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Ellen G. White: The Early Years: 1827-1862 (vol. 1)

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    The Address

    The address carried a heading giving the proper setting of the matter: “From the Church of God at Battle Creek, to the Churches and Brethren and Sisters in Michigan.” It opened with the words:1BIO 389.4

    Dear Brethren and Sisters,

    We wish to call your attention to a plan of Systematic Benevolence to support the proclamation of the third angel's message, which may be in harmony with the plain declarations of Holy Scripture.—Ibid.1BIO 389.5

    With the citing of New Testament support, a scriptural framework was assembled for the projected procedures, and it was suggested that “we gather from these facts some instruction relative to our own duty.” The pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church could have gone more easily to the Old Testament and brought in the obligation of the tithe, but at this juncture, regardless of the attractiveness of the tithe, they were not sure that it was not one of those ceremonial obligations that ceased at the cross. In the occasional mention of organization they were looking to the New Testament with its seven deacons, not to the Old Testament with the appointment by Moses of the seventy. In finance they were looking to the New Testament and Paul's counsel in 1 Corinthians 16:2 that “upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, “rather than to Malachi's direction to “bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house” (Malachi 3:10). They conceded that the tithing system was a good plan, and it did have a strong bearing on the conclusions reached and set before the church. Here is the argument set forth in the address:1BIO 389.6

    If Paul found it essential to complete success that method should be observed in raising means for benevolent purposes, it is certainly not unreasonable to conclude that we should find the same thing beneficial in promoting a similar object. As Paul wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we may rest assured that his suggestions were not only safe to follow, and calculated to ensure success, but also that they were in exact accordance with the will of God. We shall not therefore displease Him by adopting the suggestions of His servant Paul.—Ibid.1BIO 390.1

    The next paragraph delineated the points supported by Scripture, which it was thought should form the basis for the plan Sabbathkeeping Adventists ought to follow:1BIO 390.2

    “Upon the first day of the week let everyone of you lay by him in store as God hath prospered him.” This implies: 1. A stated time for the business, viz., the first day of the week. 2. The concurrent action of each individual, for he adds, “Let every one of you” lay by him in store. 3. This is not a public collection, but a private act of setting apart for the Lord a portion of what one possesses. 4. The amount to be given is brought home to the conscience of each individual by the language, “as God hath prospered him.”—Ibid.1BIO 390.3

    The next point made was “How may we reduce to practice these excellent suggestions?” It was thought that with few exceptions the following plan could be adopted:1BIO 390.4

    1. Let each brother from 18 to 60 years of age lay by him in store on the first day of each week from 5 to 25 cents. 2. Each sister from 18 to 60 years of age lay by her in store on the first day of each week from 2 to 10 cents. 3. Also, let each brother and sister lay by him or her in store on the first day of each week from 1 to 5 cents on each and every $100 of property they possess....1BIO 390.5

    The lowest sums stated are so very small that those in the poorest circumstances (with very few exceptions of some widows, infirm, and aged) can act upon this plan; while those in better circumstances are left to act in the fear of God in the performance of their stewardship, to give all the way up to the highest sums stated, or even more, as they see it their duty to do.—Ibid.1BIO 391.1

    To implement the plan, the pioneers suggested:1BIO 391.2

    Each church may choose one of their number whose duty it shall be to take the names of those who cheerfully act upon this plan, and also the sums they propose to give each week, and collect these sums on the first of each month, and dispose of them according to the wishes of the church. Those scattered, and not associated with any church, can act for themselves or for their households, in the same manner.—Ibid.

    This plan, developed by leading men in the church, became known from the outset as “Systematic Benevolence.” They were pleased that it placed the burden of church support in an equitable way upon all believers. In time refinements and developments in applying and servicing the plan were made. As for the Battle Creek church, to which this plan was primarily addressed:1BIO 391.3

    J. P. Kellogg was ... chosen collector and treasurer for the Battle Creek church, and Elder James White was chosen corresponding secretary to correspond with the brethren scattered abroad who may wish to address him upon the subject of Systematic Benevolence.—Ibid.1BIO 391.4

    A week later, White reported to the readers of the Review that forty-six in Battle Creek had already signed up, declaring what they intended to do. It looked good to him, and he stated:1BIO 391.5

    It is time that all shared the blessings of the cheerful giver. God loves such.... Let this work of giving be equally distributed, and let the cause be fully sustained, and all share the blessing. This system carried out properly will serve to unite in prompt action, in sympathy and love, the waiting people of God.—Ibid., February 10, 1859.1BIO 391.6

    White was cheered by the response of some of the churches. The first to respond was Hillsdale, Michigan. They also had a question:1BIO 392.1

    Brother I. C. Vaughn writes from Hillsdale, Michigan, that the church in that place “are acting on the Systematic Benevolence plan, and like it much,” and inquires, “What is to be done with the money at the end of the month?”—Ibid., March 3, 1859.1BIO 392.2

    White rather quickly came up with a practical answer. This related to the very purpose of instituting the plan. He responded:1BIO 392.3

    We suggest that each church keep at least $5 in the treasury to help those preachers who occasionally visit them, and labor among them. This seems necessary.... Such is the scarcity of money, that our good brethren very seldom are prepared to help a messenger on his journey. Let there be a few dollars in every church treasury. Beyond this, the debt on the tent enterprise, et cetera, claims the proceeds of Systematic Benevolence in this state [Michigan].—Ibid.1BIO 392.4

    The back page of the February 10 issue of the Review carried an announcement that blank, ruled books were being prepared at the Review office “for the use of those who act as collectors and treasurers,” and they could be had for 15 cents. White urged a response from believers in other States, and some soon began to appear in the Review and Herald.1BIO 392.5

    Almost from the first the close relation of Systematic Benevolence to the tithe was observed. This appeared first in the details of how to reckon the obligation of the property holder. The basic plan, which called for 1 to 5 cents to be paid each week on every $100 of property, embodied a tithing principle, as explained in more detail in early 1861. James White, in a little-known and short-lived printed sheet, referred to the Systematic Benevolence as the tithe:1BIO 392.6

    We propose that the friends give a tithe, or a tenth of their income, estimating their income at 10 percent of what they possess.—Good Samaritan, January, 1861.1BIO 392.7

    The basis for this determination of the tithe was soon explained in the Review and Herald:1BIO 393.1

    We meant just what the churches are adopting in Michigan [referring to his statement published in the Good Samaritan]; viz., they regard the use of their property worth the same as money at 10 percent. This 10 percent they regard as the increase of their property. A tithe of this would be 1 percent, and would be nearly 2 cents per week on each $100, which our brethren, for convenience sake, are unanimous in putting down....1BIO 393.2

    Next come the personal donations. Let the young men who have no taxable property come up nobly here, also the young women.—The Review and Herald, April 9, 1861.1BIO 393.3

    Systematic Benevolence was early endorsed by Ellen White, and she linked it with the tithe. First she assured the church in June, 1859, “The plan of systematic benevolence is pleasing to God” (Testimonies for the Church, 1:190), and then in January, 1861, in a Testimony article entitled “Systematic Benevolence,” she wrote: “Rob not God by withholding from Him your tithes and offerings.” The article closed with Malachi 3:8-11 quoted in full (Testimonies for the Church, 1:221, 222). At the outset there was no separation of tithes from offerings. The demand for funds was mainly for the support of the ministers and the evangelistic outreach.1BIO 393.4

    Some years later, in an article published in the Testimonies entitled “Tithes and Offerings,” Ellen White wrote of Systematic Benevolence:1BIO 393.5

    The special system of tithing was founded upon a principle which is as enduring as the law of God. This system of tithing was a blessing to the Jews, else God would not have given it them. So also will it be a blessing to those who carry it out to the end of time.—Testimonies for the Church, 3:404, 405.1BIO 393.6

    There were developments through the years, as the work of the church broadened, that called for a separation of funds into two groups, “tithes” and “offerings.” Also the precise use of the tithe, sacred to the support of the ministry of the church, was repeatedly brought to the attention of the leaders and members.1BIO 393.7

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