By Douglas Anele
The reason why Yahweh stipulated one-tenth instead of one-fifth, one-twentieth or any other fraction is not stated in the Holy Bible. Nevertheless, unless one’s income can be precisely quantified, it would be quite challenging to abide by the tithe rule strictly. That is why Thomas Schreiner, in his article “7 Reasons Christians Are Not Required to Tithe,” asserts that it is actually difficult to discern how much the Israelites gave as tithes.
Christians should stop paying tithes because the practice is intimately connected with the specific socio-economic, cultural and religious conditions in Israel at a certain point in their historical evolution, which are completely different from what obtains today. Tithing might have been appropriate in an agrarian and pastoral community operating at a pre-industrial level. But in a globalising, technology-driven world characterised by increasing secularisation, bureaucratisation, individualism and capitalist machine production – a world where everyone is expected to engage in productive labour for a living – tithing is an aberration.
Moreover, considering, the contingent Old Testament context in which tithe was stipulated, it could hardly have been intended to be an eternal universal normative or obligatory religious practice. Now, since Christians believe that they are no longer under the old Mosaic covenant when tithing was required, it is theologically unsound for any pastor or general overseer to pester worshippers for tithes, let alone make the absurd threatening claim, as hypocritical money-loving pastors often do, that anyone who fails to pay tithe is “robbing God.”
If God is the quintessential spiritual being as Christian apologists believe, why would such a being need material things or feel robbed if someone fails to pay tithe? Tithe-paying believers and Christians generally seldom realise that a typical pastor or general overseer selects and emphasises biblical passages that enhance his financial standing and influence over them, while downplaying or ignoring those ones that do not. Besides, there is nowhere in the gospels that Jesus paid tithe or specifically enjoined his followers to emulate him.
Some ignorant Christians acrobatically defend the practice by citing Matt. 23: 23 and Luke 11: 42. But in those scriptures Jesus merely states that tithing was not as important as “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith… .” Consequently, paying tithes cannot be justified by citing the example of Jesus or his disciples. To put the matter bluntly: as a gullible tithe-paying Christian, you are a victim of theological or faith-based scam: your daddy G.O. or pastor is obtaining from you by false pretence.
Closely related to the above is the insane preaching of prosperity and instantaneous miracles boldly proclaimed from pulpits all over the world by clever scoundrels in cassock. Pentecostal churches especially in backward African countries like Nigeria have elevated the quest or craving for material prosperity and miracles to the status of Christian orthodoxy. According to Wikipedia, prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, the gospel of success, or seed faith) is the conviction among an increasing number of Christians that financial breakthrough and physical well-being are always the will of God for believers, and that faith, positive speech and donations to religious causes will increase one’s fortune. Thus, the Holy Bible is seen as a contract between God and human beings: if humans exercise faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.
Bishop David Oyedepo, Pastors Enoch Adeboye, Chris Oyakhilome, Chris Okotie, Lazarus Muoka and other prosperity preachers emphasise the importance of personal empowerment by arguing that it is God’s will for his people to be happy and prosperous. These men draw inspiration from certain questionable interpretation of biblical passages that are mostly at odds with Jesus’ cautionary, oftentimes negative, remarks about material prosperity. For example, Christ’s purported substitutionary atonement or reconciliation with God is interpreted to mean that believers have a right to miraculous divine healing and wealth. Believers are encouraged to demand, and expect to receive, God’s intervention in the alleviation of poverty and sickness, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. They are told repeatedly that divine supernatural help is facilitated for the chosen ones through donations of money, visualisation and positive confession.
Allied to prosperity teaching are beliefs and practices which, to put it mildly, are completely ridiculous and, in some cases, have resulted either in deaths or aggravation of sicknesses and poverty. These include speaking in tongues, belief in the miraculous power of “anointed oil,” “holy water,” “deliverance baths,” “sowing seeds,” stage-managed healing sessions and other hocus-pocus. It is interesting to note that while Oyedepo and other prosperity preachers present their outlandish teachings as the reclamation of true doctrine and, thus, as an important step in the Christian quest for dominion over secular society, there is nothing in the life and teachings of Jesus that justifies prosperity theology. There is no single statement attributed directly to Jesus that extols wealth. Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matt 25: 14-30 is certainly not a justification of prosperity gospel: it simply re-affirms the virtue of enhancing one’s productive powers.
Similarly, his statement that “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” has nothing to do with material prosperity. Appropriately understood in the context within which he spoke, Jesus was talking about genuine spirituality and his example as the door leading to it. Some pastors think that the third epistle of John verse 2 which says “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth,” vindicates prosperity preaching, but they are mistaken. Although the authorship of the three epistles of John has not been completely resolved by scholars, the third epistle from where the statement above is taken expresses a complaint addressed to a certain person named Gaius concerning domineering Diotrephes who rejected members of the fledgling church. Moreover, the statement is just that of a well-wisher, a sort of greeting that cannot in any way be regarded as endorsement of obsession with prosperity.
That said, although there is no direct statement in the New Testament where Jesus extolled material wealth and prosperity, there are numerous passages where he expressed a healthy disdain, and sometimes outright condemnation, of wealth. For instance, in Matt. 6: 19-21, Jesus warned “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, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” Further down, in verse 24, he insists that “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other.
Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” In Matt. 19: 18, an unnamed person asks Jesus what he should do, aside from obeying the commandments, to gain eternal life. Jesus replies: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” The person in question became unhappy because he was rich. Thereupon Jesus remarks, in verses 23 and 24, that “Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter the into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” In Luke 6: 24 Jesus proclaims: “But woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation.”
Prosperity preaching and obsession with miracles must be rejected for the following reasons. One, according to the gospels, Jesus was born poor and he died as a poor man. There is no single passage in the scriptures where he praised or recommended material prosperity – indeed, his worldview was opposed to materialism. Therefore, no genuine follower of Jesus can honestly accept prosperity theology. Two, emphasising material prosperity leads to the idolatry of wealth and acquisitiveness, which are detrimental to spiritual growth and enlightenment.
Three, prosperity theology is an irresponsible form of worship that devalues the character-building potentials of life’s challenges and promotes the dangerous illusion that by praying, speaking in tongues and using all sorts of ludicrous items like “miracle oil,” “anointed handkerchief,” and “holy water,” the deity will arbitrarily suspend the laws of nature just to make the believer and his pastor happy. Of course, the world does not operate that way. Finally, many pastors have enriched themselves by defrauding and impoverishing their church members through fake miracles and highfaluting empty promises. The use of fear, hypnosis, autosuggestion and other methods of mind control have rendered many devout Christians extremely gullible, fearful and neurotic, to the extent that a sizeable percentage suffer from the symptoms of dependency syndrome and bi-polar personality disorder. In short, applied beyond the bounds of reason and commonsense, some Christian beliefs and practices are steadily becoming a threat to genuine spiritually and rational living.