Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why I Believe: Evidence Thirty-five: Joseph Smith, the Law of Tithing, and Church Prosperity

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Is A Prophet

Evidence Thirty-five:
Joseph Smith, the Law of Tithing, and Church Prosperity© 

It is not uncommon for opponents of Mormonism to point to the wealth of the Church as a reason for criticism. I believe, however, that when viewed in its true light, the prosperity of the Church and many of its members is an evidence of the inspiration and revelation which rested upon Joseph Smith in the early days of the Church, and of his successors in subsequent decades. Basically two simple directives from the Lord through the Prophet guide the revenue collecting and disbursement of the Church. Neither is long and involved. Indeed, the very opposite is true.  They are among the simplest and briefest of the revelations which were given to him.

The first is Section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants, given on 8 July 1838, in Far West, Missouri. It is divided into seven verses and occupies less than half a page in that sacred book. It came in answer to the question, how much of their property the Lord required of his saints for sacred purposes. The answer was “one-tenth of all their interest annually.” This has been interpreted to mean 10% of one’s income. In those early days in which the Saints were poor, the demands for Church revenue were high, and it was being driven from place to place. The Church and its people struggled greatly with poverty. Nevertheless, the Lord blessed his people. In Utah the persecutions by the Federal Government during the so-called “Americanization of Utah” brought the Church to its financial knees, at which time Lorenzo Snow was inspired to reemphasize the law of tithing. Gradually over the decades as the faith of the people increased and more tithing was paid the Church began to prosper more and more.

In the same revelation the Lord specified that tithing was to be used 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.” (Verse 2) Section 120, also given on 8 July 1838, was one simple verse of direction regarding the disbursement of the funds. Tithing is to be “disposed of by a council, composed of the First Presidency of my Church, and of the bishop and his council, and by my high council; and by mine own voice unto them.” The last phrase is the key, of which Church critics are totally unaware.

In the fall of 2013, Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, spoke to the Church about these two directives and told of attending his first meeting of this council in 2004 after his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, and the feelings he experienced in that meeting. He said:
I marvel at the clarity and brevity of these two revelations in comparison to the complicated financial guidelines and administrative procedures used in so many organizations and governments around the world. How can the temporal affairs of an organization as large as the restored Church of Jesus Christ possibly operate throughout the entire world using such succinct instructions?  To me the answer is quite straightforward: this is the Lord’s work, He is able to do His own work (see 2 Nephi 27:20), and the Savior inspires and directs His servants as they apply His directions and labor in His cause. (1)
He went on to speak of the “simplicity of the principles that guided our deliberations and decisions.” Two “basic and fixed principles” are observed, he said. “First, the Church lives within its means and does not spend more than it receives. Second, a portion of the annual income is set aside as a reserve for contingencies and unanticipated needs.” (2)

Much could be said about the great faith of the Mormon people to pay ten percent of their income to the Church to provide this revenue base, but this is not usually the focus of the Church’s critics. They concentrate on the amount of money the Church has, the businesses from which it makes money as they suppose, and they attribute the Church’s financial success to the business acumen of its leaders. They also ascribe the “power” of Mormonism in the United States to this wealth and influence and miss the real point–the faith and commitment of the Lord’s people to a simple commandment.  

They also miss another important issue, these simple revelations were received by the founding Prophet. He was content to leave less than eight verses to govern the method of financing the Church(3)–the Lord’s Church! The outcome is the present prosperity it enjoys and the blessings it is to people throughout the world. It is truly a marvelous work and a wonder, and the wonder for this author is, how this young unlettered Vermonter came up with this simple system that when properly implemented has produced the astounding “fruit” which it has?

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Lets think together again, soon.


1.  David A. Bednar, “The Windows of Heaven,” Ensign (November 2013): 19.

2.  Ibid, pp. 19-20.

3.  I am aware there are other revelations about the Law of Consecration and Stewardship, but the revenue of the Church is provided largely through the tithing of the membership of the Church, which is the topic under discussion here.

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