Financial Spiritual Giving and Privacy Concerns

In a time in which privacy concerns have become increasingly important, should pastors receive privileged information from treasurers about their members’ Financial Spiritual Giving[i] patterns? Should pastors check potential leaders’ giving patterns before their names are brought under consideration by the nominating committee, as recommended by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church Manual? Should leaders of the church be expected to regularly tithe as a requirement to hold church office?

The Nature of Financial Spiritual Giving

Financial Spiritual Giving is a reliable indicator of where one's heart (affections) is placed and the direction one's life takes. It also strengthens the spiritual life of a Christian and fosters unity with Jesus. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV), said Jesus.

Conducive to Communion with God

Financial Spiritual Giving is one of the Christian spiritual disciplines that promotes spiritual life and communion with God, and places a Christian’s affections in the right place.

According to McIver's (2015) survey, “Tithing behavior is very closely related to a range of other practices relating to their [Seventh-day Adventists] religion, such as whether they [1] attend Sabbath School, [2] open and close the Sabbath, [3] study the Sabbath School Quarterly, [4] read and reflect on the Bible each day, and [5] pray often during the day.” As all those five practices promote communion with God, would the practice of tithe, which is closely related to them, be an exception? McIver suggests that tithing should be included “as part of the practices that make up personal piety for Seventh-day Adventist,”[ii] along with the above five items.

Ellen G. White concurs:

  • “The very act of giving expands the heart of the giver, and unites him more fully to the Redeemer of the world.”[iii]
  • “The idea of stewardship should have a practical bearing upon all the people of God. . . . Practical benevolence will give spiritual life to thousands of nominal professors of the truth who now mourn over their darkness. It will transform them from selfish, covetous worshipers of mammon to earnest, faithful coworkers with Christ in the salvation of sinners” (emphasis added).[iv]

Ellen G. White also seriously warns us that “peace of conscience” and “communion with God” are sacrificed if “we fail to devote to His cause the portion He has claimed as His own.”[v] Could the church suffer to have a church leader on such a dangerous spiritual course?

Broader Unfaithfulness and Apostasy

If giving is related to spiritual prosperity, the absence of giving is related to dangerous prognostics. The South American Division (SAD) secretariat conducted research studying the tithe and offering giving patterns of all 1,054,367 members who were removed from membership in their territory from 2015 to 2017. The study's results revealed that 86 percent of the individuals studied did not have any record of tithing for at least 36 months before formally leaving the church, and 91 percent of them had no record of offering contributions during the same period.[vi] It is true that a longer period of study would allow us to reach to more reliable conclusions, but I believe that it was not by chance that Financial Spiritual Giving was not practiced by the vast majority of those who left the church in that territory. Could, in this case, the absence of Financial Spiritual Giving be considered a predictor of apostasy?Bottom of Form

It may be, as we will see in the next paragraphs. Ellen G. White acknowledges Financial Spiritual Giving as an important component in the process of attachment to the cause of present truth. She says that “through every investment made [in God’s treasury] they will become more wedded to the cause of present truth.”[vii] In contrast, this quotation may suggest that the absence of Financial Spiritual Giving, when one has the means to do so, indicates a declining commitment to the present truth, becoming a predictor of apostasy. Paul similarly warns that “the love of money” (likely the main reason for the absence of Financial Spiritual Giving) has led some to stray from the faith: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10, NKJV, emphasis added).

But maybe the most impressive statement about this subject is this: “He that will withhold from God that which He has lent him, will be unfaithful in the things of God in every respect” (emphasis added).[viii] This statement makes clear that withholding from God has a pervasive influence and may be just the first step of a descending ladder leading to unfaithfulness in many other areas of life. In this case, apostasy is in sight!

As we've discussed thus far, Financial Spiritual Giving (distinct from donations or philanthropy) carries deep moral and spiritual implications. It means far more than merely funding the mission or the operation of the church. It both reflects and influences the individual's relationship with God, becoming a curse if neglected or a blessing if practiced.

Responsibility of Spiritual Leaders

What Should Pastors Do?

Now, if this matter has such relevance for eternal life, and if the absence of Financial Spiritual Giving can be considered a predictor of apostasy, should pastors wait until someone openly leaves the church, or should they do preventive work? Should those who are called overseers of the flock (1 Peter 5:1–4) be barred from obtaining any possible information about their members’ or prospective leaders’ spiritual condition?

If pastors know that their sheep are drifting away, should they not proclaim “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27, NIV), do personal work, visit their members, and watch over God’s flock “as those who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17, NIV)? “Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and attend to your herds” (Proverbs 27:23, NKJV, emphasis added).

Minister’s Role

Interestingly, in the context of Spiritual Financial Giving, God’s servant repeatedly uses the verb “to see” to indicate the role of pastors:

  • “When the one who ministers in word and doctrine sees the people pursuing a course that will bring this curse upon them, how can he neglect his duty to give them instruction and warning? Every church member should be taught to be faithful in paying an honest tithe” (emphasis added).[ix]
  • “The Lord's messengers should see that His requirements are faithfully discharged by the members of the churches. God says that there should be meat in His house, and if the money in the treasury is tampered with, if it is regarded as right for individuals to make what use they please of the tithe, the Lord cannot bless. He cannot sustain those who think that they can do as they please with that which is His (emphasis added).”[x]
  • “Those who hold positions of trust in the church should not be negligent, but they should see that the members are faithful in performing this duty. . . . Let the elders and officers of the church follow the direction of the Sacred Word, and urge upon their members the necessity of faithfulness in the payment of pledges, tithes, and offerings” (emphasis added).[xi]

But what will happen if pastors cannot “see”? While Financial Spiritual Giving holds such eternal implications, some still express discomfort if they are aware that their giving pattern records might be disclosed, even to a select group of approved individuals appointed by the church to care for the sheep. Some even reference Matthew 6:3, 4 to support their plea for privacy regarding their giving records. But is Jesus teaching that the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing, suggesting that our giving records should never be disclosed?

The Spirit of Prophecy, in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, pages 192, 193 provides an interesting interpretation of Matthew 6:3, 4 and unveils other motivations behind some privacy concerns:

[Judas] sought to hide his selfishness under a pious, conscientious regard for the poor. . . . As Judas brought up the poor as an excuse for his selfishness, so professed Christians, whose hearts are covetous, will seek to hide their selfishness under a put-on conscientiousness. . . . “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” They seem to have a conscientious desire to follow exactly the Bible as they understand it in this matter; but they entirely neglect the plain admonition of Christ: “Sell that ye have, and give alms.”

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.” Some think this text teaches that they must be secret in their works of charity. And they do but very little, excusing themselves because they do not know just how to give. But Jesus explained it to His disciples as follows: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” They gave to be regarded noble and generous by men. They received praise of men, and Jesus taught His disciples that this was all the reward they would have. With many, the left hand does not know what the right hand does, for the right hand does nothing worthy of the notice of the left hand. This lesson of Jesus to His disciples was to rebuke those who wished to receive glory of men. . . .

I was shown that this scripture does not apply to those who have the cause of God at heart, and use their means humbly to advance it. I was directed to these texts: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “By their fruits ye shall know them.” I was shown that Scripture testimony will harmonize when it is rightly understood. . . . Such fruits testify that the possessors are genuine Christians. They seem to be constantly reaching upward to a treasure that is imperishable” (emphasis added).[xii]

It becomes clear that Jesus’ teachings forbid any kind of self-promotion or promoted-from-the-pulpit giving parade comparing or rating givers, praise for those who give greater amounts, or who are considered generous by any human shortsighted assessment (an offering is not estimated by God by the amount that is delivered). But Jesus Himself, apparently purposely, sat opposite the treasury to watch “how the people put money into the treasury” (Mark 12:41, NKJV), calling the disciples’ attention to a special giver that He valued. Should not pastors also see “how” people are giving for spiritual nurture and retention purposes?

Financial Spiritual Giving and Church Office

And finally, should church leaders still be required to be regular tithers to hold church office, or should it transition into an honor system (we just trust that everyone is tithing)? Other questions may help to answer this one. Shouldn't church prospective leaders be expected to demonstrate a strong spiritual connection with God, to keep the Sabbath, not to be murderers, sexual offenders, or wine drinkers, and set a positive example in other aspects, if they are to lead? Is it not true, as we saw above, that “he that will withhold from God that which He has lent him, will be unfaithful in the things of God in every respect13 (emphasis added)? Should the church suffer to elect leaders that will certainly be unfaithful “in every respect”?

Is it possible to keep confidentiality and the donor’s privacy while scrutinizing the giving patterns of potential church officers before they can be elected to office? Some pastors prefer the pragmatic approach of visiting potential officers who aren’t tithing with a redemptive mindset, pleading with them to “return” to the Lord (using the language of Malachi 3:7–10), before their names are put forward for church office consideration. But as God cannot condone holding church office as a motivation for tithing, a better approach is to proactively contact all members who are not tithing well in advance of any elections.

However, if, in any case, those contacted resist, pastors may kindly suggest that they refrain from allowing their names to be discussed for any position. This action helps avoid public disclosure of their situation. In the unlikely event that such a person still accepts to be considered for church office, it becomes the responsibility of the pastor and the treasurer to act faithfully and notify the committee that, according to the Church Manual, the individual is ineligible for that position.

The fundamental principle is that individual donor records should never be made public. They should only be accessed by individuals specified in the Church Manual and for the purpose of disciple-making or redemptively preventing apostasy of those members who are at a higher risk. Moreover, those authorized by the church to access this information should undergo proper training to handle it with care and discretion, maintaining strict confidentiality.

[i] In this article, Spiritual Financial Giving differs from occasional donations given at the spur of the moment, or philanthropy. It isn't primarily motivated by the desire to support missionary projects (no matter how worthy), sympathy for church leadership, personal satisfaction, or even by the pursuit of recognition, praise, or influence. It is triggered anytime there is a perception that God, the Provider, has blessed the giver with an income or increase. It is brought to the storehouse, as determined by Him, as an act of worship, a regular response to any of His financial blessings, in acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and lordship. It recognizes that He is always the first to give and that He must also be the final recipient.

[ii] Robert K. McIver, Tithing Practices Among Seventh-day Adventists: A Study of Tithe Demographics and Motives in Australia, Brazil, England, Kenya, and the United States (Cooranbong NSW, Australia: Avondale Academic Press and Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2016), 153.

[iii] Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1940), 347.

[iv] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1872), 387.

[v] Ellen G. White, “The Duty of Paying Tithes and Offerings,” Review & Herald, December 17, 1889.

[vi] M. F. Bomfim, “Nurture and Heart Retention: A Reliable Predictor Helps to Prevent Dropout.” In Discipling, Nurturing, and Reclaiming: Nurture and Retention Summit, ed. General Conference Nurture and Retention Committee (Silver Spring, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2020), 92.

[vii] White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 389.

[viii] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1855), 198.

[ix] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1909), 250.

[x] Ellen G. White, Review & Herald Supplement, December 1, 1896.

[xi] Ellen G. White, The Review and Herald, December 17, 1889 (emphasis added). (CS, 107). (Italics added).

[xii] White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 192, 193.

13 Ibid., 198.

Marcos Bomfim

Pastor Marcos F. Bomfim is director of Stewardship Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.