In the last post, I tried showing the biblical requirement of returning to God a portion of the blessings we have received from Him and that it should be done regularly. But one of the ways we practice giving in the church is not necessarily the only right way. I am talking about passing the collection plate/bag! I have always felt so uncomfortable when I see the offering plate being passed around in the church with deacons/ushers staring down your neck or at the plate. It has been even more awkward in the churches of India where I came to know Christ and grew up in faith. I have often wondered about how embarrassing we make it for our visitors in the church when, out of the blue, an offering plate is passed to them. I am sure you know the feeling of rummaging through your purse or pockets and hurriedly dropping into the plate the first coin/bill that comes in your hands. Giving for the work of the Lord suddenly becomes a haphazard obligation in order to please others and not an act of gratitude.
I have also wondered about the origin of this practice and if it was necessary, because I have not observed this graceless practice in other places of worship in India except the Christian church. It is obvious that like many other practices and rituals, the custom of passing the plate during the worship service has been unquestionably adapted from the western church traditions. In most Indian places of worship, on the contrary, instead of passing the plate, offering boxes have been placed where people voluntarily put their money when they please. If I suggest this to churches, many Christians would object saying it is not biblical. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
In the 2nd book of Kings, during the reign of a godly king named Jehoash, the priest Jehoiada installed offering boxes (chests) in the Temple of Jerusalem:
“Then the priest Jehoiada took a chest, made a hole in its lid, and set it beside the altar on the right side as one entered the house of the Lord; the priests who guarded the threshold put in it all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 12: 9 NRSV).
In the New Testament, when Jesus teaches about the virtues of a poor widow giving all that she had, he is depicted as keenly observing how people gave in the Temple. Instead of a collection plate being passed around to worshipers, Jesus saw them putting their offerings in the treasury out of their own volition and not from a forced obligation.
“He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums” (Mark 12: 41 NRSV).
I have also observed in disgust that, in some churches of North America, they make a foreign “missionary” stand with an offering plate at the entrance after his/her presentation. This is not only a casual attitude to the graceful act of giving to the Lord’s work but also humiliating to the person who is standing there with his outstretched collection plate expecting for people to leave a tip for his work. Imagine the local pastor standing after the Sunday service with an offering plate in hand for his weekly pay! The “missionary”, from wherever s/he may be, must be treated with dignity and the giving to missions must be done with thoughtfulness. For example, the Apostle Paul gives us a glimpse on how this should be done with the respect the Christian giving deserves. He instructed:
“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” ( I Corinthians 16: 2 NIV).
This Lent, may we pause to reconsider our practice of giving and receiving for the Lord’s work in our churches. If necessary, let’s remove the feeling of obligation from our guests and regular donors. Instead, let us help make it a true part of our worship to God by not making it intrusive. Amen.