Thursday, 28 November 2013

Mormons and CS Lewis: Virtue by Association

CS LewisNovember 22 marked the 50th anniversary of CS Lewis’ death. The great man is being honoured with a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey. The CS Lewis Foundation is marking the anniversary with a series of events celebrating his enduring legacy.

Belfast city council has funded a festival celebrating his life and a 50th anniversary memorial weekend was held on 22-23 November. All in all, Christians all over the world have found some way to make the time special and all about CS Lewis.

The Mormon Church, too, has marked the special anniversary but their “celebration” is somewhat different. While Christians concentrate on Lewis, celebrating his life, faith and accomplishments, Mormons have made a great deal of how many times he has been quoted by Mormons, in Mormon conferences and periodicals.

It is reported that Lewis has been quoted in LDS Church magazines more than 100 times, and almost one-third of the citations are from speakers in general conference. Aren’t you glad I told you that?

The first time he was quoted in conference was in 1977 by Paul H Dunn. Now that is an unfortunate association since Dunn turns out to have been one of the biggest fibbers in Mormon Church history, rivalling even the great obfuscator himself, Joseph Smith.* Its a name the church will not appreciate being dug up and thrown around.

Neil A Maxwell, so beloved of right-thinking Mormons, quoted him most with 19 different citations, then James E Faust with 9. There is even a list of 23 quotes cited by Mormon leaders, along with a brief account of when, where and in which context.

Virtue by Association

There was an old British music hall song from the Edwardian era that ran:

I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales.
I'm crazy with excitement, completely off the rails
And when he said to me what she said to him -the Prince remarked to her
It was simply grand, he said "Topping band" and she said "Delightful, Sir"
Glory, Glory, Alleluia! I'm the luckiest of females;
For I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales.

The pleasure of reflected glory is a heady business for some. To have heard from her dance partner the words, he assures her, were uttered by the Prince to his partner was something to write a song about - apparently.

“Topping band,” remarked the Prince. “Topping band,” reported his dance partner. “Topping band,” repeated her friend to another girl; Swoon!

So it was that, for everyone else, it is all about CS Lewis, but for Mormons it is all about Mormonism. “What a great Christian thinker,” remarked his friends. “What a great Christian thinker,” repeated other Christians. “I quoted him,” said a Mormon.

One has to wonder at the state of the mind that can make capital of simply having quoted someone, but then this is a key facet of Mormonism. It might be said to be virtue by association.


*Former BYU researcher Lynn Packer extensively researched the General Authority and his lies and got sacked from BYU as a result of his publishing the truth, while Dunn was quietly retired “for health reasons” and never held to account for his perfidy.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Mormon Women: “Wear Pants to Church”–or Nothing at All?

Wear Pants to Church 2What is happening in the Mormon Church? For a second year Mormon women are being encouraged to wear pants (trousers) to church to support a feminist drive in Mormonism. What is it about?

According to the Pants to Church official website:

“Mormon feminists, women and men, wore dress pants and the color purple to their local LDS Church services on December 16, 2012. People wore pants for many different reasons, but many of those who participated were concerned about gender equality in the LDS Church.

This year, Mormon feminists will be wearing dress pants and/or the color purple to LDS Church services on December 15. We are wearing pants to celebrate inclusiveness in the LDS Church. We believe that everyone is welcome at church.

and he inviteth them all to come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile (2 Nephi 26:33)”

This gives an insight into the level of anxiety felt among Mormons over the simplest, most innocent things. I remember being at a Mormon dance in the 1970s where there were some colourful lights travelling gently around the walls and ceiling. One woman (it always seemed to be the women) protested, “Strobe lighting has been banned by the church!” She clearly had no idea what strobe lighting was but she knew the rules.

Mormons worry about such things and who can blame them when their religion is so often about petty rules and regulations? Even when you leave such a setup it can take years to get out of the habit of asking yourself, “Is it allowed?” The Pharisee party in the Bible would feel at home among these people.

Church leaders, too, can’t help themselves, with an “official statement” being issued:

"Millions of women in this church do not share the views of this small group who organized today's protest, and most church members would see such efforts as divisive."

For pity’s sake! Its a pair of trousers. But that is where Mormonism is, culturally, in the 21st century; anxious, apprehensive, legalistic, always looking around, anticipating a tap on the shoulder, an invitation to have a chat with the bishop about appropriate clothing. “Brother Thomas, where is your tie today?”

Apparently, there was “a milestone at a church general conference in April when a woman led a prayer for the first time in the conference's 183-year history.”

Imagine that! A woman praying – in church!!

As these things do, it can get ridiculous. At the most recent general conference in October, women stood in line outside an all-male priesthood meeting and asked to be let in. They were denied. They were protesting at women’s exclusion from the Mormon priesthood.

Imagine that! Women barred – from a church meeting!!

Mormon Women Bare

But imagine if they had turned up naked! Salt Lake City photographer, Katrina Anderson has been photographing nude women for the past year for her project You can read an interview with here on Religion Dispatches.

The photos, she says, are a statement against the "extreme modesty culture within Mormonism."  She feels although the intention to teach modesty is good, the effect is often shame and too much focus on sex. "I don't think women should carry the burden of how men view them and see them," she said.Eliza Snow

Imagine trying to persuade Eliza Snow (right) to take off her clothes for the camera! She would banish you to Outer Darkness.

Of course, like all legalistic systems, Mormonism majors on guilt, and sex is such an easy target in the Christian West. Many a young Mormon has spent two years fighting against his hormones on a mission, far from home, dreaming of his wedding night only to find duty, religion, piety and a set of ugly, cumbersome temple garments all conspiring to make the night memorable for all the wrong reasons.

What is happening in the Mormon Church? The world, the march of progress, education, the challenge of post-modern culture. It is what is happening to churches across the western world.

They are having to face the onslaught of reason and the challenge of liberalism and reason demands they pick their battles more wisely. I suppose trousers in the chapel are radical enough for now.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Lorenzo Snow Tells Mormons: Don’t Copy Joseph Smith

lorenzo-snow manual

Lorenzo Snow was the fifth president of the Mormon Church (1898-1901) and presided over a period of enormous upheaval and change. His predecessor, Wilford Woodruff, had, in 1890, officially declared the Mormon practice of polygamy heterodoxical. Mormon men were still being arrested, or living in hiding because of their polygamous lifestyles.

Legal problems over polygamy had almost bankrupted the church. His fear was that, faced with such desperate circumstances, Mormons might be tempted to emulate the questionable practices of Joseph Smith and early church leaders.

Imagine that for a moment. A church leader warning his followers against using early church leaders as role models. Its rather like your pastor saying you should not model yourself on Peter, Paul, Timothy.

Snow sought to begin solving this problem by preaching tithing. It was during his presidency that the law of tithing became official church doctrine and practice.

He delivered a sermon back in April 1889, just after he had been called as president of the Quorum of the Twelve, in which he addressed his concerns. Extracts from that sermon form chapter 21 of this year’s official Mormon study Manual, the latest in a series on Teachings of Presidents of the Church.

A version of this post appeared recently on the Mormonism Investigated ministry blog.

The Richest People in the World

1889 is significant because many of the conditions that prevailed some fifty years earlier were again being experienced by the Mormon Church.

In her seminal biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, the historian Fawn M Brodie wrote:

“Mormon theology was never burdened with otherworldliness…Wealth and power [Mormons] considered basic among the blessing both of earth and of heaven…” (No Man Knows My History, 1966 ed. pub. Alfred A Knopf, p.p. 187/8)

A quote from an 1831 letter throws light on the Saints’ view of wealth and entitlement:

“It passes for a current fact that there are immense treasures in the earth, especially in those places in the State of New York from whence many of the Mormonites emigrated last spring; and when they become sufficiently purified, these treasures are to be poured into the lap of their church; to use their own language, they are to be the richest people in the world.” (Ezra Booth, letter written late in 1831. Quoted in Brodie p. 187)

This understanding has bearing on the subject of Snow’s sermon. Here are the salient facts surrounding both periods, 1835 and 1889:

By 1835 Joseph Smith had built his own little kingdom in Kirtland

By 1877, the time of his death, Brigham Young had built a kingdom in the Salt Lake Valley

In 1835 rumours of polygamy were causing problems for the church and Joseph Smith was forced to deny the rumours, even though his denial was a palpable lie.

In 1887 the Edmunds-Tucker Act allowed the government to effectively dissolve the Mormon Church as a legal entity because of the practice of polygamy and, in 1890, it was this that forced the hand of church president Wilford Woodruff who issued the Manifesto abandoning polygamy.

In 1835 a new temple had been completed and had drained church resources

By 1890 the Salt Lake temple was completed and had drained church resources

So, what did the Saints do in 1835 to solve their financial problems? What caused Lorenzo Snow to refer to an apostasy?

Land-Grabs and Dodgy Banking

in the mid 1830’s Mormons entered a period of frenzied land speculation led by Joseph Smith himself. In other words, if there was an apostasy, Joseph was chief heretic. There was a huge influx of immigration that caused the population in and around Kirtland to jump 62 percent and the question of where they would all live had dollar signs spinning in the eyes of those able to buy and sell property.

kirtland-templeIn Kirtland, lots jumped from $50 to $2,000, and surrounding farms from $10 and $15 an acre to $150. Joseph began buying and selling land with the rest. His credit, backed by the collateral of the new temple built for some $70,000, was good so he borrowed, speculated to accumulate. Along with three others, he began a frenzy of borrowing and purchasing, hoping to make riches from the incoming Mormon population. Of course, this created a property bubble that couldn’t last but that didn’t seem to trouble the prophet.

Mormon apostle, Parley P Pratt was so concerned he wrote a letter to Joseph Smith in which he declared himself, “…fully convinced that you, and president Rigdon, both by precept and example, have been the principle means in leading this people astray, in these particulars, and having myself been led astray and caught in the same snare by your example, and by false prophesying and preaching, from your own mouths, yea, having done many things wrong and plunged myself and family, and others, well nigh into destruction, I have awoke to an awful sense of my situation, and now resolve to retrace my steps and get out of the snare, and make restitution as far as I can.” (quoted in Tanner, Mormonism-Shadow or Reality, p.528)

The level and extent of speculation was so damaging it depreciated paper money going into the United States Treasury. On July 11, 1836 Andrew Jackson issued a specie circular, forbidding agents to accept anything but gold and silver for the sale of public land (specie is a term for money in the form of coins and paper)

According to the History of the Church, Joseph Smith had marked September 11, 1836 as the day God would redeem Zion. Quoting in part Isaiah, he said, “Then, for brass the Lord will bring gold, and for iron silver, and for wood brass…and then the land will be worth possessing and the world fit to live in.” Unfortunately, the prospect facing the Saints was bleak, and they faced being driven out of Missouri as those who once were pleased to shelter them now lost all sympathy for them.

Buried Treasure

Money had to be gained from somewhere, but the specie ban made it very difficult. It was then that news of buried treasure reached Joseph, first in the form of a story in the Painesville Telegraph.

War treasure was said to be buried beneath a house in Salem, Massachusetts, and a convert named Burgess claimed he was the only one who remembered its exact location. I know what your thinking; he surely isn’t going to fall for this. Well, the pull of the old days was just too strong, the promise of buried treasure too tempting, and he arrived in Salem early in August, 1836.

Joseph’s true objective could not be revealed and in this he faced a dilemma. His initial explanation was that this was a mission tour. The truth had to come out at some time however and, as so often before, he solved his problem by receiving a revelation, Doctrine & Covenants 111 which begins:

“I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies. I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality.

Therefore, it is expedient that you should form acquaintance with men in this city, as you shall be led, and as it shall be given you. And it shall come to pass in due time that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours. Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them.” (v.v 1-5)

Mormons today who get their Mormon history only from official sources will know nothing of Joseph’s true motives, of the Saints’ true financial and moral dilemma. The heading for section 111 disingenuously reads:

“Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Salem, Massachusetts, August 6, 1836. At this time the leaders of the Church were heavily in debt due to their labors (sic) in the ministry. Hearing that a large amount of money would be available to them in Salem, the Prophet, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery traveled (sic) there from Kirtland, Ohio, to investigate this claim, along with preaching the gospel. The brethren transacted several items of Church business and did some preaching. When it became apparent that no money was to be forthcoming, they returned to Kirtland. Several of the factors prominent in the background are reflected in the wording of this revelation.”

They were not, however, “in debt due their labours in the ministry,” they were in debt because of wild and unsustainable land and property speculations, Joseph leading the charge.

It had been ten years since he had dug for buried gold but he hadn’t left behind his simple faith in the folklore and blind superstitions that had led to his early treasure-seeking adventures in the first place. Unfortunately for him, Burgess soon abandoned this venture, claiming the city had changed so much he could no longer be sure of the treasure’s location. The biter bit? It would seem so, since Joseph had fallen victim to the same scam he had pulled on others and, like them, he walked away without the gold in which he so believed and on which he had so depended to get him out of his dilemma.

Dodgy Banking

Joseph Smith didn’t come back entirely empty-handed, having negotiated more loans from companies in the East. However, he couldn’t go on living indefinitely on borrowed funds. At some point, he knew, his debts had to be liquidated and the Saints’ finances established on a more sure footing.  It was now, and in the same spirit of wild speculation, that Joseph Smith established his own bank, the Kirtland Safety Society Bank Company. This wasn’t unusual at the time; the rapid expansion of the West created a demand for money that wasn’t being met by existing banking institutions.

Again, Joseph legitimised this new venture with a new revelation. The Saints were assured that Smith’s bank would “grow and flourish, and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins.” (Reported in Zion’s Watchtower, March 24, 1838)

The bank’s establishment was announced in January 1837 in the Messenger and Advocate, which issued an appeal…”We invite the brethren from abroad, to call on us, and take stock in our Safety Society; and we would remind them also of the sayings of Isaiah…’Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God.’”

The problem was that this rapid expansion of banking facilities to meet these needs led to a chaotic banking system and on January 1, 1837, the same day the Kirtland bank’s printed bank notes were issued, the Ohio legislature refused the bank’s incorporation.Bank note issued by the Kirtland Safety Society in early 1837, after its reorganization.

Joseph told his followers that it was because they were Mormons, but the truth was only one bank was allowed incorporation and the legislature was simply gaining control of a spiralling situation.

To get around the problem Joseph stamped his bank notes with the prefix anti and the suffix ing around the word Bank, creating the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-bank-ing Company. Now it was a quasi-bank, needn’t be incorporated and, if he could pull this off long enough to convince investors his problems might be solved.

The problem was he didn’t have the assets to back up the notes being printed. Bills were being paid, debts cleared and, for a fleeting fortnight, Kirtland was rich; but all on notes not worth their face value.

Joseph Smith confidently assured people he had $60,000 in the vaults and a further $600,000 readily accessible. The truth is he had $6,000 and access to not a penny more. He said there was no more than $10,000 in bills in circulation when, in fact, there was more than $150,000.

By January 27 merchants were refusing notes and the bills were streaming back into Kirtland.  Joseph Smith redeemed the notes but soon realised a run on the bank would ruin him so stopped taking his own money. By February 1 every dollar of Kirtland money was worth no more than twelve and a half cents!

The truth is, the bank had always been illegal, the fixed penalty for the crime was $1000 with informers taking a share of the fine. Joseph Smith had enemies aplenty and it didn’t take long for one to swear a writ against him. By March 24 Joseph was on trial and ordered to pay the $1000 penalty, plus costs. The final reckoning established that the Mormon leaders owed non-Mormon individuals well over $150,000.

So, Lorenzo Snow-1889

In 1889 the Mormon Church had arrived at the same place. Church property had already been confiscated under the Edmunds-Tucker Act, the $4m temple had depleted church funds and there was another bubble, this time a railroad bubble, as well as overbuilding that would lead to the panic of 1893. Hundreds of banks would close across America, thousands of businesses go under.

Lorenzo Snow’s sermon was aimed at Mormons who might be tempted to follow the example of their founding prophet and speculate their church out of existence and themselves into “apostasy.” It is clear that he was not impressed by Joseph’s conduct, which he had witnessed first-hand. Nevertheless, he hawked around the “official” account which had been worked up over the years, and that exonerated Joseph and blamed “apostate” church members as well as some leaders.

Mormons were still facing financial ruin and would still need to resolve their financial difficulties. In 1899,  now as president of the church, Lorenzo Snow toured the territories preaching tithing. You can read about that here. There the church’s subsequent change in fortune was described in this way:

“The church’s 1898 deficit of $1.25m became a net worth of $3.2m by 1904 and, while church leaders ascribed the changing fortunes of the church to God’s blessing tithe payers, it may have had more to do with the saints gaining full statehood and involvement in the rapid growth of the US economy from 1897 to 1907. Of course, the eyes of faith would have it otherwise, with the fortunes of the United States tied in with the fortunes of Mormons.”

When Mormons became American Mormonism became financially secure and Mormonism the American Religion.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Mormons and Tithing

The law of tithing is one of the most important
ever revealed to man. . . . Through obeying
this law the blessings of prosperity and
success will be given to the Saints.”

Lorenzo Snow

A Revelation

It was in early May 1899, we are told, that president Lorenzo Snow ‘felt prompted to visit the city of St. George and other settlements in southern Utah.’ The president, the story continues, on arriving in St George, received a clear revelation in which the saints were urged to obey the law of tithing:Tithing Slip

“The word of the Lord to you is not anything new; it is simply this: The time has now come for every Latter-day Saint, who calculates to be prepared for the future and to hold his feet strong upon a proper foundation, to do the will of the Lord and to pay his tithing in full.That is the word
of the Lord to you, and it will be the word of the Lord to every settlement throughout the land of Zion.”

Snow described this experience, “I never had a more perfect revelation,” he later said, “than [the revelation] I received on this subject of tithing.”

We are further informed, “On July 2, all the General Authorities and representatives from all the stakes and wards in the Church attended a solemn assembly in the Salt Lake Temple, having fasted and prayed in preparation for the meeting. There they unanimously accepted the same resolution [to accept this revelation on tithing].”

Mormonism is founded on the doctrine of continuing revelation and an open canon of Scripture. Why did this revelation not make its way into the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C)?

D&C_1921There are many such instances when claims to have received revelation are not followed by any additions to the increasingly inappropriately described Mormon “open canon.”

On one hand Mormons insist their leaders are prophets and what they say “officially” is binding, on the other hand, when those prophets are quoted – as I am quoting Lorenzo Snow here – Mormons will insist the only truly binding teaching is that contained in the “Standard Works” of the Mormon Church; the Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C and Pearl of Great Price.

Is this word binding if it isn’t between the bindings of official doctrine? This is a troubling issue for both Mormons and those who question Mormon claims. You can read more about it in Here

Historical Context

Some historical context will shed light on these developments in Mormon history. In their book,The Mormon Experience, A History of the Latter-day Saints, Leonard J Arrington, (Mormon Church Historian 1972-1982) and Davis Bitton (Assistant Church Historian, 1972-1982) wrote:

“The financial condition of the church throughout the 1890s was desperate. Contributions had dwindled to a trickle due to hard times and fear that donations would end up with the federal government. When escheated church properties (properties that had reverted to the government)were finally returned after statehood, their value had been substantially reduced by mismanagement and the sale of several revenue producing properties. The prolonged depression of the 1890s cut income from church-supported industry, while calls for welfare expenditure increased.

The completion of the four-million-dollar Salt Lake Temple also helped to deplete the church’s resources. The seriousness of of the situation at the end of 1896 was described in a journal entry by Wilford Woodruff: ‘The presidency of the church are so overwhelmed in financial matters it seems as though we shall never live to get through with it unless the Lord opens the way in a marvellous manner. It looks as though we shall never pay our debts.”’”

In response to Mormon intransigence with regard polygamy the Edmunds-Tucker Act, 1887, allowed the government to effectively dissolve the Mormon Church as a legal entity and required the church to forfeit to the government all property in excess of fifty thousand dollars.

The dire financial straits of the church were the direct consequence of a leadership that thought itself above the law in respect to polygamy. It was this that forced the hand of church president Wilford Woodruff, in 1890, to issue the Manifesto abandoning polygamy, and the Manifesto that led to the return to the church of seriously mismanaged and depleted properties.

The church was on the brink of bankruptcy and the leaders who got Mormons into these shocking circumstances were now insisting Mormons had a duty to get themselves out of it.Panic of 1893

The United States was already in the grip of a huge depression, begun in 1893, in which hundreds of banks closed and thousands of businesses went under. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania hit 25%, in New York 35%, and in Michigan 43%. Soup kitchens were opened to feed the destitute and some women, it is reported, turned to prostitution to feed their children.

For Mormons, added to this was the burden of church property being confiscated and tithes drying up for fear the little the saints were able to give might end up in the coffers of the federal government.

The church’s 1898 deficit of $1.25m became a net worth of $3.2m by 1904 and, while church leaders ascribed the changing fortunes of the church to God’s blessing tithe payers, it may have had more to do with the saints gaining full statehood and involvement in the rapid growth of the US economy from 1897 to 1907. Of course, the eyes of faith would have it otherwise, with the fortunes of the United States tied in with the fortunes of Mormons.


This post is a comment on Chapter 12 of the Mormon official teaching manual for 2013, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. It originally appeared on the Mormonism Investigated ministry blog.

It was during Snow’s brief stint as president that tithing became formal doctrine in the Mormon Church. I want to pick up on three Lorenzo Snow quotes from the manual:

“If we will keep that law . . . the land will be sanctified, and we shall be counted worthy to receive the blessings of the Lord and to be sustained and supported in our financial affairs and in everything we do, temporal as well as spiritual.”

“Here is a law revealed specially for our protection and safety, as well as for our advancement in the path of righteousness and holiness; a law by which the land on which we dwell might become sanctified; a law by which Zion might be built up and established never more to be thrown down or removed out of her place by wicked and ungodly men.”

“The temporal salvation of this Church . . . depends upon obedience to this law.”

The above quotes chime with everything written in the Old Testament regarding tithing. It is a law that must be obeyed by the people of God, obedience to which will bring temporal blessing in the land to a specific people group. The problem is it isn’t binding on Christians under the New Covenant (Testament means Covenant)

Tithing didn’t originate with the Mosaic Law. Nor was it peculiar to the Hebrews but was widely practiced among ancient peoples and civilisations. When Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, king of Salem, it was not in obedience to a specific command from God. It was a tithe of the spoils of war, a voluntary act of devotion to God in thanks for the rescue of his nephew Lot(Gen.14: 17-20, c.f. 28:20-22, Jacob does something similar)

Lets take a quick tour through the requirements of the Old Covenant (Testament) regarding tithing and its purpose.

Tithing in the Old Testament

The tithe was of the land, its seed and fruit, and of animals  and it related to service in the sanctuary. Given its nature it was almost certainly paid annually. Every year after the land had been harvested, the people would bring to the priests the tithe of their harvest and increase in herds and flocks – Lev.27:30-33

Tithes were given to support the Levites. Because the Levites had no inheritance in the land of Canaan, like the other tribes, God provided for their support through the tithes of the rest of Israel – Numbers 18:21-24

There was a second tithe to provide for the religious feasts and festivals of Israel – Deuteronomy 14:22-27

Every three years the people of the town were to bring a tithe of their crops and herds and gather them together to take care of the poor of their towns including the alien, orphan and widow. There is debate over whether this is a third tithe or the second tithe put to a different use –Deuteronomy 14:28-29

These tithes were lawfully required and not voluntary – Nehemiah 12:44

Malachi 3:8-12 – This is the familiar text used by Mormon to justify their quid pro quo approach to tithing. Lets see what it actually says:

You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes, says the Lord of hosts. And all the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land, says the Lord of hosts.”

Tithes are the annual, or triennial first fruits of crops and animals. Offerings are the grain and animal sacrifices brought to the temples. If we are to tithe are we to make animal sacrifices? The curse for disobedience was a curse on crops, fields and stock, the very things in which they had sinned in not tithing, “…because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you” (Deut. 28:18, 23-24, 38-40, 45)

The “storehouses” referred to were chambers in the temple set apart and designated to hold the tithes of the people for the support of the priests (Nehemiah 12:44) It is these Tithe Barnthat would be filled until they overflowed when Israel obeyed. The “pests” (devourer AV) who would not destroy their crops was the locust (Deut.28:38) Israel’s obedience would result in abundant crops, rain and increase in herds and flocks. Tithe barns can still be seen around Europe. The one on the left is in Great Coxwell, Oxfordshire, England. We are no longer under that system but this is the system prescribed by Mormonism.

I mentioned a quid pro quo approach for Mormons. Mormonism teaches that our obedience binds God to bless us, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10)

This is the lens through which they view the law of tithing: If you obey you are bound to prosper. You will sometimes hear Mormons insist that, “Those who leave the church never prosper,” and this it is that stands behind their salvation by works. The Mormon message is a message of “progression” not salvation, and that progression depends not on the finished work of Christ at Calvary but on their strict obedience to the Mormon Plan of Salvation, including the law of tithing.

Giving in the New Testament

There are only four New Testament passages in which tithing is mentioned:

(Matthew 23:23, c.f. Luke 11:42) This text is talking about tithing herbs under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was not yet inaugurated until Jesus’ death (Lk.22.20; Heb. 7:12)

Luke 18:12: This is the parable about the Pharisee and the tax-collector.  The words, “I pay tithes of all that I get,” are put into the mouth of the self-righteous Pharisee who thinks himself justified before God on the basis of his works.  Some people are in Scripture as examples, others as warnings. Is this Old Covenant warning our example for Christians living under the New Covenant!

Hebrews 7:1-10 This passage is not about tithing but about the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over the Levitical priesthood, even as Melchizedek was superior to Levi who, being in the loins of Abraham, paid tithes to the priest/king. Even so, the New Covenant is superior to the Old.

So how is giving understood under the New Covenant?

There is no percentage prescribed but, like Abraham and Jacob, Christians are to give voluntarily,“just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

1 Corinthians 16:1-2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.  On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save,as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.”

Here saints are urged to give proportionately as they have prospered.

Acts 11:27-39 “Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.  And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them Collection Platedetermined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.”

Here we see people giving as they are able. Those with more give more, those with less give less.

2 Corinthians 9:7: “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Here we are urged to be faithful to give what we have purposed in our hearts. When we see a need we meet it as best we can.

The Needs of Believers

Acts 2:44-45“And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”

1 John 3:17: “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

Galatians 6:9-10: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

The Needs of Christian Workers

1 Timothy 5:17-18: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’ and ‘The labourer is worthy of his wages.’”

1 Cor.9:11-14: “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?  If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.  Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar?  So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”

So much for the much vaunted Mormon lay clergy. Mormons will often sneer at the idea of a paid clergy, suggesting some sort of compromise with mammon, but the Bible insists “the labourer is worthy of his hire.”

The Needs of the Poor

Luke 12:33-34: “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Ephesians 4:28: “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labour, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.”

James 1:27: “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

New Covenant giving is to meet people’s needs, it is done as we are able, as we have determined in our hearts. It is to be anonymous (Mt.6:1-4); Voluntary (2 Cor.9:7); Expecting and trusting in God’s blessing and provision (2 Cor.9:6); Cheerfully (2 Cor.9:7); sacrificially (Mk.12:41-44) and for the right motives, i.e. following Christ’s example (2 Cor.8:9) and obeying his command of love(Jn.15:12-13)

Just as Christ’s priesthood is greater than the abolished Levitical priesthood, as the New Covenant is greater than the Old Covenant, so the new way of giving is more heartfelt and demanding than the old. The old way was easily fulfilled by the measuring out of stock and crops, the new is measured by the heart and sacrifice of the giver.

Here is the tragedy: Mormons follow the way of the Old Covenant, Christians are free to be generous and sacrificial in the New Covenant. Mormons remain under law, while Christians operate under grace, a grace that equips them for greater responsibilities than were ever required under the Old Covenant.

There is an enlightening and informative article on Mormon finances here. For a fuller treatment of the biblical teaching on tithing and giving read Brian Anderson’s excellent article on The Bridge Online, from which I have taken some of these bullet points.