After much thought, prayer, and discussion, the deacons and I decided to discontinue passing an offering plate and instead place a box at the back of the auditorium in which people could discreetly deposit their offerings. This is the explanation, very nearly the way that I presented it to our church.
I want to begin by emphasizing a few things:
1) Giving is Biblical. I’m not going to elaborate on giving at this point; some thoughts about giving will come out just by nature of the topic. However, tithing and giving has Biblical precept, precedent, and principle:
– Abraham gave tithes to the priest Melchizedec (pre-law);
– It was instructed in the law for Israel;
– Solomon spoke of it as the activity of a wise man;
– The prophets pronounced judgment for abdication;
– Jesus spoke of it being done with a right heart;
– The epistles speak often of giving;
– New Testament history shows that Christians did it.
The change in our church does not revolve around whether we give, but how we give.
2) Methodology is autonomous. The way that we choose to do things is determined entirely by our church – based on what we believe God’s Word teaches. That is the beauty of the word independent. Our church is self-governing – of course by the Word of God first, and then by the by-laws and constitution that we have created for ourselves to govern our operation – again, based on the Bible. In relationship to collections, the Bible does not dictate a specific method in which tithes and offerings are received in the N.T. church.
Since the Bible is not specific and since we are an autonomous institution, we expect our practice to be honored by other churches and we honor others as well. For instance, it would be wrong for our church to look at another church and think, “they are doing it the old fashioned or unspiritual way.” Autonomy of the local church is a distinctive of Baptists, and we must not evaluate another church by our self-determined choices – or become conceited in our own practice.
3) Public offerings are not wrong and we may still do it occasionally. There were times in the Bible when public offerings were received; we may still do it for a special need, or perhaps when we have a missionary, or something like that – but it would be with advance notice.
There are several principles that relate to the spirit of giving which seem to be more difficult to observe when an offering plate is passed than when the giving is done in a more private manner.
My goal in sharing these things and making this change is to remove any unspiritual thoughts from our offering procedures. It may be that some people give out of pride – that is wrong; it may be that some people give out of guilt – that is wrong; it may be that some people give out of manipulation or pressure – that is wrong. Giving is the response of a heart of love for Christ and for those who have the right spirit in giving it won’t matter if there is an offering plate passed or a box on the back wall.
1. Give in Secret (Matthew 6:1-4)
Though I understand the context of the Sermon on the Mount as it relates to Jesus’ teaching of the Kingdom to the Jews, the principles that Jesus taught are still very important as they relate to New Testament Christianity.
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
No commentary is necessary for these verses.
2. Give in Sincerity (Acts 4:34-5:11)
Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
The gift of Barnabas following the sale of a piece of land is the conclusion of chapter 4; we don’t know exactly all that was said as a public commendation, but we do know that he was an encouragement to the whole church. The next chapter begins with Ananias and Sapphira also selling something. Evidently, they reported that they were giving the entire proceeds of the sale to the church. Peter recognized that this was a lie between the two of them. It seems as if they wanted commendation for generosity but still wanted to retain part of the proceeds for themselves.
Peter condemned them for lying to the Holy Ghost. Clearly, their giving was not sincere. This passage demonstrates that public giving is not wrong (Barnabas), but also that public giving can be insincere and self-serving. I think they were at least partly motivated by the public persona that they anticipated. Public giving was fine for the spiritual man, Barnabas, but it was not good for these carnal people, it catered to their pride.
3. Give in Safety (1st Corinthians 16:1-4)
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.
This brief paragraph is the answer to the fifth of six questions that the Corinthians had apparently asked of Paul (the others were regarding marriage, virgins, meat offered to idols, spiritual gifts, and if he could encourage Apollos to come and labor there).
Paul had encouraged the Corinthians to participate in the offering that would be taken to the believers in Jerusalem. Their question seems to have been regarding the logistics of the offering itself. His answer was that they should receive offerings on the first day of the week according to a man’s income, but he wanted it to be done before he arrived in Corinth. Then, the church could select some individuals to accompany Paul and help deliver the offering to the believers in Jerusalem. The question is: why did Paul want the offering received before he came and why did he want Corinthian church members to deliver it or at least accompany him? There are two possible answers: convenience or concern.
I don’t think it was just out convenience. It wasn’t so that he didn’t have to be bothered with it when he got to Corinth and so that he didn’t have to deliver the offering himself.
By the tone of some portions of several of Paul’s letters, we know that his character and/or motive was frequently questioned by false teachers or other detractors. I believe that Paul’s reasons for receiving the offering before his arrival and having Corinthians either deliver it, or at least accompany him, was to safeguard his reputation. He left no room for a critic to say that he had received the offering for himself or absconded with it.
The way that this applies to our church is this: I don’t want any one coming to our church and thinking that we only want their money. I don’t want visitors feeling obligated, manipulated, or pressured to put something in an offering plate that is passed in front of them. Our reputation in the community is extremely important; if people visit our church, I don’t want them leaving with an uncomfortable memory of an offering plate being passed in front of them. So, as Paul safeguarded his reputation by making sure the offering was received before he arrived, we are safeguarding our reputation by making sure that no one will leave thinking that “all they want is my money.”
4. Give in the right Spirit (2nd Corinthians 8:1-10; 9:1-15)
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.
But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
In these two portions, Paul is still encouraging the Corinthians regarding the same offering mentioned in the previous point.
In the first segment from chapter 8, the apostle used the example of the Macedonian believers (primary reference is probably the church in Philippi) to demonstrate the right spirit in giving. First, true giving is a result of grace. Second, true giving is joyful. Third, true giving is willing service. Fourth, true giving flows from a dedicated heart. (I think there are other things that can be learned from this paragraph, but these thoughts are obvious.)
In the second segment, which is from chapter 9, Paul explained some principles regarding giving. First, you reap what you sow. Second, your gift is a personal decision (this is not referring to a tithe, but the gift to the believers in Jerusalem). Third, gifts should be given willingly, not out of guilt or manipulation. Fourth, God loves a cheerful giver.
The right spirit in giving is clearly explained in these two chapters. I have talked to a couple of different men who have both shared with me – in shame – that the only reason that they put something in the offering plate was because they knew that the men who were passing the plate, and those sitting around them, observed whether they put anything in the plate or not. It is pretty obvious that such a motivation is not what God intended.
Conclusion: As the Lord worked in my heart regarding these things and I shared them with the deacons, I was pleased that they were in agreement. We concluded that a private offering box would undoubtedly make it easier for people to give with the right spirit and protect against people giving with the wrong spirit.
Sure, there was the possibility that some people may not give as much, or perhaps as frequently, but that would only indicate that they were already giving for the wrong reason. We believed that the Lord would continue to provide our needs – and He has.
I’ll close with a phrase that my Dad taught me years ago (it may or may not have been original with him, but he is the one from whom I learned it), “we can either be manipulated by guilt or motivated by grace!” I prefer the second. If we can see people growing in love for Christ, the finances of the church are not going to be a big concern.