I prepared this talk on tithing. Next time you are asked to speak, feel free to use it...no matter what topic you are assigned, and especially if you are assigned to regurgitate a general conference talk.
Joseph Smith reported the following from an epistle by the 12: "Study the word of God, and preach it and not your opinions, for no man’s opinion is worth a straw. Advance no principle but what you can prove, for one scriptural proof is worth ten thousand opinions." (History of the Church, 3:395–96.) This is precisely what we are going to do today.
``Yes, it is the precepts of men versus the principles of God. The more we follow the word of God, the less we are deceived, while those who follow the wisdom of men are deceived the most. Increasingly the Latter-day Saints must choose between the reasoning of men and the revelations of God. This is a crucial choice, for we have those within the Church today who, with their worldly wisdom, are leading some of our members astray.'' (Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference Oct 1967)
As we embark on our scripture study today, I invite you to heed the words of Presidents Smith and Benson and discern between God's word given in scripture and the opinions of men which are sold as psuedo-scripture. Today we are going to go over the entire set of scriptures where God teaches the law of tithing. I invite all of you to compare what you have been taught as the law of tithing with what the Lord has actually said the law of tithing is.
This first scripture was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith. It is from Genesis 14, JST:
36 And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.
37 And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God;
38 Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.
39 Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need. (JST Gen 14)
What was the law of tithing given to Abraham? He was to pay a tenth of all he possessed BEYOND what he needed. This, in modern parlance, is 10% of his surplus, or 10% of whatever is left once "sufficient for your needs" has been taken out. Did Abraham pay 10% of his income to the Lord? No. He paid 10% of his surplus. Did Abraham "pay the Lord" first? No. He paid his debts first, then he paid himself by taking care of food, shelter, raiment, and other necessities, then he paid the Lord in the form of 10% of what was left.
This next one is from the Old Testament:
Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. (Deuteronomy 14:22)
At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: (Deuteronomy 14:28)
Did God command these farmers to pay a tithe on the gross yield of the field? No. He told them to take out of the yield whatever seed they had put in, then pay a tenth of what was left---the surplus---to God. Did God command these farmers to pay the Lord the instant they harvested their crop? No, he instructed them to do it over a period of three years, possibly graciously allowing for absorbing bad crop years.
This next one is from the Doctrine in Covenants. Pay special attention to this scripture, as it is the only two instructions we have in the Doctrine and Covenants regarding tithing.
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,
2 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.
3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.
4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.
5 Verily I say unto you, it shall come to pass that all those who gather unto the land of Zion shall be tithed of their surplus properties, and shall observe this law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you.
6 And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.
7 And this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion. Even so. Amen. (D&C 119)
Did God command us to pay one tenth of everything they received annually? No. He commanded them to pay one tenth of each year's profit. Profit is calculated by taking the increase of your estate and subtracting out all expenses. This is no different to the way God commanded Abraham to pay tithing: one tenth of everything you have beyond what you need. Note that the Lord says not only that this will be a standing law forever, noting that it will never change. He also says that as long as we live some different law of tithing than this one, or no law of tithing, we cannot become Zion.
This principle is reinforced again in another section of D&C, the only other exposition of the law of tithing.
"And again, let the bishop appoint a storehouse unto this church; and let all things both in money and in meat, which are more than is needful for the wants of this people, be kept in the hands of the bishop." (D&C 51:13)
Again, more than is needful for the wants of this people.
At this point it should be clear that what is preached in the church as the law of tithing, and what God revealed as the law of tithing, are two very different programs. Also remember that God said that the law of tithing contained in the scriptures would not change, and Joseph showed us that it was the same even back when Abraham lived.
So how did we get this way?
Let's start with how the church got this way.
According to President Packer, leaders just don't have very much time to study even the fundamentals of the gospel.
Pres. Packer: He [the faithful member] will be a bishop for perhaps six years, then he will be thirty-three years old. He will then serve eight years on a stake high council and five years as a counselor in the stake presidency. At forty-six he will be called as the stake president. We will release him after six years to become a regional representative, and he will serve for five years. That means he will have spent some thirty years as [a] leader. However, in all that time, he will not have attended three gospel doctrine classes in a row, nor will he have attended three priesthood quorum lessons in a row....Unless he knew the fundamental principles of the gospel before his call, he will scarcely have time to learn them along the way. Agendas, meetings, and budgets are not usually overlooked.
But the principles are overlooked – the gospel is overlooked, the doctrine is overlooked. When that happens, we are in great danger! We see the evidence of it in the church today. (Principles, Ensign, March 1985, p.9)
Most of what members get by way of the gospel is via regurgitated general conference talks. Why would leaders, who are almost always selected from the ranks of busy doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, have any more time than normal members to study the gospel from the scriptures? A bishophric member that I know, who is a surgeon, only has time in his 100+ hour weeks to listen to the gospel on his commute. He believes the best thing to listen to is general conference. Conference averages 1.5 verses of scripture per talk, and most of those are repeated from conference to conference. You would get more scripture from taking just 15 minutes of reading than by listening to a whole weekend of conference. So if they aren't quoting scripture, what do they quote? Well, mostly just previous conferences.
So to see when the doctrine of tithing deviated from God's revealed word, we need to consult history. Believe it or not, many members during Joseph's life actually lived the law of tithing according to God's word in D&C 119.
"If a man gives for the benefit of the Church, it is considered a voluntary offering. Yet the law requires or enjoins a consecration of the overplus, after reserving for himself and family to carry on his business." (John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Latter Day Saints, p 45)
"The celestial law requires one-tenth part of all a man's substance which he possesses at the time he comes into the church (See D&C 119:1), and one-tenth part of his annual increase ever after(See D&C 119:4). If it requires all man can earn to support himself and his family, he is not tithed at all. The celestial law does not take the mother's and children's bread, neither ought else which they really need for their comfort. The poor that have not of this world's good to spare, but serve and honor God according to the best of their abilities in every other way, shall have a celestial crown in the Eternal Kingdom of our Father." (The Millenial Star, 1847. Orson Hyde, editor)
Both of these descriptions match God's description of tithing. So when did it change from what is in the scriptures to what we have now? Immediately after Joseph's death. Less than two months after the martyrdom, the brethren issued a proclamation demanding a one time payment of 1/10th of their property to the church, without exemptions for those who had already done so per D&C 119.
History since then is full of a sordid list of modifications to the revealed word of God. You can trace the first instances of:
-Tithing being 1/10 of your income instead of surplus (1873, Orson Hyde)
-Tithing being described as a separate law from consecration (1874, Orson Pratt)
-Tithing ought to be paid before necessities of life (1892, Joseph F. Smith)
-Removal of requirement to first consecrate your property (1899, Lorenzo Snow)
-Requirement of tithing on income for entry to temple (1910)
So we see that, over time, the philosophies of men become mingled with scripture. That explains how the church replaced God's law of tithing with an innovation. But what about you? How did you get off track from God's revealed commandment?
You trusted the arm of the flesh. Joseph repirmanded the Saints in his day for doing the same. He said, ""
"President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel [see, for example, verses 9-10: 'If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing...the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him.']...said the Lord had declared by the Prophet [Ezekiel], that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men...that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls -- applied it to the present state  of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...that they were depending on the Prophet [instead of the Lord], hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves..." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith pp. 237-38)
Seek God yourselves. Don't trust other people to regurgitate the scriptures to you. Go read them yourself, and ask God what he meant. Do what you read. Start now with tithing. Go re-read JST Gen 14. Re-read D&C 119. Look at church history and figure out what God's law of tithing is, using his words, not someone else's.
I testify to you that God has given us the law of tithing. Let no man change God's word, which he declared a standing law forever. Without living this law, according to God, we cannot have Zion.