Ellen G. White Writings

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Messenger of the Lord, Page 220

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.” 1Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 198.

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.

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. 2Bio., vol. 1, pp. 387-393. The Biblical argument was based primarily on the New Testament call for gospel order; at that time they were not sure how to detach the tithing plan from the ceremonial laws that were done away at the cross. The tithing “principle” was considered operative and had much to do with their final conclusions. The concept of “systematic benevolence” was made practical with the following suggestions: (1) Men 18-60 should give 5 to 25 cents weekly; (2) Women from 18-60, 2 to 10 cents weekly; (3) In addition, all should “lay aside” weekly 1 to 5 cents “on each and every $100 of property they possess.”

By June Mrs. White was writing that “the plan of systematic benevolence is pleasing to God.” 3Testimonies for the Church 1:190. The plan was known for many years as “Sister Betsy.” 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.” 4Testimonies for the Church 1:220-223.

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.” 5Testimonies for the Church 9:249. 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. 6Evangelism, 49Testimonies for the Church 6:215; Manuscript Releases 1:189, 192; Medical Ministry, 245. God has blessed the tithing system. Tithe alone for the members of the North American Division for 1996 amounted to $507,406,823. 7North American Division Statistical Report, Fourth Quarter, 1996.

The Church’s Changed Policy Towards Government Aid

As was true in other matters, the intervention of Ellen White changed the course of Seventh-day Adventist policy in regard to the church’s relationship to government aid. In fact, her counsel

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