Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:
So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
Follower men pay a church fee of around a thousand dollars (the amount periodically increases, so I’m not sure what the current fee is) before they get married which – for most men – is in their late teens. After his marriage, a man pays a monthly due of fifty dollars (this too has increased over the years).
It’s not a bad deal. This lump sum payment and monthly dues covers all the health care the family will, in theory, need – corporate prayer of God’s chosen people. There is a church member who can set broken bones. Lay midwives provide free services for pregnant and birthing mothers. Volunteers will care for the sick and elderly. The church has a storeroom with hospital beds, wheelchairs, crutches, etc. The dues also cover the costs of the man’s wedding and funerals for himself, his wife, and his children. Not bad, but also not optional.
I didn’t know about tithing, though. The idea was new to me. For any reader who is, like I was, in the dark about this issue, let me explain. Tithing means giving ten percent of your income – before tax – to your local church each month. Here is the doctrine to support this practice: tithing scriptures
Parishioners are also encouraged to bring offerings to church services. In every church I have visited – and there have been a lot – with the exception of two, a collection plate, dish, fabric bag, or plastic bucket is passed around sometime during the worship (singing) portion of the service – either before or after the sermon. An offering is an amount of money that you give voluntarily that is above and beyond the ten percent tithe that you give out of obedience.
In my early days of seeking, I went to a fairly large church in Portland. I think I remember the name of the church, but I don’t want to represent a church by one experience, so the name will remain a mystery. Also, I have experienced other churches of this same denomination which were much different. Maybe you can identify it by your own experience.
The church service was televised live to a local audience – I’m not sure that’s important to this story, but I think so because the church had money. And the sermon was on the subject of wealth – the wealth of this world that God has in store for us, His faithful people.
The sanctuary was set up in a semi-circle around the stage. There was also a balcony – which is where I sat, owing to my late arrival. A row of padded chairs was set up on the pulpit and on these six chairs sat three couples, all very well dressed. As I think back on this experience – which happened more than fifteen years ago – I consider what a strange position members of the clergy find themselves in when selecting a wardrobe: on one hand they must dress well as a model to their parishioners, but on the other hand they are asking for financial sacrifices from people who may resent seeing their leaders wearing Valentino suits and their wives carrying Gucci bags while the members of the congregation give a chunk of their hard earned wages to support the ministry.
The three very well-dressed couples were – I thought – the senior pastor and his wife, and his sons and daughters-in-law. Now that I know a bit more about churches, I believe the three men may have all been pastors. It felt strange to have six people sitting on the stage - part of that being that I was accustomed to seeing nobody on the pulpit at church.
The sermon was about God’s plan for our financial prosperity. I am not joking about this. God wants us to enjoy all the earthly riches possible – that was the message I remember. Like I said this was fifteen plus years ago, but I still remember being horrified by this sermon. The pastor did use scripture to prove his points. Also, there are some things to say for all the good that can be done for those in need when we are financially prosperous – and he made these points as well.
But, I didn’t buy it.