Teaching Superstition; Giving on Stage

Teaching Superstition

I watched a TV show by Derren Brown the other night, which looked at how people develop superstition.  In a nutshell, people identify actions with effects that have nothing to do with each other, but associate a causal link between the the two without any real examination.

An example might be walking under a ladder, then later blaming that for a subsequent fortunate accident.  Derren Brown repeated a social experiment where a buzzer operated every time a goldfish swam past a black line on a fish tank.  The people in an adjacent room thought their actions were causing the buzzer to operate, and associated random behaviours with the buzzer, which were then repeated to try to earn more buzzes.  One hundred buzzes in half an hour would earn a prize, so they were motivated.

At Pentecostal churches I’ve attended, I’ve seen various people lauded on the platform for giving large sums of money to building funds or various church causes, with an associated testimony of how God blessed them in response to this.  An example would be the one we covered on this blog last year where Phil Pringle invited up a couple who gave to the miracle offering at the Presence Conference and subsequently fell pregnant.  The successful pregnancy and birth was attributed to them giving to the miracle offering.  This was used as an incentive to inspire (or manipulate) more people to give to that year’s offering.

But where is the causal link between these people’s giving to these purposes and God answering their prayers?  Maybe in His grace He would have answered their prayers anyway; maybe He answered their prayers despite what they did.

What about Acts 8:9-23? Simon the magician is rebuked for thinking he can buy God’s gifts with money.  In his case, the gift he wanted was the ability to perform miracles; to infuse people with the Holy Spirit.   Peter responded to him, saying “20…“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!”

It’s ironic that this response of Peter’s is the opposite of the financial salvation some people hope for when they give to these offerings.

Giving is good when done freely, but we are not to try to ‘buy’ gifts from God.  Yet people who teach this, teach superstition – that if you give to this particular offering, you have the _chance_ of having your prayer answered – and conversely, if you don’t, you could miss out.  It pretty much lines those people up with soothsayers and magicians, whom the Bible tells us we should have nothing to do with.

Putting these people up on stage and claiming their answered prayer is because they gave to an offering is a way of reinforcing this message and is pretty much what Derren Brown demonstrated.

Giving On Stage

Putting individuals up on stage at all to describe the magnitude of their giving is pretty woeful in any case.  I have seen it though, numerous times during building campaigns.  Once again, the aim is to encourage people to give substantial sums of a greatly sacrificial nature.  (As much or more than a deposit for a home, in most cases on stage.)

Generally the people would testify of how much they pledged, and the subsequent miracle events that had happened that allowed them to meet this pledge, that was well beyond their means.  Somehow, despite the miracles, I was never quite comfortable with this way of announcing it.  Perhaps it was my conservative Anglican background, but this scripture seemed relevant:

Matt 6:2-4

2“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they (B)may be honored by men (C)Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

3“But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

4so that your giving will be in secret; and (D)your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.



8 thoughts on “Teaching Superstition; Giving on Stage

  1. Very interesting read RP, again I agree with you. Often things that we do in a well intentioned manner can reveal less attractive things about us.

    Just wondering though – what’s your solution, what would you like to see happening in relation to teaching on giving and would you think this blog is an appropriate medium to inspire us to give?

  2. Well, I don’t know that there is a one-off method ‘solution’ as such – a real solution would be genuinely redemptive change inside all of us, so that we are willing to give enough to support things we are involved with/are on our hearts, without needing any kind of pressure or coercion, regardless of how ‘gentle’ that is. Of course that would mean that we actually have to discern what to give to, and whether the money is being used well or wasted, which could require some effort.

    One method that seemed to work well in a congregational setting was the way my old church did it in past years. Each year the budget was explained to the congregation. Giving targets were set, for different things, and their purposes explained. Budgets were based on prayer and forcasting based on the pattern of growth set in previous years. People understood very well that the place would not function without giving, and gave in response in a generous, sustainable manner, which resulted in the budget being achieved each year. Tithing was rarely if ever preached on. (I don’t recall it ever, but probably some people did tithe.) No one was pressured for money. To me, that is the main thing. People can tithe freely, or whatever, but pressure, coercion and manipulation are not how Jesus teaches us to behave.

    After tithing was preached there every week for some time, the budget lept forward to a point it was not expected to reach for several years. No doubt outgoing expenses have been adjusted accordingly. But the fact remains, that the place functioned effectively for years, and doesn’t appear to function any more effectively now that there are more funds.

    In a nutshell, I believe in New Testament giving, which is freewill, out of love, with no constant set amount that could become legalistic. People may choose to tithe, or give more, but not be pressured to do so or feel guilty if that is not how they give.

    Additionally, I think we are called to be good stewards. This to me means that we look at where our giving goes, choose to give where our money will be effective, or where it is badly needed as an act of charity or mercy. Plus, we are encouraged to support those who work full time as gifts among us. We should not feel obligated to give a lot to the ‘store house’ if the ‘store house’ is full. There may be others who are clearly in greater need. (BTW – I don’t think of a church organisation as ‘the store house’, but this is how it was preached to me in the past, and we were taught this was to be the first port of call with all of our giving. So if a friend had a financial emergency, tither first before helping the friend in the emergency – to me that is a wrong priority and not loving.)

    When I was part of a church organisation, I did feel it was appropriate to give regularly to it; we prayed about the amount we were to give.

    I believe our giving ought to be measured by love, not by a legalistic figure. I’m sure I could grow in that area. To some extent, I feel that the organised church at times robs the poor and other worthwhile causes by taking more of the available funds for giving than it ought. This is even to the extent of some of its members becoming financially disadvantaged themselves, as they take on debt to meet building fund commitments, for example.

  3. Stuart Murray, in his book, “Beyond Tithing”, started to explore some alternatives to tithing in a congregational setting. He explored the topic thoroughly motivated initially out of a concern that the doctrine was ‘bad news for the poor’ – a sign that it is not part of the gospel.

  4. Thanks for the reply – very well thought through as usuall. It seems to be that the problems lies with the intial success of the local congregation. As people freely and generously give, the budgets are spent initiating and building ministries. As these ministries grow the yearly budgets and targets increase.

    I guess the main issue is how money is requested and in what spirit it is given. A grey area seems to develop between what is best for the ministry and what is best for the individual givers. It is hard to see a good ministry flounder because of lack of finance, especially when generosity is good and something to be encouraged.

    If churches didn’t build ministries would the needs of congregations and poor etc be met through the lives of individuals or established ministries outside of the local church (eg Mission Australia etc)? If this were possible, at least there wouldn’t be the conflict of interest that arises when leaders encourage giving to fund their particular ministries.

    Perhpas each church would do better only funding other churches ministries – I think I’m getting too lateral and off topic, so I’ll stop now.

    Thanks for provoking my thinking though!

  5. I’d like to bump this thread. I think it’s an important topic to re-examine. This was the article I was talking about RP when I was at your place.

  6. BUMP! Lance posted this on groupsects:

    I thought this is a good example of what C3 does to encourage people to continue in superstitious error.

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