Recently an esteemed Nigerian Pastor E A Adeboye, head of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, claimed that anyone who does not pay tithes is a candidate for hell. Hear him: “Anyone who is not paying his tithe is not going to heaven, full stop.”
To understand the concept of the “tithe” better, let us go back to the origin of reformation. More than 500 years ago, a German Monk called Martin Luther tried to challenge certain things in the Catholic Church, which he believed were contrary to the doctrine and original message
of Christianity. He criticised what he considered the misinterpretation of the Church doctrine and what he perceived as the corruption within the Church and increasing power of the pope. Central to the corruption was the highly profitable sale of indulgences, which the Pope – and the Catholic Church, for that matter – promoted in the church as a one–way ticket to heaven.
By definition, the doctrine of Indulgence is a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins. The Catholic Church fastidiously promoted this doctrine, which encouraged individuals to pay money to the Church so that they might be prayed for by the Pope to receive salvation. The huge income from this practice was used to fund the Church’s numerous activities and projects – including the building of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The belief and propaganda that when you paid money, your sins would be forgiven were to Martin Luther, the last drop. That encouraged him to angrily publish his 95 theses, which he hammered on the door of the Church. Many supported Martin Luther’s position and angrily revolted against the payment to the church. Unexpectedly and unintentionally, the Reformation, which is the biggest event in the Church’s history, and which subsequently shaped Europe as a whole, started to take hold.
Specifically, Martin Luther’s stand was that the question of going to heaven or hell was a direct issue between an individual and God; neither the Church nor the Pope could act as a mediator or an intermediary between God and an individual. To Luther, salvation was a matter between God and an individual. Basically, what Luther did was a fundamental challenge to not only the authority of the Church or the Pope but equally to the basic assumption that this Church authority, has been good for the human community. It was believed that the authority of the Church (believed to be from God) brought some coherence to the human existence. Soon Reformation gave birth to the Protestant Church and the age of enlightenment.
Back to the “No tithe, no heaven” demagoguery. To the best of my knowledge, religion is not a science, where one plus one is always two. Religion is a belief; a dogma. Belief is individual. It is a matter of you either believe or you do not believe. More complicated even, belief, as a matter of concept, can hardly be proved. That makes religion very controversial. Worse still, the invalidation of religion makes religious messages very debatable. It does not help that no one has gone to heaven and come back to support their messages some claim are from “God.” The debate does not end with the problems of verification. How about interpretation and meaning? Logically, no meaning is single. That goes for the text as well. No text has a single, pre-given, static meaning or interpretation. The meaning or interpretation of any text is multiple as well as influenced by the context, and the interpreter, who is a product of many makeups like ideology, level of education, worldview, culture, etc. It goes without saying, that meaning is individual. That brings us back to Pastor Adeboye’s “biblical” utterance: “Anyone who is not paying his tithe is not going to heaven, full stop.”
To help understand the man of God well, it is necessary to introduce him to the readers. According to the Forbes, Pastor Adeboye, who heads the Redeemed Christian Church of God – one of the biggest churches in Nigeria – is one of the richest clerics in the world with a net worth of $130m (£91m). As said above, a text can be interpreted differently by individuals. So we all must try to accommodate the respected Pastor’s “literary” freedom and privilege. However, accommodating his interpretation of the “tithe” from the biblical point of view means he must equally respect other views on the same subject; although he does not necessarily have to accept those views – especially having in mind that neither the learned Priest nor those who have contrary views have seen God to believe otherwise. Unfortunately, some of us cannot challenge those who claim they have seen God simply because we were never there with them when it “happened.” So, where do we go from here? One is confronted with the possibilities for different and contrary messages, “realities” from different individuals. On the issue of tithe, both camps may base their interpretations on the Biblical texts, which can be interpreted differently.
The next question is: Who benefits from the tithes? There is no proof whatsoever that the tithes Pastor Adeboye collects in his church are sent to God. There is no flight or rail track from the earth to heaven, which can facilitate the shipment of tithes from the church to heaven. However, logically, these tithes are used to do the work of God on earth. Fine. Assuming that the tithes – mostly from the desperately poor church members – are used to build schools, hospitals etc, the question is: Are these projects FREE or subsidized for the(se) poor? Are the church members who are logical “owners” of the built social projects allowed to use them without milking them further, financially? Worse still, are the tithes supposed to be used for the purchase of expensive and flamboyant aircraft, while the church members who pay the tithes walk kilometres to their homes and places of work – if they have the luxury to have any decent source of income? Believing that our religious leaders emulate Christ, one might wonder how many mansions, aircraft, and bullet-proof BMWs Christ had throughout His lifetime. Yes, one might argue that there were no aircraft, iPhones, Mercedes during Christ’s time, but there were mansions. Christ never had one! I stand to be proved otherwise by our millionaire Pastors.
Imagine this scenery and everyday reality. Are you ready? You gave 10% of your earnings to the church and the church used the money to build schools, hospitals, parks and buy exclusive planes. You wanted to send your kids to the same school built by your church with your tithes. The church refused to admit your children to the school because you could not afford the exorbitant school fees, asked by the church. That is not all. You or your children were sick and wanted to go to the hospital built by your church with your tithes. You were refused treatment in the hospital built with your tithes because you could not pay for the hospital bill. You wanted to go to another town to buy your merchandise, which you would sell to earn your living and save the 10% of your earnings, which the church demanded from you as tithes. You had no money for transportation, you had no option than to track 50 kilometres to go and buy your goods, which you hoped to sell and earn money to be able to pay for the tithe demanded by your church. Yet your pastor used an exclusive private jet bought from your tithes to go to a restaurant and have dinner with the family. You were not sure how to afford 2 meals a day for yourself or/and family.
If all these are your everyday realities, then you might consider looking for an urgent help – therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. Better still, you don’t have to be an Adam Smith, Carl Marx or that economic wizard to have the wisdom and ability to save 10% of your earnings, rather in the bank – with a better interest rate, for that matter. Do you? Nor do you need any knowledge of accountancy to be able to use the saved 10% of your earnings – and the accumulated interest – to pay for your children’s school fees, hospital or transportation to your work or business, instead of paying the same to the church, which denies you benefits from such a co-operative contribution, savings or fund. Wake up from your slumber and look for a serious and urgent psychiatric help – if you are not yet awake!!!