May the truth about tithing set us free in the end

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Dr Mafole Mokalobe
Dr Mafole Mokalobe

With talks of holy fire, feel-good sermons and sales of anointing oil, these are the days of prosperity gospel.

From bizarre resurrection hoaxes and outrageous snake chocolate bars, to hilarious farting on people’s faces – everything goes here. This spectacle does not come cheap, and all this is thanks to the tithing generosity of congregants. Fear of not tithing is drilled into their heads with threats of burning in hell. But, like the invisible childhood monster gogo, this is emptiness wrapped in nothing to feed off the unsuspecting.

Giving, yes – but what is tithing really?

Under the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament, tithing was a must. A total of 11 tribes of Israel in Leviticus 27:30-32 were expected to give a tenth of the land’s produce to the Levites, who in turn had to give to the priests.

There was also the tenth of the fields’ produce for the annual feast in Jerusalem and the tithe for the poor in Deuteronomy 14:22-29.

Assuming that the Christians had to tithe, God’s choice for tithing was food and not money. That is why many medieval churches had tithe barns to store food. I can’t help but wonder why, in times of food insecurity, money is the thing for tithing.

Then there is monthly tithing. Given that the currently used Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, is a minor adjustment of Julius Creaser’s Julian one, this monthly obligation has no basis even in early Roman Christian thought.

Under the New Testament in Romans 6:14-15, Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, but grace, as Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law in Galatians 3:13.

Then what about Abraham tithing before the Mosaic Law? After defeating the King of Sodom, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the plunder in Genesis 14:20-23. This was war booty offered voluntarily in a once-off event. Never did Abraham tithe with his money, despite the fact that Genesis 13:2 says he was very rich.

For Jacob in Genesis 28:20-22, tithing came with terms and conditions: of all that God gives him, he will give a tenth. This was voluntary and also done when God had fulfilled His end of the bargain, so the story goes.

Well, does it mean wars will have to be won, or better still, we will have to be healed by those anointing oils first before we could tithe? It is only fair and biblical, right?

The much-loved verse to justify tithing is Matthew 23:23, where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for tithing while neglecting matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. How reprimanding Jewish religious leaders for violating aspects of Mosaic Law have anything to do with Jesus commanding tithing, is baffling. Perhaps the lesson here is that it is these matters that should occupy the minds of preachers, not tithing.

Tithing came into the picture after the Church Council of Macon in 585 AD encouraged it and the Roman Emperor Charlemagne legalised it. Before then, tithing was a no-no for Christians. With prospects of arrest, many were forced to tithe.

Back to prosperity gospel, the fear of self is now used as the gateway to extort tithes. The truth is, giving is an essential part of Christian life. In Corinthians 9:7 Paul says, “ . . .give what you have decided in your heart, not reluctantly or under pressure”. No mention of tithing, tenth of your income and compulsion here.

As I wait patiently for the opposite of these biblical truths, may Thy will be done and not their will be done!

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