According to the UN in February 2018, Nigeria attained the undesired but inevitable position of the Poverty Capital of the world with 64% of the total population in poverty, a figure that translates to roughly 80 million people.
Recently Pastor Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in a viral video said ‘Anyone who is not paying his/her tithe is not going to heaven’. If that statement seems wrong to you at first glance, it’s because it is.
THE ENDLESS TITHE DEBATE
The debate on tithing has been going on for a while now ever since Daddy Freeze’s infamous attack on the doctrine last year during which he faced criticism from many Christians and personal attacks from church leaders. It’s quieted down for a while until this latest decree by Heaven’s gatekeeper. One can’t tell if it’s out of his desire to have the last word on the subject or it’s an effort to clip dwindling tithe revenue in his church.
During the heat of the debate in the past 6 months, many people have touched on the biblical standing of tithing, some have been right, some have been wrong. This latest outburst presents an opportunity to establish an objective and biblical position on tithing.
When it comes with dealing with criticism of established traditions and systems, it’s always best to first examine its original purpose and the doctrine of tithing isn’t exempted.
Like almost every controversial topic in Christianity, the origins of tithing can be traced to the Old Testament where God, through his servant Moses, declared unto the Children of Israel to pay tithes. These tithes were to be paid to the Levites, a group of people who in a prior decree had been banned from working and set aside to be servants and priests of God, (Numbers 18:21-26, Deut. 14:27-29). Tithes were also to be shared to the poor in the land of Israel. Simply put, tithing is a communist idea to feed and clothe those who were not allowed to work and those who did not have enough. A noble idea, I’d say.
So why the controversy? Well, Jesus came. Under the Old Testament, tithing, like taxes in modern society, was a law, but the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ abolished that law and a bunch of others. According to Romans 6:14-15, we are no longer under the law.
This new dispensation in our relationship with God made us all Levites (1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6, 20:6) as signified by the renting of the veil in the temple, giving us all access to God, a perk that used to be exclusive to people from the tribe of Levi. Simply put, the law that bounded Israelites to give to a select group of people does not concern us, as with other laws such as the keeping of a beard, stoning an adulterer to death or circumcision.
For those who insist Jesus’ sayings and parables on tithing were affirmation of the doctrine, they will do well to remember until the death and resurrection of Christ, He was a man living under the laws and custom of the Jewish nation. The dispensation of grace under which we fall under did not commence until his ascension into heaven.
The controversy on tithing is however symptomatic of deeper problems with Nigerian Christianity and we would be wise to direct our energy towards fixing them.
THE SUBVERSION OF CHRIST’S TEACHINGS
When the topic of tithing is raised, those who support or oppose the doctrine often find themselves having to criticize and defend Nigerian Christian leaders. So what if we agreed and kept tithing? Would it be such a terrible thing to do? After all we have full time Pastors who have chosen to dedicate their lives to tending the Lord’s flock. They still need to eat and feed. Their children need to go to school. We still have the poor in our midst who could use some of the funds gathered to enrich their lives and lift them from poverty. Would it be such a terrible idea if we all dropped 10% of our income to this noble cause? The answer, is no. The problem, however, is that’s not what tithes are being used for, at least not in its entirety.
During Christ’s time on earth, a lot of his time were spent simply doing two things; preaching the gospel and fixing the people’s problems. From using his powers to provide food to the hungry, to becoming a one-man health care system to activism; fighting for the weak and downtrodden, Jesus dedicated his life to affecting people’s lives positively, spiritually and materially. When He was about to depart, He commanded his disciples and followers to go on and do the same. The disciples’ practice of Christ’s teachings earned them the title of Christians in Antioch, the biblical origin of the Christian religion.
Pentecostalism in Nigeria, the leading Christian denomination in the country, has over 50 million members out of a combined Christian population of 86.5 million people according to the 2017 yearbook of International Religions. According to the UN, 80 million Nigerians are living in moderate to extreme poverty, meaning if you were to draw the venn diagram of poor people in Nigeria and Christians in Nigeria, there will be a sizable intersection of both groups.
Why the large intersection? That might be because our Christian leaders today have completely neglected the practice of Christ’s teachings. From Pastor Adeboye, Heaven’s self-appointed admission officer, to Oyedepo to Oyakhilome or Ashimolowo, the doctrine of Christ has been subverted into a get rich scheme. Between these listed charlatans and a few other popular members of their elite group of ‘Christian leaders’, they are worth over $300 million. The bulk of their members however are poor, shrinking middle class people.
Pentecostalism, established biblically by the apostles, catered to the spiritual and material needs of the believers; the church was a safe haven from the oppression of the law. This was a benefit Apostle Peter himself enjoyed but the same cannot be said for modern Pentecostalism and its leaders.
Spiritually, the message is no longer encouraging and instilling Christ’s morality into members. It’s about the message of wishing death on imaginary enemies and the doctrine of prosperity. Materially, through the con that is the prosperity gospel, more is collected from ignorant members who like new converts in the days of the Apostles, fully trust these Pastors with their lives.
If one were being nitpicky, one might ask why a man of God needs a private jet or a bulletproof car or to own the largest church building that could cost up to billions of naira to build when the focus can be better channeled towards using their platform and influence to better the lives of the multitudes that they claim to shepherd.
One of Nigeria’s leading cause of stagnation and poverty is our low Human Development Index (HDI), a composite statistic of a country’s life expectancy, education and per capita income. The sheer size of the church and the influence of our religious leaders suggests the church can make a strong positive impact on any and all of these factors.
On life expectancy, the revenue (an unofficial report once claimed it’s as high as N1 billion/week) of Nigerian Pentecostal churches is enough to provide quality health clinics in every community that their branches are in. When it comes to education, what we find is a system where our failed government is more open to providing education to the poor compared to church-owned schools where majority of members cannot afford to send their wards to these schools even though their offerings and tithes were significant capital in building them.
In a country where the banking sector operates solely on the provision of collateral to give out significant loans to entrepreneurs, Nigerian churches are in a unique position due to their extensive amount of assets and revenue flow to take loans and establish factories and businesses that create value while decreasing unemployment, increasing our per capita income in the process.
But they are doing none of this, certainly not in a manner that justifies the large amount of revenue they clamor for every Sunday. What we find is a culture of offensive lifestyle in the face of overbearing poverty. Empty declarations of ‘God will bless you’ when they have the resources to meet their impoverished members at the point of their need.
This would probably be a fair pill to swallow for those who haven’t drank their Kool-Aid and have retained a degree of independent thinking if these so called Christian leaders didn’t cozy up with politicians whose continued actions and inactions created the staggering level of poverty in the country in the first place.
There is a Yoruba adage that says ‘orisa bi o le gba mi, se mi bo shey ba mi’, meaning if you can’t save me, leave me as I am. If Nigerian church leaders fail at upholding the doctrine they claim to believe in, the least they could do is not be in bed with the corrupt politicians who fail at their given mandate and speak truth to power.
2019 is fast approaching, their conventions and special services will soon be awash with politicians who have ‘come to seek the face of God’.
The debate on what the bible says on tithing can go on and on but none of it truly matters until we make sure the church returns to its position of being the safe haven for the downtrodden, to its place as a representation of Christ’s teachings.
Written by Seun Adelowokan.
Seun Adelowokan; Humanist. Big believer in common sense. Arsenal lover.