THE ORIGIN OF SYSTEMATIC BENEVOLENCE
One of the most important decisions of the growing Adventist church was taken in 1859. The Three Angels’ Message, the truth about the sanctuary and the observance of the
seventh-day Sabbath constituted a teaching different from what other Protestant
churches were preaching. In 1857,
the economic crisis had also affected the income of Adventist believers. Despite this, the desire to know more
about the teachings of God caused members to ask for pastoral help. The few
pastors that did exist focused their efforts on the weekends since the
remainder of the week was spent providing sustenance for their own families. In reality, the congregations
received only one or two visits a month. It was then that a commission,
presided over by J. N. Andrews,
met in Battle Creek, Michigan. It presented its report to the church on January
29, 1859. At this time, the practice of “systematic benevolence” was
recommended. This important and
historic action took place more than one hundred and fifty years go.
The question before us is this: "What were their actual findings and what did they recommend?"
The question before
us is this: "What were their actual findings and what did they
recommend?" The other
Protestant churches highlighted the study of the New Testament because they
believed the books of the Old Testament indicated more of a Jewish economy in
contrast to a Christian church that had a fresh, new and different message.
Thus, the Adventist pioneers also initially concentrated on the New
Testament, specifically on what the Apostle Paul had recommended to the
churches located in the Roman province of Galatia and to the church in
Corinth. He said, “Now about the
collection for God’s people: Do
what I told the Galatian churches to do.
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum
of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come, no
collection will have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:1,2 NIV). The pioneers discovered
several significant principles in these texts:
noticed that Paul indicated a principle of regularity (“the first day of every
week”). Why the first
day of the week? At that time (57 C.E.), the governing power was Imperial
Rome. Its pagan religion
recognized Sunday as the day of the sun—an important day for their religion and
The decision to give to the Lord was not to be made at the last minute, as the offering was being collected. It was something that had to be considered at home and set aside according to the dictates of their hearts.
2. In the text, they noticed that the
apostle also indicated the principle of participation (“each one of you”). Even though some received a greater
income and others received less, every one had the opportunity to feel part of
the church and part of the mission.
3. The third principle they noticed
was that of foresight and the need to plan ahead (“set aside a sum of money”). The decision to give to the Lord was not
to be made at the last minute, as the offering was being collected. It was something that had to be
considered at home and set aside according to the dictates of their hearts.
fourth was the principle of proportion (“in keeping with his income”).
It was not expected that everyone give the same amount because they did not all
receive the same. It was logical that those who received more were in a better
position to be able to contribute more.
It was not fair to require the poor to give the same amount as those who
had more resources.
5. The fifth was the principle of
promotion. Behind this concept lies the question of how frequently
and how intensely promotion should be done. In comparison with Bible study and the preaching of the
Word, how much time should be dedicated to promotion? The apostle was clear in his recommendation: The service should be dedicated
principally to worship and spiritual development. Thus, the apostle indicates, “When I come no collection will
have to be made” (1 Cor. 16:1,2 NIV).
Today, more than one hundred and fifty years after
that historic decision of the early Adventist church (1859), we see a world
church that is able to use modern means of communication to proclaim the Three
Angel’s Message to every nation, tribe and people twenty-four hours a day,
seven days a week. Those
principles that were discovered by the Adventist pioneers are still valid,
practical and applicable in our day.
The church today must be careful to preserve, not only its historical
inheritance of Bible study and the proclamation of the message, but also the
practice of these vital principles
of systematic benevolence.