Friday, October 28, 2011

Prosperity Gospel and the Giving of Tithes and Offerings

Prosperity Gospel and the Giving of Tithes and Offerings

      Tithing and the giving of offerings has been a practice of God’s chosen people, since Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek. This practice has progressed, has evolved and has continued to be observed by Christians today. According to George Davis, “The fundamental principle of the tithe (one-tenth of the increase of produce of the ground or livestock) was the recognition on the part of the Israelites that all their possessions ultimately belonged to God.”[1]  The fact that God owns everything conveys stewardship because Christians are simply watching over God’s creation, not actually owning individual property. According to Richard Foster, “If we take the biblical witness seriously, it seems that one of the best things we can do with money is to give it away.”[2] However, an increasing number of preachers have been using the principle of giving tithes and offerings to prompt their congregations to give - and to keep giving more of their monetary resources to the church.  While tithing is a way of honoring and remembering God and the blessing that He has given, preaching and alluding that God will only bless a person to the degree that he monetarily gives is a mendacious practice. It is morally wrong for ministers to preach prosperity theology in order to increase the giving of tithes and offerings, because it is a means of manipulating Christians, a prevarication of why Christians should give and a discredit to the gospel of Christ.
Prosperity preaching for many years has been based on the idea that God blesses those who have enough faith, which is expressed in one’s actions through the giving of tithes, offerings and abstaining from sin. Gunther Wittenberg states, “Closely linked with the demand for tithing is the emphasis that God will bless those who give a tenth of their income; this is especially true of Christian groups holding to prosperity theology doctrines.”[3] Charmayne Paterson goes on to state, “Prosperity theologians affirm that tithing serves as evidence of one’s recognition of God’s grace and blessings. Tithing creates a system in which ‘giving back to God yields’ even greater blessings because of your faithfulness.”[4] Moreover, prosperity theology, as it pertains to tithing, draws its conclusion heavily from the scriptural passage of Malachi 3:8-11 which states,
“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. 9"You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! 10" Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. 11"Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes," says the LORD of hosts (NASB).

 Malachi directly links tithing as giving God what is His, and to refuse to tithe is robbery to God and results in a curse. These are powerful words. Furthermore, throughout the Old Testament God punished those who robbed Him and did not follow His will. Meanwhile, Donald Polaski believes, “the curse here becomes quickly blurred by the prospect of blessing. Malachi cleverly deploys language of judgment within the context of blessing.”[5] This blurring is evident in Malachi 3:10-11, when God says He will open up the windows of heaven, and protect them from the devourer. Paul Alexander asserts that based on this scripture, “Over 90 percent of Pentecostals and Charismatic’s in Nigeria, South Africa, India, and the Philippines believe that ‘God will grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith.’”[6] Alexander goes on to explain, “This teaching is based on an interpretation of Malachi 3:10-12 that is applied directly to the lives of believers.”[7]  
While giving tithes and offerings to the church is biblical, prosperity theologians manipulate many Christians around the world by making them believe it is God’s will for them to prosper in every aspect of their lives, including financially. Man is innately inclined to desire the things of the flesh, which includes the luxuries of life. Therefore, a message that promises prosperity in exchange for monetary gifts would easily appeal to many members in a congregation. McConnell quotes Fred Price from Price’s book, Faith, Foolishness, or Presumption?, “If the Mafia can ride around in Lincoln continental town cars, why can’t King’s Kids?... King’s Kids ought to ride in Rolls Royce."[8] This is a blatant example of how prosperity theology or teaching appeals to an average Christian. Fred price is feeding his congregation the idea that Christians are entitled to things on this earth. It creates an entitlement mentality. These ministers (whether intentionally or unintentionally) capitalize on the hearts and desires of their members. They purport that if only they would have enough faith, all the desires of their heart would be granted. For example,  many prosperity churches believe in “hundred-fold returns”, based on Mark 10:30 which states, “but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” This aspect of prosperity theological teaching, which is common on the lips of most apostles of prosperity, is so blatantly materialistic that “in recent years ‘hundred-fold returns’” has come under severe scrutiny by even several leading health and wealth preachers.”[9] Benny Hinn, a prominent prosperity preacher states,
The teaching on prosperity has gone too far. It has become a business. It is no longer give so you will bless somebody. It has become give to get. It has become selfish, worldly. It promotes greed when we tell people that if they give $10 they’ll get back $1000. I feel terrible that I once put too much emphasis on material prosperity and now I am saying Lord please forgive me. [10]

Benny Hinn acknowledges that it was greed he was promoting in those Christians whom he led.  This is an egregious form of manipulation because it spurs people towards discontentment, and an attitude of entitlement as if God owed them material wealth in this world.  Prosperity teaching causes many Christians to become gullible and ready to believe the message that the more they give in tithes and offerings, the more God will bless them materially.  Clearly this is an example of 2 Timothy 4:3-4 which states, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,  and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”
            The prosperity gospel further shows itself to be manipulative in the way that its principles are executed. In order to receive a harvest[11] or blessing, one must first plant a seed. Paul Alexander says it best: “It is common for both preachers and practitioners of prosperity message to say things like ‘Receive your Miracle!’ and ‘If you have a need, plant a seed.’ This is sometimes known as ‘seed faith.’”[12] Granted, these seeds of faith result in the giving of tithes and offerings to their respected religious churches and institutions. Despondently, when these church members never see their harvest, their ministers simply inform them that their faith was too small. Obviously this is not biblical; this is shown in the life of Job who was a righteous man who lost everything even though he was righteous.  Paul Alexander iterates this point: “These preachers teach that the poor are poor because of sin in their lives and a lack of faith.”[13] Thus, these ministers are manipulating their congregations by cajoling them to give tithes and offerings under the false pretense that God will give them material blessings if they will only plant monetary seeds of faith into their (the minister’s) church or ministry. Paul Alexander presents a case that highlights how manipulative prosperity theology is. He states,
Lucia(not her real name) watched prosperity gospel television and prayed and wept all night long. Her husband was unfaithful and her marriage was in shambles, her dressmaking business was about to close, and she suffered from depression. Things finally got so bad that she visited the Pentecostal church, whose pastor promised ‘the more you give, the more God will bless you.’ Lucia lived in a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and since she believed this pastor, she began to give one-half of her income to the Universal Church of God’s Kingdom, which is one of Brazil’s most popular denominations. The church has a millionaire pastor and a billion-dollar budget. However, a year later, her marriage was still a disaster, her business was still weak, and she had not recovered from her depression.[14]

This story is disheartening and outrageous - a church with a billion dollar budget yet it fails to help meet the needs of its most disenfranchised members. The reality is that this is not an isolated case, as there are many Lucias around the world, including here in the United States. Christians should focus on helping to meet the needs of those around them, rather than promising them God’s blessing on the condition that they give tithes and offerings. Most people are not poor because of not tithing; rather they are poor because of the sinful worldly system to which humanity is subjected. As Ronald Sider states, “There is no single cause of poverty. Personal sinful choices and complex social structures cause poverty. So do misguided cultural ideas, natural and human disasters, and lack of appropriate technology.”[15] Thus, the promise of economic liberation based on the giving of tithes and offerings is false and affects many people including vulnerable people.
            In Matthew 23:23 Jesus states, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Jesus’ message to the Pharisees is one pastors should heed. Ministers today need to remember to pursue weightier matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness, for each pastor is held accountable for his flock. Thus, pastors should avoid using the Bible as a means to manipulate their congregation into tithing and giving, for this is coercion rather than justice.
Prosperity theology promotes a misguided view on the true meaning of tithes and offerings. The giving of tithes and offerings is not about the giver; rather it is about those to whom we are giving. It is also an act of worship to God. George Davis says, “Tithing is not God’s way of raising money; it is God’s way of raising children.”[16] God’s children are to give liberally and to give tithes and offerings voluntarily and randomly when God places it on his or her heart. Christians often mistakenly assume that they would give more if they had more, but “wealth does not necessarily make one generous.”[17] Generosity is not determined by one’s ability to give. The giving of tithes and offerings is not a means to attain riches, nor is it some legalistic law; but rather, it is the means which God uses to teach his children stewardship.  
Prosperity teaching also fosters misguided motives for the giving of tithes and offerings. God looks at one’s motives; tithes and offerings should be based out of a “glad and generous heart.”[18] The idea of giving in order to receive material blessings from God is clearly against biblical and Christ’s teaching. For example, in Matthew 6:18-21 Jesus states,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This means that Christians should not build up treasures on earth, but work towards building up treasures in heaven. When one dies, all the material wealth of the world will not matter to anyone -whether one is a millionaire in the United States or a street child in Africa. The only thing that matters after death will be whether one accepted Christ and will enter heaven or if one rejected Christ and will spend an eternity in hell. Pastors of prosperity should consider this eternal reality and teach and emphasize about building up treasures in heaven.
            Christians’ motives should not be to give tithes and offerings so that they can obtain wealth and riches. Instead, they should have soft pliable hearts turned toward God ready to bless and cheerfully give to those to whom God calls them to give. Giving cheerfully is important to God, because He stated that is how He wants Christians to give; 2 Corinthians 9:7 states, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Obviously Paul is not asking for the Corinthians to give based on false promises rather Paul is telling them to give based on their hearts. Also notice how Paul states “each one”; this repeats “the injunction of 1 Corinthians 16:2 to the effect that giving is an individual, personal responsibility of every believer.”[19]  According to George Davis, “The word translated ‘cheerful’ (hilarón) is the word from which the English word ‘hilarious’ is derived. It carries the idea of ‘joy,’ ‘excitement,’ ‘thrill.’”[20]  This is important. Christians should not be excited to give because of the prospect of getting rich. Rather, they should be filled with a joy, a thrill and excitement just because they are able to give and it pleases God.           
 Some Christians get caught up in the debate on whether tithe is 10 percent of one’s gross income or net income.  According to D.A. Carson,
It would be easy to list such questions for a page or two without ever asking, “How can I manage my affairs so that I can give more?” That is surely a better question than “What’s the correct interpretation so that I can do whatever’s required and then get on with my life?”[21]

Carson is right, Christians should be striving to give more, and share more with those who need it like Lucia from Paul Alexander’s story.
Giving of tithes and offerings should be an everyday part of life for Christians. In 1 Timothy 6:18, Paul states, “Instruct them to do well, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” Paul goes even as far as directing the Corinthians to collect money and put it aside at the beginning of every week for the purpose of helping the poor in the church of Jerusalem which is found in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3. God expects Christians to be generous and ready to spontaneously share at a moment’s notice. This is illustrated in the book of Acts, when the church of Jerusalem was going through a time of famine, natural disasters and persecution.[22] Acts 2:45 states, and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” They were selling their land so that the needs of the poor might be met and that they would be able to sustain themselves. If only this was the attitude that many Christians hold today. Many Christians today are conversely focused on how much they have to give or on whether they are going to receive anything back from God, rather than being interested in joyfully and generously giving tithes and offerings for the glory of God.
Finally, the prosperity preaching of giving of tithes and offerings shames the Gospel of Christ. Pastors are morally obligated to preach the truth of the inspired word of God. Dr. Albert Mohler in his book He is Not Silent states,
When the ministers of the gospel faces the Lord God as judge, there will be many questions addressed to him, many standards of accountability, and many criteria of judgment. In the end , however, the most essential criterion of judgment for the minister of God will be, ‘did you preach the word? Did you fully carry out the ministry of the word?[23]

Moreover, in Romans 14:12-13 Paul states, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way.”  With this said, there are literally millions of Christians around the world being impacted with the prosperity gospel. This idea that the more you give the more you will receive in return from God is no longer just taught in the United States. This prosperity teaching has permeated many countries and societies around the world. Prosperity preaching promotes greed and materialism - enabling trusting congregations to sin, or as Romans 14 says, to stumble. Preachers will face God on Judgment day and will have to give an account for those they have taught and have discipled. Hebrews 3:1 proves this point, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Pastors and teachers should understand that they have been given a great call and with that call they are responsible for much.
 Dr. Mohler goes onto say “that God has given him [the pastor] his calling not for his own benefit but for the benefit of the church.”[24]  It is shameful how ministers continue to preach a gospel of prosperity and live the life of a millionaire, then go on television asking for more to sustain their lifestyles. Meanwhile, many sick never get healed and the poor rarely become rich. Dr. Mohler states it plainly,
Prosperity theology is a False Gospel. Its message is unbiblical and its promises fail. God never assures his people of material abundance or physical health. Instead, Christians are promised the riches of Christ, the gift of eternal life, and the assurance of glory in the eternal presence of the living God.[25]

Prosperity preaching, therefore, is an abusive neglect against the church. It upholds a theology that makes promises but rarely keeps them. It is a theology of a god that lies. This is shown in the story of Lucia in Brazil who was promised a way out of depression, healing for her marriage and financial security. In the end, she was left worse than she was before. This indeed is shameful - ministers preaching in the name of God, and telling lies and making money while doing it. The giving of tithes and offerings should be based on the Christian’s love and respect for God; not in order to get wealth and riches that may never come. Romans 3:4 states, May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.’” In other words, God is faithful and never lies. Thus, it is imperative that prosperity pastors cease lying about God’s promises. It not only makes people distrustful of ministers, but more importantly, it discredits the Gospel of Christ.  Ronald Sider states, “Hungry people in the Third World have difficulty accepting a Christ preached by people who symbolize (and often defend the materialism of) the richest societies on earth.”[26]
Conclusion
            In conclusion, it is morally wrong for ministers to preach prosperity theology in order to increase the giving of tithes and offering in their congregations. Whether one is a pastor, minister or teacher, God has a higher standard for the things that are taught. God does not want ministers to manipulate giving, rather it is God who should be pulling on the soul of the individual to give a tithe or offering. Ministers should recognize that they are putting stumbling blocks for many in their churches who are now more materialistic. As Paul Alexander states when pastors preach prosperity it “often appeals to people’s greed.”[27] Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:9-10:
 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

In other words, prosperity pastors are creating temptations which are harmful and destructive to their congregations. Pastors should not take this lightly.  Moreover, when one gives, God looks at the heart. The motive for giving is very important. Jesus talking in Mathew 6:2-4 states,
So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father        who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Jesus is making a point that He looks at the heart when we give. God knows man’s heart. He knows that man is tempted with the lust of the flesh. Finally, ministers must stop discrediting the gospel. Ronald Sider puts it this way: “The divisions between the haves and the have nots in the body of Christ is a major hindrance to world evangelism.”[28] Therefore, Christian ministers should not preach prosperity theology in order to increase the giving of tithes and offerings, because of its manipulative nature, its potential to have others stumble, and its discredit to the Gospel.






[1] George B. Davis, “Are Christians Supposed to Tithe?,” CTR 2.1 (1987): 85-97

[2]  Richard J. Foster, Money, Sex & Power: The Challenge of the Disciplined Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1985): 73.

[3] Gunther Wittenberg, “The Tithe—An Obligation for Christians? Perspective from Deuteronomy,” JTSA
134 (2009): 82-101.

                [4] Patterson, C..  "Give us this day our daily bread: The African American megachurch and Prosperity
Theology". Ph.D. diss., Georgia State University ,2007. In Dissertations & Theses: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection [database on-line]; available from http://www.proquest.com.library.gcu.edu:2048 (publication number AAT 3278594; accessed November 20, 2010).

[5] Donald C. Polaski, “Malachi 3:1-12,” INT 54 (2000): 416-18.

[6] Paul Alexander, Signs & Wonders: Why Pentecostalism is the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Jossey-
Bass a Willy Imprint, 2009), 63-64.

[7] Alexander, Signs & Wonders, 64.

                [8] D.R. McConnell, A Different Gospel: Updated Edition, (Peabody, Massachusetts Hendrickson Publishers           1995) pg 74.

[9] Deji I. Ayegboyin, “A Rethinking of Prosperity Teaching in the New Pentecostal Churches in Nigeria,”
Black Theology: an International Journal 4 (2006):81.

[10] Stephen Strang, “Benny Hinn Speaks Out,” Charisma (1993):28.

[11] The term “harvest” in Pentecostal and charismatic circles is metaphor for God’s blessing, or
breakthrough.

[12] Alexander, Signs & Wonders, 61.

[13] Alexander, Signs & Wonders, 61.

[14] Alexander, Signs & Wonders, 67.

[15] Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity(Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005)119.

[16] Davis, “Are Christians supposed to tithe?,”94.

[17] Davis, “Are Christians Supposed to Tithe?”96.

[18] Foster, Money, Sex & Power, 73.

                [19] Ray Charles Stedman, “Giving Under Grace,” BSac, 1950,475

[20] Davis, “Are Christians Supposed to Tithe?,”96.

[21] D. A. Carson, “Are Christians required to Tithe?,” Christianity Today (1999):94.

[22] Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity(Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005):77.

[23]R. Albert Mohler, Jr, He is not Silent: Preaching in a Post Modern World (Chicago, Illinois: Moody publishers, 2008): 77.

[24]  Mohler, He is not silent, 81.

[25]  Albert Mohler, “It Promises Far Too Little—The False Gospel of Prosperity Theology,”
AlbertMohler.com, n.p. [cited 24 Oct. 2009]Online: http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/08/18/it-promises-far-too-little-the-false-gospel-of-prosperity-theology/.

                [26] Sider, Rich Christians, 87

                [27] Davis, “Are Christians supposed to tithe?,”94.

                [28] Sider, Rich Christians, 87
This Paper was written for fulfillment of TH 506 in October 2010 so I ask that if you decide to use any of the information above please cite and give credit where credit is due. Thanks and God Bless.