FEATURE ARTICLE

Malcolm Fabiyi, PhDMonday, December 12, 2005
advertisement
mef22@yahoo.com
Chicago, IL, USA

ANNOUNCE THIS ARTICLE TO YOUR FRIENDS


ON THE ISSUE OF TITHES:
A RESPONSE TO DR. SAMUEL BAYO AROWOLAJU


have followed with interest Dr Arowolaju's two part series on Tithes. I believe the debate that he has initiated is an interesting and a meaningful one. I take issue however with his posturing. You see, when you intend to initiate debate - you do not lay claim to a monopoly of wisdom. You state the case as you see it, and leave the audience to draw its own conclusions. This becomes even more critical in spiritual matters. Unless we can claim to know the mind of God in its fullness, which is of course impossible, our knowledge is necessarily limited, and therefore incomplete. Dr Arowolaju was very clear about what he thought about people who didn't share his interpretations of scripture. They are wrong, he is right, and that is where the matter ends. Only God can claim such a position of absolute certitude.


The place of disputations in faith

This will not be the first time that there are disagreements over the interpretation of scripture. It is however the first time that I will see someone claim to know exactly what God intended to say in a portion of scripture. For instance, there are those who call themselves Seventh Day Adventists. They accept a literal reading of scriptural weekdays and they attend church, not on Sunday, but on Saturday. And the Adventists are not alone - for Saturday is actually, according to Jewish tradition, the Sabbath - or the day of rest. There are also those like the Cherubim & Seraphim, and the Celestials who will not wear shoes in the church - believing that the very ground of a sanctuary is holy. They are also commonly referred to as the White Garment churches because they believe that that the brightness of one's outer garment symbolizes the purity to which one aspires spiritually. Their tradition of not wearing shoes in Church has a scriptural precedent. When Moses was at the burning Bush God instructed him to take off his shoes. These groups therefore believe that since God's omniscient presence abides in churches, they should honor His presence by taking off their shoes on hallowed ground, as Moses did. There are others like the Baptists who believe that Baptism is a key element of faith, and that the person who is to be baptized must be fully aware of the statement of faith that baptism embodies. The Baptists therefore would typically only offer baptism when an individual has shown an understanding of the import of the act. There is precedent there too - since Jesus was not baptized until he was 30 years old. In contrast, Catholics baptize infants. Again - there is a precedent for the Catholic position, for after all, wasn't John the Baptist said to have been baptized with the Holy Spirit even while in his mother's womb (Luke 1:15)?

advertisement
My point, in case it still isn't clear is this: differences of interpretation are fine, and they are definitely not new. After all, Paul disagreed with the other apostles about whether one should enforce a literal or symbolic interpretation of the requirement that to become a child of Abraham, one had to be circumcised (Acts 15). The other apostles argued for a literal interpretation, but Paul argued that it was a circumcision of the heart, and not of the flesh that was critical. The Pauline argument carried the day, and that is why when you say you are a Christian today, no one asks you to drop your pants so they can verify your claims to faith.

If Dr Arowolaju has decided that his own interpretation of scripture makes tithe giving unnecessary, he is definitely entitled to his opinion. I write only because I found that his conclusions were questionable even from a reading of the same scriptures that he quoted. I write too because I know that religion and religious belief runs deep in our culture. Religious belief is also like a stack of dominoes. Topple one concept, and that might undermine the entire basis of one's belief system. As Dr Arowolaju had noted already, this issue has generated much debate. I think it proper that all points of view be considered, and this is mine. I am not a pastor, so I have no income streams that are at stake. But like many other Christians, I offer a tithe of my earnings - probably not as often as I ought to - but often enough to feel its impact on my purse strings. I like to think of myself as a reasonable person, not readily swayed by the lofty speech of smooth talking con men. So, why would a supposedly regular (rational) Joe like me be ready to part with a tenth of my income? I will provide my views on these and other matters in this article.

Before going on, I believe it is proper that I summarize my understanding of Arowolaju's arguments against Tithes and Offerings in his two part article. In no particular order, his main arguments can be summarized thus:

  1. Tithing is a scheme for defrauding the poor

  2. God doesn't need our money. He does not dwell in a Temple made by man!

  3. Tithing is addressed to the nation of Israel and not contemporary Christians

  4. Tithing refers to "the TENTH", and not Ten Percent of one's possessions

  5. Monetary tithes were never taken in the Bible

  6. Pastors and Church leaders are corrupt, and prone to the misuse and abuse of tithes and offerings, and are therefore undeserving of financial support

  7. Tithes are supposed to come only from the produce of the land or the fields, and from these alone

  8. The presence of problems and challenges in the lives of people who tithe and give offerings, invalidates the efficacy of tithes

  9. Tithes were not a regular feature of life in the Old Testament since the practice of tithing is not mentioned often in the old Testament

I will attempt to address Arowolaju's points and concerns in turn. In order to ensure that each of the issues raised are adequately addressed, I will sequentially address the issues that were raised in the order in which I have summarized his major contentions above.

Tithing is a scheme for defrauding the poor

There were constant suggestions by Arowolaju that tithing and offerings were a scheme for defrauding the poor. In fact, it definitely appears that what Arowolaju was saying is that a true man or woman of God would demand and accept nothing from the poor and destitute. But the bible clearly suggests otherwise. I recall the case of the Widow of Zaraphat whose story can be found in I Kings 17. There was a famine in Israel, and God led Elijah to go to the widow's house. This woman had one child, and had just enough Oil and flour to make one last meal, and following that to wait for certain death with her child. At this moment Elijah - led by God - came along and demanded that she use her very last drops of oil and flour to prepare food for him. Despite the situation of dire want that she was in, she went ahead and prepared the meal for Elijah, and the resultant effect of her act of faith was that she was provided for throughout the famine. I will point Arowolaju to another example in the New Testament: when Jesus sat watching the people give offerings in the temple, he did not stop the poor widow who gave her two mites from doing so (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).

So, why would Elijah and Jesus sit by and watch the poor souls that Arowolaju is suggesting should have no role in making offerings, give sacrificially to God? Why would they permit it, even encourage it - if there wasn't some value or benefit to giving? Surely, the God of all the earth and the heavens should have no need for a widow's meager savings? But He didn't refuse it. He instead commended her attitude to giving. Those who recall that passage must remember also that the offering was being collected in a synagogue. It is clear from a reading of scripture what Jesus thought about the religious leaders of his day. He criticized them, and rebuked their hypocrisy. Yet it is interesting that he never discouraged ordinary people like the poor widow from giving offerings or tithes. What he did instead was to emphasize the need for cheerfulness in giving, and to establish a principle of relativistic giving. It is not the absolute amount of the gift that matters - it is the sacrifice that is involved in the giving that matters to God.

God doesn't need our money. He does not dwell in a Temple made by man!

God, I agree does not need our money. Neither does he need our thanks, or praise. He surely doesn't need to have the United States emblazon their currency with the words "In God we trust", before He knows that there are indeed men who trust in Him. Surely God did not rely on the sacrifice that Cain offered in order to have his daily portion of vegetables (Gen 4)! Yet He got angry at the heart with which Cain made his offering.

God does not need any of the things that man has to offer in the same way that my parents do not need the pittance of gifts and on occasion, money that I send to them in Nigeria. I send it because it is my way of thanking them for the privations that they went through, and the struggles that they undertook in order to provide me access to opportunities which even they never had. They accept the pittance, because they understand why I am offering it. However, although they have no need for my money or gifts, I am certain that they might be upset if I didn't offer some token in appreciation of their efforts. That, Dr Arowolaju is the basis for much of the thanks that we give - they are symbolic gestures of appreciation.

Thanks are not given to someone in need, they are offered in appreciation. If you are a father, I am certain that you have taught your Children to say "Thank You" when people give them things. Whether or not they say "Thank you" to you, I am sure that you would still put clothes on their backs, and provide them with the best that you can afford. So, if their utterance of those words doesn't satisfy any physical need, why is it so important to parents to hear those words uttered by their children? I will offer a reason why: because, their "Thank You" makes you know that they appreciate what you are doing. So, I agree with you that God does not need our money. He does not need our homes. But He requires our thanks, and when the means exists, thanks can be offered not just in words, but materially too!

Tithing is addressed to the nation of Israel and not contemporary Christians

When Arowolaju says that the message in Malachi was directed at the nation of Israel and not contemporary Christians, he is engaging in a mischievous falsification of obvious, and well founded tenets of Christian theology. The nation of Israel derives legitimacy from the progeniture of Abraham. In the bible, Christians are referred to as a spiritual Israel - and the basis for that is found in Galatians 3:27-29, which says "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." By definition therefore, to be Abraham's seed is to be a member of a spiritual Israel.

It is through this spiritual naturalization that Christians can claim as theirs, covenant blessings that are specifically mentioned in scripture as being reserved for Abraham's offspring. In his own words, Arowolaju says: "Admittedly, tithing is a commandment of the Lord given the children of Israel. There is no doubt about this". If you believe that tithing was a commandment that God gave to Israel, and believe as Galatians suggests that we as Christians are citizens of a spiritual Israel, then we are by that covenant relation partakers of the commandment of tithes. I think the main issue here is that Arowolaju does not accept what Galatians 3:27-29 says. If he did, he would not have ridiculed, as he does in his article Christians who refer to themselves as "Children of Abraham", or a "modern" (spiritual) Israel.

The first place where reference is found to what portion of one's possessions is fit for use as a tithe is when we encounter a character called Melchizedek, whom Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils in Genesis 14. We find that tradition being continued by Jacob in Genesis 28. If we look very closely at what Jacob said in Genesis 28:20-22; we will probably find a basis for the continuing validity of the tradition of tithing. These were his words: "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee".

If we claim that we are Abraham's Children by spiritual naturalization, and therefore heirs of his inheritance - we inherit his blessings as well as his obligations. Abraham had two sons - Ishmael and Isaac, and Isaac in turn had two sons Esau and Jacob. Christians enter into the Abrahamic covenant by way of Abraham-Isaac-Jacob. It should be noted that alternate paths such as Abraham-Isaac-Esau, or the Abraham-Ishmael lineage are all possible and legally valid routes to the Abrahamic covenant. It is instructive that Islam traces its link to Abraham through the Ishmael lineage, and Christians and Jews through the Isaac lineage. The bible states very clearly that the Christian God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob (Gen 26:24). It was Jacob whose name was eventually changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29). So, when as Christians we say we are a spiritual Israel, what we are really saying is that we are inheritors of the legacy of Jacob or Israel. Therefore, if our father - Israel (Jacob) - pledged a tenth of all that he was to ever own to God, does that not make us inheritors of his pledge of tithes as well? When a man dies, do those who inherit his estate, not inherit his assets as well as his liabilities? Do they not undertake by virtue of accepting to take on his bequeath of assets, a readiness to take on his pledges too?

So, the giving of a tenth as a tithe is a tradition; one which was first uttered as a pledge by Jacob, and one which was continued by his children - the physical Israel, and in turn by those who claim belonging to a spiritual Israel. You cannot wish to become naturalized as an American citizen, and not stand up to recite the American Pledge of Allegiance! Reciting the pledge (at least once) comes with the territory.

I am certain that Arowolaju's retort to the line of reasoning I have just outlined would be to argue that Christ's coming invalidates all Old Testament traditions. In his article he suggests this much when he presents Christ's statements that the two greatest commandments are love for God, and love for one's fellow man as evidence that Christ had rejected the Ten Commandments and had presented a New Testament alternative to them. I would however caution that Arowolaju should be careful in his interpretation of the relationship between the New Testament covenant and the law. Christ himself said He had come to fulfill, or to establish the law. Christ did not replace the Ten Commandments. He simply summarized them all in one word: Love. The point He was trying to make was this: The commandments say don't kill, don't steal, don't be jealous of your neighbor; well if you loved your neighbor as yourself, then you won't do any of these things in the first place. And if you love God, then there would be no need for me to tell you not to take His name in vain! It should also be noted that Christ provided this summary reluctantly. He made the statement in response to a question that the Pharisees had raised about which single commandment was the most important one (Mathew 22:36-40). Christ knew that they had given him the question to test him, and he acknowledged their ill-intent in his answer. To present this example as evidence of the annulment of all Old Testament articles of faith is suspect. One additional point is this: if Christ came to fulfill the law, why then would he deny the new Levite cadre - the Pastors - of a means for the upkeep that was provided to them in the Old Testament. I have already pointed out that Christ was present at least during one tithing and offering session, and he showed approval of the practice in his comments.

A difference needs to be established between Christ's criticism of man made traditions that imposed artificial conditions for salvation on people, and those traditions and practices that were tokens of appreciation by people, for God's redemptive acts. Christ condemned the former and upheld the latter! Nowhere in scripture is giving an offering or a tithe put forward as a condition for salvation. Tithes and offerings served a need - the provision of resources for the upkeep of the Temple, for the upkeep of the Levites, and for the provision of materials to the needy and destitute. People are encouraged, but never compelled to meet that need. In the Malachi statement, some benefits of giving are presented, but those also do not constitute compulsion. I raise this only to make clear that I would consider issues such as these quite distinct from the situations that Jesus criticized, where the Pharisees contrived all kinds of codes, and laws, alien to scripture - and claimed that adherence to these contrivances was necessary for salvation. Christ's coming, has naturally freed believers from these legalistic burdens. Grace, not works is the pillar of salvation.

However, to suggest as Arowolaju does, that the New testament frees us of the need for giving tithes and offerings is to fail to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that scripture provides to the contrary. One point is clear - were we to apply strict New Testament behaviors to giving - none of us who call ourselves Christians should live in our own homes. We ought to be living in a commune, pooling all of our resources with our brethren. In fact, this debate about a ten percent tithe of incomes would be wholly unnecessary because we would be putting everything we earned or owned into a common purse from which resources would be dispensed by the Church leaders according to need (Acts 4:32). That, at least, was what the early church did.

A New Testament dispensation surely does not mean that Old Testament needs like resources are no longer necessary. Jesus never had a fixed house of worship, and there are indeed many Ministers and Teachers - Evangelists - of the gospel today who have no physical Church that they Pastor. They move from place to place, preaching, and relying on God's provision through the benevolence of established ministries. Lacking a physical church structure and an established membership, they do not demand for tithes. I wonder why Arowolaju chose to ignore such people in his article. I believe the nature of Christ's ministry when He was on earth was similar to that of an Evangelist. It is therefore unfair to say that because Christ never demanded a tithe or offering, our Pastors should do the same. The contexts surely are different!

Dr Arowolaju suggests that not everything in scripture is relevant to everyone. I agree whole heartedly with that assessment. For instance, I have never bothered myself with the details about Ark Building that dominate large chunks of the book of Genesis. I do not think I have any ark building skills, and I have never desired any. I have also never bothered too seriously about the portions of scripture that enter into extensive detail about who slept with whom, and who begat whom. Those details have never fascinated or interested me. I therefore doubt that anyone accepts every portion of scripture as being applicable to him/her.

Tithing refers to "the TENTH", and not Ten Percent of one's possessions

I found Arowolaju's interpretation of Leviticus 27 very strange indeed. I had to return to that scripture and to read it in as many translations as I could find just so that I would have a thorough understanding of his position. He quoted the Leviticus text to support the notion that tithes refer to "the Tenth", and not to "Ten percent" of one's possessions. Arowolaju concentrated on talking about "the Tenth" from the perspective of a flock of animals, and argued that "the Tenth" referred to a single animal - the tenth animal to be counted by the Shepherd. I have read Leviticus 27:30-32 in about ten different translations. Nothing from the reading of those verses can lead to the conclusion that Arowolaju arrives at. I have taken the liberty to quote that scripture from a translation that best approximates contemporary English and is aptly called the Bible In Basic English (BBE)Translation

: [30] And every tenth part of the land, of the seed planted, or of the fruit of trees, is holy to the Lord. [31] And if a man has a desire to get back any of the tenth part which he has given, let him give a fifth more. [32] And a tenth part of the herd and of the flock, whatever goes under the rod of the valuer, will be holy to the Lord. [33] He may not make search to see if it is good or bad, or make any changes in it; and if he makes exchange of it for another, the two will be holy; he will not get them back again.

I think it is quite obvious from verse 32 that it is not "The Tenth", but "a Tenth" of one's possessions that should be given as a tithe. Arowolaju's obvious misreading of the text is apparent if we look at verse 32. Dr Arowolaju conveniently talks about "the tenth" animal (verse 33) in his article to make his argument about "the tenth" but can he tell me what "The Tenth" part of the land (Leviticus 27:30) means? Verse 31 is also clear that the reference is not to the tenth item, but to the tenth part. Dr Arowolaju conveniently drops all discussion of the relevant biblical phrase "the tenth part", and concentrates only on arguing his case with the conflated and narrow phrase "the tenth". Verse 30 makes it abundantly clear that what tithes refer to is "a tenth" of one's possessions! Verse 31 also gives a very good indication of just how serious the whole business of tithes are, and it states quite clearly that if there was anyone that was trying to get back any of the tithes that he had given - that person should be made to give a fifth more (20% more)!

The BBE translation that I quoted from was undertaken from the original texts and was completed by Professor S. H. Hooke, a Professor of Comparative Religion and well published Christian writer between 1941 (New Testament) and 1949 (Old Testament). Quite frankly, it doesn't matter what translation you use - the text, in every case, says something different to what Arowolaju suggests.

Unless one assumes that Arowolaju made an honest and unintentional error of interpretation here, it would have to be concluded that his intention is to cause needless confusion amongst people of faith. Surely, if his reading of the text in one translation appears to be unclear, then it behooves him as someone purporting to be shedding light on hidden biblical truths to do his homework. In that simple task of interpreting verses of scripture as straightforward as those found in Leviticus 27:30-34, Dr Arowolaju has shown himself to be lacking. I choose to assume that his error of interpretation was unintentional. The fact is this: the overwhelming verdict of hundreds of Bible scholars and translators who had the benefit of working from the original texts, and that of objective readers of the texts in question lead to the inevitable conclusion that tithes refer to a tenth - i.e., 10% of one's possessions.

Monetary tithes were never taken in the Bible

The entire chapter of Leviticus 27 is devoted to establishing a law of exchanges, or a basis for the monetization of pledges. It was customary in biblical times, as even now, for people to make promises, pledges and vows to God. For instance, in return for God helping to see them through a tough period, they could promise him their first son, or their first daughter; or the firstborn of every animal that they owned (see I Samuel 1:1-18 and Genesis 28 for examples of pledges). Genesis 28 clearly indicates that tithes are pledges, for that was where Jacob pledged to give a tithe of all his belongings to God, if God spared and delivered him. Leviticus 27 establishes rules for what a person would have to do if he wished to redeem a pledge that was made in kind, in cash. It provides guidance regarding what monetary exchange was appropriate to free an individual from a free will pledge that was made to God. It specifies monetary equivalents for humans - by gender, and for animals, or land based possessions. The bible therefore is clear about the appropriateness of making monetary payments in lieu of payments in kind to redeem one's pledge.

The Leviticus passage speaks of 4 kinds of pledges or vows, these being: pledges of people (Leviticus 27:1-8); pledges of animals (Leviticus 27:9-13); pledges of houses and physical structures (Leviticus 27:14-15); and pledges of inheritance (Leviticus 27:16-25). The chapter was intended as a guide for ensuring that when people made promises to God, there were practical ways of ensuring that their pledges could be redeemed - hence the reason for calling it the law of exchanges. Clearly, this chapter shows that cash must have been part of the tithing process from biblical times.

Pastors and Church leaders are corrupt, and prone to the misuse and abuse of tithes and offerings, and are therefore undeserving of financial support

Saying that tithes are unscriptural is one thing. Suggesting that they are potentially misused is another. Arowolaju again performs a rather bizarre lumping trick here by suggesting that since tithes are misused, they are therefore unscriptural. Well sir, politicians and governments worldwide are generally corrupt, but does that give you a right to withhold your taxes in protest? No it doesn't! What you must do as a conscientious citizen is to push for transparency and accountability. You cannot in the name of enforcing one law, flagrantly disregard or flout another.

God is big enough to take care of His own business. If we are so concerned about how our funds are spent, then we can attend Churches that provide their members with periodic statements. The church that I attend does that. I wouldn't be comfortable going to a church where the Pastor didn't provide the basic courtesy of providing an account of his stewardship to his flock. It is good practice to do so. It fosters trust, and provides an indication to people that their funds are being directed appropriately.

But we must also realize that a church or any faith based organization is not a democracy. If we must attach ideological labels, then religious organizations are theocracies. They are religious monarchies - not republics! Pastoring or Church leadership is a gift and a calling, not a career or a vocation. There was no election into the group of 12 disciples that followed Christ. They were called; selected, and not elected. Similarly vision is not something that emerges democratically. Vision emanates from the leadership. There is therefore a limit to the expectation that the finances of churches and faith based groups ought to be managed as in a corporate partnership, with each partner exercising equal voting rights and privileges. I must state however that to deny that a democratic element exists in matters of faith is to lie. This democratic element of faith is exercised, in the choice we have in determining where and how we worship. We choose the churches that we attend. We determine when to make or not make a donation, or pay a tithe. We decide if and when we wish to attend service. We can even decide to start a church if we so desired!

For instance, nothing stops Arowolaju from starting his own "Titheless Church" tomorrow, and I am certain he will not be without members. But I can assure him of one thing: soon, certain realities will hit him and his congregation. If they are in America, they will find that Housing laws prohibit private residences from being used as Houses of Worship, so while his church would have been able to save some money by meeting at his home, they would probably have to rent a hall or buy a venue and therefore they'd need to pay a rent or mortgage. They would very quickly come to realize the need to have some melodic means of praise, so they would have to lease or buy musical instruments. They would find that they would need to provide heat in winter and air conditioning in summer; print their church programs, and perhaps send out newsletters to the members. Arowolaju, as Pastor of this "Titheless" congregation will find that he will have to pay visits to church members, to celebrate births and mourn deaths. He will find also that when people can't pay their rent, they'll call not their friends but their Pastor. He'll find that when one of his members is in danger of being kicked out of his home, his first call will be to his Pastor. He'll find that as his membership grows, he would need to organize programs for the children. He'd have to buy books, audio-visual aids; perhaps even some snacks for the young ones. He'll have to do this regularly too. If his church is a registered charity, he will be required by law to make an annual filing, and might probably even need to get a certified accountant to look over the church's books, at least once a year. To the best of my knowledge accountants aren't paid with prayers (and if Dr Arowolaju knows of any accountants that accept prayers in lieu of monetary payments, I beg to have an address. The tax season is just around the corner and I wouldn't mind doing my accounting on the cheap!). Before long Dr Arowolaju will find that he has started to grey. He will find himself talking more and more to his congregation about the church's needs and how money is needed for the actualization of the vision. You see, wanton and irregular offerings cannot satisfy regular needs.

I think beggars are mostly homeless for a reason. Say I was a beggar, and relied on the random, irregular acts of kindness from individuals to sustain myself; I doubt that I'd be confident enough about the constancy of that benevolence to actually rent a house, or start a family. I feel certain that God in His infinite wisdom has used the principle of tithing to ensure that His earthly mission is funded, regularly and in sustainable fashion. Tithes ensure that churches can plan. Tithes and their regularity, is what makes it possible for a church to say they will commit a given amount of resources to specific programs in the future. Tithes make it possible for Churches to establish Schools, to sponsor missionaries, to have annual youth empowerment programs, to organize summer camps for the young, to feed the homeless, donate to the needy, and support the sick.

Tithes are supposed to come only from the produce of the land or the fields, and from these alone

When Arowolaju says that God expects tithes only from the "produce of the ground and the field", and goes on to insist on a literal interpretation of Malachi 3, I am at a loss as to whether he is being deliberately mischievous, or just downright clueless about the contextual history of the period when this book was written (ca 430 BC). At the time in question, most people were farmers of crops or animals. So, clearly such people could only pay from the produce of the land or the fields. I will give the example of the changing dynamics of dowries or the bride price in the Nigerian cultural milieu. There was a time in the past when the bride price would only be stated in terms of produce: a certain number of yams, and a given quantity of cows. However, as we have become less agrarian as a society, there has been a shift towards the monetization of these produce delimited transactions. Now, people talk of sums of Naira, and not about a given number of yams! What we find therefore is that as economic endeavors move away from produce to services, or manufactured products, cash increasingly becomes the common economic denominator. And the bible anticipates this with the principle of equivalents established in Leviticus 27.

I also found rather strange, Arowolaju's suggestion that the Malachi text, and its reference to "devourers" is valid only in an agrarian context. When Arowolaju embarks as he consistently does in his articles on a completely literal translation of scripture, he does the same thing that Nicodemus did when Jesus said "you must become born again to enter heaven". Nicodemus asked if Christ meant he had to go back into his mother's womb - a literal interpretation of Christ's words (John 3:1-21). Jesus made clear that he was speaking in a symbolic sense, and that it was a spiritual rebirth that he was referring to. In Malachi's world most people were farmers, and the language of Malachi was therefore specifically adapted to their context. To a farmer in Malachi's time a devourer would have been anything that reduced the quality and/or quantity, not just of agricultural produce, but also other aspects of life.

When Christ says "the enemy is moving around seeking for whom to devour", surely Arowolaju is not suggesting that one can literally look out of the window and see the devil prancing around fully costumed with garden fork, tail and fangs - actually sinking his teeth into people. No sir! It suggests that the devil is opening up wasteful scenarios in our lives, sapping our energies with fruitless pursuits, and draining our resources with ceaseless problems. When David says of God: "You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies", surely the Psalmist doesn't mean that a table suddenly appears out of thin air when David is in the presence of his enemies. We all know that much of the language of scripture is symbolic.

If we accept Arowolaju's literal strictures on the bible, then we must interpret Jesus' parables literally. We must begin to ask ourselves how a man can build on sand, or bury talents or skills in the sand! Jesus himself said that much of his words were not to be taken literally. That is why much of what Christ said are called "Parables". A parable, sir, is an allegorical tale; rich in symbolism and mystery. To interpret the Bible literally is to miss much of its richness and beauty, and also - its message. Surely, Dr Arowolaju is aware of all this. One can therefore only wonder why he persists in arguing, when he finds it convenient, for a literal interpretation of scripture. I will direct him to Mark 13, for a refresher on the allegorical basis for much of scripture.

Arowolaju also makes much of the fact that tithes were only paid yearly in scripture. Well Sir, again, approaching this from the context of an agrarian society, I am certain you will agree that tithes would - as you rightly pointed out in your article - have had to come from their harvests. And harvests happen to occur only once a year!

The presence of problems and challenges in the lives of people who tithe and give offerings, invalidates the efficacy of tithes

Arowolaju seems to suggest that if tithes and offerings really worked; then a tithe giver should never suffer pain, devastation or suffering. I cannot disagree more. Abraham, whom we all call the father of faith was childless into old age; David - whom God called his friend had dysfunctional children; Paul - that most accomplished of apostles - talked endlessly about his afflictions, his constant jailing and whippings; Timothy suffered from a stomach ulcer; Simeon who famously prophesied when Jesus was brought for dedication at the temple was blind; Job lost his entire family and was afflicted with disease; Sir - the bible does not promise a life of ease to believers! Who could ever out give Job? The man made offerings not only for himself, but for all his children - daily! That didn't stop him from having problems. Tithes and offerings are not bribes paid to God for his favor. I suspect that Dr Arowolaju's view of the function of tithes and offerings has been warped by the corruption of our larger society, where a bribe guarantees access and privileged treatment.

Tithes were not a regular feature of life in the Old Testament since the practice of tithing is not mentioned often in the old Testament

Arowolaju raises an interesting point here. He argues that Abraham gave a tithe only when he came across Melchizedek (Genesis 14), and he did so only after Melchizedek had blessed him. Before addressing the issue of what role the frequency of times a tradition is mentioned in scripture should play in establishing its validity, there is something else that I wish to address. I have always wondered where my tithes should be directed. Should they go to a local church, or to diverse church groups; to particular mission groups, or towards supporting specific programs? Arowolaju's article has caused me to look at Genesis 14 in a manner that I never did before, and I must thank him for provoking this deeper meditation. If I apply Arowolaju's Fours W's - as he calls them - to Genesis 14, something interesting emerges. We find, as Arowolaju argued in his article, that Abraham gave a tithe only after he had been blessed by Melchizedek. A tithe therefore belongs in a place where I receive blessings! This for me is an epiphany. If my place of blessings is situated in the context of a local church, then that is where my tithe belongs!

Getting back on track, Arowolaju suggests that because we are not expressly told of the other instances when tithing happened in scripture, then it must therefore have happened as in Abraham's case, only once. This is a strange conclusion indeed. First of all, the bible doesn't state that John or Jesus were circumcised. However, we can reasonably infer that they were, because it was a tradition. The Bible mentions in very few instances that "A slept with B, and gave birth to C". Are we therefore to conclude that the 99.9% of people who are mentioned in the Bible whose pre-conception parental acts of coitus were not recorded came from virgin births? Only once does the bible expressly address the issue of what Jesus thought about the payment of taxes. But we can reasonably expect that he must have dutifully paid his taxes, given his statements in Mathew 17:24 -27. The point I am making is this: if the Bible was to record every tithe that was ever given, or every offering that was ever made - then it would be a different book to what we have today. What I notice from my reading of scripture is this - there is a concentration on the origins of traditions, so the first time something that eventually becomes a tradition is done is recorded (as in Genesis 14, and Genesis 28). I have noticed also that there is a reporting of spectacular actions in fulfillment of extant traditions, as for example in Solomon's provocative offering to God (2 Chronicles 7)! I am personally glad that I don't have to wade through the tithe giving actions of every single individual that is mentioned in the bible. I shudder when I imagine that Methuselah, if he gave tithes, would have had at least 969 verses (one for each year he lived) devoted just to a recording of his acts of tithing, and not the 7 verses (Genesis 5:21-27) that summarize his life.

This point also shows how Arowolaju often contradicts himself. On the one hand he says that tithing is a command from God to the Israelites, and then he turns around in the same breath to suggest that because there isn't much mention of acts of tithing in scripture, its relevance is invalidated!

What are the Giving Habits of the Wealthy?

I started out by saying that I believe myself to be a fairly reasonable person. I think I have enough sense in me to know when I am being taken for a ride. It must be obvious to anyone who has read this article up to this point that I am a firm believer in charitable giving. But this isn't a position that I have always subscribed to - and the underlying significance of giving for me, is a recent realization.

I sat down over a year ago, and asked myself a simple set of questions - should I give any of my money back to causes that might have no obvious personal physical benefits? When the answer to the first question emerged as yes, I then asked a follow on question: How much should I give?

A reading of the Bible had already convinced me that tithing was necessary and proper. I have already laid out that biblical case in portions of this article. I found the second question to be much more difficult to answer. I began searching for an answer that was more universal; a rationale for giving that went beyond the narrow confines of this or that faith. I believe in learning from precedents - especially that of those more knowledgeable and more successful than I am; so I began to study the lives and the giving habits of the world's wealthiest people, and I came across something that surprised me greatly. The group of people that I studied includes the most successful capitalists in the world! If there should be one group of people that ought to make nonsense of this whole concept of giving to "charitable", non-profitable causes, surely it ought to be them. These are people who mostly do not subscribe - at least not publicly - to any positions of faith. Many describe themselves as being self made, and do not acknowledge that they owe God or any natural or supernatural being anything for their good fortune. The Gates, Oprahs, and Dells of the world are in this category.

I found that these people on average give 20% of their net wealth to charitable causes! That was mind boggling to me. Of a net wealth of about $60 Bn, Bill Gates has pledged out $20 Bn (33%) - mostly to support causes in the developing world; Oprah's total charitable donations (including private funds and those from her foundation) totaled over $50 million dollars in 2004 alone. In 2004, the Gates foundation redeemed about $700 million in pledges; the Omidyars (founders of eBay) gave $173 million and Mayor Bloomberg of New York gave $138 million to charitable causes in the same period. These people literally poured billions of dollars down the drain! The list goes on and on. If one truly understands how the capitalist machine works, these actions do not appear to make any sense. I also analyzed the relationship between the net wealth of these individuals, and the size of their charitable giving. The relationship between these variables possesses what statisticians will call a positive correlation. The higher the charitable giving, the higher was the growth in their net wealth!

I have often wondered whether these people give for the Public Relations impact. Two things suggest to me that this is not the reason why they give: the first is that they often give anonymously, and the second is that it takes far less money to hire a PR company to launder your image. With $10 million dollars, Bill Gates could have the New York Times devote a full page to him daily for a year! Charitable giving, to these people goes deeper, much deeper than that.

Here are some facts to ponder: on average - the world's wealthiest people give not ten percent, but about 20% of their earnings to charitable causes. I thought about this for a while, and then one day it hit me: these people have discovered a spiritual and a natural principle. It is a law that I call the "Law of Sowing and Reaping". I believe it is as valid as the Law of Gravity, or the Laws of Motion. What we give is seed, and seed is always multiplied in harvest. Abiola - Nigeria's Premier Philanthropist - once famously said that in order to receive, your hands must take the same position it does when giving. I now know why that man gave so aggressively. He had latched onto this spiritual principle!

As the examples I have given above indicate - it does not have to be churches that we give to. It could be community groups, or neighborhood charities; we could give to fund research in Universities, or to support orphanages for AIDS orphans. Our gifts belong where our heart is, where our blessings are derived, and where our passions lie. I have begun to give to churches, and other charitable causes for a very simple, and perhaps a selfish reason. I want to tap into this spiritual principle of "Sowing and Reaping"

Will some Pastors misuse the gifts that are put in their hands? Yes. But my gift is not to the Pastor. It is to God and to humanity! I remember wondering to myself whether Bill Gates goes around obsessing about how his $20 Billion dollar endowment is being spent; or Oprah her $50 million dollar 2004 donation. I realized that to them it didn't matter. They had done their part. They had sowed, and the rest of the matter was in God's hands. Seed planting must yield harvest, period! I believe that this concept applies to anyone - regardless of their religious background or affiliations. It is a law - a natural principle. I feel particularly privileged that my own donations can be channeled to a house of worship. And if a Pastor decides to mess with my donations, I'll leave him to God. Once the gift has left your hands, it is no longer yours to worry about. However, there is nothing untoward in ensuring that we are comfortable with the systems of accountability put in place by those who sit as administrators over our charitable endowments, whether they be Pastors or the managers of Not-for-Profit organizations. I have already made the case elsewhere that we should demand transparency and accountability of our leaders, whether they are secular or religious.

Where I stand

I think it is proper that I summarize my views about where I stand in this debate. I believe that Dr Arowolaju's concerns about probity and accountability are important and must not be trivialized. I believe also that it is not just our society, but also our Churches that are in dire need of probity. What worried me when I read his articles was the suggestion that only HIS interpretation of scripture is accurate! Anyone who disagrees with him is a thief and a charlatan - out to fleece people of their hard earned money. I find that position to be arrogant.

Arowolaju leaves no room for the possibility that he could be wrong. Well Sir, I have news for you. Even John the Baptist, a man whose birth was announced by an angel, a man who baptized Christ, was himself beset by doubt about whether or not Jesus was the expected Messiah (Luke 7:19-20). I am certain that Dr Arowolaju is also familiar with the crisis of interpretation that ensued between Paul and the Peter led apostles at the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. Sir, if men who saw Christ in the flesh; if men who walked and slept by His side; if men whose very shadows were said to have healed people; if men who raised the dead, and healed the sick - if these men could err in interpretation, who are you to suggest that you alone are capable of an accurate interpretation of scripture?

Do some Pastors err? Yes. Are some of them charlatans and self seekers? Yes. The bible is full of examples of people who manipulated the public for private gain. The bible thankfully is also clear about what the end of such people will be. God surely is big enough to act as His own police man. I will leave you Sir, with the words of Paul to the Phillipian church in the book by the same name. In Philippians 1:18-26, Paul addresses the concern that was raised by certain individuals that they were some who were preaching Christ insincerely. Paul said: "What does it matter, however? In any case Christ is preached - either perversely or in honest truth; and in that I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice".

Paul recognized that there were those who preached Christ out of greed. But his admonition to the Philippians was this: It doesn't matter what their motives are, as long as Christ is preached. I have long ceased trying to second guess people's real motives. That is between them and their maker. The real question is this: Does religion and faith give some people a sense of belonging? Does it help to soothe their hurt? Does it help to give purpose to lives? Does it provide a moral compass for navigating life's often treacherous waters? If the answer is yes, then I say, the gains far outweigh the costs! Here I stand.

Malcolm E. Fabiyi, PhD. University of Lagos Students' Union President, 1994/95