By Ken Tadaferua
Not very long ago, I engaged in a church controversy on Facebook on which a dear friend had very strong views that I considered most contentious. For daring to disagree publicly with him I lost his warm friendship. Now I am going to engage another close friend on church matters but with some trepidation and hope that he sees my perspective, sharply differing from his, as an honest contribution to church dynamism not some form of demonic destruction.
Permit me to make a recourse to 500 years ago in 1517, the year Martin Luther, a German Catholic monk and scholar wrote his 95 Theses. That document was critical of some Catholic Church dogma and practices. The church labeled him a heretic. He was excommunicated by the church. He was declared a persona non grata by the German emperor.
But Luther’s writings became responsible for “fractionalizing the Catholic Church and sparking the Protestant Reformation.” If the church had reasoned with him and done some reform, perhaps the church would have not fractionalized as it continues to do today.
Isn’t it an irony that adherents of the latest fruits of christian church fractionalization, the Pentecostals, seem quite intolerant, even ultra reactive to criticisms and are wont to reject, even label Christians not in accord with some Church traditions and practices of today.
It is in this light I respond to the treatise titled “Of Heresy Hunters, Tithe Controversy and All That” written and posted on Facebook by my good friend, a no-nonsense, ardent and well respected Pentecostal Christian and pastor, Jackson Ekwugum, publisher of LifeWay, a richly enlightening Christian magazine.
But I beg to differ with my friend on the key issues he addressed in his treatise. He lampooned and indeed deployed pretty harsh words, even labeling, verging on emotional overdrive, on those he considers hunters of heresy (that word again after 500 years) and controversy seekers over matters of the church in particular tithe matters.
Jackson is clearly upset and quite uncharacteristic of him, he really lays on with a heavy hand on the “heretics” for ruffling the smooth feathers of the church today. Here’s some of his descriptions of them:
• “Heresy hunter and self appointed truth campaigners.”
• “Those engaging in ill advised campaigns.”
• “They have unwittingly become tools in the hands of Satan.”
• “Those who are accusing the pastors of greed are the ones in the grip of mammon.”
• “Mark those who want us to believe that they love the poor more than the rest of us. They always have a hidden agenda. Remember Judas Iscariot?”
• “The current tithe controversy is demonic in origin. It is a well orchestrated distraction from the pit of hell.”
But really? That Christians, not even atheists or humanists, who say we see hypocrisy in some of the ways of the church today can be so coloured in such frightening hues? I cannot be in accord with these characterizations.
First, many of those advocating for change are Christians, even ardent Christians like Jackson. Second, they have not condemned Christianity. Third, they have not criticized all of the Church’s practices, worships, prayers and works. Four, they have as Christians, to whom the gifts of the Holy Book and Scriptures are also abundantly provided, focused on only two key issues for which they seek reforms. The two issues are: the increasingly ostentatious lifestyle of the priesthood and the payment of tithes to the church rather than in feeding the poor directly as scripturally directed in the book of Deuteronomy.
These two issues are not new. They have always been contentious. However there is a growing wave of protestations on social media, even traditional media on these issues. It would appear that the Pentecostals have resolved to confront this snowballing queries head on by labeling the protesters as being “in the grip of Mammon” and as “Judas Iscariot.” But this will not do. It is, in my view, a wrong approach to the matter.”
I believe that a scriptural address of the issues without defensive anger and a willingness to even co-opt some reform will be to the benefit of Christendom. It is heartwarming that my friend does with candor declare: “I will be the first to admit that we have some problems/issues in the church.” Sadly he did not elaborate on those problems and issues. I know some he had addressed in his magazine which I subscribe to and read voraciously.
We must admit, in a country where 70 percent of the population or over 100 million people live below the poverty line, where pervasive corruption has mushroomed into sickening culture and where jobs, healthcare, social amenities and other human development indices are horribly abysmal, that both spiritual and political leaders have largely failed in compassion and charity.
That in this environment, the spiritual leader who splurges in the luxury of private luxury jets costing millions of dollars in buy and maintenance, gleaming shoes, top range Italian suits and flocks of beefy body guards, is not exactly the image of one who cares for the flocks and who clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, visits the sick as directed by Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:36-40).
I believe firmly that the purpose of the tithe, which of course ought be paid, is to avoid this situation where a few men, priests and elders of the church, decide what to do with the money and it is for Christians to feed the poor directly in show of gratitude for God’s blessings. On what to do with the tithe, Deuteronomy 14:29 says: “And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.”
Note the people listed are the lowly, the weakest, the people of God that we must take care of. When you do not feed these people, you rob God. Can we truly say that we are not robbing God today with 100 million poor people and still growing? Are we not robbing God when we build mighty church edifices, expensive schools, collect tithes while the people of God are hungry, sick and naked yet ignored. Imagine each homestead using its tithe to feed monthly or any timelines the poor of the community. God speaks wisdom always.
Another issue on which I disagree with my friend Jackson is his declaration that the church is not a place for activism and quotes Ephesians 4:11-16 that warns against being “carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” True this is but Ephesians 4:17 tells us how to resolve knotty issues that might deceive us: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” It is the truth spoken in love that will set us free. Apostle Paul also in I Thessalonians 5:21 admonishes that: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
Neither do I agree with Jackson’s postulation that: “Nobody has the right to sit in judgement over the church, its ministers or members. That is usurping the position of our lord and master Jesus Christ. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ.” If that is so, was Martin Luther, wrong 500 years ago when he judged the leadership of the church? Were the prophets, lowly men God raised to speak against religious leaders splurging in abominations, also wrong?
In Matthew 23:2-4, Jesus himself told the multitudes: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
Jesus himself railed against the Pharisees and Scribes and Elders of Israel in public before the people to change their lifestyle of iniquity. He could have done so privately within the hallowed chambers of the temple or synagogues. But he did not. Yes, our Lord Jesus Christ said to gather the tares and wheat but will one not be part of the tares if one does not preach the word and speak the truth to the lost sheep, even to pastors and elders of the church if they go wrong?
I believe we should subject objections to our possibly well intentioned dogma or traditions to rigorous scriptural scrutiny and to critical examination of the fruits thereof. My friend Jackson says: “Many churches all over the world collect tithe. It is a church tradition that people grew into.” The question: Is that tradition scriptural? It is imperative to state here that tithing was not even taught nor practiced in the first century church but rather the apostles focused on free giving which I support wholeheartedly.
I respect Jackson Ekwugum for his passion for God and I hope he would see my intervention as contribution to healthy debate for a stronger church. I do not believe that those who protest against tithing in the church and ostentatious lifestyles of church leaders are demons from the pits of hell. They have a different viewpoint, sometimes put without love, that ought be listened to. If not 1517 might continue unabated.
May God Almighty bless all of us and may the Holy Spirit strengthen us with wisdom and knowledge as we strive to appreciate the scriptures. This I pray through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Be blessed folks.