws. We may refuse to obey any or all of them. Our obedience is voluntary, but our refusal to pay does not abrogate or repeal the law.

If tithing is a voluntary matter, is it a gift or a payment of an obligation? There is a substantial difference between the two. A gift is a voluntary transfer of money or property without consideration. It is gratuitous. No one owes the obligation to make a gift. If tithing is a gift, we could give whatever we please, when we please, or make no gift at all. It would place our Heavenly Father in the very same category as the street beggar to whom we might toss a coin in passing.

The Lord has established the law of tithing, and because it is his law, it becomes our obligation to observe it if we love him and have a desire to keep his commandments and receive his blessings. In this way it becomes a debt. The man who doesn’t pay his tithing because he is in debt should ask himself if he is not also in debt to the Lord. The Master said: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33.)

Hunter seems to play with words here.  The tithe in Mormonism is not “voluntary” if the Mormon hopes to go to the celestial kingdom. It becomes, as he says, a “debt” and an “obligation.” This can be demonstrated by what I observed recently at a fast and testimony service. A middle-aged woman stood up and explained how she decided to attend the temple despite having a lapsed temple recommend. The bishop said she wouldn’t be given a new one because she hadn’t paid her tithing.  Tithing Settlement was required. Because she didn’t have the money, she decided to sell her wedding ring on even though she and her husband were still married! The ring had great value to her, but she decided that going to the temple was a priority.

However, her ring didn’t sell for the price she asked. Even though she had children at home, she decided to enter the job market. In a short time she found a job at a group home that apparently required her to be on duty for 24-hour shifts several days a week. After a few months, she had collected enough money from this job to pay her church debt. This amount is what she took to the bishop, who accepted the payment before allowing her temple recommend to be renewed.

Seriously? In order to get this precious piece of paper, the woman was willing to sacrifice a ring that symbolized her marriage—something she could never get back—and then ended up working at a job where she wasn’t able to take care of her children in a motherly way! (Isn’t this church supposed to emphasize the family?) The Mormon Church ended up getting its money, but at what cost? This woman “testified” how this experience helped her grow spiritually, but what type of example was she to her children? She ended up quitting the job, she said, but what type of example was she to her employer who may not have known that this woman would only work for a short period of time to pay off a church debt? Didn’t she have any obligation to her family and employer?

The bishop sat on the platform facing the audience and smiled while the woman gave her 15-minute talk. From my point of view, his demeanor could have been considered smug. Why couldn’t he have suggested that she begin tithing at that time and do so within her means? Where was the grace? Why couldn’t the bishop have more compassion? Instead, the woman understood her “payment of obligation” as dictated by her ecclesiastical leader, the “judge of Israel.” She was required to pay back what she “owed.” And this is what she did.

It may be that we make a gift and also pay an obligation with our tithes. The payment of the obligation is to the Lord. The gift is to our fellow men for the upbuilding of God’s kingdom. If one thoughtfully observes the proselyting done by the missionaries, the teaching program of the Church, the great educational system, and the building program to erect houses of worship, there will come a realization that it is not a burden to pay tithing, but a great privilege. The blessings of the gospel are shared with many through our tithes.

Every church needs to pay bills. While many church attenders might not get it, I do. For this woman, however, tithing was a “burden.” She did not give her money out of a gratefulness of her heart. She gave because she owed money to an organization that, if it could be listed in the S&P 500, would be somewhere in the top 200! (The church does not open its books, but needless to say that its real estate holdings along with many other investments  go far beyond paying for the missionaries–whom, we should add, are supposed to raise their own funds–and other programs.) This woman’s main motivation was to get her temple recommend back in order, completely missing the point of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.

“It is not a burden to pay tithing, but a great privilege.”

An offering to the Lord should cost the giver something of value.

In 2 Samuel 24:18–25 we read that David would not make an offering unto the Lord of that which cost him nothing. He no doubt reasoned that unless the gift cost the giver something of value, it was not fit or appropriate to be an offering for the Lord.

Christ said it is more blessed to give than to receive [see Acts 20:35], yet there are some who will give only if it costs them nothing. This is not according to the teachings of the Master who said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself” (Matthew 16:24).

There are some who will not live the law of tithing because of the cost. This is in contrast to the reasoning of David who would not make an offering unto the Lord unless it cost him something. The great moral principles encompassed in the law of tithing are overlooked by those who are not tithe payers, and they lack the understanding of the law and the reasons for it.

I agree that it’s more meaningful when the giver sacrifices for the gift. This is why I think someone who makes $100,000 should go beyond the ten-percent rule by considering twenty or thirty percent giving. In the same way, perhaps five percent giving is a sacrifice to someone who only makes $10,000, as food and clothing bills along with the rent do need to be paid. To legalistically suggest, though, that a person is out of God’s will by giving less than ten percent is a principle not taught in the New Testament. Generous giving is encouraged.

We follow the principle of returning to the Lord a portion of his goodness to us, and this portion we refer to as tithing. Tithing … is entirely voluntary. We can pay tithing or not pay tithing. Those who do, receive blessings that are not known to others.

This is a silly statement. It’s not a voluntary gift if the person is making the donation in order to qualify for the celestial kingdom. It’s a “law.” Those who don’t keep the laws of Mormonism will be punished, both in this life (not allowed to attend the temple, i.e. get married and have important work done) and the next (no celestial kingdom). I am convinced that most Mormons pay tithing because it’s a requirement, just like paying taxes to the government. Doesn’t it seem they give the bare minimum (10%) that allows them to earn favor with God? Where is the “cheerfulness” in paying tithing? There is none.

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