By Agwụ Kenneth Ọgọnna
The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones – William Shakespeare
Few days ago, the social media was agog with the stories of Fr. Mbaka’s Harvest. In the minds of many, our beloved brother Fr. Camillus Ejike Mbaka got it wrong in the manner he conducted the affairs of his harvest in his Adoration Ministry Enugu Nigeria.
In fact, the friend who forwarded the video to me on Monday, December 2, 2018 notes; “The only day I was ashamed as a Catholic.”
I prayed and hoped that what was portrayed in that video was not true alas, it turned out to be. Following the shock that many had as the video made its way to the media world, the question that arises is, does harvest festival has divine imprimatur or is it just a mere gimmick to trick and fleece money from the unsuspecting and gullible faithful who have gathered to worship God?
I am aware that many Catholics and non-Catholic alike, called seeking for clarifications from their priests following the backlash of that unfortunate video. But all said and done, the much I said to those who waylaid me was that we should keep our brother Fr. Mbaka in prayers. He needs it now and always for divine guidance and direction. As a human being, he is not infallible. If he does fall, we must help him to rise again since none of us is immune from error.
Luckily, in the Sunday Telegraph of December 9, 2018, a choice heading has it, “Mbaka Apologizes To Obi.” He says, “I’m sorry, I never intended to insult you.” I was so delighted reading it. It shows that Fr. Mbaka, who undoubtedly has done a lot of good things and continues to do so, is a humble servant who willingly acknowledges his faults. May God bless him and continue to lead him alright!
The apology is also on the social media and I do hope that those who shared the previous video with vigor will double their efforts doing same this time around.
Having said that, it is on record that Protestant Churches have done more than enough to promote the preaching of prosperous gospel which has infiltrated Christendom. According to the historian Kate Bowler, “the prosperity gospel was formed from the intersection of three different ideologies: Pentecostalism, New Thought, and an American gospel of pragmatism.”
The American Gospel of Pragmatism was exemplified by Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth and Russell Conwell’s famous sermon ‘Acres of Diamonds,’ in which Conwell equated poverty with sin and asserted that anyone could become rich through hard work.
In his work Watch This!: the Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism, published 2009, Jonathan Walton notes, “The prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity.
The result of the prosperity theology is that worship in the minds of many Christians today has been reduced to cash and carry. The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be happy. It is based on the interpretation of the Bible that are mainstream in Judaism, though less so in Christianity.
Reconciliation with God is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession. So, it is touted that the more money you give to the Church, the more you receive. Many however, have been swindled of their fortunes without corresponding outcome.
Not long ago, I came across a bizarre story on this issue of giving to the Church. The young man told of how in their Church they have an annual event in which worshippers are mandated to withdraw all their cash and bring to the Church as the end of year offering. His mother who was relatively well to do sheepishly obeyed the swindler parading himself as a man of God and plunged the family to poverty as she never recovered. In anger, they stopped going to that Church.
Reflecting on this issue of giving to the Church especially during harvest, on Sunday, August 26, 2018, I wrote “OF LITURGY AND HARVEST THEATRICS.” In that piece born out of practical experience, I went down memory lane to unearth factors that I believed have led to the unwholesome practices in some quarters: the complex nature of running a parish, tops most and I concluded humbly suggesting that worthwhile investments won’t be a bad idea.
Be that as it may, we cannot rule out harvest as a viable means of raising funds to support the Church. According to the fifth Commandment of the Church, the faithful are encouraged “to contribute to the support of our pastors.” Of course, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Commandments or Precepts of the Church are considered binding on the faithful.
Still on the matter, Canon 222 § 1 stipulates: “The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and the decent support of ministers.”
Catholics thus have THE OBLIGATION TO HELP THE CHURCH. St. Paul’s teaching on 1 & 2 Corinthians clarified how giving in the Church ought to be done. In 1 Cor. 16:2 we read, “On the first day of the week each of you should set aside whatever he can afford. This of course pertains to voluntary Sunday offerings.
He didn’t stop there as he took it up in 2 Cor. 9 under the caption Help for Fellow-Christians. In vv. 5-8, St. Paul said, “So I thought it was necessary to urge these brothers to go to you ahead of me and get ready in advance the GIFT you promised to make. Then it will be ready when I arrive, and it will show that you give because you want to, not because you have to.”
He went on, “Remember that the person who sows few seeds will have small crops; the one who sows many seeds will have a large crop. Each one should give, then, as he has decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty; for God loves the one who gives gladly. And God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause.”
In effect the Church does not demand a fixed amount of money from us, she wants us to give as we are able. If people are forced to give that is extortion, but if they give freely that is a gift and is highly commendable. This act of giving as it were, was not an invention of the Catholic Church. In fact, as it pertains to harvest thanksgiving, the act predates Christianity.
As it were, Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, the reason some of the practices we hold dear in our Church has its origin in the Jewish practices. According to the Jewish Law, there are Three Pilgrimage Festivals known in Judaism as Shalosh Regalim, these are: (a) Pesach – Passover (b) Shavuot – Weeks in English/Pentecost in Ancient Greek (c) Sukkot –
On Passover, the people of Israel were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh, on Shavuot, they were given Torah and became a nation committed to God. Harvest is the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end, celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month. This Harvest Festival in Ex 34:22 marks the end of harvest time and thus of the
agricultural year in the Land of Israel.
The Book of Deut. gives vivid description of how Harvest ought to be celebrated among God’s people. It says, “Then celebrate the Harvest Festival, to honour the LORD your God, by bringing him a freewill offering in proportion to the blessing He Has given you. Be joyful in the LORD’s presence, together with your children, your servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows who live in your towns. Do this at the one place of worship,” (Dt. 16:10-11).
It went to say; “All the men of your nation are to come to worship the LORD three times a year at the one place of worship: at Passover, Harvest Festival, and the Festival of Shelters. Each man is to bring a gift as he is able, in proportion to the blessing that the LORD your God Has given him,” (Dt. 16:16-17).
Do you see where most preachers get harvest affair very wrong? They ask the faithful to give so that they can receive but you can’t give what you don’t have. This is why the scripture requires us to give from what God has already blessed us with as a sign of appreciation when we have gathered in worship.
Of course, The Book of Exodus Chapters 23:15c &34:20d are in agreement that service to God requires offering and so it is stated: “Never come to worship Me without bringing an offering,” (Ex 23:15c) & “No one is to appear before me without an offering” (Ex 34:20d).
Some Christians today influenced probably by wrong teachings of prosperity gospel, tie their giving to receiving blessings from God. That is not correct. Some want to be compelled or intimidated before they could give. Again that is very wrong. We do not need to be lied to in order to give. We must understand that while we have the obligation to do so as the scripture and the Church demand of us, it is also a great privilege.
We must understand that it is not everyone who wants to give that his gift is acceptable to God. King David wanted to build a temple for the LORD but was denied the privilege, the LORD said to Nathan, “God and tell my servant David that I say to him, ‘You are not the one to build a temple for me to live. When you die, I will make one of your sons king, he will be the one to build a temple for me,” (cf. 2 Sam 7:1-13).
By implication, we shouldn’t actually be compelled to give to God in the Church. Giving should be done willingly and joyfully if we understand that “Some people spend their money freely and still grow richer; others withhold what they should give, and only suffer want. A liberal man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered,” (proverbs 11:24-25).