DC 120 Historical Background
The Church is run by councils at all levels of church government. There is wisdom and safety in this practice. In 1837, difficulties arose because William W. Phelps and John Whitmer controlled church funds without consulting the local high council. The result was conflict, dissension, and eventually excommunication. In section 120, the Lord instructs the Prophet that councils are to be used to control church funds.
"Internal difficulties were brewing as the Saints poured into Caldwell County, where they constructed log houses and prepared the soil for spring planting. Thomas Marsh and Elisha Groves returned early in 1837 from their fund-raising mission in Kentucky and Tennessee and turned $1450 over to W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer, counselors in the stake presidency, since President David Whitmer was in Ohio. The counselors used the money to buy more land, but they purchased it in their own names and then sold it to the Saints at a small profit, which they retained. Several members of the Church immediately protested, and some of the high council complained that the counselors were also making decisions regarding Far West without consulting them. At a series of meetings in Far West in April, these brethren acknowledged their wrongs, and reconciliation was achieved. It was decided that Edward Partridge, acting with the counsel of the stake presidency, the high council, and two Apostles where were in Missouri-Thomas B. Marsh and David Patten-would distribute the lands.
"A month later, however, Phelps and Whitmer again offended the high council and the Apostles with further attempts to profit from land deals... Early in February 1838 the high council tried John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps for misusing Church funds...Therefore, on 10 February the high council, with the assistance of two Apostles, excommunicated W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer." (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981], 183-184)
Thomas B. Marsh
You undoubtedly remember the visit which I, in company with Elder Groves, made to the churches in Kentucky and Tennessee in the summer of 1836. You may also recollect the nature and result of our visit. We came to solicit assistance for poor bleeding Zion. And we obtained through the goodness of the children of God in those regions, the sum of fourteen hundred and fifty dollars, which we delivered unto William W. Phelps and John Whitmer on our arrival at this place. But these men, instead of laying out the money for the benefit of poor bleeding Zion, purchased land for their own emolument. They generally did their business independently of the aid or counsel of either the bishop or high council. This gave some uneasiness to the two authorities of Zion, not only because they purchased land with church funds in their own name for their own aggrandizement, but because they selected the place for the city Far West and appointed the spot for the house of the Lord to be built on, drew the plan of said house, and appointed and ordained a committee to build the same, without asking or seeking counsel at the hand of either bishop, high council, or first presidency, when it was well understood that these authorities were appointed for the purpose of counseling on all important matters pertaining to the Saints of God. (Elders' Journal of the Church of Latter Day Saints, vol. 1 (October 1837-August 1838), Volume 1, Number 3, Far West, Missouri, July 1838 (whole No. 3) 37.)
DC 120:1 Church properties shall be disposed of by a council, composed of the First Presidency...
Gordon B. Hinckley
Concerning the disbursement of the money which comes from the tithing, the Lord has said: "Verily, thus saith the Lord, ... 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." (D&C 120.)
These eighteen men-the Presidency, the Twelve, and the Presiding Bishopric-constitute the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes. What might be regarded as executive committees of this larger council include the Budget Committee and the Appropriations Committee. The expenditure of all Church funds comes under the purview of these bodies. ("The State of the Church," Ensign, May 1991, 53)
Gordon B. Hinckley
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. ("Rise to a Larger Vision of the Work," Ensign, May 1990, 96)