RS/MP Chapter 12: Tithing, a Law for Our Protection and Advancement (Lorenzo Snow Manual)
Posted by kirkcaudle on June 13, 2013
For this weeks lesson I will be dealing exclusively with the “additional scriptures” listed in the back of the manual. However, before I get to my notes I wanted to quote the following, “Be careful not to end good discussions too soon in an attempt to present all the material you have prepared. Although it is important to cover the material, it is more important to help learners feel the influence of the Spirit, resolve their questions, increase their understanding of the gospel, and deepen their commitment to keep the commandments” (Teaching, No Greater Call, 64). If more teachers would heed this council I believe that we would all (teacher and students) would be the better for it. My hope is always that these notes will not only spur such good discussions during class, but also afterward and into the week.
The link to the full lesson can be found here.
Malachi 3:7-10 (verse 7 is not in the lesson but I added it here for context)
(7)Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?(8)Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.(9) Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.(10) 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.
v7 The question asked in this verse is very important, how shall we return? To return somewhere implies that you have already been there.
v8 God owns everything. Refusing tithes and offering to him is exactly what keeps us from him. By refusing to pay tithing we are refusing to participate fully in building the kingdom.
v9 The sin of one is a the sin of all. The community is punished as a group under one father (Mal. 2:10). Lorenzo Snow said, “The temporal salvation of this Church … depends upon obedience to this law.”
v10 When paying tithing try focusing on the blessings that can come to others and try to forget about the blessings that you might gain yourself. Tithing is for the kingdom. As Snow says, “Poverty exists among the Latter-day Saints, and always will exist until we at least obey the law of tithing.” Poverty is still very much a problem in our church.
Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.
v23 A few things here. First, this life is supposed to be a sacrifice. Second, we are asked to tithe what God asks us to tithe. Third, the same “fire” that burns the unrighteous will save righteous (1 Ne. 22:12). It is never to late to start this process, “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.” God is always waiting for us to allow him to save us.
(1 )Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion, (2) For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church. (3 )And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people. (4) And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord. (5) Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you. (6 )And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you. (7) And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen.
For these verses I am going to steal the words of Joe Spencer. So, although I agree with them, these are HIS words, NOT mine. He posted some ideas on section 119 here that will explain the richness of these verses much more eloquently than I can.
First, notice how abruptly this revelation begins. This is because it was, quite literally, an answer to prayer. It might be more helpful to see how this revelation appears in Joseph Smith’s journal, where it is preceded immediately by “Answer,” and where that is preceded by “Question: O Lord, show unto thy servants how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people for a tithing.” At any rate, there’s nothing of a preamble to this revelation; we simply get the Lord’s response to Joseph Smith’s straightforward question.
And what does the Lord require? Straightforwardly, “all their surplus property.” That is to be “the beginning of the tithing of [the Lord's] people.” Hang on, that can’t be right, can it? We know that tithing is a matter of ten percent, not of all surplus. No, we’re reading this revelation correctly. The beginning of tithing, the first step of tithing, according to this revelation, is plainly and simply “all [our] surplus property.” It’s only after that’s been put into the hands of the bishop—after that’s been consecrated, in effect—that there’s any talk of ten percent, and we’ll get to it. But if we’re serious about this revelation, here’s what we need to learn first: tithing begins with and doesn’t leave behind the law of consecration. It’s in this sense that Steve Harper says, and perfectly correctly, in his Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants, that “section 119 may be [Joseph Smith's] most misunderstood revelation. It begins with a direct restatement of the law of consecration…” (p. 441). Although we often talk as if D&C 119 removed and replaced the law of consecration by setting up the law of tithing, that’s simply incorrect. D&C 119 repeats and reinforces the law of consecration. Nothing goes away, and nothing is replaced.
So, “all their surplus property.” Let’s not try to get around that. And it’s to be put into the hands of the bishop, exactly as in D&C 42, which states the law of consecration for the first time. And it’s to be used for the building of the temple, for laying the foundation of Zion, for the use of the priesthood, and for the debts of the Church’s presidency—all of this a direct echo of the purposes of the surplus of consecrated funds in D&C 42. Nothing has changed, except that there’s more talk of the priesthood here than in D&C 42 (mostly because the priesthood took much more definitive shape only long after D&C 42) and that there’s a reference to the debts of the presidency (neither the presidency nor their heavy debts existed in 1831 when D&C 42 was revealed). The law of tithing begins with consecration. We can’t get serious about tithing if we aren’t first serious about consecration—regardless of all we say about having to get serious about tithing so that we can eventually get serious about consecration. We ought just to repent and take the scripture seriously here.
Of course, all of this leaves quite open what constitutes “surplus property.” I’ll tell a story below about that, about how the Saints reacted to this ambiguity in 1838. Of course, I can’t decide what constitutes surplus property any more than anyone else; I’ve not rule of thumb, even, to provide. But I think it’s safe to say that we ought to err on the side of consecrating more rather than less of what we have in our possession. We ought to recognize the tendency we have to think we really need things that we can do without, and so give more than we think we ought wisely to give. We ought to recognize that when we’re forced to go without some luxury for a little while, we recognize how much it’s actually in the way, and how little we actually need it. Let’s rid ourselves of at least a few more—if not many, many more—of the tethers that bind us to materialism and idolatry. This is especially important if we consider how many Saints are without even the basic necessities of life. If we haven’t taken care of the poor among ourselves, abundantly supplying their wants and needs, then we haven’t even begun to pay our tithing, collectively. And then we might really begin to worry about Malachi 3—though getting into that text is something we’ll have to do another time.
Okay, so here’s what we’re used to in D&C 119, but let’s look at it more carefully than we usually do. What’s this say? Well, first, we should note the important word “after” at the beginning of the verse. It’s only after consecration has taken place, only after we’ve unburdened ourselves of all our surplus property, that we turn to this one-tenth business. This is just to emphasize all over again what we’ve just been saying, but it shouldn’t be missed. Note how explicit the text is: “And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall….” What does “tithed” mean here? It couldn’t be much clearer: it means “unburdened of all their surplus property.” The word “thus” makes that unmistakably clear.
Okay, I think I’ve probably laid that on thick enough. What next? After all surplus is consecrated, one is left with what one needs to go about one’s business, that is, about one’s stewardship. And then one is to pay one-tenth of all their interest annually. Here again things still sound very much like consecration. When D&C 42 was originally lived out in Jackson County, the system established was one in which those who received a stewardship would meet with the bishop once a year to settle their finances. They would report on their stewardship, discuss what they had gained through their efforts, and determine how much they either needed to go on or could give to the storehouse to assist others in their stewardships. So here again, everything seems to be proceeding largely as it had before. What’s new or different? Just this focus on one-tenth. And that deserves some attention.
We’ve all heard it said that it remains up to us, individually, to determine what constitutes “interest” or “increase.” I don’t want to get into all that, because I think it really is an individual responsibility to determine exactly what that means. So let’s not focus on that. Instead, let’s ask about whether this “one-tenth … annually” means that the act of consecration that marks the “beginning” of tithing is something like the last consecration. You see, here we might begin to wonder whether the usual interpretation of this revelation isn’t at least partially right: we’re to give over all our surplus in one last bout of consecration-like activity, and then we’re just to pay ten percent of our annual increase from then on, retaining whatever further surplus entirely for ourselves. That’s an entirely possible interpretation of the revelation: tithing begins with a massive consecration of all surplus, but it continues as the mere ten-percent rule, and we’re free to keep the rest to use however we wish. That, it seems, is the “standing law” that continues forever.
Is that the only way to interpret this verse? Is it possible to hear in “annually” something more like what was instituted in Jackson County—an annual meeting in which one decides anew whether one has a surplus that can be freed up for the use of others who might need it? We might play around with that sort of thing, but I think the text is relatively clear. It’s not hard to hear in the Lord’s words here a certain concession to the Saints’ selfishness. The Lord, we might say, saw that the Saints weren’t willing to give up their excess on a yearly basis. So here He institutes a system where one is expected to do that only once, at the beginning of things, and then one is expected to donate one-tenth of their increase on an ongoing basis—but no more. That sort of thing would keep the Saints industrious and help them be self-sacrificing, but it wouldn’t induce the kind of anxiety that a yearly self-dispossession might.
Here, then, I think it’s best, interpretively, to make a certain concession to the usual interpretation of D&C 119. But it’s crucial still to recognize that the one-tenth business comes only after a full dispossession of everything in surplus. It’s worth saying again what was said before: if we haven’t yet handed over all our surplus property, then we haven’t yet begun to be tithed. That’s a crucial part of what the Lord sets up here, and we seem quite happy to jump straight to the not-entirely-limiting one-tenth business.
We can deal with this last part of the revelation in relatively short order. Note again that “tithed” here refers specifically to “surplus properties,” and then “this law” seems to refer to the one-tenth matter. And notice that both of these elements are to be required of all those already living in Missouri (previous verses), of all those coming still to settle in Missouri (verse 5), and of all those setting in any stake outside of Missouri (verse 7). This law is universal in the Church, and that can’t be missed.
And then we’re told a good deal about how all this is meant to “sanctify the land of Zion.” If this law isn’t kept—not just the initial consecration but the subsequent standing law—then the land of Zion will lose its status as Zion. This is a kind of last-ditch effort to ensure that Zion is Zion, is “most holy.” The law of tithing as laid out in this revelation is what keeps us from falling into a merely profane world, a world where everything remains under the iron laws of economic necessity—the cut-throat world of exchange and selfishness. We’re looking for the holy, for the set-apart, for the sacred, for the consecrated. But the land won’t be consecrated if we aren’t. And though we’re now all in the stakes of Zion, rather than in Zion itself, we still have the task of seeking out the holy, of rendering holy what otherwise would be an entirely profane world—a world of total work, a world driven solely by economic interests.
This last point makes me think that it’s important for us always to recognize that tithing, in whatever form, isn’t an economic affair. This isn’t God’s way of doing business, or God’s way of handling the economy. This is God’s way of getting us out of the economy, God’s way of subtracting us from the world of business and finance. Whenever we turn tithing into a kind of business venture—”I find that if I pay my tithing, my business affairs succeed,” etc.—we forget that the whole purpose of tithing is to make Zion a most holy land. The purpose isn’t to make us more successful, better off financially, more economically independent, etc. The purpose is to focus us on the building of Zion, on the work of redeeming the poor, on the task of establishing a space in an increasingly profane world within which we might live lives of genuine holiness. To whatever extent we lose that vision of things, we’ve lost what matters most in all this. If nothing else comes of rereading this revelation, I hope we might see tithing in that way.
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