Should the local church take up offerings? The passing of the offering plate is part of the liturgy (order of service) in many local churches. Many have also done away with the offering time. Most of the reasoning behind removing the offering time seems to be that churches don’t want guests to be pressured or to feel uncomfortable. The receiving of financial resources from the congregation has become, in many minds, a necessary inconvenience. If we are going to be an expository church, we need to know the Bible’s stance on the taking of tithes and offerings. We also need to know the principles by which God’s word would bid us receive financial resources for the support of ministry in this wretched world.
Is there a Biblical mandate to give?
The primary way people will try to defend the taking up of offerings is by claiming that the Bible requires us to give 10% of our income to the church. Not only should we be immediately skeptical of this claim, but we should recognize it as another way in which the organized church implies and promotes a sort of works-based righteousness. Should we tell our congregants that they are required to give or require the giving of tithes as an ongoing condition of membership?
To answer our question, we will consider what the tithe was. In Leviticus 27:30-32, we read that the Israelites were to tithe one-tenth of their seed, fruit, and flocks to the Levite tribe (Numbers 18:21-24). The Levites did not have their own land. They were a tribe of priests to the Lord. So, the people supported those who dedicated their time to serving the Lord and did not work for their own financial profit. The Levites were to tithe one-tenth to the Chief priest (Numbers 18:25-28). The tithe was equivalent to what we know as income tax in our culture. It was a civic requirement in order that the nation’s infrastructure could be sustained. In a similar way, we pay income tax so that our government officials can be paid as public servants and as servants to God (Romans 13:6-7).
There is a disconnect when people try to apply this sort of tax to the church body in our day. Firstly, we are not a national people, but a spiritual people. Secondly, we would be unable to follow this civic law explicitly because our tithes do not go to the Levites’ salary. They are collected to support the ministries of the local church and to pay local church staff. If this part of the Law translated explicitly into our own church culture, we would be guilty of not following the letter of that Law.
Some principles do translate. For example, those who dedicate their lives to God’s ministry are worthy of their wages (1 Timothy 17-18, referring to those who work hard at preaching and teaching). The explicit command to tithe translates more accurately to the New Testament instruction to pay our taxes like good citizens (Romans 13:6-7).
As local churches and members of the body of Christ, we are not a social club where people pay their dues and get our services. We are the church. People are here to be equipped for service in the Kingdom. They are not here to pay for some important seat or to have their name listed on a membership role.
Are we facilitating worship or running a worldly business?
Especially when we think about money, we have to rise above this business mentality of church operating. We are not running a worldly business that we should require membership dues or the equivalent thereof. God’s church did just fine when it didn’t have any funding. Many churches worldwide operate on a $0 budget. The most successful church-plants have no funding. Our goal is not financial. Our goal as local churches is to participate with God as He works out His own eternal mission. So, with everything that we do, we want to facilitate worship in response to the glory of God.
So, the church is instructed to support those who work hard at preaching the Gospel (Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7; 1 Cor. 9:6–14; 1 Tim. 5:17–18). The church is to be generous to those in need (1 Tim. 6:17–19; 2 Cor. 8–9). There is no specific instruction about the taking of regular offerings, of passing a plate, of placing a box next to the church door, of automatic drafting from a bank account, or of taking online donations. In fact, the only types of offerings we see described in the New Testament church were special donations that were to be distributed to those in need (Acts 2:43–47; 4:32–37; 11:27–30; Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:15). We simply don’t see the regular offering described.
Since the ministries of the church fulfill the instructions (or should work at doing so) of Scripture, the local church definitely needs to be funded. The heart of the matter is that we give generously in response to the glory of God. For the Christ-follower, the desire to give much and often comes as a result of God’s sanctifying work in his or her life. It is an outpouring of worship. No matter our method(s), this is the message that we communicate. Giving an offering is not required. We accept offerings in certain ways. We want our people to be generous because God is generous and He receives all glory in all things. Through giving, we facilitate worship and trust God to provide our needs. That’s a scary thought for many church leaders. We are exposed, entirely dependent on God’s moving of His people. Maybe that’s the point.