We are God’s stewards, entrusted by Him with time and opportunities, abilities and possessions, and the blessings of the earth and its resources. We are responsible to Him for their proper use. We acknowledge God’s ownership by faithful service to Him and our fellow men human beings, and by returning tithes and giving offerings for the proclamation of His gospel and the support and growth of His church. Stewardship is a privilege given to us by God for nurture in love and the victory over selfishness and covetousness. The steward rejoices Stewards rejoice in the blessings that come to others as a result of his their faithfulness. (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; 1 Chron. 29:14; Haggai 1:3-11; Mal.3:8-12; Matt. 23:23; Rom. 15:26, 27; 1 Cor. 9:9-14; 2 Cor. 8:1-15; 9:7.) (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15; 1 Chron. 29:14; Haggai 1:3-11; Mal. 3:8-12; 1 Cor. 9:9-14; Matt. 23:23; 2 Cor. 8:1-15; Rom. 15:26, 27.)
A number of minor changes were made to this fundamental in San Antonio. Most had to do with inclusive language. “Men” was changed to “human beings.” “Stewards rejoice” moved to the plural so that “his” could be replaced with their. The only other change was shifting “tithes” to “tithe.” The reason for this change was that “tithes” could be understood to include the second tithe from the additional laws of Moses. The intent of the FB was only to address the basic tithe.
Genesis 1 and 2 contain many allusions to the Hebrew sanctuary. In the garden God was setting up a spiritual center for the whole universe. The word “image” in Genesis 1 is often used for idols later on in the Old Testament. Humans were intended to be God’s “idols,” reflections of who He is to the rest of the universe. According to these chapters, humans were intended to be doing what God does, sustaining the creation through their efforts in the garden. And in the “fruitful and multiply” phrase (Gen 1:28), humans were designed to be like their Creator also in the creation of little people who look and behave like them. The one concern that arises with this concept is the implication one could draw that those who for physical reasons or singleness cannot reproduce are in some sense less than fully human. Disabilities are part of the reality of a sin-cursed world. So Scripture often states an ideal, while acknowledging elsewhere that reality may require accommodation to the real (see further comments on this in FB 23).
What does “stewardship” actually mean? Unfortunately, it is a term that has largely dropped out of use in the English language today. One wonders if there is a more up-to-date word available in today’s English. What about management? Administration? Care-taking? Both the garden and the body were intended as a temple for God, so stewardship is a holy task, even though it concerns itself with mundane, everyday matters. For example, if the body is meant to be a temple, then there is a health component to stewardship. The health of the body matters and everything one does to keep oneself and others healthy is part of good stewardship. Eating, drinking and exercise can become holy tasks.
One wonders about the implications of stewardship for ecology and things like a consumer society. How we use our possessions and our money is related to our stewardship of the environment. The concept of “dominion” over the earth can sound counter-ecological. Some have suggested that the Christian roots of the ecological crisis go back to Genesis 1. Too many have taken from Genesis 1:26 that everything on earth exists for human beings to use and then dispose of. Fortunately, the first two sentences of the fundamental belief modulate that perception in a helpful way. The earth’s resources are a blessing, not a right.
We are more and more aware of the threat to the environment that technology creates. What we have learned about the environment over the last few decades should help us to read the biblical texts more faithfully. Our mission is not to exploit the earth, but to care for it and improve it (Gen 2:15). The General Conference has prepared a companion statement (1996) which asserts that environmental depredation is largely cause by human greed, and human greed is related to selfishness and sin. We are also learning that there is a close tie between the health message and the environment. An environmentalist who is not a vegetarian is somewhat of an oxymoron today. Meat production, particularly beef, uses vast quantities of water, land, fertilizer and plant feed. It produces more polluting gases than all the cars, planes and trains in the world combined.
This doctrine may be of more significance to the secular world, therefore, than we had imagined. Every five years or so, Loma Linda University puts on the International Conference on Vegetarian Nutrition, the most significant conference of its kind in the world. At the last one a major shift occurred. Vegetarianism was not promoted only or primarily for its health benefits. It was particularly promoted for its environmental benefits. This would appear to be a trend that has a strong future and is hinted at in this fundamental. Environmental sciences now also have a foothold at Loma Linda.
In early Adventism there was a passion for sustainable agriculture. There was an agricultural component to every program in early higher Adventist education. But we have moved away from this, plowing up our vegetable gardens and turning them into baseball and football fields. Yet that old philosophy may not be so out-of-date anymore. Wendell Berry published a book called “The Greening of America” which promotes a lot of those values for a new generation of Americans.