In this post I won't be giving an overview of the financial operations of the Church. For those interested in such things, I recommend D. Michael Quinn's trilogy The Mormon Hierarchy.
Instead, I hope to flesh out what the anatomy of Church finances should look like from the perspective of scripture.
Question: Can we apply Jesus's teachings about finances to His Church? (Sorry, that was a dumb question.)
What instructions has the Lord given about how His church should operate in the temporal realm?
Let's find out!
1. Amassing Wealth
Let's start with a softball question: Does the Lord want His church (i.e., the Body of Christ) to stockpile their riches in silos?
The Parable of the Rich Fool
The Parable of the Rich Fool is one of the greatest parables of all time. I mean, how often does Jesus call someone a "fool?"
Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
Here the rich fool had a bumper crop. No problem yet. But he didn't know what to do with all of that wealth. So he decided to store his assets in bigger "barns."
Why not use the surplus that God had blessed him with to help the poor?
Rubber Meets the Road
Okay, how should the church (i.e., Body of Christ) treat the following counsel given by Jesus:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
We see the same message again. Jesus must have really wanted to emphasize the foolishness of "laying up treasures" here on earth.
Why do we do it, anyway?
O Lord, I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.
(2 Nephi 4:34)
2. Paid Clergy and Functionaries
How should the Church (i.e. Body of Christ) financially support its spiritual shepherds?
Should we pay stipends or salaries to our leaders?
This one seems obvious, too. How often have we boasted that our church does not have a paid local clergy?
Well, if we think an unpaid clergy is commendable, why not apply the same principle to the general leadership, too? If a Bishop, Stake President and Area Authority can donate their time, why not general authorities?
The dangers of priestcraft increase as one climbs to the top. For example, if I were an Elders Quorum President and told people to not drink caffeinated beverages, I can do little harm. But if I am an apostle who tells your stake to not drink caffeinated beverages, then imagine the mischief I can cause.
Let's look at what the "most correct book" on earth has to say:
And Alma also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support. [i.e., they kept their day jobs, like Area Authority Seventies.]
And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God.
(Mosiah 18:24, 26)
This principle -- of not having a paid, professional leadership -- was something Mormon emphasized over and over again.
And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God.
And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner;
and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.
And thus they did establish the affairs of the church.
(Alma 1:26, 28)
In fact, even Korihor understood this. An Anti-Christ agreed it was wrong for church leaders to receive remuneration.
[Korihor said,] Ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges.
Well, in principle Korihor was right. But he was accusing the wrong people, because Alma took this charge very seriously.
Alma said unto him: Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people;
for behold I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people.
And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren.
Alma knew that priestcraft would be the spiritual ruin of a people.
In writing poetry, sometimes the words just pour out of me. Other times it is like wrestling a wet eel. My poem, Sign, which I wrote in the summer of 2019, was the latter:
Why do you glut yourselves on sheep walking with pinched shoulders and bowed heads, crying to you in your beds of ivory? How dare you prosper in this genius enterprise, slaying the fatted calf for yourselves. You keep the flock in the thrall of apricot authority gathered to barns locked with priestly seal, ensnaring little lambs with the caress of stainless promises while fleecing them with tarnished shears your velvet robes cannot conceal.
The word was never meant to steal. Flee the shepherd exercising lordship as a polished silver staff. Remember what Father Lehi taught: salvation is free─ there is nothing you can buy from me. I cannot redeem you.
How does one cheat a soul? Skim the cream with religion’s knife, blessing hungry souls with cleanness of teeth? There is always a cost lost lambs must pay or God will hew them down (you say) at the end. Why─ if they only knew sin is a figment for you to profit by!
A price will be paid but not by you. To restore our perfect frame God himself shall burn away our shame with scalding milk and blood-red honey.
You preach for money! I see no reason for faith where your pious shadow grows long in eventide. Unless you show me a sign. Alma
Wo to them who pervert the way of the Lord! Know this: the narrow way requires no money at all to follow Him who will be crucified. But the cost to keep your self- righteous pride? You will pay handsomely to enter the wide.
You make merchandise of the cross. But I will believe you are one of the humble few followers of that Christ you say will come only on this wise: show me a sign.
Will you be struck dumb when all around is proof? The planets testify and stars bear witness across the logos-sky of God shedding His love, undressing His face for you to behold if not for the beam in your eye!
Be done, and admit your crimes. Oppress the poor no more, else show me a sign!
Then Alma stretched forth his hand and cried with a mighty voice, saying:
How are true messengers known? See: I am no king-man. Did I make the judgment seat my throne? I bear no purse, carry no scrip: I hold sacred the sign of my apostleship.
With mine own hands I have labored for my support as God commands.
According to the Holy Order to which I am called I give you this sign:
As high priest I refused to take so much as a single senine.
Without Purse and Scrip
What does it mean for apostles to serve "without purse and scrip." I actually would prefer to be paid to travel and to preach if I were an apostle (true confession). But that is not what Jesus taught.
Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.
And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece.
This is interesting. Apostles could leave their wallets at home. No need for credit cards.
The calling of an apostle is to:
(1) Cast out devils; (2) Cure diseases; (3) Preach the gospel; (4) Heal the sick; (5) Take nothing, neither scrip or money.
And [Jesus] said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing?
And they said, Nothing.
Wait a minute. How were Jesus's apostles supposed to survive without shoes or food or money?
Simple: On faith (in God) and charity (of those they served among).
Nephite Twelve Disciples
Well, maybe that was an anomaly. Did things change in the New World when Christ ministered to the Nephite Twelve Disciples?
And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them:
Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people.
Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.
Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
(3 Nephi 13:25-26)
Well, that's 2-for-2. Latter-day Apostles
Okay, let's not worry just yet. Maybe the pattern has changed for the final dispensation. What did Christ say about modern apostles?
Therefore, let no man among you, for this commandment is unto all the faithful who are called of God in the church unto the ministry, from this hour take purse or scrip, that goeth forth to proclaim this gospel of the kingdom.
And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
Whoso receiveth you receiveth me; and the same will feed you, and clothe you, and give you money.
And he who feeds you, or clothes you, or gives you money, shall in nowise lose his reward.
And he that doeth not these things is not my disciple; by this you may know my disciples.
What a beautiful pattern! One that would bring us together in love and equality. This was one-on-one giving that would bind hearts together, not sterile institutional care where you draw a regular paycheck or pull down funds from an ATM with a golden credit card.
Some things require faith. For everything else, there's Mastercard.
3. Church Engaging in Business
How is the Church (i.e., Body of Christ) supposed to finance missionary work?
Well, let's see:
(1) We could try the way Alma did it;
(2) We could try the way Paul did it; or
(3) We could create a sugar empire and lobby congress for tariffs against our competitors, engage in corporate malfeasance and violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, get sued by the federal government, secure enormous amounts of debt from eastern banking syndicates and experience many sleepless nights worrying how to pay back the loans, spend a lot of time as board members fretting over stock share prices and insolvency, receive dividends and salaries for said board memberships, lobby congress for larger sugar subsidies, engage in corporate merger and acquisitions to increase our sugar portfolio, deal with unhappy suppliers who refuse to plant beets . . .
Or, you know, we could try Alma's and Paul's way.
What Would Jesus Say?
How many businesses did Jesus run? How many boards of directors did Jesus belong to? How many corporations was Jesus an officer of?
None. And what did Jesus say to Peter when Peter returned to the family business on the sea of Galilee after the resurrection?
"Don't you love me? What are you doing here among the fish? Feed my sheep!"
The care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
The stress and moral concessions required by the business world are toxic. It is telestial. So bringing that culture, and the practices and methods of big business, into religion was really a masterstroke for Mahan.
Why does a church need so much money, anyway? All of its investments were originally seeded with tithing funds. So every penny a church has -- whether from investments or business interests or capital or return -- all stem from tithing.
I wonder what the prophet Jeremiah would say about all these worldly entanglements? Maybe Jeremiah would look at us, shaking his head, and say, "Nothing ever changes, does it?"
For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the Lord.
Wherefore their way shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness: they shall be driven on, and fall therein: for I will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation, saith the Lord.
And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err.
I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.
Hmmm. Personally, I do not see how the holy trinity of Apple, Microsoft and Google will save us. But then, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Sergey Brin are a lot smarter than me.
Samuel the Lamanite
I love how the Nephites swore they would never persecute the prophets like their fathers . . . while in the very act of shooting arrows at a prophet.
Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides?
Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?
And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them.
Both Jeremiah and Samuel mention how things get "slippery" when we set our hearts on the things of this world.
The business of the gospel is to save souls, not money.
Obviously the Lord loves a generous and cheerful giver. But should the church (i.e., Body of Christ) require, as a condition of full fellowship, its members to pay a set amount?
Let's see what the "most correct book" says:
And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.
And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.
The Take Away
In two verses we learn all we need to know about giving. It is like Mormon knew we would live in the Twitter-Age and had short attention spans.
(1) Giving was meant to be paid to the needy, naked souls: not to an institution;
(2) Giving was meant to be voluntary "of their own free will," not in exchange for fellowship privileges;
(3) Giving was based on the surplus a person possessed: the more you had, the more you gave, and vice versa; and
(4) The poor were not asked to give (which would kind of defeat the whole idea, right?).
Let's test these principles with this scripture:
And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted.
So far so good. Let's go for broke, shall we?
If ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need-- I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing.
Tithing for Temples?
But what about building temples! We need tithing for that, right?
Well, no. The saints built the Kirtland Temple in 1833 - 1836 without tithing. It can be done.
So What is Tithing to be Used For?
The poor; The needy; The sick; The naked; The hungry; The imprisoned; The afflicted.
If we took the following words to heart from the Law of the Lord (i.e., Section 42), I think it sums it up well:
I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the Gentiles unto the poor of my people who are of the house of Israel.
And just in case we missed it, the Book of Mormon carries a major chip on its shoulder about siphoning away funds from the poor to build sanctuaries (i.e., chapels and temples).
Their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up.
They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing.
(2 Nephi 28:12-13)
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
Mammon Red Alert!
When we see the charitable contributions of a church going to the infrastructure, the bureaucracy, the management, the real estate, the buildings, the salaries, the marketing . . . instead of to the poor . . . then we may say, "I have witnessed Nephi's and Moroni's prophecy be fulfilled with mine own eyes."
How does a person rob God?
How do we rob God? Easy: by robbing the poor. By using charitable contributions for purposes other than to succor the poor and needy.
"Inasmuch as ye have [taken it away from] one of the least of these my brethren, ye have [taken it away from] me" (Matt. 25:40).
The Law of Gospel Giving among the Nephites was intended to support the poor -- not the church.
5. Common Consent
The principle of Common Consent is amazing! It is "The Fonz" of the Restoration because it is so cool.
So I'm going save Common Consent for its own post next time. Stay tuned! If we actually practiced Common Consent, we would see some happy days, indeed.