What happened to the good news of our salvation that teaches grace as a free gift of God?
Who has let loose these preachers from hell who are wreaking havoc among God’s flock?
Could we share in the guilt of the “religious ones” of Jesus’ time that we “are in error because we do not know the scriptures or the power of God (Matthew 22:29)?”
Driven by ignorance and greed, most Christians today have generally thrown all caution to the wind regarding the warning by Jesus that says: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves; [and that we should] know them by their fruits …” (Matthew 7:15, 16)?”
The so-called prosperity gospel, sin of simony, false prophets, make-believe miracles and such other bane of religious abuses are not anything new.
Con artists are no strangers to any profession. You will find imposters such as self-styled architects, quack doctors, cowboy contractors and fake engineers in any of these otherwise highly specialised trades.
The specialty of religious domain, too, has not been spared. The pretentious prophets of God are unashamedly turning the noble calling of feeding the flock into fleecing them through nifty extortionist schemes.
They impose burdensome religious duties such as monetary giving that is proving the greatest curse of our day.
The faithful are hoodwinked in the name of God, whose name is sadly packaged and sold to the highest bidder in exchange of miracles and blessings untold.
The packaging comes in varied forms and has varied labelling such as “planting the seed”, “sowing up” or “return on giving” and such other flashy labels as “a vow of commitment”.
The victims of these ungodly schemes are led to believe that they are following God’s commands.
Blinded by greed, desperation of sorts or sheer ignorance, the gullible faithful have become fodder for unscrupulous self-made preachers and prosperity “gospellers” that are turning Christianity into some lucrative business enterprise.
Anything ranging from holy water, anointed oil and consecrated soil are “sold” as means of God’s miraculous healing, power, prosperity or such other blessing.
The most bizarre of these items on sale that I ever heard of is that of consecrated soil. The story is told of a church in Nairobi where the preacher would encourage congregants to “plant a seed” (cryptic for payment for services seemingly rendered) in exchange for “consecrated soil” if they desired God to bless them with acquiring their own plot or land. They would then, in exchange for their “seed”, receive a bottle of soil that they keep until the prophecy to own a plot is fulfilled; or plant more seed should the fulfilment of the prophecy delay!
We may apportion the reason for the believers’ error to some impulsive greed, despair or ignorance, but what is the basis of the teachings of such gospel con artists? What does the Bible actually teach about giving?
It cannot be over-emphasised that modern-day Christianity is proving too earthly oriented. Religious entertainment in the name of praises to the most high, craze for a miracle-working God who can be manipulated to dispense success in these worldly terms, and some crass commercialised doctrine of blessing is quickly eclipsing the message of the cross, salvation, spiritual discipline, sin, heaven or hell.
Churches obsessed with numerical growth or led by mushrooming predatory pastors are out to make easy money and are never too concerned about correct doctrine. Indeed, they are in the business to offer what sells. On the top of their list are miracles, blessings, prosperity, power, healing and so on.
Ironically, they are never short of audiences who are obsessed with some insatiable search for personal gratification looking for what “uplifts me”, “blesses me”, “affirms me”, “appeals to me” — and this self-aggrandisement is often believed (delusionary so) to glorify God.
This pathetic situation reminds me of the scripture that says, “Time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
One such myth is the belief that blessings like success, prosperity or good health can be midwifed through giving to God.
The doctrine of giving and especially the biblical idea of the tithe is one key prop being used to support teachings of churches bent on fleecing their followers.
It is time any serious believer should engage with the Bible up close and candid if only to expose this lie about giving and let those who have ears hear the truth of the matter.
The Old Testament teaching of tithe can best be appreciated in light of Israel’s context as a theocratic nation. Everything had a reference to God and so was their political arrangement and social welfare system. Such concepts and practices as jubilee, land tenure, tithe and taxation, temple management, prophecy and priesthood were equally political and religious all at the same time.
The tithe was, for example, to some extent, part of the tax regime except that the national income from this source was specifically designated and its use administered in accordance with divine command.
The Bible shows that tithe was to be offered in a particular way, at a prescribed time and for a prescribed purpose. It was never a blank cheque as our modern-day preachers would want us to believe. Because of Israel’s integrated political and socio-religious theocracy, the tithe, although paid for prescribed purposes, was seen as a “gift” to God since it is divinely sanctioned. The key element here is not of “giving to God” (for God owns all things and is not in need of our gifts) but giving in obedience to God’s command and for the purpose for which it was commanded.
PURPOSES OF TITHE
The Old Testament imposes tithes on land produce and livestock and gives only three purposes for which tithe can be used.
The first is for the upkeep of the temple priests and Levites who offered religious services and had no other source of income.
In fact, the Levites were not given land among the 12 tribes of Israel for this very reason (Numbers.18, 35, Leviticus 25); and they benefited from tithes only if they fully committed to the temple service (Deuteronomy 18:6-8).
Secondly, tithe was used for community feasts (Deuteronomy 14:22). At a designated time in the year, Israelites were required to journey to Jerusalem and participate in religious ceremonies; the tithe supported these functions at which everyone was allowed to use their tithe on themselves!
Thirdly, in every third year of the jubilee circle, tithe was given as a contribution to a community store for the relief of “the Levite, sojourner, fatherless, and the widow (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).”
Notice that the Levites are here listed among the needy and allowed access to the community store.
However, unlike the poor who were exempted from tithing, the Levites were not exempt (Numbers.18:26) because most Levites did not have to take up temple services and were professionals who earned their upkeep (2 Chronicles 34). Whereas tithes were in this sense compulsory, they were never applied inconsiderately or used for the benefit of specific officials, religious or otherwise.
The New Testament does not require tithe from believers but encourages the spirit of generous and voluntary giving.
The purpose is also very clear: to support those who are in fulltime ministry (1Corinthians.9:14); and for the care of the poor and the needy (1Corinthians.16:1; Galatians.2:10). Most New Testament apostles earned their own upkeep and raised support only for the needs of others.
They did not also always have silver and gold but freely ministered to those in need (Acts.3:6). They also sternly cursed the likes of Simon Magus who tried to buy from them the miracle of healing given freely by the Holy Spirit (Acts.8).
Most also led a life of total dedication to spiritual matters, a practice that later influenced the adoption of vow of poverty in some Church traditions.
The Bible is also clear that those who give can trust God as the source of all that is given (2Corinthians.2:9:10), and as able to meet their needs (2Corinthians.9:8; Philippians.4:19). The gospel con artists often abuse such Biblical verses as: ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts.20:35)” and “you will reap what you sow (Galatians.6:7)” or “bring the whole tithe and test me (Malachi.3:10)” to confuse the faithful.
GIVING TO RECEIVE
One common lie needs to be exposed. Giving is not about buying God’s favour or influencing His decisions; for God is all-sufficient. We give out of what God has given us and only as an expression of our gratitude; and as such giving must not be understood as “I give that He may receive,’ but “I give because God has given me”.
Far from being some mechanical principle of reciprocity, we only receive God’s favour or blessing not because we have given, but because of our obedience to God’s commands.
The church needs deliverance from these preachers from hell who are fleecing the flock in the name of God. It is perhaps not too radical to suggest that like every noble profession, the church too needs a regulatory body that, by law, can vet and license qualified servants of God.
The Rev Prof Galgalo is the Vice-Chancellor, St Paul’s University