William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616. To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?
To Tithe Or NOT To Tithe: That Is The Question.
The rest of the paraphrased verse from Shakespeare’s Hamlet aptly describes the dilemma of the discerning Christian in this present controversy: is it more Christian to silently ignore the selfish preaching of blatantly conflicted ‘men of god’ and their besotted and benighted followers or to take up scriptural and spiritual arms against the sea of interests that continue to merchandise the Christian faith and turn God’s house into a den of robbers, even if the latter course temporarily causes a breach among brethren, in the hope that, by the grace of God, we can end the merchandising?
It might appear impolitic that I start such an article on such a fierce note but my spirit is vexed when I see a multitude of otherwise educated Christians who have failed in a primary responsibility of every Christian as instructed by Paul that we ‘Study to shew (ourselves) approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). If the generality of Christians had obeyed this and similar biblical injunctions, would any band of men, no matter how gifted in psychology and oratory or showing signs and wonders, have been able to deceive so many essentially via one verse (Mal 3:10) plucked out of context and turned on its head? How did we get to this sorry pass in a generation that possesses billions of phones and other devices which in mere seconds can list out every single reference in the bible to tithing and giving? In these days that knowledge abounds, how have we become so ignorant and easy to deceive? Are we deceived not because we do not know or cannot find out but because we have chosen to heap up teachers to ourselves to satisfy our own lusts, led astray by our itching ears? (2 Timothy 4:3 KJV). Below I shall set out the arguments, pro and con, and leave each Christian to perform his Berean duty and come to understand the bible in full context with scripture explaining scripture. If this whole controversy will lead more people to search and read their bibles for themselves and stop depending on the dozen or so favourite verses from their pastors, then even this would have been used by God for His purpose and to His glory.
For the proposition that Christians should pay a tithe of their income to pastors and pastors alone our ‘men of god’ tirelessly quote Malachi 3:10 which enjoins those addressed to bring all tithes to the ‘treasure house’. On this one verse ninety percent of the weight of the pro tithe argument rests, so we should examine it critically and be sure we place it in context within the book of Malachi and all sixty-six books of the bible. Fortuitously, Malachi is made up of just four chapters, that even the slowest readers among us can breeze through in mere minutes, so anyone with ANY opinion on the issue of tithing who has not read the full book of Malachi, is derelict in the duty to inform oneself and should correct this before voicing an opinion.
What context does the whole of Malachi offer to Malachi 3:10? Malachi is generally an indictment of Levites and the priestly class for their failure to fulfil their roles and diligently perform their assigned tasks. At times the common people are indicted alongside their spiritual leaders but largely as accomplices or / misled sheep of the errant priestly class and then in matters like adultery, divorce and moral relativism but not concerning tithes. This was the context in which Malachi 3:10 again instructed that tithes should be brought into the storehouse / treasure house in the temple in Jerusalem. Since the treasure house is in the temple, doesn’t this align with the popular position that all tithes belong to the church? Not so fast.
If we allow scripture to explain scripture, we can search through the bible and we will find that the storerooms in the temple are again mentioned in Nehemiah 10.38, where we learn that: “And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house” (KJV). Aha! So it is the Levites who collect tithes that are to pay a tithe of the tithe collected into the storehouse in the temple. That makes complete sense when we remember that there were Levites who resided in the towns with the people and every third year tithes were not even ‘paid’ in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 14 and 26) yet the priests manning the temple in Jerusalem must be taken care of. Numbers chapter 18 reinforces Nehemiah’s instruction that Levites pay a tithe of the tithe they collected to ‘the Lord’, to ‘Aaron the Priest’. Reading the bible without any preconceptions or agenda then it would seem it is the Levites who should ‘pay’ tithes to the temple but what role does the ordinary Israelite play then? Who does he pay his tithes to? A look at Deuteronomy lays it all bare.
Deuteronomy chapters 12 and 14 not only say who gets the tithe but says what the tithe can consist of and how it should be consumed. It instructs that annually the tithe, being a tenth of the harvest, should be gathered up and, in two of every three years, taken to the temple in Jerusalem where the tithing family along with strangers, orphans and widows will consume it in a celebration of the Lord’s goodness. The Levite(s) resident in the hometown of the tither would get a share of the tithe because Levites didn’t have a stake (land) in ancient Israel. It is from this tithe received that those Levites paid a tithe to the temple so even in the two years that the tither went to the temple he wasn’t obligated to give to the storehouse in the temple directly but only through his accompanying Levite who would pay a tithe on all he received. If Jerusalem is too far from the home of the tither he need not burden himself by carrying the produce all the way but can sell it and use the money to buy whatever his heart ‘lusts after’ when he gets to Jerusalem: grains, animals, wines and ‘strong drink’. All to be eaten by his family and shared with the four stakeholder groups: the stranger in his town, the orphan, the widow and the Levite because he had no stake in Israel.
In the third year the tither need not go to Jerusalem but will celebrate God’s goodness and provision by eating and sharing his tithe in his home town with the same four stakeholders. It is in this year that one presumes that the priests who ministered in the temple in Jerusalem were most exposed as the Levites embedded in the towns easily forgot to pay tithes to the storehouse in the temple in Jerusalem. Of course, Levites, being as human as the rest of us, possibly failed to pay tithes to the storehouse even in the two years that the tither sojourned to Jerusalem. This would explain the plaintiveness of Malachi which makes it more amazing that anyone had the gall to make it the primary plank for banging Christians on the head concerning tithing. It also shows the grave danger we walk in when we fail to read the entirety of our bibles for ourselves but instead depend on our ‘daddies in the Lord’ to cherry-pick whatever is convenient (and profitable) for them as the whole spiritual food we need.
Beyond Deuteronomy, Nehemiah and Numbers, those campaigning against tithing in this Christian dispensation also appeal to the entire 27 books of the new testament and wonder at the absence of any injunction to pay tithes by either our Lord, Saviour and example, Jesus Christ, or any of the writers. Considering how central a place tithes have acquired in today’s Christianity it is truly alarming that Jesus Christ and the Apostles are either silent about it or damn it with faint praise. Speaking to Pharisees, a group he often condemned, in Luke 11:42, Jesus stated: But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. These were Jews Jesus was speaking to within the context of their law and rule keeping. He belittled the tithing they were so proud of and made it clear to them that even within the law there were more important laws to keep. Indeed they are accused of paying tithes on mere spices but not loving God which is the chief cornerstone of all the laws. Jesus Christ is not recorded as asking any individual or crowd that believed in Him to pay tithes. Instead, in Matthew 25:31-46 He told us what the last judgement will be predicated on and it is all about what we do for the ‘least of these’; the prisoner, hungry, naked, stranger etc and nothing to do with tithes or first fruits. When we fail in these basic acts of charity and godliness we are condemned as workers of iniquity and cannot receive His reward.
When Jesus was asked in Mark 10:17-31 for the secret to eternal life by the rich young man who boasted of keeping all the laws, he was told to sell all he had, share the proceeds to the poor and follow Jesus. He of course turned away sad and even the disciples wondered who could be saved with such a stringent stipulation. Yet, post Pentecost, when the church was endued with power, the same disciples, with the tragic exception of Ananias and Sapphira, were effortlessly fulfilling this very stipulation by selling all they had and sharing proceeds with the brethren. Jesus did not ask the rich young man to go and tithe. The Apostles did not ask the early church to tithe but a church truly filled with the Holy Spirit and endued with power practiced communalism and gave one hundred percent of their possessions. If today pastors must cajole a mere ten percent from their followers by standing scripture on its head, then we must ask where the power has gone to and if the Holy Spirit still partners their ministries.
In addition to the words of Jesus Christ, we have the record of the Apostles and the scripture some of them wrote. Apostle Paul especially wrote extensively on giving and had to encourage the church to give at various times for the specific needs of the brethren in trying times. He never in all his writing taught tithing or first fruits neither did he urge his readers to seek worldly goods through tithes or any other means. Instead Paul taught us contentment in godliness in Timothy 6, warning among other things that the love of money is the root of all evil and craving it will lead us from the faith and cause us to be pierced with many sorrows. Today pastors tell us that Jesus taught more about money than any other topic so Christianity is all about money! They teach that the way to unlock untold material riches is to sacrificially give to them tithes, first fruits and any other thing their fertile imaginations can come up with and, once you faithfully do this, your billions are assured. Too bad Forbes publishes regularly the list of recognized dollar billionaires in the world and this list continues to be massively dominated by outright atheists, non-Christians and marginal Christians.
So, does the Forbes list prove God a liar or have His self-professed messengers been delivering the wrong message to us? Could this be Satan’s game plan? To seduce the Christians who know not their God or His scripture into fruitlessly serving mammon for decades and, when they do not receive the rewards they desire, even as Jesus warned when He said serving God and mammon is fruitless, they turn entirely against God claiming He has not kept faith with them, when they only contracted with mammon and his deceptive agents in the first place? Thus, at the end, the Kingdom of God loses such people who are dispirited by decades of fruitless service at a corrupt altar and Satan rejoices.
Yet, of these bands of obvious non-tithers, we find many who have pledged to give away as much as 99% of their wealth to others by the time they die and have indeed already given tens of billions of dollars away. Bill Gates alone has given away more than $50 billion (N18 trillion!) while remaining at best a nominal Christian who follows his wife to Catholic church sometimes and has surely heard the prosperity promise of tithing but has prospered despite it. Beyond his donations to date, Bill Gates has pledged to pass virtually all his wealth to his charitable foundation and give to his children just enough to be comfortable but not enough that ‘they can’t do anything for themselves’. Gates and his friend Warren Buffett started the Giving Pledge in June 2010. It is an organization that persuades the wealthiest people, typically dollar billionaires, to pledge to give away at least 50% of their wealth. As at 2018 we have 183 billionaires from 22 countries who have pledged to give away hundreds of billions of dollars. Two African countries are represented but, despite our nation being drenched in the prosperity gospel and being blessed with most of the richest Africans today, we do not have even one who has pledged that at his death at least 50% of his wealth will go to charity. We troop from church to mosque to darker shrines daily, but when it comes to giving one of our two coats away, doing for the least of our fellows, we are nowhere to be found.
What manner of religion are we practicing when nonbelievers in the blessings of giving outdo us in every way? They are more materially blessed than those of us who claim we have a spiritual contract with God that whatever we give ‘to Him’ via tithes and offerings shall not just be doubled but be multiplied a hundred-fold? Do we say God is a liar, His hands are short that He cannot bless or do we accept that he has been misrepresented and we have been duped by wolves that His son Jesus Christ warned us would come in His name? The dissonance in their narrative is so jarring that they have been forced to come up with an explanation for the phenomenon of the richest black person who issued forth from Nigeria, a country that rabidly pushes forth the gospel of mammon. To explain why a Muslim is the richest Nigerian even in the midst of all the money doubling rhetoric constantly issuing forth from their pulpits, they have published and are embarrassingly circulating a message that claims that Aliko Dangote’s material blessings come from his supposedly giving up his plane seat to a man of God in the early seventies. They go further and promise that if you help them spread this dubious message your material blessings shall soon rival Dangote’s! How low has the body of Christ !Who has done this to us? How much evidence do we need that the prosperity gospel, the gospel of mammon, is just a scam to rob Peter in order to pay Paul?
Material do rain down but it is almost exclusively on the tribe of wolves who continue to buy jets, build universities and other businesses, even while they urge those largely groveling in want to keep giving to God but through them only. They thus make the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:31-46 of no effect. An injunction our Lord and the Apostles repeated in many ways has been swept aside by the wolves and many sheep are being slaughtered daily. The slaughter extends beyond gullible parishioners, as we have untold thousands of believers who felt they were called to give their lives more fully to the service of God and became fulltime church workers, often giving up well-paid jobs in the process. Many have served in these ministries on and off the pulpit for decades and have nothing but poverty and spiritually disillusioned families, especially children, to show for their sacrifice even while the ‘ogas at the top’ keep celebrating the ‘goodness of God’. I trust many of us have personal knowledge of the desperate circumstances of temple servants who are relatives or close friends. Churches and their workers have become notorious in police stations all over this nation, as desperate church workers continue to adopt desperate means to make ends meet, in what appear outwardly to be prosperous ministries, at least from the jet setting lifestyles of the heads and their frequent boasts of the billions God continues to reward them with for being such faithful tithers and givers. Such giving I guess, doesn’t include paying their co-labourers worthy wages, it doesn’t include unmuzzling the oxen that tread the .
Before you accuse me of pushing a heretical gospel after years of being conditioned by thousands of sermons and messages designed to do little more that impoverish you both spiritually and materially, I ask you to simply read your bible for yourself. Any version you are comfortable with as long as you read the whole collection of sixty-six books with the expectation that God will speak to you in clear terms. The Lord doesn’t delight in hiding His truth from us and speaks plainly how He can be approached and how we can serve and please Him. This He expects of us if we truly hear and love Him. If we hear and love Him and not if we hear and love those who have interposed themselves between Him and us even when we have been told to approach the altar throne of grace with confidence. Not through proxies, interpreters or pathfinders. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ suffice for us all as we diligently seek to know and do His will alone that we may please Him.