Last Update: 2/2014
Mormon Law of Tithing
Tithing is probably the single most important commandment of the dozens given to LDS members by their leadership. This law is so central and essential, an affirmative answer is required to receive a temple recommend in your interview with the bishop. Paying a full tithe is one of many ways Mormons show their faithfulness and worthiness so they can attend the temple, receive blessings from God, and have the potential to be exalted in the highest level of heaven, the Celestial kingdom.
Every Mormon has heard their leadership regard tithing as "fire insurance." This is supported by Doctrine and Covenants 64:23 which states:
"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."
Apostle Jeffery R. Holland stated that "paying tithing is discharging a debt" that stems from a "contract between us and the Lord" ("Like a Watered Garden," Liahona, January 2002).
An article in the December 2012 Ensign provides a perfect demonstration of the Mormon Law of Tithing. A short excerpt from the article says, "After reading these scriptures together, Bishop Orellana looked at the new convert and said, 'If paying tithing means that you can’t pay for water or electricity, pay tithing. If paying tithing means that you can’t pay your rent, pay tithing. Even if paying tithing means that you don’t have enough money to feed your family, pay tithing. The Lord will not abandon you'" (Aaron L. West, "Sacred Transformations," Ensign, December 2012).
Is this the context of how the gospel demonstrates tithing? Let's look at a popular example used by Mormon's today.
Gospel Example on Tithing
The parable of the widow and two mites found in Mark 12:41-44 says, "And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."
The example of the poor widow in Mark 12 and Luke 21, when contextually read, shows Jesus is focused on the motivation and heart of the giver, not on the amount or percentage. Jesus said the poor widow gave more than all the rich people gave combined because her gift was truly sacrificial. There are a couple lessons from this example.
The first lesson is Jesus teaches the value of the gift is based not on a set amount or percentage, but in the spirit of the giving. God does not need our money, but wants our hearts and to transform them to be selfless and Christ-like. Giving is one of many ways the motivations of our hearts are exposed to God. Giving under the pretense of withheld blessings from God is not selfless and sacrificial, "but giving to get," which is a selfish motivation and rooted in fear and guilt.
The second lesson is accurately revealed by former Mormon of 40 years, Shawn McCraney, who provides detail in how this poor widow's example is contextually abused by the Mormon church among others. Referencing the warning Jesus had just given to his disciples about the manner of the religious teachers in Mark 12:38-40, McCraney states, "Jesus is an excellent teacher. He first told the disciples what the teachers of the law were doing: they 'devour widow's houses.' Then to demonstrate how these teachers were doing it, Jesus goes and observes offerings being made. As if on cue, along comes a poor widow and puts everything she had to live on in the coffer. Why on earth would a poor widow do that? Jesus shows his disciples exactly how the teachers of the law were plundering the poor widows; God didn't tell that woman to give that offering. That was what she had been taught to do by the leaders; believing them, she gave up all she had left. Rather than being an example of the type of giving that pleases God, this is really an example of the kind of exploitation the religious leaders were doing to the poor widows at that time!" (Shawn McCraney, "Where Mormonism Meets Biblical Christianity Face to Face", p. 586, 2011 ed.).
When scripture says the religious teachers of the law were "devouring widow's houses," they were not literally tearing down their house and eating it. They were lovers of money who taught even the poor and widow's needed to pay tithing, even if it cost them their homes, and Jesus rebukes these teachers for exploiting and stripping them of their livelihood.
To expand on McCraney's example, showing these religious organizations don't properly and contextually teach the parable is the Old Testament reveals only those who owned land and livestock were to tithe, which would not include the poor and widows. Every three years, the Israelites were commanded to give the entire tithe to the Levites and the poor, with none going to the temple (Deuteronomy 14:27-29,26:12). The Levites would also pay tithes from the tithes (Numbers 18:26). Even though the Mormon church erringly looks to the old law to demonstrate their law of tithing, they fail in heeding to this command to give a full annual tithe every three years to the poor as demonstrated by their giving. According to this record and one from the previous year, the LDS church only donates <1% of what they receive to the poor.
Contrary to Mormon doctrine and how LDS leadership such as Marion G. Romney and Jefferey R. Holland advertise tithing as "fire insurance" or a "discharging a debt" as if your eternal salvation depends upon the tithe, the Bible explicitly states our salvation is a gift which cannot be purchased with money.
Acts 8:20 "But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money."
Interestingly, the Book of Mormon actually contradicts Mormon Doctrine (D&C 64:23 above) and agrees with the Bible:
Mormon 8:32 "Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins."
Is this not exactly how Mormon doctrine and leadership have sold the law of tithing to their members?
Too many religious organizations "peddle" the gospel, abusing the context of scripture, transforming it from cheerful, selfless, sacrificial giving from the heart to a requirement in attempts to earn the favor of God. These acts are subconsciously selfish promoting a false doctrine of "giving to get."
Tithing for All - The Rich and Destitute
If you have ever sat through even just a few sacrament meetings or a General Conference at a Mormon church, there is a high likelihood you have heard a lesson on the law of tithing. This lesson will always be accompanied by Malachi 3:8-10, which is represented in a context to the listener as a motivational tool through guilt or fear to get you to pay if you want to earn the favor of God and receive blessings. This commandment is for every member of the LDS church no matter if you are wealthy, destitute, or a poor widow. Here are a few LDS teachings on tithing which are perfectly complementary to the way the scribes and teachers of the law were exploiting the poor and widows, which Jesus explicitly rebuked:
1. Apostle James E. Faust "emphasized the need to sacrifice for temple building and shared how members in Argentina found ways to donate during the construction of the São Paulo Brazil Temple. They gave the gold from their dental work to help pay for the temple" (Church News, 9 May 1998, or here).
2. In an April 2002 General Conference, Elder Tingey taught: "I was once teaching the law of tithing to a group of Church leaders in Africa. One brother said, 'Elder Tingey, how can I pay tithing when I have no income?' I inquired and determined that he had a large family of seven or eight children and was unemployed. I asked how he fed his family. He said he had a small garden and raised geese. I asked, 'What do the geese do?' He replied, 'They lay eggs.' I responded, 'What if one morning you discovered 10 geese eggs in the nests of your geese?' A light flickered on in his soul. 'I could take one egg and give it to my branch president,' he answered. He understood, and he could become a full-tithe payer" ("The Law of Tithing," Ensign, May 2002).
3. Perhaps the most nefarious example of how a commandment of tithing at all cost and no matter how poor you are is an April 2005 General Conference sermon given by Elder Lynn G. Robbins. Here are some excerpts: "No bishop, no missionary should ever hesitate or lack the faith to teach the law of tithing to the poor. The sentiment of 'They can’t afford to' needs to be replaced with 'They can’t afford not to.'...One of the first things a bishop must do to help the needy is ask them to pay their tithing. Like the widow, if a destitute family is faced with the decision of paying their tithing or eating, they should pay their tithing. ...In October of 1998 Hurricane Mitch devastated many parts of Central America. President Gordon B. Hinckley was very concerned for the victims of this disaster, many of whom lost everything—food, clothing, and household goods. He visited the Saints in the cities of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and Managua, Nicaragua. And like the words of the loving prophet Elijah to a starving widow, this modern prophet’s message in each city was similar—to sacrifice and be obedient to the law of tithing" ("Tithing—a Commandment Even for the Destitute," Ensign, May 2005).
If you have ever gone through a "tithing settlement" meeting with your bishop, then you know the focus is squarely on giving at least 10%, which is not sacrificial or cheerful giving from the heart as taught in the gospel. If you don't give at least 10%, you are considered "unworthy" to attend the temple, which is a requirement to get into the highest level of heaven. Essentially, if you don't give enough, then the Lord's blessings are withheld. This is a gross perversion of the gospel teaching on giving which abuses and twists the scriptures to sound exactly like the way the scribes and teachers of the law abused the commandment drawing a response by Jesus that they "devour widow's houses."
In Matthew 23, Jesus is in the middle of rebuking the hypocritical religious leaders for their control and exploitation. In Matthew 23:23, he calls them out for focusing on trivial laws such as tithing while ignoring the central tenets of judgement, mercy and faith. With tithing at the forefront of Mormon laws, the LDS leadership should focus more on the teachings of Jesus, specifically this rebuke, because through placing eternal consequences on laws such as tithing, they control and exploit ("devour widow's houses") just like the hypocritical religious leaders.
LDS Seventy Pearson Teaching Truth
Here is a great example of how the church leadership views its members:
"a young man who faithfully serves a mission will likely marry in the temple and raise a righteous family. His children, and their children, will also likely grow up to be active faithful members of the Church. In three generations that young returned missionary’s posterity will probably account for over eighteen active adult tithe-paying members" (Elder Kevin Pearson, “The Value of a Returned Missionary,” Ensign, August 2012).
LDS Seventy Kevin Pearson makes it clear the church leadership views you and your future posterity not as members of the body of Christ or as members who help bring others to a saving knowledge and relationship with Christ, but as a tithe-paying annuity which helps the LDS church buy more corporations and investments.
New Covenant Giving
What the Mormon Church and other churches fail to ask in regards to tithing is how the New Covenant of grace informs us on how to give. The words "tithe," "tithes," or "tithing" is in the New Testament seven times (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42, 18:12; Hebrews 7:5-6,8-9) and not once are any presented in a manner which instructs those under the New Covenant to observe the Old Testament law of tithing. The New Covenant, established by the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is an everlasting covenant in place for the rest of time. The law defined what was to be tithed as the standard, but now we do not look to the law, but only to the cross for our standard. The cross teaches the old us has been crucified with Christ and we are dead to the law. The old us has died and we are a new person in Christ. Christ's death on the cross and resurrection from the grave releases those who put their faith and trust in Him from the curse and yoke of the law (Galatians 3:10-13, 5:1).
Under the New Covenant of grace, Christians are asked to give. The gospel definition of giving is not giving out of abundance, but sacrificial giving motivated by a selfless heart, regardless of a set amount or percentage. Since we are eternally saved by grace through faith and not based on anything we do, our giving will be selfless out of the love for Christ. This way of giving is the only way to have the entire glory lie in God because if it were based on fear or guilt in order to earn eternal life, blessings, etc., the motivation is self-centered and the glory is shifted from Christ to humanity and our efforts (we reject Christ's work in favor of our own works). This is exactly why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7 we should give not grudgingly or out of necessity, but give what our heart compels us to give out of cheer. So would giving in this manner (grudgingly or out of necessity) be what happens when you are being interviewed by the bishop (and Jesus) for your temple recommend and are asked if you have paid a full 10% tithe so you can qualify to go to the temple?
When your tithe is required and used to get blessings from God, you don't worship him, you use him. The motivation for tithing is an investment vehicle for blessings and acceptance from God. We should be motivated to give based on our acceptance in Christ, not for our acceptance.
What we give to the church is centered on grace regarding how we give of our money, talents and time. Thus, we give what the love of Christ compels us to give, sometimes more than 10% and sometimes less than 10%. Giving is something every Christian should set as a goal if they do not give today, though it is fluid and not a fixed standard for many. This does not mean it’s okay to give a little as long as it doesn't affect me, because Jesus did not just give a little pain for us on the cross; He was tortured and gave all to us with His death. When you understand this and trust that only in His work on the cross saves us absent our own performance, our giving is greater, selfless and grace-centered.
As you can see, the manner in which Mormon leadership teaches their law of tithing is very different to the gospel doctrine on giving. This Mormon commandment is a form of exploitation and coercion some religious organizations employ to gain control over their followers. I do agree God can bless us when we give, but it is the motivation for giving that is the issue here. Giving to get (blessings, etc.) is a form of "prosperity" gospel. The Mormon Church erroneously looks to the Old Testament as a guide to tithing plus adding their twist of paying the church first or risk burning at the second coming of Christ.May the Lord bless you as you search and study His word for the truth, because when you know the truth the truth will set you free (John 8:32).
THE CROSS UNVEILED