Religion of Monday, 28 October 2013
Source: Tawiah-Benjamin, Kwesi
Here in these columns, I told the most regrettable story of a member of my church in England, who voluntarily made a £1000 offering and demanded his money back exactly a week, after a fitting benediction had been pronounced on him. The occasion was not offering time or the collection of monthly tithes; the Christian brother made the serendipitous gesture just before the sermon, as an expression of gratitude to God for favour on his life. A thunderous applause followed the rather brave and admirable display of faith in the United Kingdom of Great Britain, where the life of the average immigrant is not that great. We prayed for him and implored the Heavens to notice him.
Blame not Judas for the 30 shekels of silver that betrayed our Lord. A £1000 is a lot of money when converted into the local currency of any east African country. The Judas bug bit our brother hard until he developed a pound-induced insomnia. Suddenly, his eyes were open to notice the cars of the pastor and the size of his house. He became ultrasensitive about church money and started a personal crusade about how tithes and other offerings should be used. When his grumblings hit a crescendo, the church board resolved to speak to him. In a meeting to which I was party as member of the board, we asked the brother if he wanted his money back. To our discomfiture, he said aye, whereupon a £1000 was counted unto him. He surged out and stopped coming to church. He had given to Caesar. Now Caesar should cough back his money.
This is the kind of spirit that sometimes follows tithing and giving in church. When the first part of this issue was published last week, the reaction was almost predictable. And perhaps the title did the damage for those who have been looking for an opportunity to contest the spirit-filled Jabez residents who wrote the Bible (The men who authored the Good Book lived in a city called Jabez, 1 Chronicles 2: 55). Without consuming as much as a syllable of the content, they assumed I was joining the crusade of the naysayers in church who want to know the designer label behind the pastor’s suit before they dispense with any money. They called it a fraud, robbery and raw theft of ‘gullible’ people, to throw my own words back to my face. A few thought it was important to make good a spiritual obligation without a question. Even those ones wished the management of church money was transparent and made accountable to the congregation.
My former hall president, one of the commentators, wrote: “It is interesting neither Christ, nor Paul nor Peter nor any of the apostles preached about paying tithe. They mostly preached giving in various forms. I do not think it is wrong to decide to tithe as your way of offering, or sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. But when churches create the impression it is sinful not to tithe, they are reintroducing the law…Today’s pastors are not levites.” My reaction was swift: “why do people forget to invoke the law and levites when they are paying the usual offerings (collection) with money, but immediately become biblical scholars when tithing is mentioned? Why, then, don’t we forget about parting with any money all together when we go to church? While tithing is monthly, there are believers who pay more in usual Sunday offerings than their tithe.
A statistician friend also asked: “why can’t we ask questions about tithing or demand to know where the contributions are going or what they are used for? Why are we deemed legalistic when we question the principle behind tithing? Our minds are supposed to have been transformed as Christians? Yet another submitted that it is his private business whether to tithe or not. Well, Christianity is not a private business. Being a Christian means walking in the mind of Christ, who made his mind public through his public teachings. He didn’t come to enforce the law; he brought salvation and grace, so that we who are sinners might become the righteousness of God.
Grace does it. That is what non-tithers refuse to accept. They had seen the pastor start the church riding a bicycle. As the congregation increased, he got a new car. He has changed his car twice in a year and now owns a plush accommodation in a choice location. Grace is not the new name for money; they suspect it is their money at work. Well, I have seen pastors contribute their family fortunes and forfeit their salaries just to see the church grow. And for many, it is a perpetual sacrifice where your life is a public mirror. As member of the church board, I saw my pastor empty his savings for church business while refusing to collect the recompense we offered. His personal car became church property and his wife served as secretary, cleaner and cook for everybody.
Why did I bring this topic up in the first place? It is not my usual beat; I write about universities and immigrants and internet dating. Indeed, a commentator admonished me to concentrate on news reports and leave religion and tithing for the pastors who know how. Well, I am not the best tither that ever lived. My wife reads these columns, so I cannot lie about my tithing obligations. I have defaulted several times when income went down or became irregular. And to be honest, there were moments I skipped the months, just as I could afford to skip the book of Leviticus or read it hurriedly and still pretend that I read the entire Bible. But I have never challenged the tithing principle.
Today, I earn a six figure sum but that has not made it any easier. Well, my six figures are not in dollars or pounds or Ghana Cedis; my six figures come in the favour of God. Incidentally, the word favour (at least by the British spelling) is made of six letters. These things are done by grace and mercy; not so much by effort or the amount you earn. Pay it anyhow whether you make $10,000 a year or $100,000. The easiest way to do this is by direct debit, the same way you pay your phone and credit card bills if you live abroad. I have absolute peace of mind because I don’t get to do the maths myself.
Blessings? Ask those who pay their tithe faithfully. They carry the presence of God, and walk in divine favour. So why are some tithe-paying Christians poor? Aye, they are not insulated from trails, but the glory in the end is the greatest (Romans 8: 18).