Monday, May 14, 2012

Tithe or You're Dead

Though evangelicals generally eschew the euphemistic notion of a departed believer “spinning in his grave,” it’s hard not to imagine the posthumous subterranean pirouettes currently being executed by one Adrian Pierce Rogers, who went to his reward in 2005.  The twice-elected president of the Southern Baptist convention, known to most American evangelicals through his TV and radio ministries, served as senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tennessee, for more than three decades.   And while he was no stranger to theological controversy, Pastor Rogers has been spectacularly eclipsed in that department by his successor, 54-year-old Steve Gaines, whose latest pronouncement on Christian giving has raised a few eyebrows—though apparently, not nearly enough.

Pastor Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church
may need to call another press conference to explain
why his parishioners have been dropping dead
During Bellevue’s annual “Prove the Tithe Sunday” service, Pastor Gaines preached from Acts 5, a text containing one of the most dramatic incidents of the New Testament church: the judgment and sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.  In a feat of eisegesis worthy of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, however, Steve Gaines, who holds a Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared this passage to be about tithing:

“As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell on the floor dead. God killed him....Every time a Christian refuses to tithe, they're just like Ananias and Sapphira. They're lying to God and they're stealing from God. If God treated us this morning in this room like He treated them in that day, how many people would be wrapped up in blankets and taken out the back door [dead]. Think about it. Think about it.”

Thus, completing a sermon series called “Live Life,” Gaines placed the emphasis on sudden death.  It was only the beginning.     

NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, posing under the
famous crosses overlooking Interstate 40 on
the campus of Bellevue Baptist Church. 
Gaines made these comments on February, 5 but like the Trayvon Martin case, a very long incubation period has preceded their media saturation. Two factors are responsible for bringing this situation to the fore: attention from Christian bloggers such as Tom Rich of FBCJax Watchdog; and the fact that dozens of Gaines’s parishioners have been dropping dead. 

In his February sermon, Gaines graciously exempted visitors from tithing that day, all of whom left the church service alive.  But in the ensuing months, 108 of Bellevue’s 30,000 members have been considerably less fortunate.   More than half of those have died on the premises.  Post-mortem investigations by forensic accountants have demonstrated that nearly all of the deceased failed to contribute a minimum of 10 percent of their yearly gross income to the church. 

In recent weeks, vehicles from Kingdom
Ushers Funeral Services have taken Tim
Tebow's place
“Having people drop dead during the service can be distracting,” said Gaines in a rare interview.  “But on the plus side, it’s gotten folks really excited about tithing!”    Gaines reported that the first few weeks after Prove the Tithe Sunday were the most difficult, with 27 deaths occuring during the February 12 service.  “Our ushering crew really had a tough time.   The men in Acts 5 who carried out Ananias and Sapphira really knew what they were doing,” he said.  “But you’re only talking about two people.  What do you when dozens of people go down—during a service?  It can be very unruly.”

Help came from a very unlikely source, however, when the Benny Hinn Evangelistic Association offered the services of trained, professional “catchers,” those men you see during healing crusades whose responsibility it is to stand behind those “slain in the Spirit” by Benny Hinn, and catch them.   Brother Hinn flew a team of twenty catchers to Memphis free of charge in order to conduct training sessions on catching and “striking” felled believers from the premises. 

“It’s a little more challenging with the dead weight—if you’ll excuse that expression,” said Marty Nystrom, head usher at Bellevue.  But the Benny Hinn guys have been great.  They’ve been doing this for a long time and they really know what they’re doing.”

The death wave has proved a boon to local Funeral Home directors, most notably Les Apt, 57, of nearby Garden Meadows, Tennessee. The church has placed Apt on a retainer, a rare luxury in the undertaking industry.  In fact, so many parishioners have been dropping dead that the arrangement has become a “win-win” for all involved.   A fleet of hearses sits outside the church during all services, a commission which has enabled Apt to found a spin-off business, “Kingdom Ushers,” which is dedicated specifically to Bellevue’s departed non-tithers.  It has also led to terrific discount rates for the families of the victims.
At first blush, the campus of Bellevue looks like
that of any other megachurch.  A closer look at
the campus directory, however, reveals something
you don't see every day.
“I guess I was just in the right place at the right time,” Apt told us via Skype™.  “And yes, if you’re wondering, I do tithe.”   Apt reports that once Bellevue installed an on-site morgue (see photo), operations have become so efficient that he estimates they will soon be able to handle one hundred bodies in a single service, “Just in case.” 

But while some are marveling over the glory of God’s righteous judgment and the Church’s efficient response, others are perplexed at Pastor Steve Gaines’s atrocious pastoral theology.

Funeral director Les Apt is making a killing off of non-
tithers.  Graciously, though, he passes the savings
right on to their families.
“I believe Gaines knows full well what he is saying is a total fabrication and stretch of scripture,” writes Tom Rich of the FBCJax Watchdog blog.  “No credible theologian teaches that there is a connection between the Old Testament tithe and the story of Acts 5. Most scholars interpret this story as a warning against hypocrites in the church who deceive people with phony piety, who present themselves to the church as being super-spiritual to gain the favor and applause of men.   To extrapolate that occurrence to the modern church, and to connect Ananias’ and Sapphira’s death to believers today who don’t practice the law of tithing, is spiritual abuse perpetrated by Steve Gaines on the believers at Bellevue Baptist Church.”


  1. i'm going to have a smile on my face all day.

  2. I have been laughing so hard that I can't write my own blog. Could we reprint this at TWW?

  3. Good grief, I thought this was purely satire but no, he actually did say that....!

    God help us.

    Gaines ignores the part where it says "And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?" i.e. you did NOT HAVE TO BRING IT AT ALL.

    The sin was in the lie. Unreal.

  4. Brilliant.

    - René

  5. Ok, this is HYSTERICAL! I am rotfl. So clever and so on point! Church morgue..... LOVE IT.

  6. SMG, I tried to subscribe by email via your widget but Feedburner said that you don't have that enabled.


  7. In a feat of eisegesis worthy of the Trinity Broadcasting Network...

    Yes indeed, Steve Gaines topped even himself with this one, but desperate times call for desperate measures. According to him, if you don't give 10% of your gross income to his 501(c)(3), i.e. "the storehouse," you're rebelling against God Almighty, a sin he likens to witchcraft.

    Just for the record, Bellevue doesn't have or has it ever had 30,000 members. That's an exaggeration. The last numbers I saw several years ago indicated there were about 29,000 members on the roll but that they couldn't find at least 11,000 of them. There's been a marked decline in attendance since those numbers came out. Of course, that's based solely on observation. Actual attendance numbers are a well-guarded secret. I've never heard of a Baptist church that wouldn't publish their weekly attendance numbers.

    1. do you attend Bellevue Baptist?

  8. Aw, you guys 'killed' me! I'm giggling so hard that I'm getting looks from my co-workers that say 'Have you gone bonkers?'.

  9. Speaking of death -Acts 5, if Adrian Rogers was still alive Paul Williams would still be on staff at Bellevue Baptist. Dr Rogers' death was a necessary element for justice for Paul Williams' son to prevail. The question is which was more important justice or a preacher's legacy?

  10. Pastor Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church
    may need to call another press conference to explain why his predecessor died!


  12. Dang, I grew up going to SB church and we knew that story wasn't about TITHING, it was about LYING. As Peter told Ananias, it was his money to give or keep as he chose.

    But those crosses in the picture remind me: I lived in Memphis for 25 years, and it was during my time there that Katrina hit the coast. We got a lot of refugees, and the local rag told some of their stories. There was a Muslim family, a couple and their two boys, who had lived on top of their gas station/convenience store and had to flee with what they could hastily put in their car. They had gotten as far as Memphis and run out of money, and were driving down I-40 not knowing what do, when the woman caught sight of those crosses and said "Stop there - those people will help us." The Bellevue people put them up in the gym for the night, and next day scrounged some school uniforms for the boys and got them settled in school, and helped the couple figure out what to do. Somebody put a rental house at their disposal and somebody else helped them find work, so they were OK until they could go back home. That is the sort of thing you want to read about a church doing, weird and incorrect theology though they may have.

    But yeah, I can imagine Adrian Rogers spinning.

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  14. I am a very merciful person, I showed my mercy to the poor thanks to tithing and offering them my cash and change because I cared for them. May the Holy Spirit help the poor find more blessings from me and God. God bless the needy with his Mercy and love.