By Kathryn Wright
At the beginning of 2020, my dad, Ken Yates, and I had the opportunity to teach in Kenya through some friends: Catherine Ndinda and Jimmy Allan from Acres of Mercy. They run a school for young children outside of Nairobi. They also work towards reaching the pastors in their community with the gospel of grace. It was a wonderful time of fellowship and teaching. During our stay, Dad taught a few pastors’ conferences, while I did a conference for Sunday School teachers and the pastors’ wives. Lord willing, we will be able to return again in 2021.
Whenever we teach overseas, we encounter different cultures and traditions. Sometimes, these traditions are benign, such as the food people eat or the songs they sing during worship.
Other times, those traditions can impact theology.
Assurance of salvation is often an obstacle when we teach overseas. Generally speaking, the pastors in Kenya are teaching that you can lose your salvation. For example, some Kenyans connect tithing to keeping or losing your salvation. Both Dad and I had repeated conversations with our students on the subject.
Tithing was highly emphasized in the worship services we attended in Kenya. It was not only tied to the idea that the Lord will prosper the giver, but it was also linked to his or her eternal salvation. For most of the pastors, tithing is their only source of income. So threatening the possible loss of salvation is one of their primary tools to guarantee that the congregation will tithe. In their minds, the alternative to issuing that threat is to risk going hungry.
To the native Kenyan, this is normal practice for the pastor and the congregation. These kinds of traditions often become the most difficult hurdles to overcome when teaching the truths of God’s grace.
I was reminded of this issue again earlier this week when I received an email from one of my students in Zambia. Much like in Kenya, they are admonished to give to the church to receive wealth, happiness, and prosperity in this life.
Sadly, we often see works infiltrating the gospel, both overseas and here in the States. For Kenya, tithing is where this is often expressed.
To make matters worse, even if a pastor accepts eternal security, he will struggle with the issue of earthly prosperity as the prime motivation for giving. This kind of teaching distorts both discipleship truths as well as salvation.
There is much work to be done overseas, and I am encouraged by the response Dad and I had from those classes and the correspondence we have had since leaving Africa. Please be praying for future growth and opportunity as we aim to spread the truth of God’s gift of eternal life by faith, apart from tithing or any other work, as we minister overseas.
Perhaps tithing isn’t the specific tradition our churches struggle with. However, I think these examples should prompt us to be cautious in applying spiritual disciplines.
Resources for Tithing
In August 2020, GES held a regional conference on spiritual disciplines in Miami, FL. I would highly recommend checking out the recordings from the conference (check our YouTube channel). Kent Young specifically spoke on the issue of tithing. Bob and Shawn did a Grace in Focus Radio episode on the issue of tithing as well, if you would like further information on the topic.
We all have traditions that can distort our understanding of the Lord’s Word. May we strive to be Bereans (Acts 17:11) and aim to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, rather than being conformed to the traditions of this world (Rom 12:1-12).
Kathryn Wright works for GES Missions.