Article Categories

Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, Chapter 12: Tithing, a Law for Our Protection and Advancement

During 2013, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. 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 underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

In the months after President Snow’s visit to southern Utah, he received word of the Latter-day Saints’ renewed dedication to obey the law of tithing. This news gave him “the greatest pleasure and satisfaction,” for he knew that through continued obedience to this law, “the blessings of the Almighty [would] be poured out upon this people, and the Church [would] progress with a force and rapidity that [had] never been experienced before.”

President Snow had repeatedly assured the Saints that they would be blessed individually, both temporally and spiritually, as they obeyed the law of tithing. That promise was partially fulfilled in August 1899, when the people of St. George enjoyed temporary relief from their drought; their faith was rewarded with 2.93 inches of rain, more than they had received in the previous 13 months combined.

Generally, I don’t have a problem saying that God’s people can be blessed when they are faithful in their giving. However, there can be abuses. Consider the tactics used by many “Word of Faith” (“Name it and claimit”) television preachers. I heard one say that you shouldn’t just pray about a Mercedes, but be sure to tell God which color you want. Such an attitude becomes idolatry, treating God like the proverbial gumball machine (put the nickel in, the gumball pops out; if it doesn’t, shake the machine because it owes you!). It becomes too easy to say, “God, I gave you my 10 percent. Now it’s your turn to bless me back.” If this is the reason why someone gives, then I think God would rather just have this person keep his money. In Snow’s story, I think it’s dangerous to insinuate that the rain came because the people gave more money. If I’m not mistaken, this storm took place many days after the people were properly tithing. If tithing is what created the storm, then why didn’t it take place earlier? And why was this just a “temporary relief” if the people continued to give? As a Christian, I am very careful not to attribute my financial contributions to my local church as chits that God must repay through future blessings. Obedience (including generous giving) and living for God’s glory is what will end up blessing the believer.

Teachings of Lorenzo Snow

The law of tithing is easy to understand and can be obeyed by all. I plead with you in the name of the Lord, and I pray that every man, woman and child … shall pay one-tenth of their income as a tithing.

Before going any further,  I’d like to point out that the “law” of tithing for Christians is never mentioned in the New Testament. In addition, tithing is not a moral law. Thus, I am uncomfortable when pastors preach from Malachi chapter 3, as if 10% is the magical number required for God’s people. Instead of talking about a “tithe,” I think “generosity” in giving is what is encouraged. Consider what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

‘They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;  their righteousness endures forever.’

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession (of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

[Tithing] is not a difficult law. … If a man receives ten dollars, his tithing is one dollar; if he receives one hundred, his tithing is ten. … It is very easy to comprehend.

If Paul wanted the believer to “tithe,” then he would have said so. Instead, he told them to be generous.  In my mind, some people are doing nothing more than giving God a tip when they give 10 percent, as they can easily afford more. Meanwhile, for some people, 5 percent is quite the sacrifice because they make so little. Mormonism is all about keeping the law, so it makes sense that this religion’s leaders would stress 10%. Without the tithe, a person is unable to get a temple recommend, which is necessary to receive the very best this religion has to offer (the celestial kingdom). To me, though, someone who just gives 10% from their large incomes could be guilty of being frugal with God! I’m sure the wealthy Latter-day Saints who have plenty of resources love this principle, as it’s so easy to figure out the minimum of what God requires to gain entrance into the temple and doing just enough to get by.

[A man might ask himself] How much of this tithing shall I give? Cannot I reserve a portion to myself? The Lord is very rich and I doubt if He will be troubled at all if I withhold a little for myself; and so a little to oneself is withheld. But that very little that is reserved will trouble that man, if his conscience is like the consciences of most of the Latter-day Saints. It will trouble him more or less in the day time, and also when he thinks of it at night. He does not have that happiness that it is his privilege to enjoy—it goes from him. A part of a tithing is no tithing at all, no more than immersing only half a person’s body is baptism.

Again, God loves a “cheerful giver,” but in the scenario produced by Mormonism, it’s a black and white issue. If you don’t practice tithing, then you must not be as spiritual as the person who does.

There is no man or woman who can not pay one tenth of what he or she receives.

Let me illustrate my point with an example. Suppose a person—the breadwinner of the family—makes $12,000 a year, and the rent for the apartment is $600, leaving $400 for this family to pay taxes, including Social Security, groceries, the electric bill, medical expenses, etc. Is this person as capable of giving 10 percent as his church’s mission president, who we estimate makes (on the low end) $100,000 (based in Provo, UT) in tax-free benefits? Legalism is certainly a cruel mistress.

Brethren and sisters, we want you to make this matter a subject of prayer. … Instead of having such groveling ideas as some have in regard to money, we should pay our tithing. … What the Lord requires of us is to pay our tithing now. And He expects every person in the future to pay his or her tithing. We know what one-tenth is; let us pay that to the Lord. Then we can go to the Bishop with an open face and ask him for a recommend to go to the temple.

As we have said, tithing is required to receive a temple recommend.  In Mormonism, “tithing settlement” allows a person to make up missed tithes from the past. Those who do not have this all-important card allowing its owner into the temple are not able to receive exaltation and the ability to be together with one’s family into eternity. This is nothing less than tithing by coercion.

I say to you in the name of the Lord God of Israel, if you will pay tithing from now on, the Lord will forgive you for all the past [nonpayment of tithing] and the blessings of the Almighty will be poured out upon this people. I want to have this principle so fixed upon our hearts that we shall never forget it. As I have said more than once, I know that the Lord will forgive the Latter-day Saints for their past negligence in paying tithing, if they will now repent and pay a conscientious tithing from this time on.

According to Snow, a member who pays tithes from this point forward is forgiven of “past [nonpayment of tithing].” Then why is “tithing settlement” needed for a member who hasn’t paid tithes but desired to obtain (or keep) a temple recommend? Perhaps the astute Latter-day Saint in tithing arrears ought to point his bishop to this sentence as a valid reason for not having to pay tithes from the past. 

When we pay tithing, we contribute to the work of the Church.

This Church could not go on unless there was revenue, and this revenue God has provided for [through the law of tithing]. Our temples, in which we receive the highest blessings ever conferred on mortal man, are built through revenue. We never could send the … Elders out into the world to preach the Gospel, as we are now doing, unless there was revenue to do it. … Then there are a thousand other things constantly occurring for which means are required. … If some of the Latter-day Saints had not paid tithing our four Temples here [in 1899] never would have been erected, and the judgments and statutes of God pertaining unto exaltation and glory never could have been kept. The first principle of action to the Latter-day Saints is to sanctify the land by keeping this law of tithing and placing themselves in a position where they can receive the ordinances that pertain unto exaltation and glory of our dead.

I don’t begrudge the church requesting monies from its members. Indeed, light bills at the local chapels, gas in the cars of mission presidents, and assistance to the missionaries are all needed for the church to run. Snow mentions how temples were built with church funds in those days, this doesn’t seem to be the way it is anymore. Members apparently have to raise funds for a temple in their community. While the Mormon Church has a closed-ledger policy and does not open the financial books, there is no way to determine this with absolute accuracy. However, I think there is a pretty good indication that local members have to raise the funds for a new temple. For example, in 1978 Apostle LeGrand Richards explained to Wes Walters and Chris Vlachos, “Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it’s hard to get leaders that don’t have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build that temple. If we don’t change, then they can’t even use it.” See here.

In 2001, I met a wealthy individual in Newport Beach who saw me handing out literature during the temple open house event. I accept his invitationfor lunch. During our conversation, he explained how the Newport Beach temple had been built by the generous donations that he and several others in that community had donated. He was very proud about how they were responsible to have the temple built, saying that their money covered the entire cost of the temple. This meant, he said, that his church did not have to foot the bill for any of its resources.

The Lord will bless us temporally and spiritually as we obey the law of tithing.

Pay the Lord, receive blessings. Sounds a bit selfish to me.

The law of tithing is one of the most important ever revealed to man. … Through obeying this law the blessings of prosperity and success will be given unto the Saints.

Is this really “one of the most important” laws “ever revealed to man”? Tithing is certainly mentioned in Malachi, but otherwise it doesn’t seem to be a major emphasis throughout the Old Testament. The concept is not commanded in the New Testament; in fact, the one time Jesus does mention tithing, it’s referred to in a negative context (Matthew 23:23). With that, I’m not sure how tithing should be considered one of the most important commands that we should obey.

If we will keep that law … the land will be sanctified, and we shall be counted worthy to receive the blessings of the Lord and to be sustained and supported in our financial affairs and in everything we do, temporal as well as spiritual.

The promise seems to be, if you pay the Lord, you will receive blessings. This, however, is not the purpose of giving!

The temporal salvation of this Church … depends upon obedience to this law.

What does this mean, “temporal salvation”? Oh yes, Pay the Lord, receiving blessings.

Poverty exists among the Latter-day Saints, and always will exist until we at least obey the law of tithing. I believe truly if the Latter-day Saints will conform with this law we can claim deliverance from every evil that may come upon us.

One Mormon writes me email posts on a regular basis. Among other things, he has mocked the prosperity teachers who call themselves Christian and who claim that those who give their ministries money will be blessed materially. Perhaps Lorenzo Snow was the first Rev. Ike, Robert Tilton, Kenneth Hagin, or Benny Hinn.  Caution ought to be considered since Snow’s message is very close to theirs.

Here is a law revealed specially for our protection and safety, as well as for our advancement in the path of righteousness and holiness; a law by which the land on which we dwell might become sanctified; a law by which Zion might be built up and established never more to be thrown down or removed out of her place by wicked and ungodly men.

With organ music playing in the background, I can envision Snow walking up and down the aisle as he declares this message. How exactly was this law meant for “our protection and safety”? He just doesn’t explain.

We have temples, and we receive blessings pertaining to them, even the highest ordinances ever administered to man on the earth, by reason of our obedience to this law.

Again, I wonder how much of the tithing money goes to building temples if the local membership is raising funds for a temple to be built in their area. Whoever pays for it, these buildings are great investments for the Mormon Church! After all, placing a temple in the community will certainly cause many nominal members to get their temple recommends so they won’t be left out. To get the recommend requires the tithe. How much extra money can the LDS Church raise by building a temple and getting the less-active members involved with obtaining their own recommend cards, only Zion’s Bank and the church leaders will ever know.

We can never be prepared to see the face of God until we are conscientious in the payment of tithes and other duties. I have spoken plainly, and I say it comes from the Lord what I have said to you in regard to tithing. You act now according to the Spirit of the Lord, and your eyes will be opened.

A statement like this would be humorous if Snow was joking. But, sad to say, he is not. Jesus said in Matthew 23:23:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Latter-day Saints, are you neglecting the more important matters, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness?”

Tithing is way down on the priority list, according to nobody less than Jesus Himself.

Parents and teachers have a responsibility to pay tithing and then teach children to do the same.

Teach [children] to pay their tithing while they are young. You mothers, teach your children that when they get any money they should pay one-tenth of it to the Lord, however little it may be. Educate them to pay their tithing in full. It is meet and proper that … officers and teachers [in the Church] should receive in their hearts and very souls the spirit of this law, so that they may be fully qualified to impart the same, and to impress the rising generation with its importance and sacredness. It is required of you, my brethren and sisters, to not only obey the law yourselves, but to teach it to others, even to the rising generation, … and in proportion as you are able to receive the spirit of it, you will be able to impart it, and teach it. …

… I require it at your hands, not only to obey it, but to teach it to the children of the Latter-day Saints, and to impress it upon the tablets of their memories, so that when they shall grow into years of discretion, it may be said they were taught it, and that they obeyed it from their youth up.

I will say that what we teach our children at a young age has a powerful effect in their future. I tried to instill important principles like this into my own children. By my criticism of this chapter, I am not trying to minimize generous giving or even the tithe, a solid principle. Giving up the first part of our income helps the believers to remember that our money is not our own.

However, pointing to one’s own good works will not earn a person a place in heaven. In Matthew 23, Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees, the most righteous of people in His day, that all of their righteous acts, by themselves, were filthy rags in God’s sight (Is. 64:6). God does not desire prim and proper on the outside to be righteous; rather, He is concerned with the inside. Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Hosea 6:8, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” The prophet Samuel explained, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Withholding the temple recommend—necessary for exaltation in the celestial kingdom—is taking something meant for good (generous giving) and turning it into just a legalistic requirement. Galatians 3:7-14 warns against this attitude:

“Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

The Bible is clear that eternal life is offered freely; Jesus came to this earth to give us a life that is abundant and free (John 10:10). The “requirement”? Belief in Him, which is provided as a work by God (John 6:29). As Acts 10:43 puts it, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his [Jesus’s] name.”

Bottom line, Mormonism is a religion of do’s and don’ts. While tithing is not an evil principle, the impression given in this chapter is that it is a requirement that God demands before a person can experience true justification of his or her sins. It’s missing the forest for the trees. When the church declares in its manual (through a former prophet) that “the temporal salvation of this Church…depends on obedience to the law,” it shuts the door of the kingdom of heaven in their faces and then makes them twice a child of hell.

Check out more Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow articles.

Share this

Check out these related articles...