It comes as no surprise that Donald Trump’s leading “spiritual” advisor Paula White is also one of the leading proponents of the so-called “prosperity” gospel. Along with fellow travelers like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Jim Bakker, she promises good things from God – in exchange for money. Sadly, many struggling people have fallen for their scam.
Her recent call for people to donate their entire salary for January – to her – is a bastardization of what many churches call their “First Fruits” campaign. The concept of “first fruits” is a story as old as the Bible itself and goes back to Genesis and the gifts of Cain and Abel. Each of the sons of Adam and Eve offered their respective gifts to God – Abel, the shepherd offered his best lambs, Cain, the farmer offered fruits. The Bible only tells us that God was pleased with Abel’s offering, but not with Cain’s. This has nothing to do with God preferring meat over vegetables. The inference is possibly that Abel offered the best of what he had, while Cain did not.
The concept of “tithing” or giving 1/10th of what you earned in a year came much later, and was a way to support the priests and Levites who worked only for God and did not work for an income. There was no quid pro quo involved in tithing. No promise of increased riches, better health, or a happier life in return for your tithe. In fact, the concept of tithing is not even a Christian construct, although many churches use it as a benchmark in asking for donations.
The Apostle Paul dispensed with the notion of tithing in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. Yes, that would be Two Corinthians. In Chapter 8 he writes
“Moreover brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” 2 Corinthians 8:1-4
Following up on this in Chapter 9, Paul writes
“…..for God loves a cheerful giver.”
There is certainly nothing wrong with donating to support a church. They need to keep the lights on and the staff paid. But some churches have discovered that following Paul’s example and asking people to donate what they can freely and cheerfully give, instead of pledging to tithe, has actually increased the amount of money their congregation donates.
But First Fruits are different. First Fruits means giving the best of what you have – whether it be money, time, or talent – to God; not the amount of the gift. Without any expectation of gaining more than the knowledge that what you give might be found pleasing in the eyes of God. And it should be given cheerfully, not begrudgingly. Perhaps that was Cain’s fault in his gift.
The proponents of “prosperity” gospel want you to believe that you can purchase God’s good graces. But if you take a good look at these so-called pastors, the money goes instead to support their own lavish lifestyles. Joel Osteen had to be publicly shamed into opening his mega-church in Houston to house refugees from Hurricane Harvey and even then he had the nerve to ask those same people for donations to cover the cost of providing shelter to them.
This theology is wrong because is goes counter to everything that the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament teaches us on how we should relate to God. It is equally dangerous because it not only leads desperately poor people to give what little they might have to charlatans, not to God; but because it also exposes a hypocritical version of Christianity to non-Christians who are completely turned off by it.
I may have related this story before. If so, please bear with me. Many, many years ago – before I came back to the church – my husband and I were driving to my sister’s house in Fayetteville, Georgia. Taking a back route she had told us about, we were waiting at a red light when a huge limousine pulled up next to us. The license plate on the car read “Holy 1.” Knowing that we were near the site of Creflo Dollar’s church, I thought it possibly belonged to him. I recall my anger rising as I considered the blatant hypocrisy of people who called themselves Christians. We followed that limo and a few miles further on, it turned into an enormous estate. In fact, the gatehouse was bigger than the house we owned. My anger seethed even more.
It was not until we reached my sister’s house that she reminded me “Hey, did you see Evander Holyfield’s house when you drove down here?” Sadly, there were probably many others who jumped to the same conclusion that I did without knowing the real story.
A Muslim cleric I know once quoted Joel Osteen in a post on Facebook. Despite my attempts to convince him that Osteen did not represent true Christianity, he kept up the post.
And there, my friends, lies the real danger.