Literacy and knowledge spread widely in Europe after the German goldsmith, Johannes Gutenberg developed the hand-moulded metal printing matrices, thereby producing a movable type-based printing press system. By the 16th century, over 200 million copies of books and documents, were produced and in circulation in Western Europe, because of Gutenberg’s invention. As knowledge spread to an emerging middle class and laymen, the blinders of obscurantism came down, and the monopoly that the clergy had on reading the Bible, was vitiated—at least for a while. A friend of mine, who is a pastor in the Deeper Life Bible Church, a prominent Nigerian-based church, recently expressed his concern regarding the contemporary “over-religiosity” of many Nigerians. This insidious over-religiosity, peculiar to Nigeria, which the pious, former lecturer at the Lagos State University described, is more pernicious than mere sanctimony. He averred that there was an inordinate emphasis on “praying” to the detriment of the demonstration of character, among the populace. That is an instructive point from a pastor, in a doctrinally strict global ministry. However, a new breed of ecumenical hierophants appears to be making capital out of this milieu of the hungry and the thirsty.
I often do not like to use social media to discuss religion. Mine is a private religion: One that works for me, even as it permits me to respect the religion of others and recognise their rights to personal beliefs—as it should be in a secular, pluralistic or omnistic society. One that makes me tolerant, enlightens me, and makes me wise. Psalm 119:99, of the Christian Holy Bible says, “I have more insight than my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.” Christianity is not a religion for commercials. Christ said in Matthew 6:3 that, “But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does.” In fact, Jesus labeled people in the habit of praying in public and making a show of their religion for everyone to know as “hypocrites.” And he warned his followers not to be like them.
However, I chose to address a skit in my Facebook feed, which satirised tithing and the avariciousness of many modern ministers.
Many Christians and their pastors like to quote Malachi 3:10, which reads, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” The biblical promise serves as an “inducement” for tithing: Since it is believed that once you pay a tenth of your income in tithes, then you can expect a miraculous return of abundance. The church receiving the tithes also wins, with a swelling purse from its congregation—of course the money does not ascend to heaven, or to God.
Pastors often claim the first instance of tithing is found in Genesis 14:20, when Abraham gave a tenth to Melchizedek, the king of Salem (often cited as the prototype of Jesus Christ as Messiah-king) of the one-time bounty he had just won, after defeating Kedorlaomer and his allies. Abraham had conducted an expedition to rescue his nephew, Lot, who lived in Sodom, which had been captured by the four kings he just defeated.
But people often miss something significant that occurred: Soon after Abraham had made this one-time generous gift to the king of Salem, the king of Sodom offered Abraham a reward, which he rejected. Although Abraham had just freed the land of Sodom, he chose not to receive a reward or even keep the bounty he’d won. Abraham demonstrated the true selfless character, of one who served the God of the Bible. Abraham declared: “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”
Abraham who had paid the first recorded tithe (tenth), and had helped the king of Sodom, by defeating his enemies, refused a reward for his service. He did not play the opportunist in viewing the gift by the king of Sodom, as an automatic “answer” or return on his initial tithe to the king of Salem. If only modern pastors claiming to serve Christ would act as principled as our father, Abraham, and reject gifts from their “followers,” and not view the tithes as a source of income. Unfortunately, many modern pastors enrich themselves through bounty from their congregation.
Many also find support for tithing in Jacob’s vow to the Hebraic God in Genesis 28:20. Jacob, the Jewish patriarch, who was destitute at the time, made an agreement with his Maker, to provide for him and preserve his life. It was a contract, which Jacob entered freely with the God of the Bible, while he fled from the wrath of his twin brother, Esau, who threatened to kill him. It was not a perpetual imperative for later Christians to tithe.
Tithing is an Old Testament practice, which the Hebraic God commanded, in the book of Leviticus, that required Israelites to pay for the upkeep of the Levites, who did not receive a share of the land, unlike the other tribes of Israel. God would be their portion, as they were to become full-time priests, devoting themselves entirely to the service of God, and serving as intercessors for Israel; and the other tribes of Israel, were to pay a tenth of their income, for their maintenance, because of the Levites’ full-time devotion to ministry.
In the New Testament, this arrangement ceased, as the new Christians were neither Levites (Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin), nor were they professional priests. All the disciples had lay jobs that supported them. Thus, Paul the former Pharisee and scholar, was a tentmaker. Apostle Paul gave the clear reason, why he asked for collections on Sundays, which is now a Church tradition: For the upkeep of the poor. This is recorded in the Bible in Galatians 2:10, Acts 24:17, Deuteronomy 15:8, 1 Corinthians 16:1,2. These offerings were voluntary and not mandatory, as stated in 2 Corinthians 9:7. The Hebraic God is not in a business venture, or money doubling scheme with Christians. But of course, many who are Christians, perhaps do not read the Bible; or perhaps, they willfully ignore what they read in the Bible regarding the purpose of collections in the scriptures. Furthermore, Paul said he was to be an example for other church leaders to follow. He was poor. In 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul describes himself as, “poor, yet making many rich.” Not using the rich—and the poor—to make himself rich. This could also have been the message Pope Francis tried to convey recently, when he rejected the gift of a luxurious white Lamborghini Huracan, directing his assistant to auction it, and give the proceeds to charity. (The supercar sells for aound €180,000). His Holiness, Pope Francis, is known for his frugality.
Apostle Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy, listing certain qualifications for Bishops and church leaders: One of them was that they not be lovers of money (1 Timothy 3:3). In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul warns that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Surely, most observers can see that many modern pastors display a love of money with their extravagant and jet set lifestyles: You may even find some of them gracing the pages of Forbes magazine, where only the rich are gathered. Jesus who drove out traders from the house of God must be weeping. They build massive auditoriums, calling them churches for God, but which really serve their vanity, and aid their “income” or revenue generating capacity, as they collect more “tithes” and offerings. Does the income feed the poor, as Jesus Christ and Apostle Paul would have wanted, or is it income for the pastor and his family? They are CEOs of business enterprises, not devoted to the God of the Bible, as the Levites of the Old Testament were. Perhaps it is time to tax them as businesses or for-profit entities? If these business ventures are taxed, and their income or profit motive is minimised, perhaps we would be able to sift the wheat from the chaff, as the men and women of God remain to do God’s work—tax or no tax.
In Psalm 24: 1, God says, “the world is mine and everything in it.” What man would dare assume that he will build the Maker of the universe, a house to live in? In 2 Samuel 7:5, we learn that the Hebraic God, does not live in houses built by men’s hands, for “God is spirit.” (John 4:24.).
In Matthew 8: 20, in his response to a scribe, who wanted to follow him, Jesus said: “Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” This is an indication, that the Jesus, whom pastors claim to follow and serve, was himself poor in his life on earth. But these pastors want to become millionaires, and even some billionaires, through their “ministries” or rather business enterprises? I once stepped into a church, many years ago, where the aggressive prayer point was: “God give me dollars by any means necessary.” (Not God give me work).
…a clergy given to avariciousness is not new to the history of the church. Modern day tithing and offerings appear to be akin to the sale of indulgences in the Middle Ages, which prompted the intransigent, German priest and scholar, Martin Luther, to nail his Ninety-Five Theses to the door.
However, a clergy given to avariciousness is not new to the history of the church. Modern day tithing and offerings appear to be akin to the sale of indulgences in the Middle Ages, which prompted the intransigent, German priest and scholar, Martin Luther, to nail his Ninety-Five Theses to the door. The corruption of the one universal Church, headquartered in a very rich Rome, far-removed from the poverty of the rest of Europe, where its paying swarms of adherents lived in hardship, yet supported the opulence of their religious leaders, instigated a rift in the Church. But the schism was perhaps, a good thing, since it led to reform and a first major bifurcation in the catholic (which simply means one, universal) church: a new protestant movement, and a major reformation in what remained of the established old church order, now called the Catholic Church.
While zealotry has cooled significantly in mostly agnostic—if not atheistic—Europe, conversely, the fire of religion has reached its apotheosis in Africa—especially in Nigeria. Many argue that Nigerians are merely exhibiting their traditional affinity with spirituality, inherited from their ancestors. They argue that the relics of recidivist religiosity have merely changed in nomenclature and peripherals, but the substance—zealotry—remains.
Modern day pastors, despite warnings in the Christian Holy Bible, gain legitimacy from the “miracles” they perform. In Matthew 7:21-23, Christ warned that false prophets will perform miracles, and even cast out demons in his name. But what is the big deal about miracles anyway? Miracles performed by pastors, whom the Apostle Paul warned that their “god is their bellies.” (Philippians 3:19). In an environment rife with syncretism, how are these miracles different from those performed by Babalawos or shamans? Perhaps, the relative devaluing of our indigenous “miracle performers” instantiates a symptom of “colonial mentality,” as indigenous Babalawos have failed to dress their religion and miracles, as alluringly as the religion of the “oyinbos,” given the average Nigerian’s love for Tokunbo (things from overseas).
Martin Luther, who led the rebellion against the corruption of the Church, dared to call the Pope, an abomination. Consequently, Martin Luther was excommunicated and became a fugitive. However, the printing press, which was the Middle Ages’ social media, caused the priest’s “inflammatory,” though elucidating writings to spread like an uncontrollable wildfire. Thus, the Church was reformed after the great schism. The rest is history. Religious businessmen, will often come dressed in sheep’s clothing, although they are wolves. Do not be deceived.
Remember what the Bible says about false prophets in 2 Corinthians 11:14: “And no wonder, for even Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Perhaps, the time has come for Nigeria’s church reformation—to extirpate the adventurous businessmen pastors, whose god is in their bellies. Invoking a Yoruba phrase, nkan ti won ma je (what they will consume)—the pastors are in business for what they will consume.
Olurotimi Osha, a doctor of law (JD) candidate at George Washington University Law School, in Washington, DC, has been an investment banker and financial services consultant.