My beloved brethren and sisters, I seek the direction of the Holy Spirit. I am grateful for what Elder Packer and President Monson have said, and commend their words to you.
I bring you the love and blessing of President Benson, who has expressed his full approval of the program of which we speak.
We are not here to discuss every detail of this program. We are here to discuss principles, with minor references to the details.
I stand before you as one who is filled with a tremendous sense of gratitude and thanksgiving. I am thankful for the bedrock of faith on which Latter-day Saints stand and build their lives. I am confident that the Lord loves His people for the goodness of their lives and the generosity of their hearts as they consecrate of their means in the payment of tithes and offerings. I am grateful for the faith of the wealthy who give generously of their abundance. I am equally grateful for the faith of the poor who likewise contribute with a great spirit of consecration.
I am thankful for the law of tithing. Surely it is divine. The Lord has made it universal in its application among all of His people. It is miraculous in its simplicity. No certified public accountant is needed to determine what is owed to the Lord. When we were children, we learned the principle:
I see the struggles of other churches to raise funds, and wonder why they do not do that which the Lord has outlined. I see the complexity, almost beyond comprehension, of government systems of taxation, and I thank the Lord for the magnitude of His wisdom in making things simple concerning the financing of His kingdom.
I am grateful for the promises that He has made to those who walk in faith. I am constantly aware that it is He who has given the commandment concerning tithes and offerings and that it is He who has given the promise concerning opening the windows of heaven. Furthermore, I know that His is the power to keep that promise. I am grateful for the testimonies of legions of Latter-day Saints who bear witness that the Lord has and does keep His promises, to which I add my own testimony.
I am thankful that the day has come, at last, when for the Latter-day Saints in the United States and Canada the payment of honest tithes and generous offerings will provide the means for facilities and activities whereby we may worship together, learn together, and socialize together for group and individual benefit.
Years ago I had the opportunity to preside over a stake whose roots reach back a great while. When the first ward was formed in that area, the local people, out of their own meager resources, bought the land and constructed the building without any help from the general funds of the Church. When that building became too small, they constructed a larger one entirely from their own resources.
By the time I came into the presidency of that stake the Church policy provided for matching funds, the Church to put up one dollar for each dollar provided by the local members. Under that formula, we in that area built six new chapels, in addition to providing funds for their maintenance and all of the activity programs carried on in the various wards.
There may have been a few murmurings, but the faith of the people overrode all of these. They gave generously, notwithstanding the stresses of their own circumstances, and the Lord blessed them in a remarkable way. I know of none who went hungry or without shelter. And I know something of the fruit of those homes which have produced a generation and almost a second generation who walk in faith and who have gone across the world and become men and women recognized for their various skills and integrity, as well as for their activity in the Church.
In those days we would have thought the Millennium had come if we had received word that the Church would bear all of the costs of providing land, all of the costs incident to building construction, operation, and maintenance, let alone an activity and administrative budget allowance of forty dollars per year per individual, based on the number who attend sacrament meeting.
It is not the Millennium, but this long hoped-for and prayed-for day has come. Though I have been a party to its inauguration, I still stand in awe at what has happened.
As you are aware, I came into the Presidency as counselor to President Kimball in 1981. Since that time I have been a personal witness to this whole unfolding miracle. Few people really know the extent of it.
I have had opportunity to witness in a detailed way the magnitude of the tremendous program of the Church. We have strengthened our base at home in a very substantial way, while at the same time planting and nurturing this work in a hundred nations across the earth. With the blessing of the Lord we have constructed thousands of new houses of worship of various sizes in many lands. We have constructed and dedicated temples at a rate that would have astounded our Brethren only a quarter of a century ago. We have maintained and enlarged our educational program, with seminary and institute opportunities reaching literally hundreds of thousands in many languages. The Book of Mormon has been published in unprecedented numbers. The circulation of our magazines has grown. The number of missionaries and missions has multiplied. We have extended the blessings of the welfare program to assist large numbers of those in distress—not only members of the Church, but suffering people in other lands regardless of religious affiliation. The number of stakes and wards has increased enormously. And now we have reached this tremendously significant day when in the United States and Canada all costs of operations, in terms of physical facilities for wards and stakes and missions, and a reasonable activity program will be financed from the general funds of the Church.
I think I speak for my Brethren when I say that we are constantly aware of the great and sacred trust imposed upon us as officers of the Church, charged with responsibility for husbanding those financial resources which belong to the Lord. We know that the funds are not ours to spend. We know that we are accountable to the Lord for the stewardship given us. We must be prudent. We must be conservative. We must be careful.
I recall that when I was a boy I raised a question with my father, who was my stake president, concerning the expenditure of Church funds. He reminded me that mine is the God-given obligation to pay my tithes and offerings. When I do so, that which I give is no longer mine. It belongs to the Lord to whom I consecrate it. What the authorities of the Church do with it need not concern me. They are answerable to the Lord, who will require an accounting at their hands.
Great is the trust, tremendous is the responsibility. I deplore waste. I deplore extravagance. I value thrift. I believe in prudence and conservatism. I believe, and I have always believed, as far back as I can remember, that tithing is the Lord’s law of finance. In a revelation given on 8 July 1838, He indicated that His saints “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.” (D&C 119:4.)
The Brethren have interpreted the word interest to mean income. Beyond that they have not given interpretation.
On the same day in which this revelation was given, the Lord established the system under which the tithes should be disbursed. He said: “Verily, thus saith the Lord, the time is now come, that it shall be disposed of by a council, composed of the First Presidency of my Church, and of the bishop and his council, and by my high council; and by mine own voice unto them, saith the Lord. Even so. Amen.” (D&C 120.)
That same system obtains and governs today as was prescribed when the revelation was first given. Each Tuesday of the year, with the exception of one or two Tuesdays during the Christmas season, the Appropriations Committee meets. This is comprised of the First Presidency, representatives of the Council of the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric. This committee essentially becomes an executive committee of the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes—which includes the First Presidency and all of the Twelve, who are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, together with the Presiding Bishopric—and which Council meets at scheduled times during the year.
The Lord in that 1838 revelation indicated the disposition should be made as He directed “by mine own voice unto them.”
All of these meetings are opened with prayer, invoking divine guidance. It is my testimony that in this process the will of the Lord is sought and His inspiration is received.
What we have recently done in the institution of this new program is, I am satisfied, an expression of that inspiration. What we have done is an act of faith. I believe it to be a tremendous act of faith. The Church is not so wealthy that it can indiscriminately scatter its resources. We must be extremely careful and wise, and I believe inspired, if this program, which involves many millions of dollars of added expense, is to function. We ask every stake president, every bishop, every branch president, every administrator of Church facilities, to teach our people principles of frugality. Watch the lights and turn them off when they are not needed. Watch the heating and cooling. Watch the sprinkling of lawns and telephone usage. We may be as free as we wish with our own funds, but not with the Lord’s.
We want our buildings to be comfortable and well lighted. We want them to be well maintained and attractive in the communities in which they are located. But we must not be wasteful.
With reference to the money allocated for activities, may I say to you stake presidents, the formula was devised on the basis of attendance at sacrament meeting as the most simple and realistic gauge of activity in the ward. Expenses for the stake should be minimal, with all costs of physical facilities, including the basic costs of telephones, being covered from the general funds of the Church. Let the budget funds which come from headquarters flow down to the wards on a basis measured by sacrament meeting attendance in each ward. In allocating funds, we have not distinguished between so-called affluent wards and so-called poor wards. We have allowed an equal amount to all, and this same principle should govern in the allocations made by you.
Further with reference to activities, may I say that I regard activities as important, particularly for our youth. Social opportunities are necessary. Young people enjoy one another’s company, and it is essential that they have the opportunity to do so. But perhaps we have gone too far in providing for some beyond what is needed or what is best in terms of the individuals and their families.
It should be recognized that this church is not a social club. This is the kingdom of God in the earth. It is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its purpose is to bring salvation and exaltation to both the living and the dead.
May I remind you of a tremendous statement given by the First Presidency in 1907. They said: “Our motives are not selfish; our purposes not petty and earthbound; we contemplate the human race—past, present, and yet to come—as immortal beings, for whose salvation it is our mission to labor; and to this work, broad as eternity and deep as the love of God, we devote ourselves, now and forever.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1907, appendix, “An Address to the World,” p. 16.) Such is the scope of our responsibility.
In working under this new program let us not quibble or complain. Let us not get bogged down in discussions over a division of dollars and dimes. Let us not worry and get all worked up about exotic excursions that now may not be possible. These might provide wonderful fun, and young people, we all agree, need to have some fun under the direction of Church officers and teachers. But these officers and teachers, and these young men and women, are people of ingenuity who with faith and prayer can work out programs costing little in dollars that will yield tremendous dividends in wholesome recreation and faith-building activities. Perhaps we should be less concerned with fun and more with faith. This is a new and wonderful program. As with any new program, there will be a few items that will need to be corrected as we go along. There are still unanswered questions, particularly concerning recreation properties. Time and experience will provide the answers. Meanwhile, be grateful and prayerfully go to work to make it function. I promise you that you will be happy if you do so. Family life will be strengthened and faith will increase.
Elder Packer and President Monson have spoken of offerings.
We hope that through the payment of liberal fast offerings there will be more than enough to provide for the needs of the less fortunate. If every member of this church observed the fast and contributed generously, the poor and the needy—not only of the Church, but many others as well, would be blessed and provided for. Every giver would be blessed in body and spirit, and the hungry would be fed, the naked clothed according to need.
The Church has been the recipient of the donation of some large and generous gifts from faithful people who have contributed freewill offerings far beyond their tithes. Such contributions are still needed, perhaps more so than in the past. We hope there will be no diminution of such giving. We hope that as the Lord continues to bless you, you in turn will express your gratitude through generosity to His great universal cause.
The general missionary fund of the Church makes it possible for many of those in deprived areas of the world to go on missions who otherwise would be denied the opportunity. Let it not be assumed that because the Church has undertaken this new program, it has funds to provide for these missionaries. Such certainly is not the case. Such funds must come from generous givers who have in their hearts love for the missionary cause.
Less-active members and nonmembers have generously contributed through the LDS Foundation to assist various Church programs. We hope this may continue and increase.
Now, brethren and sisters, I invite you to look beyond the narrow boundaries of your own wards and rise to the larger vision of this, the work of God. We have a challenge to meet, a work to do beyond the comprehension of any of us—that is, to assist our Heavenly Father to save His sons and daughters of all generations, both the living and the dead, to work for the salvation not only of those in the Church, but for those presently outside, wherever they may be. No body of people on the face of the earth has received a stronger mandate from the God of heaven than have we of this Church.
You have entrusted some of us with a heavy responsibility. God, our Eternal Father, likewise has so entrusted us. We are ever mindful of this. We pray for you, and we know that you pray for us. Please know that we love you, and accept our gratitude for the love you show for us. As servants of the Lord, endowed with His holy priesthood, we bless you that as you walk in faith and faithfulness, the windows of heaven may be opened and that there may be showered upon you those precious gifts which come from the God of heaven, who is our Eternal Father, and His divine Son, who is our Redeemer and who declared, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33.)
This is the work of the Almighty. Let us never forget that. It is the work of His Son, our Savior. Of this I testify as I invoke these blessings upon you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.