I could not believe my eyes when I logged on Facebook saw screenshots of monies and miracles that were supposedly promised people who paid the various amounts. The photos were taken during one of the sessions at the just-ended Greater Works Conference organized by the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC). I would not have been surprised if it had been from some churches.
My shock, however, (and that has been the shock of many) was because it was from the church headed by Pastor Mensa Otabil, one of the finest teachers of the gospel in the world today. I still doubted he had a hand in it and waited to get the full story before I could comment. While I waited, I heard and read the opinions of others on the subject. There were many categories of people who commented.
There were some members of the ICGC, who mounted a spirited defence of the approach. They saw nothing wrong with it. Some even reminded others who used their “money to buy liquor and condoms and drugs” that they had no business judging those who wanted to use their money for God’s work.
There were also those who had “meant” Pastor Mensa Otabil and thought this was a golden opportunity to “finish” him. Like venomous vipers, they descended heavily on him with all the verbal arsenals they could marshal for this rare opportunity to attack and bruise his reputation.
There was a group of “neutral” people who also thought, Christianity is a matter of faith and one does not have the right to question another person’s beliefs. They backed their submission with scriptures that empasised their position.
The background of the Miracle Price list
I decided to find out from a top member of the church who is in a position to know the inside story of the “miracle price list”. The explanation I had was that the church had not initiated that fundraising. It was not an initiative by Pastor Mensa Otabil either. One of the guest pastors (some sources have named Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo) initiated that fund raising during one of his sessions. He was said to have asked people to pledge certain amounts and the amounts pledged came with some miracles he had told the givers to use as prayer points and to expect.
The price list promised “Millionaire Status” for those who gave an offering of $5,000 or GHC21,500; Those who sowed a “Seed of a thousand times more” were to pay $1,000 or GHc4250. The least on the list of offering types was a $70 or GHc300 offering as a “seed of perfection.”
The information I had was that the amounts were not advertised on the screens to raise funds. It was to help those who had pledged different types of offering to remember what they had pledged and the cedi equivalent since the pastor who led in that session quoted the figures in US dollars.
The ICGC has not commented on the matter and I doubt it will. And many in their shoes would rather remain silent than to try to respond. If you invite a guest pastor and he does something that raises eyebrows, you don’t come out to disown him, especially when it is not a criminal or an illegal conduct. Besides, this is not the first time the pastor has done such thing. The difference this time was that it was typed and projected so some people took photographs and spread it. The reason for spreading? Your guess is as good as mine.
Is the miracle price list right or wrong?
I disagree with those who think what happened was purely a matter of faith and should not be subjected to common sense or logical critique. Christianity or religion is a matter of faith. That is true. I believe in miracles. Common sense and logic cannot explain miracles.
To have a proper discourse, however, let us differentiate miracles from the means to those miracles. In so doing, let us scrutinize the methods we use to get our miracles. It cannot all be a matter of faith even when the method is foolish or stupid. We know what some pastors do with anointing oil and so-called holy water. If God did not want us to think, he would have put pure water or sand in our heads. Even in matters of spirituality, the Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit is to help us get the spirit of discernment in order to distinguish between true and false prophets as well as true and false teachings. So both faith and common sense (discernment) are needed in religion.
If this miracle price list had come from Bishop Obinim’s church, the condemnation would have been unanimous. The kinds of people who rationalized it would have condemned and ridiculed it. So why should we not subject this one to the same scrutiny?
Miracles or the blessing of God is not up for sale to the highest bidder. It’s the amount of your faith and your standing with God, and not the depth of your pocket, that counts. When Jesus Christ touched the blind men in Matthew 9:29, he told them, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”
Even when it comes to how much one gives, Jesus Christ gives us a clue that it is the percentage of what we give that matters and not just the amount we give. Mark 12:41-44, tells the story of the Widow’s Offering:
“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
“Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
There are people who earn so little for their toil in this country. Putting monetary value against what miracles they are to expect will alienate them from ever being blessed.
Let’s assume this poor widow were Beatrice Lamptey, the 49-year old widow with three children whom I met in 2013 when investigating the GYEEDA scandal. She was enrolled under the Youth in Sanitation Module to sweep the streets of Accra. The contract said the government should allocate 500 cedis for her engagement, but she would be paid 100 cedis while Zoomlion takes 400 cedis as management fees. Zoomlion claims it has 45,000 of the “zoom donkeys” such as Beatrice Lamptey, so in a month, it is entitled to a management fee of 18 million cedis.
If Beatrice Lamptey and the owner of Zoomlion, Elder Joseph Siaw Agyepong, were at the Greater Works session where the fund raising took place, the 21,000 cedis might be peanuts for Elder Agyepong, but Beatrice Lamptey would have to work for 17.5 years in order to make that amount. If she donated all her monthly salary of 100 cedis or $25, she might not have been recognized by the pastor leading the fundraising. But would God not recognize her and grant her heart’s desire just because she had not met the target named by the pastor?
I generally have a problem when pastors say bring this amount and God will do this for you. Is that what God says? Does God name specific amounts that should go with certain categories of blessings? Miracles are priceless. We cannot buy them. No pastor on their own can perform the miracles. The only one who gives the miracles is God. Pastors are only empty vessels God uses for his work.
Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, also teaches us not to trumpet what we give. He tells us in Matthew 6:2: “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
What happens when we know who gave what at a church harvests or fundraisings? We praise them. We are likely to treat them in a special way, which is wrong.
Presby and LIC tithe
What has happened and took the shine from the otherwise well-organised and well-patronised Greater Works Conference should be a wake-up call to all Christians and churches on how we approach fundraising. The problem goes beyond money paid for miracles. And it is not the charismatic churches alone who are guilty of this. Some Orthodox churches are now infatuated with unorthodox methods of making money. And I will cite my own church, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana.
I know a Presbyterian Congregation where revivals are held only when there is going to be a launch of harvest or during mini-harvests or main harvests. Spiritual revival should not be tied to fundraising. And when there is a harvest or mini-harvest, the church is likely to close two hours late because of the many offertories and tactics. In my present congregation, however, offerings do not drag with unending tricks and methods to get people to pay.
I also know a Presbyterian Church of Ghana Congregation, where paying tithe is a pre-requisite for admission into the church. After going through the orientation, you will be admitted and given a membership number after you have paid your tithe for the third time. So what happens to a jobless but spirit-filled Christian who can hardly feed himself or herself and cannot pay tithe? Is it tithe or church dues?
Some elders of this church once met one of the generational groups to discuss tithes. Among the concerns they raised was the fact that some people were paying the same tithe for a long time. They asked whether such people had no promotions or not. They also raised concerns about some members who lived abroad and paid their tithes in cedis, not in dollars and pound sterling.
One church whose approach to money I have been very happy with is the Legon Interdenominational Church (LIC), University of Ghana. My wife was a member of LIC, so I visited them and I discovered that those who paid tithes do not have cards or books where their amounts are recorded each time they pay. They pay their tithes like a normal offering. When the church announced how much it had collected as tithe one Sunday, I marveled at the amount because it is not a big congregation.
I support giving. Even if tithe didn’t have a biblical background, I still think it would be right to pay a fraction of one’s income to help promote the work of God. The church buildings and properties have to be maintained. Pastors and church workers have to be paid. I am aware of the numerous projects and charities my church supports. The ICGC, for instance, I am told supports as many as 15 charities and its monthly donation to the Korle-Bu Hospital’s child cancer unit is the biggest financial donation to the facility. All these works are not done with leaves or grass. It takes money.
However, the methods we employ to get members to give are as important as the giving itself. Let’s teach the church members the need to give and when it comes to giving, let us allow them to give willingly and according to their ability, for 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Giving or seed sowing should not always be about money. Let us emphasise holiness and spirituality. In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus Christ tells us what our priority should be:
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Many of those Christians who run from one miracle crusade to the other need repentance. Their lives are out of order because their hearts have strayed far away from God. They cannot buy that relationship with God with money. They should be made to go back to their maker with a “broken and contrite heart.”
Let us also make people sow seeds of righteousness. Tell those seeking miracles to sow seeds of abstinence from drinking, stealing or fornication and get closer to God and experience His glory. Money does not answer all prayers.
They should be reminded of what God says in 2 Chronicles 7: 14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Let us de-emphasise cash for miracles and preach holiness and hard work. I believe in praying as if everything depended on prayer and working as if my success depended only on hard work.
God could have asked the Israelites to stay at home and he would give them victory, but he allowed them to go to the battlefield and he offered them help. I believe in miracles, but I am yet to see or hear anybody who did not go to a university but prayed for God to give them a degree from that university.
Because of our emphasis on miracles and glorification of wealth in churches without questioning their sources, we have thieves and hardened criminals with inexplicable sources of wealth holding positions in our congregations. They attribute their ill-gotten loot to the miracles and blessings of God.
They have not seen the light.
But, in bags, they pay their tithe.
So they are the favoured few.
Who grace the front pew.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. He is the author of two books “Voice of Conscience” and “Letters to My Future Wife”. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are his personal opinions and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of The Multimedia Group, where he works.