Why Passing the Offering Basket May Rob Christians of Genuine Giving and Their Call to Sacrifice More

   

It was the first time I had visited this neighboring church, one which I had intended to visit for years. God was doing something in and among them. The church was growing and gaining influence over the community in which they lived. Such influence caught my eye, curious at how they run their services, what the speakers are like, and what sort of culture they are creating. I was impressed. The crowd was made up of young, energized, and excited Christians. I felt right at home. That is, until it came time to tithe.

 

Churches have various traditions and ways in which tithes, gifts, and offerings are collected. Personally, I am used to the tall wooden boxes at the back of the room. Little prepackaged envelopes which hold one’s giving could be slipped into the slotted boxes with little attention from others.

 

Still other churches, whether nefarious or not, have their members and congregants set-up automatic withdraws. In my youth, I recall such activity being harshly condemned by men I respected, claiming that such vices were only done by Mormons and greedy televangelists.

 

But the passing of the plate, wicker basket, or cloth bag with those funny wooden handles protruding out the sides, seems more abrasive and harassing than the rest.

 

As I sat in that church, a visitor from another community to which my wife and I faithfully give and serve, one of the pastors took stage to pray and guide us in giving. His words were timely and fresh. “This offering is for those of you who call this church home. It is a way of saying thank-you to God and giving back to what he has given to you. If you are a guest, feel no obligation to give. Just hold the basket and thank God for all He has blessed you with.”

 

Easy for him to say. I was squished between dozens of church members all fervently reaching into their purses and wallets, ready to give. I felt the pinch of pressure as the basket made its way down my aisle soon to be in my hands. Should I throw in a few bucks to satiate those around me or just pass it on, branding myself a cheap selfish, refusing-to-give-back-to-God sort of Christian. Perhaps this was not what they were thinking, but it felt that way.

 

The passing of the offering plate is a sort of harassment forced upon many through peer pressure. Perhaps that is why many churches do this rather than the box at the end of the room. Though unfortunate, a particular man set with age and familiar with a more traditional time told me, “If you want tithe to increase, start passing around a basket and get rid of the boxes.” Why would the offering plate increase giving? Simple: Shame. People feel the shame of not giving when the basket passed by and the crumpled dollar bills call out to them to give.

 

The box, on the other hand, tends to lead people to genuinely give. No one is looming over you, like some thug demanding you empty your pockets into the tray. It is done out of conviction, guided by the Holy Spirit. Often people give their offering in reaction to the sermon or during one of the worship songs. If giving to God is worship, it cannot be obligatory. If we give because others are watching, our gifts are not pleasing to Him.

 

The image of a greedy, money-loving, televangelist all too often comes to mind when those we wish to minister to think of the church. Perhaps that is because there are so many pastors who take ridiculous salaries, drive overly expensive cars, and seem nothing like the poor and radically giving Christ whom they claim to follow. It is from this image that so many balk and criticize the Church. They ask, “If your God is so powerful, why doesn’t he pay his own bills rather than take the little money people have?” They mock, saying “God is broke.”

 

There are a variety of troubling issues that underlie these criticism. Perhaps the greatest misconception of Christianity is that it is made up of greedy, consuming, got-to-have-more-stuff swindlers. They ask and demand that people be generous, when they themselves are not.

 

And while this image is not entirely true, I have to wonder why so many churches give so little. Christians give an average of 2 percent to the church, a far cry from the Old Testament standard of 10 percent. And while the “tithe” does not apply to the Christian, gift giving and sacrifice is on every page. The ancient church in Acts 2 describes Christians who sell and give well beyond 10 percent, selling entire properties and possession to give to the poor, the work of the local church, and missional work of Paul or other teachers.

 

Can today’s Christian community become this generous?

Can we give and do so not out of peer pressure but out of a genuine heart of love and devotion?

 

We owe so much more to Christ and the local Church than our tithe. We owe time, energy, sweat, and as much money as we can spare for the missional work of Christ. Every penny put in that plate and every bill dropped in that box is used to purchase communion, run the electricity, and support various ministries. No amount is too small or  wad of bills to big to offer gifts to the one who redeemed us.

 

Are you giving?

 

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  • Anonymous

    I heard back in the day before some clergy figured out the whole subtle guilt trip thing,
    churches just had guillotines on the front steps.
    Didn’t Luther address this in his 95 Theses?

  • http://www.theology21.com jonathan Keck

    Luther rejected tithing to be sure—at least as a strict principle. But I have never heard the guillotine thing. Sounds interesting if you can find a reference!

  • Eric

    I don’t think luther had a problem with tithing. I though he was just against the idea of the church selling salvation under the veil of indulgences.

  • Anonymous

    Money is always a difficult subject in the Church. Here our church has a basket up front that someone holds. As the worship team plays you can throw in your money, if you so feel led, and then stroll back to your seat. To me, I don’t have a problem with it. Others might.

    Based off of your story, I would not have felt uncomfortable sitting and passing, because the Pastor explained the heart behind it. That is their church culture, and they are used to that. Obviously it is working for them because they are a growing church of young people loving Jesus.

    I don’t think we should confuse church culture with shame.

    I think that is where we go wrong with tithing. Everyone is so afraid to talk about it behind the pulpit because of the false prophets and teachers out there. Instead of saying the biblical heart behind giving, people just sing a song, pass out plates or set up a box. Our services are on a time limit, so there is not usually enough time EACH SERVICE (especially for the new Christians, and visitors) to understand what tithing is all about.

    If a Church is biblically informed, the leadership is living what they preach, and the community (widows, poor, etc.) are being served… then there should be NO ISSUE with talking about money in the Church.

  • http://www.theology21.com jonathan Keck

    In principle perhaps. Luther rejected the placement of the Mosaic Law on the Christian Church, a logical step since he rejected works rather fervently. However, he did conclude that the tithe, as a TAX, would be optimal from the king’s position. He comes to this conclusion in “The Christian, the Mosaic Law and the ‘Law’ of Christ.” He wrote,

    “I would even be glad if [today's] lords ruled according to the example of Moses. If I were emperor, I would take from Moses a model for [my] statutes; not that Moses should be binding on me, but that I should be free to follow him in ruling as he ruled. For example, TITHING is a very fine rule, because with the giving of the tenth all other taxes would be eliminated. For the ordinary man it would also be easier to give a tenth than to pay rents and fees. Suppose I had ten cows; I would then give one. If I had only five, I would give nothing. If my fields were yielding only a little, I would give proportionately little; if much, I would give much. All of this would be in God’s providence. But as things are now, I must pay the Gentile tax even if the hail should ruin my entire crop. If I owe a hundred gulden in taxes, I must pay it even though there may be nothing growing in the field. This is also the way the pope decrees and governs. But it would be better if things were so arranged that when I raise much, I give much; and when little, I give little.”

  • http://www.theology21.com jonathan Keck

    I agree, the discussion of money should not be avoided. However, I think that it becomes a difficult issue for some. For many years I attended a church that passed baskets and I had no problem passing the basket along without putting money in. At times, however, people are pressured by pastors and preachers to give—perhaps more than they ought to. A funny comic, but to the point, was shared with me recently. It depicted two men standing outside a church in their underwear and bibles talking about how great that sermon on giving was. There exists in our communities a tendency to see pastors and the church as money hungry vampirous leeches. This this not always true. But since it sometimes has been, we need to be wary.

  • Anonymous

    10% to the priests, 10% firstfruits, and 10% to the King (ie Saul, David, etc.): The Israelites gave 30%. Who among us does that?

    We are not called to tithe, but to give cheerfully and sacrificially. I wonder if Jesus did NOT call Christians to TITHE because we would indeed turn it into something we just do, rather than see the heart behind it. I think it’s a difficult topic because we cannot judge whether someone is giving cheerfully and sacrificially, whereas we could easily require a tithe if that was the command.

    I only know this: When I give (money, time, service, goods) I receive–not in dollars but in seeing God at work. I believe there is a connection between our sacrifice and how much we are able to see God at work in the lives of those around us.

  • Anonymous

    You’re right. Unfortunately the face of Christianity that many people see is found on late night public channels, and “Christian” network programs instead of a Bible preaching Church. Even radio stations representing Christians ask for “donations” to keep the music coming.

    It can be pretty confusing for those out there that know very little of Jesus or the Bible.

    I think it is our responsibility as the Body of Christ, to represent what the Bible teaches instead of expecting our Pastor to be the sole voice. (Sometimes it is very tempting to keep quiet because we don’t want to be a scapegoat on such a controversial issue). If the people around us are bitter or disgusted with the Church and finances, it is a perfect opportunity for us to share what God says in the Bible. It also is a perfect opportunity to be used to heal hearts previously burned and broken by those that say they “follow the Word of God and it says that Jesus was rich.”

    Thankfully it seems that younger generations coming up are starting to understand what joyful and sacrificial giving looks like. Hopefully their example will shine brighter than those that are taking advantage of God and the pulpit that they speak behind.

  • a particular man set with age

    Jon, I love the article. Very thoughtful and totally biblical! I appreciate that you incorporated our conversation in it. Had I known, though, that you felt as though I meant to bring shame upon our congregations by passing the plate so as to increase our revenue, I would have better explained myself. Let me do so now.

    A quick word as to why people don’t give in general–let alone Christians–before I defend my point: We live in a culture of self-esteem and, thus, conversely, self-shame. The “Holiday Season”–that’s all I have to say to prove my generalization. haha. Therefore, in the church, you’re absolutely right when you say that shame is what often gets people to put money in a basket–or at the very least make them feel even more shameful when they don’t. This is perceived as peer driven, but ultimately, it is an internal shame. Much like our sins, no? However, just as much as you’re right, you’re just as wrong if you assume that this shame is not battled within most individuals while they pass a box in the back of the room (or an account number on a computer screen, or at the table to sign-up for 1st grade volunteer teaching, etc.). Indeed, it was a box, not a plate, in the Temple where Jesus spoke against the Pharisees’ self-esteem–self-shame–driven acts of “righteous” giving. (though to your point, where he also commended the poor widow who gave all she had from the heart). Either way, box or basket, shame is a satanic hindrance to the heart of thankfulness and generosity, an evil directly rooted in the sin of Adam and Eve and I am woeful now to think that “more shame” was the perceived benefit for which I argued for the basket. I am sorry my friend, in all earnestness, please forgive me for failing to communicate my heart and convictions with more clarity and wisdom.

    Now, I realize that word wasn’t so quick, haha, but now having identified shame as the real enemy to cheerful giving, I think I can better argue my final point about why offering should be taken as a congregation, not just as a personal act (“via basket” being the most popular approach). Shame must be eradicated from the hearts and minds of our congregations if we are to truly cultivate a distinctively thankful people. After all, we could both proof text the crap out of that fact that thankfulness is at the core of cheerful giving and a submissive heart that is strong enough to contain true joy. Thus, if we can fight to keep Shame–as well as Shame’s even more complex and wretched outworking: Partiality (which leads to ignorant, divisive and sinful judgment among our brothers and sisters)–out of the hearts of our flocks then only gratitude for our current salvation and respectful love for our brothers should be left. Unfortunately, how we get rid of shame in the church is a WHOLE ‘nother blog (One I’m sure you could totally rock at a later time :).

    Thus, if our shame before Christ is truly gone, how then shall we give? With cheerfulness and celebration of course! Pass that plate! Give opportunities for worship through giving among the believers as a body–not as secluded individuals. Communion is not commanded to be done by individuals in the back of a room AND NEITHER IS GIVING. Sing songs while you all give and hold the filled plates up with raised hands before our King! Dare I say, have someone quickly count up the total for a service and discipline our selves as a body to SHAMELESSLY announce the exact gift for the weekend and commend it to the Lord and then burst into a song of rejoicing! Cheerfulness! Cheerfulness! Cheerfulness! Jon, you know I’m totally an idealist, but in all honesty, why would we hide away an opportunity for corporate worship and thus cater to Satan’s purpose in Shame? Why a box in the back and not a bin in the front!? It’s a heart issue! If you feel as though I’m making sense here, but don’t see such things happening in your congregation anytime soon then maybe it’s time to reevaluate what you think God is capable of through a church who is led to live and give shamelessly. This is not at all to say my congregation is anywhere near this point either. By no means does every person in the pews of our humble gathering understand the depth of joy that comes from adding to a increasingly full basket of sweet and sincere offerings! Nonetheless, just as the Holy Spirit has encouraged us to give in such as manner through the words of Paul, so should we also regularly encourage our churches. God bless the few churches who live this out as a weekly reality–though their gifts may be small, their real treasures are vaultless!

    Thus my final point: If a church is still financially “poor” after joyfully sharing in a time of corporately recognized worship through offering, then surely God has given that church it’s daily bread and it shall not complain. However, if a church refuses to pass a plate for fear of making people feel shameful when they give, and then complains that Christians don’t give enough anymore, then I argue that church has much more important issues to deal with then just money.

    I hope I have made my case much more clearly now. Jon, know that I love you and as I finish this letter late into the night my affection for you in Christ increases all the more. God Bless you brother. Keep writing and keep living out the faith you so boldly proclaim!

    For the Kingdom
    Elijah Kellogg

  • http://www.theology21.com jonathan Keck

    Thanks so much for the comment Elijah. You have written a compelling argument and my views are somewhat reformed. That being said, the “particular man set with age” was not a reference to you good sir! In fact, this really was an old man. In any case, you have brought to mind our entire conversation and it was a pleasure reviewing it. We really are free from shame and we should boldly give our offering before the community for the praise and glory of God. The ancient church did this and we can too. The difficulty, as you well know, is that many would march forward to the box to project their self-righteousness. This sort of sin will always be a problem in all that we do. May God truly break me of this in the coming years and that all would be for the glory and honor for God.

  • NOT a particular man. haha

    Hahaha. Epic fail on my part. But I guess your comment struck an internal chord and I am glad I could use your blog as a verbal vomiting of my own struggles and convictions on the subject. love you man! Thanks for understanding.

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