I remember a particular Sunday morning when some friends and I were debating with an austere, prudish woman on the issue of tithes and whether the verse in Malachi should be applicable to today’s world. We called her Sister Amarachi. She was the type of woman that not only forbade herself from wearing trousers or jewelry, she also looked down on other women doing so. The debate soon became heated, and once she realized she was on the losing end, she threw her hands up in the air, slammed her Bible and screamed “Anyone who does not pay his tithe or offering regularly is stealing from God Himself!” and walked out of the room. We were all stunned, not only by her words but by her eruptive fit of anger. Could it be that we were really stealing from God if we didn’t pay back our dues or was it just another one of RCCG’s antics to drain money that we never knew where was headed from us?
Martin Luther was a prominent figure in the early sixteenth century in Medieval Western Europe. At his time, the Catholic Church reigned over the people and the pope had higher authority than any King. His control was absolute and as all absolute power goes, according to Lord Dalton, the Church was corrupted absolutely. They sold ‘indulgences’ to people to save them from their sins or already dead loved ones from the pits of Hell. Priests -that were supposed to remain unmarried at the time- had their own personal brothels, and they only let the elite (people that could read Latin, not German) read the Holy Word of God. Martin Luther saved the Catholic Church by addressing these issues which eventually led to the Protestant Reformation.
It would not be accurate to say that religious institutions in Nigeria are even doing up to half of what the Catholic Church practiced in the Middle Ages, but there is something to be said about how the members of certain parishes often get poorer while the head pastor rides expensive cars and owns multiple houses. It is obvious that some pastors take advantage of the church’s members in the name of ‘tithes and offerings’. Nigerian churches need a brave and responsible devout Christian leader to stand up to the corrupt church leaders and create a clear demarcation of what is and is not acceptable in the House of God.
By the time my church mates and I had the debate with Sister Amarachi, I had had my fill of prosperity teachings in the Redeemed Christian Church Of God (RCCG). Christianity seemed to be no longer about worshipping God, or fulfilling God’s specific purpose in our lives or loving others. It became self-aggrandizing; it was no longer about what we could do for God but what God could do for us. We were no longer concerned about our ultimate boon -getting to Heaven- we were only concerned about out personal matters on Earth. And so, the pastors provided us with a clear solution: “Sow a seed!” “Invest in God and He will multiply your fruits and bless you!” Now, the Bible clearly states that as Christians we ought to give back to the LORD, be it tithes or offerings, we are not supposed to keep the money God has blessed us with to ourselves. But where pray does all this money go to?
About a year ago Forbes published an article that listed the top 20 richest pastors in the World. Ten of these pastors that were worth millions of dollars were Nigerian. It appears being a pastor these days in this country is more profitable than being an engineer, lawyer or perhaps even a politician. Indeed, according to Cardinal Okogie, these churches are diverting from being religious institutions and turning into business centers. Jesus gathering five thousand people and sitting on a hill to preach has turned into stuffing people that barely feed once a day into opulently decorated buildings, taking their money away from them and telling them that God will bless them multiple times over for their deeds. With all the sermons on prosperity, members of the church sometimes forget that in addition to praying, fasting and speaking in tongues, they also need to work hard to get that desired promotion or to stay on top of their academic work, so they come to church and continually sow seeds. While the congregation is getting poorer, the pastor is getting richer and richer.
Some of course will argue that not all of the money goes to the leaders of the church. Some churches decide to build schools but the school fees end up being higher than what most of the congregation can afford. The schools end up being profitable institutions for the founders and are of no benefit to the congregation, the actual investors of the school. Pastor Bakare once argued that unless these religious institutions change its attitude towards corruption, Nigeria will never change since they control the souls and minds of millions of people.
Bayon Akinjiyan gives the following suggestions for the Redeemed Christian Church of God to follow.
“Remember that we are all equal before God. More efforts should be geared at giving back to the society. Kindly look into the provision of more scholarships for indigent students or brilliant ones. Lower school fees in schools on and operated with mission funds. Invest in hospital ministry through provision of drugs, hospital equipment and maybe cancer screening centers for members and the general public. There is no point in pastors riding expensive cars in the midst of hungry looking church members. No gate fee should further be charged to enter the Emmanuel Recreation Camp. Let those children enjoy the investment of their parents. It is an abomination to pack in members who barely feed once a day in glass cathedrals. After all, how many auditoriums did Jesus build? He gathered the people, taught them scriptures, gave them food and dispersed them. Please, don’t misunderstand me for speaking the truth. Your best friend will tell you what you need to hear, your worst enemy will tell you what you want to hear. Again, I wish RCCG well. Jesus once got angry at a church in Jerusalem for selling goods in the house of God. How much more taking people’s money in church and using it for the wrong reasons. Let us not turn what is meant to be a house for all nations into a den of thieves.”
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija