[This post first appeared in the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail on January 22nd 2017.]
God is not demanding 10% of your income.
He’s also not demanding that you take a dove to a priest for a sacrifice. Or that you abstain from pork.
The 10% commitment is what God demanded of the ancient Israelites to support the priesthood. On top of that he demanded that the people look after the poor in their society, meaning that they would typically be giving more than 10%. But playing with figures is an Old Testament thing – since Jesus we have a new approach, the “be generous” model explained by Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians when he advocated that no-one in a church should be without food if they are prepared to work, and rich people should be humble and recognise that their financial wealth should bring financial benefit…to other people.
There are other ways that some people try to justify financial demands from church attenders. For example, claiming that the Apostle Peter killed Ananias and Sapphira (he didn’t – God did), or that they were killed because they didn’t’ give enough money (they weren’t – God killed them for lying to him – read it in Acts 5:4). Peter makes the point that they could have kept ALL the money, but the problem was their deceit.
I understand the frustration people feel against those who complain about churches being run on donations – after all, what else are they supposed to run on? Thin air? Profits from a lemonade stand? But the issue here is not whether churches run on donations (they must), but what means they use to persuade people to part with their money.
Paul in writing to the Corinthians encourages them to give to feed the starving Christians in Jerusalem. He also advocates giving so that full-time preachers of the Word can be supported, whilst giving every indication by his own example and the example of the other apostles that the living a minister of the Word can expect to receive will not be a large one. After all, Jesus himself and every single apostle was poor and there is no example of a rich preacher, and no teaching that suggests a preacher being made rich off his listeners would be a good thing.
Quite the reverse in fact: that would suggest – even prove – that they are in it for the money. That is exactly why Paul AVOIDED taking money from most people – he didn’t want ANYONE to be able to accuse him of just trying to make money off people, especially poor people. He knew that people would mock him for that, that they would suggest his poverty meant his preaching must be rubbish, but he said he would rather be mocked as a useless preacher rather than have people ignore the gospel of Jesus Christ because they thought it was a get-rich-quick scheme.
Which brings us to UFIC’s recent plea for donations. Below is a transcript of part of Pastor Kufa’s YouTube appeal:
“Abraham asks God for the surety that he was to attain God’s promise. God asks him to make a sacrifice. In other words, God asks Abraham to cut a covenant with him as a surety that he would attain the promises of God. Now you too, like Abraham, may be questioning God, ‘How shall I know that this year is going to be my year?’ Now this is what the Lord, through his anointed servant, Prophet Makandiwa, has instructed you and me to do. We…are to cut a covenant with God, a covenant for the year 2017, that our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations, shall come to pass, no matter what. We are to sow seeds, we are to bring sacrifices for the year 2017, and this we have to do before the dawn of the year. Which means, from this particular day, up to midnight the 31st of December, we are to sow seeds of $77 or $770, or $7,700, or $77,000, however the Spirit of the Lord leads you…for all the children under the age of 18…please make sure you sow $7 as the MINIMUM for each and every child. And on the 31st December 2016…Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa shall personally lay his hand upon each and every one that has cut a covenant with God, and I believe that this will be the seal that it is done for you in 2017”.
One of the great things about the Bible is that it contains EVERYTHING I need to know for living a godly life. This means that everything I need to know about how much to give, I can learn from the Bible. Everything I need to know about what directions to take in my life, I can get from the Bible. The Bible is complete. I’m not missing regular bits of vital information I can only get from a human being. I know this because the Bible says so.
Which means that either the Bible is correct, in which case no-one can ever come to me and demand I obey them because God told them I must. Or, the Bible’s not correct, in which case it’s completely worthless and I can ignore ALL of it.
So I won’t use this space – at least not now – to dissect how UFIC’s methods tally with what we see in the Bible. But there are some guilty-feeling and despondent people right now, worried that they’ve missed UFIC’s deadline for receiving God’s blessings for 2017. And to them I give God’s words through the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”.
Do we need teachers? Yes. The Bible says we do. But we don’t need teachers to give us new, extra, or bonus words from God – in fact we are warned against anything claiming to be God’s direct word other than the Bible itself (e.g. Revelation 22:18). We need teachers to explain to us and apply to our lives what God has already said. Then, when we think how much to give to the church, we should follow God’s command to be generous, and do what James the apostle said in his letter (chapter 1, verse 5): “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously without finding fault, and it will be given to you”.
The bigger question is not what precise figure are you giving, but why are you giving it?
Are you under the illusion that your selfish dreams for 2017 are guaranteed if you give the church enough money? Are you trying to provide ‘surety’ for a non-existent contract with God?
Or are you wanting more and more people to know about God’s free offer of forgiveness, Christians to become more like Jesus, and more and more poor people to have the means to eat and clothe themselves, and you’re in a church that is focused on doing both of those things?
Maybe 10% is right, maybe 10% is more than you need to give.
Or maybe it’s not enough.