An Evaluation Of The Return Of The First Fruit Envelope By A Priest
An Evaluation Of The Return Of The First Fruit Envelope By A Priest: You may have got an account which is going viral about a priest who returned the *first fruit* of a lady. I don’t know whether it was written by a priest or not as it was written in the mode of anonymous journalism of social media. I just wish to evaluate the contents.
▪I commend the priest who returned the envelope containing the first salary of a Christian faithful. While I commend the purportedly priest-author, it’s important to state that he didn’t tell the whole truth about the meaning of sacrifice and fulfillment of promises in Christianity.
1. It’s a very bad trend in Christianity in Nigeria that the faithful are being enticed to give as though it’s literally an investment or business in which you invest some amount and expect a geometric multiplications back. Thus, we have such concepts as sowing of seeds, just as one would sow a seed of corn and expect to harvest two or more heads of corns. We have paying of tithes presented as the guarantee of prosperity. The modern tendency of pastors/preachers to use oratorical prowess akin to sophistry to make the faithful feel as though they are either robbing God or owing God is also condemnable. We all know they are mostly cheap lies to defraud people of their money. These are very bad trends in modern day Christianity, especially in Nigeria. I weep often for this. But bad as the situation may be it does not tell the whole story.
2. A reading of both the Old and New Testaments would reveal that men and women of faith (poor and rich alike) have always made great sacrifices in the cause of God’s work. Some also made promises to God which would be fulfilled when their prayers were answered. I will give few examples:
▪In the Eucharistic prayer, the Church keeps asking God to accept her sacrifice as He accepted the sacrifices of Abel the just and Abraham our father in faith. These two persons made great sacrifices for God.
▪On their way to the promised land, God commanded Moses to build the Ark of Covenant and the Tent of Meeting. Moses appealed to the people to make contributions. It was later reported that the workers came to Moses and told him to stop the people from making further donations since what they had were already more than enough for the work. Remember the people were in the desert, they had not even enough food to eat. But it’s also important that the donations were channeled to building the Ark and the Tent and not for the luxury of Moses.
▪Hannah prayed for a child and at the same time made a promise to give the child back to God to serve Him all through his life. The prophet Samuel was a fruit of that prayer.
▪Till today, in Psalm 132, we keep basing our prayer on the holy thought of David: to build a house for God. David didn’t build the house, his son Solomon did but the fact remains that David provided the materials before he died. For this sole reason, the Messiah came from the lineage of David.
▪The prophets scolded the people of God for not reconstructing the ruined temple of God. They even encouraged the people to reconstruct the temple and see if God will not bless them. However, blessing is not synonymous with money. But it’s important to note that most of the prophets were poor and never appealed to anyone to buy expensive cars or private jets for them. Some even wore animal skins.
▪In the New Testament, some women followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. They provided for the needs of Jesus and his apostles. Jesus had no farms or businesses. However, we were not told Jesus bought horses or other luxurious means of transportation of the time. They provided the basic needs of Jesus: food and probably clothes (not even shelter).
▪The woman whose offering was commended by Jesus was not only a widow but a poor one. We were not told that Jesus returned the two coins to her.
▪In the early Christianity in which the coming back of the Lord was believed to be imminent, some people sold everything they had and handed over to the Church. Etc.
From the above, it’s clear that sacrifices (Which include donations of our resources) are essential aspect of Christianity and in deed any religion. We cannot expect God to come down and build places of worship for us, or help our poor brothers and sisters, for instances
▪This point made, we note the following essential elements of such sacrifices or promises:
1. *They were donations from free and informed wills responding to the demands of faith:* it is important to ask the lady why she wanted give the entire first salary as offering. If it is informed by the erroneous concept of compulsive seed-sowing, then she should be enlightened as the priest did. But supposing the lady prayed and made promise to offer her first salary if she gets job or supposing from a free and informed will she decided to offer it, would it be proper to return it? In my first year as a priest, I returned N210, 000 to an old man who told me to use the money for charity. But the man told me, *”Fr, I am not a child. I thought about this in my house and decided to donate this money. All my children have graduated and are working. I just retired and decided to offer this for charity.”* I could see clearly the donation came from a free and informed will. The important question which should follow logically is, *Did I use the money for charity according to the intention of the giver?* Finding out whether the will is free and informed is important. It is important also to teach the faithful that offerings should be made from *a free and informed will* and of course *with faith* because some would simply put such donation in the box, in which case, only the donors and God know why. To whom would such offerings be returned? If the lady had put the *first fruit* into the box, how would the priest have return it?
2. *Purposes:* Such offerings in the Bible were used for the work of God, maintenance of the ministers/other workers and charity (not for the personal comfort of the priest/pastor/preacher) The tendency today is that such offerings are within the capricious decisions of the priest/pastor/preacher/minister.
The Catholic Church has always emphasized that donations from the faithful should be used for:
● *decent support of the clergy/other workers* ( which of course does not include luxury)
● *Maintenance of divine worship/works of the apostolate*
● *Charity especially for the needy*
Or simply put: *according to the intentions of the donors*
Thus, if someone gives money for church pews, it should be used for church pews even if the roof of the house in which the priest/pastor/minister is living is leaking!
*Conclusion*: While we condemn the fraudulent approaches of some ministers of the gospel, it does not cancel the fact that sacrifices and promises are part and parcel of Christianity and in deed any religion. And giving or offering something is neither based on being stupendously rich nor on abject poverty but on a *free and informed will* responding to the demands of *faith* in God. And if the purportedly priest-author of the account cited below were to return every donation made to God, he would not only worship God under a mango tree but certainly die of hunger. And his actions and one-sided explanations inherently contradict the innate right of the church to acquire, retain, administer and alienate temporal goods in fulfillment of the above mentioned purposes.
~ *Fr Ejiofor Samson Asadu