Very few people know that the controversy on tithes in Nigeria is coming exactly 500 years after a major controversy in Western Christendom. This controversy saw the emergence of the Protestant churches from within the Roman Catholic Church. On October 31, 2017, it was exactly 500 years that Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in his home city of Wittenberg, Germany.
The substance of his discussion in the theses was his protestation of the collecting of indulgence from people in his community. The Catholic couriers, who were doing this on behalf of the Papacy, were urging people to give money to the Church and in return, they would be absolved of their sins.
They also promised that their long dead relatives, who were in purgatory, would be let into heaven the moment the monies hit the bottom of the sack of the couriers. Luther, on his part, argued that the Catholic Church by doing this was proposing another way to redemption in Christ. By the time the dust was settled, Luther had reminded the Christian churches of its central biblical theme of “Justification by faith”, suggesting that man is made right with God by faith in Christ Jesus, and not by any other thing (Romans 3:28).
This disagreement led to the splitting of the then Roman Catholic Church, leading to the emergence of hundreds of Protestant denominations as we have today.
The point I wish to draw my readers to in the foregoing paragraphs is to show that this is not the first time God would be using the matter of money to bring advancement to his course on earth. By the time the Catholic Church examined Luther’s submission during the Council of Trent (1545-1563), they agreed that Luther was right.
Indulgence was abolished in the Roman Catholic Church, even though they still disagreed with the Protestant churches on many points of doctrines and practices.
It is in this light that I dabble into the controversy over tithing started by a radio celebrity called Daddy Freeze. His position is clear: Tithing is not a Christian practice. But many prominent Nigerian pastors opposed him. In a vox pop published by this darling newspaper, SUNDAY PUNCH, on December 10, six notable Nigerian pastors responded to the question of whether or not Christians ought to pay a tithe.
They agreed that tithing was christianly, although only one of them, a Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Osu, said it was not obligatory for Christians to pay a tithe. The central scripture of those who favoured tithing was drawn from Malachi 3:8-12.
It is disturbing, to say the least, to hear Christian ministers, many of them have been in ministry for decades, espouse a concept of Christians “paying” tithes. The verb to “pay” connotes obligation: an action that must be carried out else some punitive reaction will follow. Unfortunately, the word “pay” is not used at all in relation to tithing in the Bible. The only place where people were obligated to pay a tithe is in the Old Testament, under a Jewish system of administration that required leaders of worship in the temple in those days to be provided with tithes for sustenance. This was the point God was stressing in Malachi 3:8-12. Unfortunately, it is this scripture that has become a central tenet for Christian churches today. The New Testament, which is the Christian manual, does not stipulate tithing for Christians. Neither does it suggest anywhere that Christians are to “pay” a tithe.
Another trouble with the phrase “paying a tithe” is that it comes in conflict with a major Christian doctrine. Jesus Christ died to redeem sinners from Satan unto God’s kingdom. Redemption connotes the paying of a price to buy back a slave. When Jesus has “paid it all”, as that wonderful Christian hymn says, what is left for the Christian to pay again? The point here is this: when Christians are enjoined to meet a certain obligation, so as to enjoy God’s grace or favour, “work” or “law” is being introduced into the Christian faith. The ministers calling on Christians to pay a tithe know that the idea of gaining God’s favour through works is anathema to the Christian faith as seen in Romans 11:6, Galatians 5:4 and Philippians 3:3.
What we are witnessing with the tithe debate is a full turn around after half a century of Christian practice. The Protestant churches were founded upon the doctrines of faith, grace, Christ, scriptures and to the glory of God alone. All of that rich tradition is being eroded by the same Protestant churches in honour of the god called mammon. Mammon being the world system seeking earthly gains through financial security. A spirit and doctrine wholly popularised by the new generation churches and their prosperity gospel. The Roman Catholic Church that was once taught by the Protestants to make Christ alone its Lord, is today reminding Protestants that tithing is not obligatory.
God’s demand on every man is not for them to give money to churches, either through tithes, offerings or any other kind of giving. God’s demand on all men is for them to believe in his only Son Jesus Christ, whom he gave as propitiation for our sins. The grace of God has been made manifest to sinners; it does not demand anything from us but faith.
The beauty of the grace of God in Christ Jesus is the fact that God’s provision is in Christ, salvation is free of charge. It cannot be bought with tithes, works, law, or any other thing that man ever thinks he could do or give God. We partake of this grace by faith alone. The wonder of heaven shall be our pride in God our saviour who gave us something we could never earn or ever work for. The idea that anyone can give a tithe to earn God’s favour is alien to Christianity. In fact, the idea, rather than earn God’s favour, will bring such persons in contact with his wrath. Freeze is right: tithing is not a Christian practice, it is Jewish. We are called to give out of free will as Christians; there is no obligation for Christians to give a tithe.