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The Church and Money: Reviewing the ICGC incident

Yes, let’s talk about that recent controversy. Let’s, however, first clear the air by noting that the relationship between churches—any organization within the economy of this world for that matter—and money, is really not unusual in the most obvious sense; it is, in fact, naturally essential. Physical structures obviously cost money to build and maintain, events cost money to organize, publications cost money to print, and so on. That’s a given. Case in point, it should not at all be surprising that churches should obviously need money.

It gets less obvious from here, though. As much as every organization relates to money, there are different types of organizations, whose differences should affect how they more or less relate to it. Profit (or as we call them, businesses) and non-profit organizations, for instance, are expected to have different attitudinal outlooks and ethical obligations in their respective relationship with money, where a deviation is tantamount to a breach of trust.

This perceived breach of trust is even less forgiving when the organization in question is a morally and Scripturally charged one—a church. The Scriptures set the creedal tone when it notes how “money is a defenceyetthe love of money is the root of all evil.”

Hence, have the churches drawn a clear boundary between the usual defensive or protective use of money and the love for it? What should be the attitude of the churches towards money?

These reflections were at the heart of a major controversy that recently lit the social media space, when a leaked image from the Greater Works Conference, hosted by the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC) of Ghana, purported to show a listing of special money offerings in order of magnitude in blessings.

$5000 Dollars for a Millionaire Status?

The controversial offering

At least that’s what it looked like on the face of it. The curious image presented a tabular representation—titled ‘Special Offering’—of Offering Types and what can aptly be interpreted as their monetary correspondence in US Dollars and in Ghana Cedis, payable to a specified bank account. In this, admittedly, unusual presentation, the Offering Types (they looked like blessings) and their required money offerings paved the way for all sorts of damning interpretations.

Why was there a need for the US Dollar to be the focal currency for the special offering in a Ghana conference, as the less weighty Ghana Cedi merely served as its approximate equivalent? How does $5000 correspond to a ‘Millionaire Status’? What does $240, apparently, for a ‘24 Hour Miracle’ mean? Will a giver, for lack of a better explanation, gain ‘100% Life Improvement’ if he offers $100 dollars? Should a blessing correspond to an amount in US Dollars, not to mention, Ghana Cedis? What of the poor, or those having below the quota?

These legitimate considerations stirred the minds and hearts of many Ghanaians as some leapt to the defence with the typical “touch not my anointed” response, and others had none of it. Writing for 360Gh, Desmond Pappy Tawiah, for instance, entreated Ghanaians to “stop turning God into an ATM machine.” Many, like me, were simply confused about the whole thing: What exactly am I seeing? Is this fake news? Does this make Christian sense?

No, it wasn’t fake news. Apparently, it wasn’t even supposed to make usual sense. In what was purported to be a reaction by the General Overseer of the ICGC, Dr Mensah Otabil was shown as saying: “Beliefs go beyond logic. . . what I want you to believe is [God] says all things are possible, I don’t know what that is to you but it is a blank cheque.” Even here, one can’t help but spot the curious reference to a financial reward to seal the give and take money cycle.

Belief Goes Beyond Logic?

Interestingly, and in the absence of complete context, another video showed the ICGC General Overseer as earlier lamenting over how certain Christians—“Born Again Christians”—were easily deceived to give their money out. He said they were “believers and not thinkers.”

The irony is, sincerely, unmistakable.

At one point, believing without thinking or reasoning is inadequate and yet, at another point, the belief goes beyond logic or reasoning?

Speaking on the Special Offering at the Greater Works Conference, Manasseh Azure Awuni disagreed “with those who think what happened was purely a matter of faith and should not be subjected to common sense or logical critique.” He said: “If God did not want us to think, he would have put pure water or sand in our heads. . . So, both faith and discernment are needed.”

Greater Works Conference via ICGC

The Christian Scriptures, actually, concurs with this as it defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” Genuine faith is, therefore, not gullibility, that is, a willingness to believe something without substance or sound evidence; it requires the acquaintance with evidence and should be grounded in good reason. The Scriptures, thus, further mention how acceptable worship should be a “reasonable [gr. logical] service.” Christians are, hence, encouraged to “prove all things” for, “the naive person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.”

So, I agree with the ICGC Overseer’s earlier sentiment that belief and reason should go hand in hand. With this backdrop—and without laying personal verdict—why not briefly examine what the Christian Scriptures has to say about the church and money, as we exercise our power of reason on the matter.

What Says the Founder?

In a telling account, the founder of Christianity himself—Jesus Christ—observed how a lot of “rich people were dropping in many coins” in a temple. This crucial account, then, continued this way in narrative:

“Now a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins of very little value. So he called his disciples to him and said to them: ‘Truly I say to you that this poor widow put in more than all the others who put money into the treasury chests. For they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her want, put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

The lesson here is very evident. From a Christian perspective, the real value of one’s offering is not measured by how economically much or weighty it is. There is no financial price tag to its Christian worth.

In parallel contrast to the Greater Works incident, consider: Does suggesting weightings to blessings by assigning monetary values in order of magnitude harmonise with the principle highlighted by the founder of Christianity?

This unmistakable de-emphasis on money and material worth in the Christian ministry is starkly highlighted elsewhere when Jesus instructed his followers:

“Keep on, then, seeking first the Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you. . . As you go, preach, saying: ‘The Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near’. . . You received free, give free. Do not acquire gold or silver or copper for your money belts.”

That is, the Kingdom Ministry should be all important and without price! Yet, is it true that preachers today “do not acquire gold or silver or copper for [their] money belts”? Do they indeed “give free”? Then why $5000 for a ‘Millionaire Status’? Does that even encourage members to seek “first the Kingdom?”

What about Tithing?

So, how should they cater for congregation and ministry expenses?

Today, many churches will readily answer that question as tithing—contributing a tenth part or 10% of one’s assets to the church.

Yet, there’s a crucial plot twist!

This arrangement or “commandment to collect tithes from the people” was “according to the Law” given to the Israelites. Christ, however, is recorded as becoming “the end of the Law” from which Christians have been “released.” This development means that Christians are not under the Law and, thus, are not bound by the commandment to tithe or collect tithe.  

In sharp contrast to the tithing system, a Christian, like in Jesus’ lesson from the poor widow, is encouraged to “do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion.” No cajoling and coercion to give.

The first century Christians, thus, emulated their Founder and could proudly say: “we are not peddlers of the word of God as many men are,” so that “we would not be chargeable unto any of you.”

Despite this, many professing Christians still cite the old system to enforce the tithe arrangement as Malachi relates God as saying: “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house; and test me out, please, in this regard. . . to see whether I will not open to you the floodgates of the heavens and pour out on you a blessing until there is nothing lacking.”

By enforcing a now-defunct arrangement to collect money through tithe, will such persons not be “peddlers of the word of God,” making themselves “chargeable” unto the masses, and disregarding the no compulsion principle?

What Say You?

Granted, as far as I can tell, no one was directly required to pay anything at the Greater Works Conference, nor was the offertory centred around tithing. Yet the Special Offering controversy at the root of the above considerations offers one huge food for thought on the relationship between the church in general and money in light of what the Scriptures had to say.

All I’ve done is think out loud and cap my thoughts with questions so my readers may investigate the truth of the matter for themselves. . .  Two such questions that began my considerations must now fittingly end it.

. . .

Have the churches drawn a clear boundary between the usual defensive or protective use of money and the love for it? What should be the attitude of the churches towards money?

Over to you!


 

 

Richard Yaw Baafi
Richard Yaw Baafi

Richard Yaw Baafi is a Writer and Senior Editor at siro360 covering just about everything profound and intriguing. He has a bachelor’s in Banking and Finance from the University of Professional Studies, Accra, where his paper on Internet Banking garnered the highest appraisal. And true to the thinker that he is, he believes storytelling thinking, much like computational and design thinking, is a major lens through which the world can be understood, for everything is a story.

  • Kenn

    This is one of the good articles I’ve read concerning this subject. It’s objective, and open-minded.
    I agree that the weight of money has no relation to it’s Christian worth. However, being sentimental beings, it’s hard to ignore something we give so much value to -money. And it’s easier to think ‘more is better ‘. A rich man’s only $1m and a poor man’s only $1 have the same worth. That’s why Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter heaven because it feels unfair.

    • Richard Yaw Baafi

      Thanks for stopping by Kenn, and much appreciated.

      It is true that, like you say, “it’s hard to ignore something we give so much value to.” And I really like the way you put, for money is, truly, a human invention; we, indeed, define its value and have woven civilization around the concept of money as valuable. So, it’s little wonder we’re so emotionally attached to it. And it’s not surprising that this physically entrenched aspect of our day to day lives in measuring value should conflict with the invisible and non-physical world of Christian worth.

      This reminds me of a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. He told her: “God is a Spirit, and those worshipping him must worship with spirit and truth.”

      Anyway, the dynamics between money and value or worth is quite interesting; I explored how the concept came to be, as well as its conceptual evolution in an article here on 360gh:

      Once Upon Money: The Story of Worth through the Ages
      http://threesixtygh.com/expressions/upon-money-story-worth-ages/

      Do enjoy!