Early in February, I attended a Church service somewhere in Ibadan. It was one of the major services it holds monthly. As I moved around looking for a seat (I arrived a bit late), I noticed the presence of soldiers in the vicinity. Being a large church, it wasn’t completely unusual to have some sort of security around during special services which obviously attracts huge crowds. And its not totally out of place to see some policemen, or paramilitary agencies like the NSCDC sometimes. But gun-wielding military men? In Church? What could warrant that? Had the church been threatened? Were they anticipating an attack? By the way, the Church is supposed to be one of the safest places around, so what are soldiers looking for? I sat down with these thoughts running through my mind. It was after the service that I discovered answers to my ponderings. That day was the “First Fruit Service”.
According to reports, the church once concluded the first fruit service on a fateful day, harvesting trailer loads of money. Of course, robbers waylaid the harvest on its way to the bank. And so, the congregation’s fruits moved from the pulpit to robbers’ den. Apparently, it was in a bid to prevent such an unfortunate recurrence, that warranted the stuffing of the service with security men. And since most robbers are actually more well armed than police men, the inclusion of some soldiers into the security architecture made perfect sense. I went home a sad man.
The Church of Christ has become, just like Jesus Christ correctly predicted, a den of thieves. It has opened its doors to controversial ideologies manufactured from the corrupt minds of men. By embracing these practices, the church not only drifts away from its primary duty of preaching the gospel of salvation, it further confuses itself by being occupied with what is not its business at all. And at a time when the debate on whether or not Christians should still pay tithe is yet to actually reach any logical conclusion, the spreading of the First Fruit message casts a further suspicious light on the leaders of the Church.
When the loquacious governor of Kogi, Yahaya Bello, a nincompoop who has taken the self-appointed role of President Buhari’s defender of the realm, decided to unadvisedly attack some Catholic bishops who critisised the President’s lacklustre governance style to his face, he revealed what many people opine about the church. Said the governor: ” The priests are angry because corrupt people no longer have the opportunity to steal and pay tithes to them”. It didn’t take long for him to apologize though when the reality of his folly hit him. However, he didn’t stray too much from the truth in claiming that many churches cannot do without the money that role in, from whoever, and however.
Today, a majority of the public see the church as an enabler of corruption because a lot of stolen cash finds its way there, and never come out.
A certain radio presenter, Daddy Freeze, obviously took too much upon himself to prove that the concept of tithe is outdated and should be done away with altogether. However, strange as it may seem, no pastor has been able to absolutely prove the young man wrong. While Freeze’s strategy borders on outright contempt for big pastors, many of them have not been able to actually counter his message, which simply is that tithing is an old testament idea which has been done away with at the cross, the separation between the old testament and the new. He alleges that the new testament, under which the church was established and instituted, mentions absolutely nothing of tithes. He then wonders why the church should still insist on collecting ten percent of income of members, when they are under no obligation to give such. There’s also the argument that the tithes had to do with farm produce, and never cash as is obtainable now. The Church has not been able to explain itself out of that. However, Freeze is not entirely right.
While it is true that the new testament says nothing of tithes, which in itself was a law, (the entirety of which Jesus’ death has nullified); believers are still expected to give, and actually even give more. The only difference is that while the old testament made it a matter of compulsion and was strictly enforced by pronouncing punishment and curses on defaulters, the new testament makes all of our giving a matter of free will, encouraging us to, as it is within our ability. We are also not just to give to our churches, but to also, as is within our ability, give to anyone that is in need. Often, collections are made for the less privileged during church meetings, and they are never compulsory. Till today, offerings are not compulsory in churches. I guess that’s where tithes come in.
It is not clear when the idea of paying ten percent of one’s income was smuggled back into the new testament church, but it certainly wasn’t there at the institution of the church after the death of Christ. The absolute truth is that giving attracts blessings, as Jesus himself stated. So, whether its tithes, or more, or less, whenever we give, we will receive in return. But nowhere is ten percent, or any amount for that matter, mentioned as what must be given.
The Church absolutely knows that this is true. But the leaders fear that if members are taught to to be independent in how they give, they would certainly give less, and the church’s purse will shrink. That is not true. God himself says He loves a cheerful giver, and that no one is expected to give in compulsion, or grudgingly. That means any offering presented grudgingly is not acceptable. However, the Church seems not to care. By setting a law of ten percent of offerings, the Church has slid back into legalism and religion by works, and not by Faith; the very essence of salvation. If any church discards the idea of tithes, and allows members to give as they are led, moved, or can afford, the church purse would rather bloom and not wither. It’s a principle. And it works. Because God, who owns the church, knows exactly how to meet the needs of the church however way he likes.
So, it is shocking to note that, beyond ten percent of the monthly salaries and profits, many churches are now embracing the “first fruit” phenomenon. By first fruit, they mean the first salary of the year, in its entirety. Or the entire profit made from business in the first month. They call it first fruit, and claim God asks that it be paid annually. As usual, members are threatened with year-round poverty and affliction if they refuse. And mouthwatering testimonies of people that obey are amplified. The problem is that, at no point did God ask for anyone’s January salaries, or profits. The idea of the first fruit, apart from the fact that it is completely an outdated old testament policy, actually refers to fruits on trees that are blooming for the FIRST time! The very first sets of fruits on any tree remain sanctified, and belong to the Levites. Subsequently, all the fruits belong to the farmer forever. So, even if we’re to follow that analogy strictly, then, a person should only assume the very first salary, or income, or profit, as first fruit. Every subsequent one is for the worker. No where, not even in the old testament, is first fruit paid yearly from the same tree!
To make matters worse, January is often a hard and long month for Nigerians. House rents, school fees and Christmas hangovers makes it tough already. To ask people to part with their January earnings in obedience to a law that was revoked two thousand years ago, is tougher.
Its sad that the first-fruit gospel is spreading. You can imagine what it amounts to in cash. When members bring their entire salaries. Its tempting for many churches. It meets lots of their church needs. But it also puts many members into penury. Not that people haven’t offered entire earnings before. The Bible has records of people who sold entire lands and properties to give to the church. But they were led to. Not coerced. They did willingly.
So, robbers are now attracted to Churches. Not because they seek the gospel, but because they would also love some helpings of the “fried plantain”. If ministers who know these criminal acts should be stopped keep quiet, the judgement will consume them too. Because, no matter the amount of crowds at the services Jesus held, he never collected money from them. Not even when he was hungry. Rather, he fed them. How the church can so brazenly collect full salaries and profits of members, without asking how they will subsequently get by, is truly baffling!
Someone said her church allows them to “remove feeding and transport allowances” from their first fruit. I replied. First, that means its no longer first fruit, because nothing should be taken from it. Secondly, for the average Nigerian worker, once you remove transport and feeding allowance from the bulk, almost nothing is left. That’s if it’s not in deficit already by then. Then I asked. “Your church doesn’t prioritize school fees?”