This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
In a certain coast city a group of Christian people were gathered for a stewardship conference. The question was under discussion, How shall we administer the tenth? Said one: "I believe nothing to-day is so imperative as the work of foreign missionaries, and it is very important that missionaries themselves should be kept 'fit.' I make it a practice to invite outgoing and returning missionaries to stop at my house, for a day or two, in order that they shall feel the touch of home. Of course I charge this expense against the tenth." An observant editor, who was present, made this remark: "In ordinary acts of hospitality we receive our guests as gentlemen receive gentlemen; they would be rather astonished to be served with a memorandum of the expense. Surely, it is an anomaly, to say the least, to receive guests in the name of our Lord, and then require the Lord to reimburse us. We need not hesitate to be gentlemen even when we administer the tithe."
In one of the Middle Atlantic States I met an enthusiastic tither. For many years he had been setting apart a tenth of his income, and he had unbounded praise for "system" in the financial service of the Kingdom. I dined with the pastor of the church, and congratulated him that so strong a tower had been builded into the wall. But the pastor knew nothing of this strong tower, and casually mentioned the yearly pittance paid by this same tither toward the congregational expenses and the general benevolences. I mention it here only because it is typical of confused thinking in all the churches, and has its frequent parallel. A widowed mother and an unmarried sister were dependent upon this good man for support. Therefore this portion of the family expense was charged against the tithe, because it was "a plain Christian duty"! Of course this amount could have been charged against his gross income, if he did not regard it as a normal family expense; to charge it against the tithe was confusing to say the least.
Some good people in their distribution of the tithe have the matter worked down to a remarkable fineness. I knew a delightful and original brother who kept a "Lord's pocket." It was the left-hand pocket of his pantaloons, and very conscientious was he in the use which he made of it. Was a morning paper required, or car fare, or a midday lunch, this was "personal" expense, and the money came from the right-hand pocket. But the one-legged soldier who sold pencils that nobody wanted, the blind organ-grinder near the bridge, and the Sunday morning offering at his own church, these were not personal but "charitable and religious" expenses, and were therefore to be served from the left-hand pocket. I am not laughing as I write; I am marveling at the patience of God. Carrots, and cauliflowers, and oak trees—do they not all grow out of the earth? Shall they not therefore be classified together?
It is an unhappy suggestion that ministers in relating themselves to the tithe of God do not always think clearly nor lead wisely. Some ministers have earnestly affirmed that their entire life-calling is one continued stewardship, therefore they are not expected to take account of "mere money." Others have suggested that they do not receive salary, as such, but simply "a living," therefore they should not tithe the money whose use is already designated. Still others. with remarkable penetration, have insisted that they are already, de facto, heavy financial contributors to the church. Here is such a case, one that is by no means exceptional: A certain minister had entered upon an early business experience, which he left to study for the ministry. In the pastorate he had received only a meager salary—$800 to $1,000. In business he could have earned from $1,500 to $2,000. Therefore, in "ability to earn" he was contributing to the church from $500 to $1,000, which was far more than a mere one tenth of his present small salary of $900 and parsonage!
Of course the folly of all such financial shifts is apparent; they need not be discussed. The minister is, first of all, a man. But the ill effect of his confused thinking does not fall mostly upon the minister himself, although he thus loses the rare consciousness of partnership, which is the core of preaching; the heavy loss falls upon the church thus robbed of its right to be clearly instructed and personally inspired. It is an unhappy hour when the minister separates himself from the professional men and working men of his congregation. There are other men who toil for a mere "living." As a matter of fact, most ministers are free from this reproach, but the few (some of them widely influential) who, by personal example, fail to acknowledge God's ownership of value, are responsible for much confusion among the laymen. Error in a public teacher is costly.
It goes without saying that men who honorably tithe their income are honorable men. It must be, therefore, that many have not thoughtfully considered the meaning of the tithe, that they so constantly divert it from its rightful use. They think of it as a minimum to be given for charity, reform, and religion, and almost any good cause finds them ready to respond. They are certainly "good fellows," but they can hardly be called "good stewards." Shall they subscribe for the congregational expenses of their own church? Certainly; that is understood. Are Young Men's Christian Association dues expected? (albeit such dues stand for general club privileges)—there is the tithe. Does famine in India or a flood in the Southern States call for immediate relief? The tithe is ready. Is the campaign committee calling for special funds to press the cause of good government at the spring elections? The tithe is not yet exhausted. Shall there be a new hospital at the county seat? Not this year, but next year's tithe will help see to it. Shall we look after the poor of our own community? Surely, this must be done, though the tithe is getting low. Shall the church press its marvelous conquest in China? No doubt this is needful also; we wish we could give more; perhaps we shall make it an "extra." Shall the American black man be a menace or a strength to the kingdom of God ? Well, we cannot look after everybody, and that is the flat truth. There is a limit even for tithers!
The confusion here is evident. The significance of the tithe is not recognized, but is identified with the whole broad stewardship of life itself. The misconception roots still deeper, for the Church of God is identified with wide human brotherhood. That is, the fruit of the tree is confused with the tree that has produced it.
The church is pivotal to the entire conception of stewardship. Men must think clear and then large. To be "churchy" is surely less than reverent, but failure to regard the church cuts the nerve of stewardship. Dan Crawford, in Darkest Africa, learned to "think black," and thereby wrought a vital service for his generation; that is, his thinking was "geared" to his subject. Some men, in these stupendous days of the Son of God, "think church" after the crude fashion of mediaeval years. It is time for virile men to "think church" in terms big enough and broad enough to compass the purpose of Jesus Christ upon the earth. We shall not here define the church, nor name the program of the church, but this we say: Any program worthy of the church implies the use of means, and therefore requires that the strong force of economic value shall be directed into that program. It is a scandal and a tragedy beneath the sun that the church must stand as a suppliant, asking for a gift, when the eternal God in wisdom hath ordained that a definite proportion of value, even the sacred tithe, shall be held in honor, subject to her call. "Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse," saith the Lord God. Note the Divine word: Into the storehouse.
Right here it seems necessary to insert a line, lest any should nervously "view with alarm" the possibility of a "rich church" and a "powerful hierarchy" bringing back again the "domination of the priesthood." Why, indeed, should intelligent Christians, and especially Protestants, give a tenth, or any other set portion, to the church? Let every man do good as he has opportunity, but let him maintain his democratic birthright of individual liberty! Surely, this is democracy. But it is adolescent democracy; it is democracy with the big voice; it is strong and full of hope, but it has not yet come to a man's years, nor a man's responsibility. It does not yet know the hidden genius of Christianity. Democracy at the full is not the people revolting against tyranny, it is the people ruling with equity. Christianity is not a protest, it is a program.
This whole matter of the tithe and the storehouse resolves itself into three related questions: First, does the average Christian man believe in the pure-hearted purpose of himself and his brethren to maintain and extend the kingdom of God upon the earth? Second, does he recognize in that purpose of cooperation an undertaking large enough to command immense resources? Third, can the average man provide, for the use of himself and his brethren, a comprehensive yet simple financial plan, so that the administering of church affairs shall become a credit to his business sense?
Perhaps it is fair to say, and therefore it ought to be said, that many Christian men have had but scant interest in any church program whatsoever. Whether they are to be blamed for lack of loyalty, or whether this blame rightfully rests upon the ministers of the churches because of timid leadership, it is idle to discuss. This is true—our generation is notable for the laymen who are rising as a positive force in all the churches. In increasing numbers and with enlarging purpose they are planning for the kingdom of Christ.
This generation has certainly demonstrated that the program of the church is big enough to grip the mind and fire the imagination of the strongest men of our time. That such men are fully capable of handling their own affairs, in the church as in the business world, need not be argued. Sound ethics recognizes that the church is the rightful storehouse for the dedicated tenth, and broad-minded laymen are the first to acknowledge this basal fact. When, therefore, a Christian man "brings his tithe into the storehouse," he simply recognizes himself as bound in honor to administer that tithe for the world-wide program of the church, of which he himself is a component and necessary part. Three things at once become apparent.
First, the individual can never be merged, or lost, in the general body of the church. The "storehouse" is not the local or general officiary, it is the church itself, that is, the whole company of believers, with their whole wide program of worship and service throughout the world. No official body can safely undertake the responsibility of administering the tithes of the people. It is plainly the duty of church officials to advise the congregation, and to press an educational campaign which shall make every member of the church intelligent concerning the whole broad program of the Kingdom. It is also clear that undesignated contributions shall be distributed by the officers of the church according to their best wisdom. Moreover, it must always remain the privilege of individuals in the church, especially of the "little ones," to place their tithes and offerings in the hands of the church officiary, with full confidence that they will be faithfully administered for the whole work of the church. This is seemly, as it is just and right. Nevertheless, the only plan of finance that can permanently build up the Church of God, and supply the revenue needful for its vast operations at home and abroad, must rest upon the free and enlightened judgment of the individual believer.
Second, no program of the church can permanently prosper except through group service, or, as it is popularly phrased, "team work." In Pentecostal days "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul." Perhaps such universal agreement in the church can be no longer expected—indeed, more than one noble enterprise of the Kingdom has rested for a time on the fidelity of one heroic soul—nevertheless no great program for Christ, through his church, can be completed in a corner. Men must presently join hands in support of it. Therefore bringing the tithes into the "storehouse" must signify a willingness to forego, if need be, some private but worthy enterprise in the church, in order to cooperate with one's brethren in the largest possible program of united effort. While this is true of the individual in the local congregation, it is also broadly true of each church in a given community, and of every great denomination in a world-wide program of cooperation.
Third, every organized church is an authorized clearing house, by means of which the offering of the individual, whether great or small, becomes at once identified with the whole work of the whole church. Shall church finance in the local congregation be mainly concerned with an expense budget for mere maintenance, or shall it include the princely program of Jesus Christ in all the earth? Shall church members make their own church, as such, a living force in the community, with group solidarity strongly developed, or shall they act independently as individuals ?
This is what we mean: A prosperous layman contributes five thousand dollars to his alma mater. The gift is made after full reflection. The draft is sent from his downtown office, and is duly acknowledged by the treasurer of the college. The fact, with suggestive comment, is presently announced in the newspapers. Now, the whole purpose of this offering is to enlarge the work of Christian education, but what a bald and secular setting for such a gift! The thrill of it never reaches the heart of the church. This benefaction to the college is merely the personal remembrance of one man. The church, as such, has no particular interest, for the church offerings with which the people are familiar are dollar bills and odd silver, for "expense money." That is why it is so desperately hard in most churches to lift the offertory into the dignity of worship. Rather let this gift pass through the local church, as a check passes through a clearing house. It would be fitting that the minister and the treasurer of the church should have knowledge of the intended offering. It is a special gift, and therefore it may receive special mention at the time of the offertory. The draft for five thousand dollars is in the hands of the minister, who stands as the representative of the congregation, to devote this gift to God. The church treasurer, with a thrill of faith that does not always come to him, records the offering under "Education," and to-morrow the draft is forwarded to the treasurer of the college. What has happened? This: the church as such is vitally aware that Christian education has been committed into its hands as a part of its great work in the world. Not a single donor only, but the church itself has been knitted to the college.
And so through all the wide program of the church—missionary, educational, social, and charitable—group service shall prevail.1 Communities, and presently nations, shall recognize the united movement of the Christian body in the midst of them. The individual shall be content to decrease, that the City of God—a Christian social order—shall increase in the world.
1 Treasurers' prepared Journals, simplifying church finance, and making it easy thus to record individual gifts and pass them through the "Church Clearing House," may be obtained from the Laymen's Missionary Movement, New York city.
We are aware that different men will think different thoughts concerning the foundation and constitution of the church. Therefore we have not defined the church, nor shall we. Let the "church question" rest just here. For, whether the church takes its calling and authority from an historic episcopate, or from the ordination of the congregation, or from the exigency of human need itself, its work and service in the world are in every case the same. The program of the church is "to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." No such program can be even attempted unless Christian men shall recognize that the church is the appointed storehouse for God's holy tithe. Let men choose their church with intelligent liberty, for "there are differences of administration, but the same Lord"; then let them press the program of their church with unswerving honor.
With all its narrowness, perverseness, and backsliding Judaism accomplished its stewardship for the world. In the birth of Jesus Christ that stewardship was fulfilled. Throughout all those Jewish centuries, when the people swerved from the truth, the stern judgments of Jehovah restored them, until, finally, the sovereignty of one God was recognized and acknowledged. The "service of the tabernacle of the congregation," maintained by the holy tithe—itself the acknowledgment of divine ownership—did not permit the people to forget that one fundamental fact. When the Prophet of Nazareth began his ministry Israel's faith in one God was absolute; he could build on that strong foundation.
Nineteen centuries have passed since Jesus Christ ascended from Olivet. Has Christianity accomplished its stewardship for the world? The shame of shrouded nations is the shame of the church to-day. Covetousness cankers at the heart of Christendom. God's ownership of value is believed, but merely as an academic truth; there is no honorable acknowledgment of the faith of the church. The holy tenth, God's portion from the beginning, does not reach the majestic purpose for which it was dedicated by God himself; therefore the stewardship of Christianity in the world is weak and uncertain. Israel could maintain the divine worship, a regal and worthy acknowledgment of God's sovereignty, for the tithes of the people never failed, and they were never diverted into other channels. But the glorious Church of Christ, robbed of its rightful portion, must limp halting to its task. It must ask for support, as the destitute poor ask for alms, while its own dedicated portion is either positively withheld or turned to other uses. The shame of it emasculates the ministry, but the dishonor of it must rest upon the laity.
Is it time to quibble of "Jewish statutes"? Is
it an honorable thing to withhold from the Church of God the immemorial tithe, so faithfully paid to that ancient "service of the tabernacle of the congregation"? Does not our generation mark the day when men of spiritual and mental girth shall give the church one full and glorious opportunity to preach Jesus Christ throughout the earth? O for one generation of men who shall make the church, what so easily she might become, "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners"!