Editor’s Note — Tithing is commonplace in today's churches, as are salaries for church pastors. But circa World War II, tithing was uncommon in Scott County churches and paid ministers were rare. From his autobiography, recorded on audio cassette tape in 1980, shortly before his death, Rev. Hobert L. Wright, of Robbins, recalled efforts by himself and Rev. Roy Blevins — who was pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Oneida for nearly 50 years — to introduce the practice of tithing in Scott County churches. Their message was unpopular at first, but eventually caught on. This story, the third in a series on "The Mountain Preacher" to paint a picture of what life was like as a minister in rural Scott County in the early 20th century, is excerpted from Wright's autobigoraphy.
In 1939, I was elected by the church at Robbins as a pastor under a monthly salary of $50. It was an awfully small salary, but I accepted it. It was the first time I ever preached for a salary. And I had never hurt so bad in my preaching until this time.
One of the old preachers who had laid hands on me when I was ordained and who always tried to help me found out that I had accepted a pastoral appointment under a salary. He said that he hoped to never hear me preach again, so long as he lived. And he didn’t.
The churches in this area didn’t believe in giving preachers money. I didn’t feel that I was doing anything wrong by accepting the salary at Robbins. During that year, I put my full time into serving the Robbins Baptist Church. I preached the gospel, trying to lead Christians to a better live and help them get their children saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I was enjoying my religion even though I was having persecutions. I had not been fully doing my duties. I had not gotten to where God wanted me to be in preaching the gospel. He wanted the churches to let go of some of their money they were getting. It belonged to God and they were holding it.
The kind of religion we were practicing at that time was not pleasing to God. He wanted us preachers to declare the whole council. As the Apostle Paul said one time, “I’ve not shunned to declare unto you the whole council of God.” When we were charged to preach, we were charged to preach the word and to be instant in season and out of season; to preach when it is easy to preach and to preach when it is hard to preach. We were charged to reprove and rebuke with all long-suffering and doctrine.
At the end of 1939, I resigned at Robbins. I had become dissatisfied with a few things I couldn’t conquer and asked God to give me another field to work; a job where I could win souls to Christ. I went back to work in the coal mines and was making pretty good money. I was still studying the Bible and preaching. Sometimes I would study my Bible until midnight, then get up in the morning and walk to my job and work all day.
Though I still had not fully preached the gospel, I was still trying to preach. I was conserving a certain part of my life for my own life, as most of us do. I would preach messages that people liked to hear, and they would give me a little money to help me buy soles for my shoes, since we had to walk everywhere in those days.
I was elected pastor at Honey Creek, seven miles from my home on Grassy Knob. I had no horse to ride and no car to drive, so I had to make it on foot. We just had services once a month. I would walk the seven miles on Saturday morning. At 11 a.m., we would have our business meeting and service. At 7 p.m. that evening we would have another service, and a final service at 11 a.m. Sunday morning. It took me all evening on Sunday to walk home.
I served that church for one year. At the end of the year they gave me one dollar. The man who gave it to me didn’t want anyone else to know he had given it to me; he just slipped it into my hand. The people believed that if a preacher asked the people to give him money, he was a hypocrite; that he was out for the money and didn’t care anything for the people.
A lady stood in front of me once and said, “Preacher, you are out for a dollar.” And I said, “Sure I am, I am not denying it.” I asked her, “Don’t you have a job?” She said, “Yes, I have a job in an office.” I said, “Don’t you pack your lunch?” She said she did. I said, “Why do you go there and sit in that office all day and eat that lunch? Don’t those people pay you for your work?” She said, “Why sure; if they didn’t pay me, I wouldn’t work.” I said, “Well, what if I should say that if you don’t pay me I won’t preach?”
Roy Blevins, who was ordained with me, took his Bible and took the third chapter of Malichi and preached it out. He preached that the tenth of every dollar of your income belongs to the Lord and that it is holy unto the Lord. The Lord requires you to take it to the altar. He said that this whole nation had robbed God, which is a pretty hard thing to accuse a man of.
In the meantime, the Honey Creek church elected me as pastor again. I had gone out by the side of the road one day on my way home from church and asked the Lord why it was that they had only given me a dollar. The answer I got was because I didn’t tell them that I needed money. God said, “You didn’t preach to them their duty in tithing.”
So I studied the Bible as much as possible in my spare time. I wanted to see what I could find. I found the Bible said, “The gold is the Lord’s, the silver is the Lord’s, the cattle of a thousand hills belong to the Lord. The tenth of every man’s income is holy unto the Lord and should be taken to the storehouse.” The 12th tribe, the Levites, were supposed to live on that tithe. They were not allowed to farm; they couldn’t own any property at all. They were not supposed to work, and it was the duty of the church to furnish all of their subsistence.
I went to church the next month prepared to preach on tithing. As the old joke goes, there was a preacher who wanted his wife to go to church with him one night and she didn’t want to go. He said, “You’d better go because I am going to shoot the big gun tonight.” When he came home, she pulled the covers back, peeped out and said, “How did the big gun sound?” He just shook his head and said, “The gun snapped, but it wouldn’t shoot a’tall.” That’s what happened to me. I had studied my Bible and was going to preach a message on tithing, but my big gun snapped. I couldn’t preach on it. It was right there before me, I had the Bible there, but I couldn’t preach it. The Lord wouldn’t let me.”
On my way back home, I got to the same place where I had prayed the month before. I went to pray again and said, “Lord, what did I do wrong? Why wouldn’t you let me preach on tithing?” He said, “A man has to practice what he preaches.” I hadn’t tithed myself. I saw that if I preached it, I would have to practice it. I promised the Lord that I would do that.”
And so began some of my heaviest persecutions as a preacher. Some of the people called me the “ten cent preacher.” Some called me a crazy preacher.
We tithed for a while, but some promises are hard to keep. We ran into a spell of hard luck and, like a lot of folks, it was easy to say that we couldn’t afford to tithe; we needed that 10 percent. I ran into money and we got to spending it. My wife fell ill with rheumatism. We would tithe for a while, then we would suffer and pray for a while. The Lord would forgive us for not tithing, but He collected it. It was His.
I preached a message at Robbins in 1942 on the subject of, “Who owns the wool?” I think we all agree that God owns the wool, but what I would like for you to think about is who gets the wool? The shepherd? No. The owner of the wool pays the shepherds, who work for him. Jesus owned the sheep and the preachers are the under-shepherds. People have robbed God. If you are not giving the tenth of your income, which is holy unto the Lord, then you are robbing God.
The church was upset about the message. It went far enough that one of the members wrote a letter and put it under my windshield wipers during the church service one night. It was a long letter that called me everything in the world; everything except a Christian or a preacher. I just ignored it and went on serving God.
I have preached that message to every church I have pastored since then. If you give the tenth, God will bless you for it. If you think you are smarter than God and you are going to use it for yourself, just try it and see what happens. You may think you can get by with stealing from God. I am speaking from God and warning you that you won’t get by with stealing from Him.
The fourth and final installment of Hobert L. Wright’s autobiography, in which he recalls balancing the ministry with work in the coal mines,, will be the subject of the August 2018 installment of Focus On: Religion, which will appear on this page in the Aug. 23, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.
This article is the July 2018 installment of Focus On: Religion, presented by Huntsville Manor on the fourth week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Focus On series. A print version of this article can be found on Page A3 of the July 26, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.