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The truth about tithing

Where does God require us to place our tithe?

“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.” Malachi 3:10


“In the tithe, with gifts and offerings, He has made provision for this work. Thus He intends that the ministry of the gospel shall be sustained. He claims the tithe as His own, and it should ever be regarded as a sacred reserve, to be placed in His treasury for the benefit of His cause. He asks also for our free-will gifts and offerings of gratitude. All are to be devoted to the sending of the gospel unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” Christ Object Lessons, p. 300.3

Where then is God’s treasury or storehouse?

“There are only two places in the universe where we can place our treasures,--in God's storehouse or in Satan's; and all that is not devoted to God's service is counted on Satan's side, and goes to strengthen his cause.” Counsels on Stewardship, p. 35.4


There is no question that when God’s church is faithful, it is His storehouse. But there is no quote that tells us the church is the only storehouse.

What did Ellen White do with her tithe?

“I have myself appropriated my tithe to the most needy cases brought to my notice. I have been instructed to do this” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.4

How long did Ellen White pay her tithes to the neglected southern workers?

“It has been presented to me for years that my tithe was to be appropriated by myself to aid the white and colored ministers who were neglected and did not receive sufficient properly to support their families. When my attention was called to aged ministers, white or black, it was my special duty to investigate into their necessities and supply their needs. This was to be my special work, and I have done this in a number of cases. No man should give notoriety to the fact that in special cases the tithe is used in that way.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.2


“Some cases have been kept before me for years, and I have supplied their needs from the tithe, as God has instructed me to do.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.5

Did Ellen White’s practice of supporting neglected workers mean she was withholding tithe from the Lord’s treasury?

“I have myself appropriated my tithe to the most needy cases brought to my notice. I have been instructed to do this; and as the money is not withheld from the Lord's treasury, it is not a matter that should be commented upon; for it will necessitate my making known these matters, which I do not desire to do, because it is not best.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.4

Ellen White supported ministers with credentials from the church. Surely that is why she was not withholding tithe from the treasury?

“There are ministers' wives, Sisters Starr, Haskell, Wilson and Robinson, who have been devoted, earnest, whole-souled workers, giving Bible readings and praying with families, helping along by personal efforts just as successfully as their husbands. These women give their whole time, and are told that they receive nothing for their labors because their husbands receive their wages. I tell them to go forward and all such decisions shall be reversed. The Word says, ‘The laborer is worthy of his hire.’ When any such decision as this is made, I will in the name of the Lord, protest. I will feel it in my duty to create a fund from my tithe money, to pay these women who are accomplishing just as essential work as the ministers are doing, and this tithe I will reserve for work in the same line as that of the ministers, hunting for souls, fishing for souls.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 118

Was Ellen White ever an example to others in what she did with her tithe?

“Some cases have been kept before me for years, and I have supplied their needs from the tithe, as God has instructed me to do. And if any person shall say to me, Sister White, will you appropriate my tithe where you know it is most needed, I shall say, Yes, I will; and I have done so.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.5

Did Ellen White ever commend people for not paying their tithe through the regular channel [church storehouse]?

“I commend those sisters who have placed their tithe where it is most needed to help to do a work that is being left undone; and if this matter is given publicity, it will create knowledge which would better be left as it is.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.5


“If there has been cases where our sisters have appropriated their tithe to the support of the ministers working for the colored people in the South, let every man, if he is wise, hold his peace.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.3

Since Ellen White was a prophet she was directed to go against her own supposed counsel (to only pay tithe to the church). However, no one else did this, right?

“I do not care to give publicity to this work which the Lord has appointed me to do, and others to do.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.5

Is it wrong to send our tithe to faithful ministers or ministries if we have lost confidence in the way the church appropriates it?

“But for years there have now and then been persons who have lost confidence in the appropriation of the tithe who have placed their tithe in my hands, and said that if I did not take it they would themselves appropriate it to the families of the most needy minister they could find. I have taken the money, given a receipt for it, and told them how it was appropriated.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.6

What rule did Ellen White use when paying her tithe to places other than the church?

“I send this matter to you so that you shall not make a mistake. Circumstances alter cases.” Spalding and Magan Collection, p. 215.6

Is there an example in the Bible where circumstances alter cases?

“And there came a man from Baalshalisha, and brought the man of God [Elisha] bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat. And his servitor said, What, should I set this before an hundred men? He said again, Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the LORD, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof. So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the LORD.” 2Kings 4:42-44


The firstfruits were to be given to the priests (Leviticus 23:10; Deuteronomy 18:1-4). On this occasion though, the firstfruits are given to Elisha the prophet who was not a Levite. One of the reasons this may have occurred is because all the priests had fled to Judah (2 Chronicles 11:13-14). Circumstances can alter cases.


“There are exceptional cases, where poverty is so deep that, in order to secure the humblest place of worship, it may be necessary to appropriate the tithes. But that place is not Battle Creek or Oakland.” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 1, p. 191.1


Ellen White was very clear that tithe was to be used to support the ministry (Gospel Workers, p. 227). Yet in this quotation, she concedes that tithe may be used to secure a place of worship in exceptional cases. Again we see the principle that circumstances can alter cases.

Is there any other example where people in authority have approved paying tithe directly to the needy field when the church is failing to use the tithe correctly?

“6. As to the proper use of the tithe: The outline of a statement on this subject which was agreed upon was briefly this: To give extracts from Sister White's writings as to the tithe and its use; to show that her testimony and her own usual practice was in favor of paying the tithe into the regularly designated treasury, to be used under the counsel of the committees appointed for such purposes; to show further from her writings that when those who have charge of the expenditure of the tithe so far fail in the discharge of their duty that the regularly organized channels for the distribution of tithe become hindrances to its proper use, then in order to carry out the divine plan that the tithe should be expended in the wisest manner for the furtherance of the work, individuals have the right to pay their tithes direct to the needy fields; but that this involves a considerable degree of personal responsibility, which must be assumed by those who decide to follow this plan. It was thought that this matter could be handled in a way to show that the departure from the regular plans was authorized only when the regular plans failed to be carried out by those in positions of responsibility.” - Document file 213 (unpublished from the White Estate) Reported to have been prepared by Willie White, Daniells, and Prescott1

What kinds of things does God hold us accountable for?

1. Privileges, time and abilities


“Young men should remember that they are accountable for all the privileges they have enjoyed, for the improvement of their time, and for the right use of their abilities. They may inquire, Shall we have no amusement or recreation? Shall we work, work, work, without any variation?” The Adventist Home, p.507


2. Our children


“Parents, you carry responsibilities that no one can bear for you. As long as you live, you are accountable to God to keep His way. . . . Parents who make the word of God their guide, and who realize how much their children depend upon them for the characters they form, will set an example that it will be safe for their children to follow.” The Adventist Home, p.187.1


3. Our means


“The possession of the Word of God places great responsibilities upon us; for it makes us accountable for the means that he entrusts to us. It is a great privilege to have money to invest in the cause of God; and that man is blessed who desires to place it where instead of ministering to selfish desires, it will help to work out the purposes of God. The offerings made to help carry out the plan of salvation, bring joy to the giver and glory to the One for whose sake they are made.” The Review and Herald, Mar. 5, 1908 par. 6


“Some think that only a portion of their means is the Lord’s, but this is a mistake. All is the Lord’s. All should feel their accountability to appropriate the means as the different necessities of the work shall demand. There are poor to be helped. If you put out of your power the talents lent you by God to do this work, you are held responsible for the work you should have done. You place man as God, and he feels fully authorized to use the purchased talents just as he pleases, when he might listen to the calls for help. You put it out of your power to do the work you feel impressed to do.” The Publishing Ministry, p. 233


4. Our income


“But not so does God regard the matter. The ability to write a book is, like every other talent, a gift from Him, for the improvement of which the possessor is accountable to God; and he is to invest the returns under His direction. Let it be borne in mind that it is not our own property which is entrusted to us for investment. If it were, we might claim discretionary power; we might shift our responsibility upon others, and leave our stewardship with them. But this cannot be, because the Lord has made us individually His stewards. We are responsible to invest this means ourselves. Our own hearts are to be sanctified; our hands are to have something to impart, as occasion demands, of the income that God entrusts to us.

It would be just as reasonable for the conference or the publishing house to assume control of the income which a brother receives from his houses or lands as to appropriate that which comes from the working of his brain.” Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 163


5. Our gifts


“There is not a follower of Christ but has some peculiar gift for the use of which he is accountable to God.” Ye Shall Receive Power, p. 218


6. Our tithe and offerings


“Do not rob God. Walk honestly before him. All is his. He has intrusted goods to his agents for the advancement of his work in the world. They are to bring to his treasury a faithful tithe and besides this, they are to bring gifts and offerings as the cause shall demand. God does not propose to do the work which he has intrusted to us. We are to do our part in carrying out the plan of redemption provided for the human race at an infinite cost. God desires us to realize our accountability to him, and act as his helping hand.” The General Conference Bulletin, April 8, 1901 par. 17


7. For warning the wicked


“When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” Ezekiel 33:8


8. Reproving sin


“When existing evils are not met and checked, because men have too little courage to reprove wrong, or because they have too little interest or are too indolent to tax their own powers in putting forth earnest efforts to purify the family or the church of God, they are accountable for the evil which may result in consequence of neglect to do their duty. We are just as accountable for evils that we might have checked in others, by reproof, by warning, by exercise of parental or pastoral authority, as if we were guilty of the acts ourselves.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, p. 516


“If wrongs are apparent among His people, and if the servants of God pass on indifferent to them, they virtually sustain and justify the sinner, and are alike guilty, and will just as surely receive the displeasure of God; for they will be made responsible for the sins of the guilty.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3, p. 365-366


Think about this. If God holds us accountable for our time, talents, children, income, money, warning the wicked and reproving sin in the church, why would He not hold us accountable for who we pay our tithe to if we know it is going to be misused?

Are we really held accountable if we know our tithe is not used correctly?

“I pay my tithe gladly and freely, saying, as did David, ‘Of Thine own have we given Thee.’ A selfish withholding from God will tend to poverty in our own souls. Act your part, my brethren and sisters. God loves you, and He stands at the helm. If the conference business is not managed according to the order of the Lord, that is the sin of the erring one. The Lord will not hold you responsible for it if you do what you can to correct the evil. But do not commit sin yourselves by withholding from the Lord His own property. ‘Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully’ or negligently.” - Sermons and Talks, Vol. 2, p. 74.4


Please notice the word if. This suggests that if we do not fulfill the requirements, God will hold us responsible.

What did Paul say about those who give their lives to the preaching of the gospel?

“Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:13-14

What type of missionary was Paul?

“It was as a self-supporting missionary that the apostle Paul labored in spreading the knowledge of Christ throughout the world. While daily teaching the gospel in the great cities of Asia and Europe, he wrought at the trade of a craftsman to sustain himself and his companions. His parting words to the elders of Ephesus, showing his manner of labor, have precious lessons for every gospel worker:” The Ministry of Healing, p. 154.1

Did Paul ever receive support from churches?

“Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” Philippians 4:14-17


“I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.” 2 Corinthians 11:8-9


As we have seen, the tithing issue is not as clear cut as many would like us to think. We believe that the church is the best place to return our tithes to, but when it misuses the tithes, we have a personal responsibility before God to ensure His money is used correctly to the best of our knowledge. This view has been held by many of God’s faithful people for many years.


Some may object and say that by withholding tithe from the church organization, that faithful ministers on the church payroll will be penalized and eventually there will not be enough funds to support the church. There are two simple answers to this objection:

  1. If enough people stopped paying their tithe to the church so that it had a devastating effect on the church budget, maybe church leaders would wake up and ask why this was happening and seek to rectify the evils that have led to this. This sounds harsh, but in Israel's day, God had to send the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem lead His people into captivity in order to wake them up.

  2. Sadly God’s faithful ministers employed by the church are already suffering, not because there is a lack of people paying their tithe to the church, but because so much of the tithe it receives is locked away in investment funds. In some cases, this includes 20 to 30 years.2

We need to ask ourselves the question, do we really believe Jesus is coming soon? Or do we only profess it? If we did believe with all our heart, as a church we would not be investing God’s money in stocks, property or any other investment, especially long-term investments. God has shown that this practice is not in accordance with His will.


“It should not be the chief consideration of conference officers to collect and save up money, for then the real work of the conference, the salvation of souls, will become a matter of secondary importance. Our people should never be permitted to lose sight of a world shrouded in darkness, waiting for the light of the gospel message.

What a change would have been seen in this conference, if all its laborers, with truly converted hearts, had worked with zeal and sanctified ability! Men and women would have been converted to the truth through the preaching of the Word, and these would have reached out for others. Many souls would have been converted, and these new converts would have brought additional revenue to the cause of God in their tithes and offerings.

The character of the economy which has often been revealed in the effort to save up means, is an offense to God. He says, ‘The gold and the silver is Mine.’ Religious and spiritual interests must not be narrowed down and subordinated to the accumulation of means in the conference treasury, that the officers may stand high in the estimation of the people as good financiers. The Lord looks beneath the surface to the outcome, and He does not approve of such financiering.--Ms 17, 1908. (’The Work in California,’ February 15, 1908.)” Manuscript Releases, Vol. 8, p. 8


“In some conferences it has been considered commendable to save up means, and to show a large surplus in the treasury. But in this God has not been honored. It would have been better if the money thus laid by had been wisely expended in supporting diligent, efficient laborers in needy fields.” Gospel Workers, p. 456.3


“Some have been fearful of undertaking work in the cities, because this would mean hard and continuous labor and the investment of considerable means. In some conferences it has been regarded as commendable to keep the laboring forces reduced to a minimum, and thus save up means, and show a large surplus in the treasury,--a surplus that might have been wisely expended in diligent, efficient labor. Those who have been influenced by such considerations, need to gain an understanding of the magnitude of the gift that the Lord has made for the salvation of a lost world. The Lord can not accept as workers those who, knowing the truth, can go on day by day, carrying no real burden for those who know it not. Many are in need of a new conversion.” The Review and Herald, April 7, 1910 par. 17


“And if there is a surplus of means in the treasury, there are many places where it may be used strictly in the appointed lines. In many places the dearth of means is so great that the workers cannot be employed to do missionary work. Every dollar of the money put into the treasury is not needed in _____. Let the Lord's money be donated to support the ministers in foreign countries where they are working to lift the standard in new fields. This is God's money, and He designs that it shall be used in sustaining the ministry, in educating a people to prepare to meet their God. . . .

If you have more means than you need to settle [with] your ministers in a fair, liberal, Christian manner, there are other places where you can help, where there are but few people and poor, and the tithe is limited. Send the Lord's money to them. This I have been repeatedly shown is the way to do. . . .” - Manuscript Releases, Vol. 1, p. 189 - 190


We are aware of Ellen White’s counsel that the church should have a workers’ fund for the aged ministers who no longer can work.3 But we question whether this fund should be invested in worldly enterprises for long periods where it can lose its value. Again we ask, do we really believe Jesus is coming soon? Do we have enough faith that God will support His work? If God’s people knew the money they give to the church was being used as it was given instead of being invested for lengthy periods, maybe they would sacrifice more because they know it will be used correctly.



  3. See Testimonies for the Church, Vol.7, p. 294