I’m what they call a digital native, especially when it comes to commerce. I think Cyber Monday is way better than Black Friday. I do all my banking online. I even ordered study materials for a small group while I was teaching it (and nobody noticed!).
I’m always looking for easy ways to pay, give, and do business online.
And yet . . . unlike Dave Albertson, I’m not ready to give up on the offering plate. Dave rightly observes that the plate has no biblical connection. It’s a twentieth-century invention and yet it’s a recent tradition, I think, worth keeping.
There’s something sacred and important about treating giving as more than a simple transaction, but as an act of worship. We give to God out of our first-fruits. Though the New Testament isn’t necessarily prescriptive, the spirit of the tithe is such that we, like Abraham before the law, are compelled to give from our hearts. We set aside our hard-earned money before we do anything else. We do this as an act of faith and as a tribute to the Creator who has blessed us with time, treasure and talent.
That isn’t to say other means of giving — donating online, mailing a check, or even the time-honored method of chasing the usher out the door before he leaves with the offering plate — can’t be done without the spirit that motivates it.
However, there is something utilitarian, I think, about restricting the offering to simple buckets in the back or “Here are our online options,” as if directing funds to the church is similar to directing funds to a charity or some other organization. When we give to the body of Christ, it’s something different altogether.
Churches, of course, are charities according to the tax code. But only the church is made up of Christ’s body, supernaturally put together by His Spirit, an otherworldly fusion of people from every race, tribe, and tongue. Like the sacraments, the public act of giving unites people from various socioeconomic classes in that every one of us, regardless of the size of our paychecks, comes forward with our first fruits.
Sure, the ushers, the leadership team, and the busybodies know who the big givers are, but at that moment of giving, only God sees the hearts. He sees the sacrificial commitment made by that single mother who, regardless of her income, offers up her meager few dollars as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to her Lord. He sees the orphan child in the third world, walking to the altar with her half-handful of rice, gladly worshipping Jesus. And He sees the wealthy entrepreneur, whom everyone thinks should give more, give 90 percent of his money away, entrusting it to the Lord’s work.
Ever since I’ve been a child, I’ve enjoyed the passing of the plate in church. Maybe it’s because I had a father who never failed to put money in the plate, in good financial seasons and in bad. Maybe it’s because I’ve been tithing ever since I earned my first allowance. Or maybe it’s because I still feel the joy and the grace of that moment in the service when we stop and say, “We will follow Jesus” Sermons compel us to devotion. Music reflects our devotion. But the offering plate is the moment in the week when we stand up and say, “I’m in. Not just with my words, but with that thing that is so precious to my existence.”
Yes, I know this kind of commitment can be expressed through Paypal or Direct Deposit. And I know that not everyone who gives when the plate is passed is giving with the purest heart and best motives. I know this. I’m glad there are new ways to fund the Lord’s work, and I’m glad to see technology leveraged for this kingdom purpose.
What’s more, some churches have eschewed the plate because of what they think it says to seekers — a tacky money grab that distracts them from the gospel message. There’s merit in that concern, but I wonder if the plate might send a different message. Perhaps it shows the world the deep joy and satisfaction of giving, a public act of worship to a Creator who protects, provides, and sustains.
Perhaps there will be a day when churches no longer pass the plate in an increasingly cashless society. This doesn’t violate any biblical mandates, of course, but as long as there is an offering plate in my church, I’ll be there giving with joy.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.