Last week, I pointed out that the rejoinder to my column by Mr. Chike Ndigwe, on “Pharisees, Judas and Private Jets”, was based on several scriptural errors that needed to be corrected, lest the unwary swallow them as true. But it so happened that Ndigwe’s rejoinder hit a chord with many anti-tithe, anti-pastor and anti-private jet critics who abused, threatened and begged that I must not “spoil” Ndigwe’s argument with a counter position, that Ndigwe had captured their minds and I must leave it at that.
But, if I refuse, there were threats of fire and brimstone. Well, what these people were saying in effect is that Ndigwe’s story is so sweet that I must not spoil it with facts and truths.
As Apostle Paul argued, a time would come, and now seems to be the time, when many “will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap for themselves teachers; and they will turn away their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Tim. 4:3—4) But there were also discerning people like Professor Dan Babayi who urged me to do a follow up, stating that I should “never presume our loudest clergy to be theologically or spiritually sound!”
So, for me, once the seed of error has been sown, it becomes a spiritual obligation to respond with corrections. Whatever choices people make after such corrections is up to them.
One of the first fallacies of Ndigwe is the argument that tithing was of the law and was done away with after Christ. Therefore, believers need only observe free-will offering, not tithing. This is a fallacy, but if people choose to hide behind this fig to avoid tithing, good luck to them. But, here is the fact. Tithing predates the law by 430 years.
Abraham paid the first tithe in the Bible to Melchizedek 430 years before Moses showed up with the law—Gen. 14:18—20. At this time, there was no previous directive or law to do so. So who taught Abraham to pay tithe? The inspiration came from the Spirit, not tradition or legal code from anybody. After a deep spiritual encounter, Jacob followed his father’s pattern over hundred years later—Gen. 28:20—22. The significance of this is very important to the understanding of tithing.
Abraham is the father of the Promise and Moses represents the Law. The Promise is of the spirit, by faith; the law as Paul argued, is carnal and therefore, legalistic. The law in any case, was not the original plan; the original plan was based on Promise through faith—man governed by the spiritual regulation as opposed to legalism. The law which Moses instituted was a temporary device to guide a very problematic people until the coming of the Promise. Moses of course didn’t make it to the Promised Land, signifying the failure of the law. At the advent of Christ, the law was set aside for the Promise to prevail.
Christ is that Promise and tithing existed under the Promise, not law. In the meantime, the law had woven complex tithing regulations which the Pharisees not only meticulously observed but boasted and flaunted as the evidence of their righteousness. Jesus rebuked them. You pay tithes on the smallest items, Jesus remonstrated with them in Matthew 23:23, but neglect weightier issues of the law: justice and mercy and faith.
This was a great opportunity for Christ to knock out tithing from the New Order, but instead, he said, “These (TITHING ON VARIOUS THINGS!) you ought to have done without leaving the others (JUSTICE AND MERCY AND FAITH) undone.” Now, if after this declarative endorsement of tithing in the New Testament by Jesus and some folks who claim to be Christians decide not to pay tithes, that’s their choice and they should live with it without pushing their disobedience down our throat.
Apparently turning a blind eye on the above text, Ndigwe and so many of the wannabe teachers of the Bible, assert that in the New Testament, only free will offering is recognized, citing Apostle Paul’s teaching on giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. But in these texts, Paul was conducting fundraising to help believers who were famine victims.
In other words, he was not legislating on tithing. Paul himself states, “The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise…” (Gal 3: 17) So, on what and whose authority then do Ndigwe and his anti-tithing mob hang their argument?
Now, Ndigwe and many of the anti-tithe crowd mimic pastors as saying that if people pay tithe, God will open the windows of heaven for them. The problem is that these are not the words of Nigerian pastors, these are the literal words of the Bible that these critics are ridiculing.
Malachi 3:10 specifically states: “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that they may be food in My house and try Me now in this” says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”” If anybody checks in your Bible, these are direct quotes from God, yet people are making mockery of the words and some folks cheer them at it.
In some other religion I know, if anybody did this, they would have declared fatwa of death on the person, but our God is merciful God, so ride on, ye mockers and jesters of God! It is on the strength of the above scriptures and similar ones like it that for three decades, I, like millions of other believers, have faithfully paid my tithes and in those years, I’ve held different offices in the church, pastoral and non-pastoral but had never earned a penny for it. This is my choice and I know so many other faithful pastors doing exactly the same or more, who are also being ridiculed as looters of tithes and thieves in cassock.
Many enlightened believers who made the choice of tithing over the years without grumbling would feel deeply insulted by the suggestion that we were really gullible victims of some charismatic preachers who hoodwinked us in order to feed fat on us. Some of the best minds in the world who faithfully studied their Bible as much as any pastor and have made conscious choices in matters of tithing, pastors and churches to submit to are certainly in better position to know when they are being exploited.
Tithes were usually brought to “the storehouse” of God “ that they may be meat in my house”, as God puts it above. Today, where is that storehouse? The coffers of the church, not the car booth of pastors and their wives or their bank accounts.
Church fund must be separated from the pastors, even if it is a husband and wife church, otherwise abuse becomes inevitable. Every believer, pastors inclusive, must pay tithe. Pastors who don’t pay tithes, as the Bible prescribes, are simply put, temple robbers, no less. It’s an abomination. In my church, Evangel Pentecostal Church, we have quarterly management account circulated to all board members; we have internal and external auditors—in effect, we have audited account by professional accounting firms. So many churches do the same, but as in all things Nigerian, some don’t, but that’s between them and God, not media critics. As for Ndigwe’s doctrine about the cessation of miracles, I know where he is coming from with that poisoned chalice, but I can only say, be it unto you according your faith.
But some of us not only believe in the daily reality of miracles, we also believe that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Incidentally, Ndigwe however made a good point about the priesthood of the believers. This argument about the priesthood of the believers must also cover believing corporate executives whom Ndigwe concedes could have private jets, but then, whatever happened to their priesthood in such instances? If all believers are priests and Jesus has banished the line between the clergy and the laity, as Ndigwe argues, why then is Adeboye and co being crucified for opulence while all the corporate executives who have private jets are excused?
We need to dispose off of another fallacy: that the private universities the churches built with tithes and offering money were priced out of the rich of the poor whose tithes and offerings built the institutions. I sense some illogicality here. If truly the tithes and offerings of the poor in these churches were big enough to build universities, it goes without saying that the income that produced such tithes and offerings can surely pay the university school fees.
But the reality is really different. The poor man’s tithes and offerings are usually so small anyway that they really can’t build any university. I am talking simple logic here. In other words, from experience, in matters of tithing and offerings, the Pareto principle of 80/20 rule is usually the case. Over 90% of tithes and offerings usually come from less than 20% of the church’s membership. These are the people who make enough income in the first place, so tithing is not the reason the poor couldn’t pay the university school fees, but mainly because they are really poor in the first place.
Most of the poor, in any case, are in the church because that is the only place they can get help. In Nigeria, the church remains the last refuge of the poor. It is easily forgotten that in a nation without social security like ours, the church is really the institution catering for the poor of the land. Remove the church for six months and the nation would collapse under the weight of social cataclysm of unimaginable dimension. Meanwhile, this allegation of over-priced private universities is usually leveled against those built by the jet-owning pastors of Pentecostal churches like Bishop David Oyedepo and Pastor Enoch Adeboye.
But the facts are really different. There are also Babcock University owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church and Bowen University owned by the Baptist Church and Madonna University owned by the Catholics. But it so happened that on comparative basis, Babcock and Bowen are even costlier than Oyedepo’s Covenant University and Adeboye’s Redeemer University.
Are there no poor people in Baptist Church and Seventh Day Adventist Church who pay tithes and offerings since these two denominations believe in the doctrine of tithes and offering? So, really, the issue is not about relativism of tithes and school fees, but the old sneaky and at times, brazen opposition of Pentecostalism by mostly orthodox churches and their intellectuals. It’s a disguised denominational warfare that at times hides its bile under the garment of social activism.
But we might as well put this fact straight. Private universities all over the world, including those owned by churches, are usually costly, mainly because they had no funding outside the school fees and private endowments.
That’s why the Lagos Business School inspired by the Opus Dei of the Catholic Church is steeply priced; that’s why the private Ivy League universities like Harvard, Yale, Brown, Stanford universities and co are priced out of the roof with average tuition from $28,000 to $60,000 annually. Any sensible critic should have praised these church leaders for their intervention in the nation’s collapsing educational sector, among others. Indeed, I finally gave up on this school issue when one angry fellow wondered why these Pentecostal pastors should be building universities when there are no jobs for many who graduate from these universities; why not use the money to build factories for people to work in? In other words, beyond private jets, there is so much confusion about what the church is all about and the sins of these pastors really.
So, the feeble shoulders of Pentecostal pastors are now the dunghill on which to heap the burden of our cumulative national frustrations and leadership failures!
That’s the fine art of scapegoatism, but I fear that ultimate aim of such witch-hunt is to set up the church, especially the Pentecostal churches, for a political crackdown. The predominant question which Ndigwe and his friend ask is: did Jesus use private jet in His time or would he have used one? I wish I know the truth, but I do know something though: the best means of transportation in His time were horses and boats and he used them—the best of them. On the other hand, Jesus never married, never used GSM phones, I-Pads, BB, Laptops, Internet and so on. Would he have used them if they were available in his time? Your answer to these posers is a good guide to what He would have done today.
Those who insist on restricting today’s spiritual leaders to only what Jesus used seems to forget something: Jesus worked for only three years, after 30 years in preparation. In those three years, he pioneered the Christian movement, raising a maximum of 500 followers, out of which only 120 obeyed his directive to wait at the upper room, with 12 of his inner core disciples deserting him at the most critical time. Like today’s confused anti-clergy babble, the Jewish mob also cried, crucify Him, crucify Him. … Adeboye, Kumuyi, Oritsejafor, for instance, have been laboring for over 40 years in ministry.
Jesus recognizing the time limitation on His earthly ministry declared that “greater things” would be achieved by his followers. I certainly have no problem if private jet fits into that “greater things”, but what is my ultimate test is: is this a necessity that fits into the agenda of evangelizing the world? If Adeboye, Oyedepo, Ayo Oritsejafor and co can answer this question in the affirmative in good conscience before God, one billion critics spitting fire and brimstone in the print and electronic media are totally irrelevant.
If people transacting secular businesses need private jets to facilitate their movements, then the business of the kingdom needs them even more! To some people, especially with a warped perception of the gospel, private jets are symbol of ostentation and obscene lifestyle, but to the kingdom business, they are just tools to facilitate movement, nothing more.