Adventist Teaching: Yes
Biblical Teaching: No
In the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, tithing is a core tenant and teaching. Adventist’s have endeavored to follow the counsels of Ellen G. White on the subject, which they believe to be a divinely inspired help and aide from God in arriving at the proper interpretation of the Bible. She had quite a bit of extra-biblical prescriptions on this subject.
She claimed that tithe is sacred, reserved by God for Himself, and is to be brought into His treasury to be used to sustain the gospel laborers in their work. She prescribed that it is to be used to pay ministers and SDA bible workers, teachers of educational institutions, missionaries, and retired gospel workers.
On the contrary she “gave counsel” on a larger list of things the tithe should not be spent on which include the poor and needy (“it’s not a poor fund”), helping pay the education of a student, operating expenses of schools, the expenses of a local church, missionary work in new places, charity and hospitality, and other benevolence purposes.
But it doesn’t end there. Claiming to be shown all of this by God, some of the more outlandish and heretical assertions she made regarding not paying tithe include:
- You might not make it to Heaven
- God won’t bless you
- God may not answer your prayers
- You lie to the Holy Ghost like Ananias and Sapphira
- It’s recorded in your Heavenly Record
- You must confess to not paying and pay up
- The Lord will reduce your income
- Young children must also pay tithe
- You are not worthy of eternal life
- You will be cursed by God
- You will be reduced to poverty
- You will receive a curse
- You shouldn’t be called a Christian
- You aren’t worthy of prayer when you are sick
None of this is biblical and is why many Adventist’s are in bondage over this topic.
Tithing didn’t start with national Israel. Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils of war to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20), and Hebrews points us to this account to show the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood over Levi’s (Hebrews 7:4–10). Tithe was a “commandment of the law”. When God met Jacob at Bethel and promised him covenant blessings, he promised God a tenth of everything given to him (Genesis 28:22).
Moving forward to the establishment of national Israel, a tenth of Israel’s seed, fruit, and flocks were given to the Lord, not just money (Leviticus 27:30–32, Deuteronomy 14:22–24, 2 Chronicles 31:5–6, Nehemiah 13:5, 12). The people gave a tenth to the Levites to support them (Numbers 18:21–24; Nehemiah 10:38; 12:44), and the Levites—in return—were to give a tenth to the chief priest (Numbers 18:25–28). Those that did not tithe were threatened with a curse, while those who did tithe were promised blessing (Malachi 3:8–10).
These are the sorts of passages that the Adventist Church is going to claim Ellen G. White was pointing to, ergo, her proclamations were completely in line with scripture. But this is a perfect example of the Adventist pioneers (including Mrs. White) inability to distinguish between that which is descriptive in scripture and that which is prescriptive. Descriptive texts are describing to the reader something of the past, usually around historical accountings. Prescriptive passages are ones that are giving a specific instruction to all people at all times. None of these above passages are prescriptions to all peoples, at all times, such as being cursed for not paying tithe.
There are many reasons why tithing is no longer required, but that Christian’s are called to give cheerfully and graciously as the Holy Spirit leads them to (2 Corinthians 9:7).
- We aren’t under the Mosaic covenant anymore (2 Corinthians 3:4-18, Romans 6:14-15, 7:5-6, Hebrews 8:13)
The commands given in the Mosaic covenant are no longer in force for believers. The tithe in that economy was used for a specific economic purpose with God himself as a governing official over that nation.
- Pre-Israel figures such as Abraham and Jacob aren’t prescriptive
Some Adventist’s will say that because both Abraham and Jacob gave a tenth, and they both lived before the Mosaic covenant, this proves tithing transcends to all time periods. However, closer examination says otherwise. Abraham’s gift to Melchizedek was a one-time event. We don’t have any evidence that he regularly gave God tithe.
Jacob’s giving of a tenth signified his gratefulness to God for promising to be with him and to protect him. His generosity and gratitude are an example for us today, but this story is—again—a historical description of what Jacob gave, not a prescription for all of humanity. This doesn’t support the idea that all believers must give God a tenth of their income.
- Tithes were given to the Levites and priests of which there are none in the new covenant
Scripture is clear that the Levites and priests were tied to the sacrificial system of the old covenant as was the tithe. In the New Covenant, all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6, 5:10, 20:6), with Jesus as our Melchizedekian high priest (Hebrews 7).
- Tithe was also tied to the land that Israel received under the Old Covenant
Israel was supposed to celebrate a tithe every three years in Jerusalem, something that cannot apply to Christians today. It related to national Israel’s earthly “promised land”.
The New Testament teaching is clear on how Christians are to give—and that’s generously with a cheerful attitude. We are commanded to give financial support for those who preach the gospel (Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7, 1 Corinthians 9:6–14, 1 Timothy 5:17–18) and to those in need (1 Timothy 6:17–19, 2 Corinthians 8–9).
For many in the Western world, this generosity may well exceed ten percent. For others, it might only be three or four percent. It doesn’t come with strings attached that if you don’t you shouldn’t even call yourself a Christian, you risk being cursed by God, etc. This is legalistic bondage. Scripture doesn’t command tithing for Christians—and Scripture, not Ellen G. White, is our only infallible (and final) rule and authority for faith and practice.