Last year I wrote an editorial in which I set forth my conviction that returning a faithful tithe was all about grace—learning to trust God to provide for my material needs, and when He did so, seeing evidence that His grace was all-sufficient for my great spiritual need. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”

I received positive responses to the article. What I did not receive—but I know exists—was the response: “Yeah, that’s well and good, but why should I support the church organization with my tithe? The conference can’t even supply my church a full-time pastor! We have to share with another congregation or two. And when the pastor is present, well, the sermon isn’t very good. I think the money is just wasted or spent frivolously. In fact, it seems all the church cares about is money, money, money! I will just give my tithe to _____ ministry. They are doing God’s work and my pastor isn’t doing anything—hasn’t even come to visit me!” 

Doubt this response? Don’t! Just spend some time on various social media and special interest church-related websites reading editorials and comments. This is a common, and I dare say growing, sentiment. So, let’s spend some time with an event in Jesus’ ministry that Mark recorded.

“Jesus sat down near the collection box in the temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on” (Mark 12:41-44).

Now why did Jesus highlight this widow who gave literally everything she had to support a religious/church structure that in many cases was corrupt and even preyed on individuals such as herself?  Jesus knew this and even registered His disapproval of it:

 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love personal greetings in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive all the more condemnation” (Luke 20:46,47).

Yet Jesus does not condemn the widow for supporting a very imperfect system. How can this be? Maybe He should have urged her to redirect her offering as a protest, a cry for justice, or at least a plea to receive her just due of service and support from “the church.” 

But instead Jesus celebrated her! He drew a sharp contrast between her sacrifice and apparent humility and those who gave very large ( but not sacrificial) gifts, and again, with an apparent lack of humility. Additionally, it seems that Jesus loved her sincere heart. In line with what I wrote previously, the widow was completely committed to experiencing God’s grace—His provision for her very real needs—through the practice of giving to support God’s organized system of worship, marred as it was in human hands. Because Jesus called her out as a shining example, we are still retelling this story thousands of years later.

God works through humans

But what about the “lousy” organization? Well, it was originated by God Himself.  Aaron (Moses’s brother) and his family would be the priests. The tribe of Levite were to serve as religious ministers. Then God set up a financial structure of tithes and offerings to support the priests and Levites in their religious ministry. Interestingly, he instructed the Levites who received the tithe to participate themselves through the practice of tithing (Num 18). God puts forth a strong ethic: if a leader receives support from a system they must also participate in supporting the system.

So how did this work out? Often, not very well. The divine record reveals that many times the Levites and priests failed in their leadership responsibilities (example: Hophni and Phineas). Nor would we say the Levitical system was “efficient,” at least according to our current culture. There were literally thousands of Levites. Only a handful at a time could serve in the sanctuary services. Those not serving lived in specific towns designated for them. There is no record of them being spread out evenly, providing direct spiritual leadership in every town and village. So what did they do? It’s not entirely clear, and certainly not very accountable by today’s standards. And not all tithe and offerings were for “frontline workers” as there were certainly administrative layers in the system to organize the daily temple services, annual festivals and later, the local synagogues.

There were some excellent, godly priestly leaders of course. Samuel, Joshua and the father of John the Baptist come quickly to mind. And God did provide accountability. He intervened directly when two of the first priests drunkenly profaned their religious duties (Numbers 3). He sent prophetic warnings to Eli regarding his sons (1 Samuel 2). Inspired by a copy of the Book of the Law, King Hezekiah called the Levites together and held them accountable to rectify temple worship abuses and neglect, as part of his reform efforts (2 Chronicles 29). Finally, God plainly warned the religious leaders through Jeremiah of dire punishment that would fall; partly because the religious leaders had turned their backs on Him (Jeremiah 32: 28-33). 

A perfect, organized religious system for mission and governance? No…because God chooses to work through weak and sinful human beings. And it’s the same for the Seventh-day Adventist Church today.

Following God’s example, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, called into being by His prophetic word, has organized itself with similar principles. Men and women, called by God, are employed and asked to lead in the making of disciples—the calling of individuals to new and/or deeper relationships with Jesus Christ. This includes preaching, teaching, administrating and coordinating with fellow church leaders around the world. And the financial system of tithes and offerings is used to support those called both in our local mission territories as well as in world regions where there has been little penetration by the message God has given the church to proclaim. 

Higher standards of accountability

So does all go well? Not always. We do hear of and sometimes witness misguided decisions, misuse of funds, unprofessional leadership and occasionally even wicked behavior and attitudes. But God has also led us to higher and higher standards of accountability. Regular ministry reports and financial statements are presented at church boards, conference executive committees and constituency meetings. Audit and compensation committees carefully review important financial and employment records. And when misdeeds or immoral actions come to light, they are dealt with appropriately. Finally, following King Hezekiah’s example, we call for ever increasing levels of spiritual, professional and ethical behavior on the part of our leaders (pastors, teachers, administrators, etc.).

A perfect, organized religious system for mission and governance? No. But one led by imperfect human beings who God, in His incredible love and grace, chooses to work through.

Here’s why I give tithes and offerings to the Seventh-day Adventist Church:

  • Because Jesus Christ died for me and adopted me as God’s beloved child.
  • Because I must learn to trust the reality of God’s grace; He will provide for me.
  • Because God has invited me to test Him with this specific practice.
  • Because He has fulfilled His promise to bless me when I have tested Him with this practice.
  • Because as a leader in the Adventist Church I have an ethical, as well as spiritual, duty to participate in the system that provides my livelihood.
  • Because God has chosen and called the Seventh-day Adventist Church, even though led by sometimes erring men and women, to proclaim a last message to this world.

I urge you, dear reader, to prayerfully do the same.