For some time now I have been thinking through issues relating to ecclesiology, that is the doctrine of the church. Recently I wrote regarding the popular practice of baby dedication in many Baptist churches. In this post I am endeavoring to think through the subject of giving as part of the corporate worship of God’s people. I am not concerned here with whether or not one is to tithe as opposed to giving freely as each man has purposed in his heart (or if there is even an opposition). I am endeavoring to think through whether or not giving is an essential part of the corporate worship of God’s people. Can we relegate the corporate giving of the church to an online bank draft? Can it be relegated to offering box in the foyer separate from the formal time of the corporate gathering of God’s people on God’s Day? Can you just drop it off in the church office? Or is giving essential to the worship of God’s people on God’s Day? In other words is the koinonia, the contribution, of the church a circumstance of worship or an essential part(1)? I am not endeavoring to explain how the church is to give (tithe or freely), but when and where the church is to give. Is there, to borrow from Solomon, a time for every matter under the sun (Ecc. 3:1)?
Let’s face the facts before we get too deep. This sort of thing isn’t on the radar of the modern Christian. In fact it may not even be on your radar, but you’re here right? Hang in there. Christians of a different day thought through these sorts of things. It was crucial for the church to think through how they were to worship God in an acceptable manner, a manner positively prescribed by Him. As God lives, so it remains an important issue today for the church. The issue of giving is no different.
Giving is commanded, therefore giving has rules and regulations. Just as the church should be concerned about how the church gives (i.e., cheerfully), so it should be concerned about the when and where the corporate body gives. Giving is an essential part of worship, just as much as the reading and preaching of the Word and the prayers. The circumstances may vary. But does the church have the freedom to decide whether or not this part of worship is included or excluded from the corporate worship of God’s people? Is the church free to do what they like as a means of fulfilling the command in the New Testament to give? Absolutely not! God has granted us, by His divine power, “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). All of these things can be found in sacred Scripture. Let us now take a brief survey of the biblical precedent for giving as part of the corporate worship of God’s people on God’s Day.
The careful reader would have noticed that in the preceding paragraphs I used a careful phrase. It was the phrase corporate worship. Here is not the time or place for a full treatment on the doctrine of the Christian Sabbath Day(2). Suffice it to say that the Lord’s Day is just that, the Lord’s. It is distinct from all other days, and on that day very special things happen. One of those special things, and chiefly, is the corporate worship of the church. Carved out of ordinary time is the sacred time of the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath. Within that day, for a length time determined by each assembly, God’s people gather to worship their Lord. Here is a little of how that goes.
Elders, appointed by God, issue the call to worship. This in a formal sense begins the worship of God’s people corporately. Once this sacred corporate time within this sacred day is over, a benediction is issued by an elder, formally concluding the sacred corporate time of worship. What must happen between these two “bookends” of the call to worship and benediction are specifically spelled out by God in His word(3). God gives us the essential parts via His written revelation. Essential parts at this point cannot be missing. Circumstances may vary. If I could represent this in another way it would look something like this:
Call to Worship>>Singing, The Word, Prayer, Giving, Sacraments<<Benediction
Everything that falls between the call to worship and benediction are specifically spelled out by God. These are the essential parts. Giving is one of those parts. It falls within this sacred time of sacred time, within this holy of holies. Let us now seek the testimony of Scripture regarding giving as a formal part of worship.
The Old Testament lends several texts regarding the giving of tithes and offerings as a part of the formal worship of God.
In the most primitive of texts Cain and Abel in Gen. 4:2-5 bring God offerings in a formal time of worship as instructed by their father Adam. Adam being instructed by God Himself. Abraham in Gen. 14:19-22 along with Melchizedek, after bringing out the bread and wine, offered to God tithes in a formal time of worship. Jacob recognizes in Gen. 28:18-22 that giving in a formal time of worship must be done, as John Gill says, “for the support of his worship; for the maintenance of such that were employed in it; for the provision of sacrifice, and for the relief of the poor, or for any use or service in which God might be glorified”(4). Num. 18:21-32 gives clear instruction to the Levitical priesthood regarding what should be done with the tithes offered in Israel’s formal worship of God. Deut. 12:1-19 makes clear that Israel must seek the sacred place and time that the LORD will choose for them to worship and “there you shall bring…your tithes and the contribution that you present” (v.6). If there were any doubt about the previous text, Deut. 26:1-15 is clear that, “This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and rules” (v.16). Finally Neh. 12:42-47 is yet another example where sacred space and sacred time required sacred offerings. God commanded it and they did it.
Looking back from the New Testament on Old Testament worship, Lk. 21:2-3 also illustrates that giving is a formal part of the worship of God. The rich were putting their gifts in the offering box, and so the widow her mite, during a formal time of corporate worship (cf. Lk. 20:1 with 21:5).
The key text to understand giving as part of the corporate worship of the church can be found in Acts 2:42. It reads, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Here we find a reference to the corporate worship of the church and four essential elements of worship, namely the word, giving, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. Fellowship here is the Greek word koinonia. The meaning of koinonia in the New Testament is in no way ambiguous and well understood by all. In fact it is one of the most common words used in the New Testament for contributory help. Having koinonia is an act of beneficence to contribute to the needs of the church, in a corporate gathering of the church. Later in Acts the church is seen to be giving or sharing by laying their gifts at the Apostle’s feet in corporate worship (Acts 4:35, 37; 5:2). Take koinonia in Acts 2 & 4 to mean an act of giving outside of the corporate gathering of the church and you have robbed the term of its very meaning. How can one have koinonia via a box in a foyer or an online form?
Some further points must be mentioned. Giving is connected with the first day of the week in the New Testament, the day of corporate worship. 1 Cor. 16:1-2 states that on the first day of every week, the Christian Sabbath, the saints gathered for corporate worship are to offer their gifts for other saints in need. Giving is also described as a spiritual sacrifice (Phil. 4:11-20; Heb. 13:16). If it is a spiritual sacrifice it should compose part of the corporate worship of the church. In other words, it should be essential not optional.
If you’re interested in tracing out the Greek in the New Testament see Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 9:13; Heb. 13:16; Rom. 12:13; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 4:15; 1 Tim. 6:18 for further study. These texts have everything to do contextually with giving in corporate worship. Consider Acts 2:44 and the phrase “had all things in common” and Acts 4:32 “common property” both use the same Greek root as Acts 2:42. Also Acts 4:34-35, 37 is described as laying their gifts at the Apostles feet in public worship. In Acts 5:1-2 Ananias and Sapphira do the same thing.
It is clear that sacred space (the place where God’s people are gathered) and sacred time (the time between the call to worship and the benediction) required the sacred offerings of the church. God commanded it and they did it.
A Word on the Confession
A word about the 1689 Baptist Confession of faith regarding this issue may be in order here. Chapter 22 paragraph 3-5 list various parts of worship. Paragraph 5 of the confession states,
The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord’s supper, are all parts of religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear; moreover, solemn humiliation, with fastings, and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner.
Paragraph 3 and 4 list prayer as a part of worship. Paragraph 5 lists the things mentioned above as parts. But do you notice something missing? Giving is not in the list. This may sum up the issue for many. But has the reader read carefully?
The confession does not claim to list all the parts of worship. It only claims what it lists as parts. Many may read the wording “are all parts of religious worship” as “are all the parts of religious worship” along with paragraphs 3 and 4. Let me clarify. An engine, a steering wheel, a radio, and a seat are all parts of an automobile. They are not all of the parts of an automobile. Do you see the difference? Prayer (para. 3), the reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord’s supper (para. 4), are all parts of religious worship of God. They are not all of the parts.
With that said we must confess that worship be limited to God’s own revealed will and cannot be expanded by additions from “good and necessary inference.” I realize that good men differ on their understanding of all of this. The above examination of the Old and New Testaments are commended to the reader for what I believe to be a clear command and example in scripture of giving in worship.
If the conclusions above are correct, and I believe they are, then one could rightly conclude that to exclude koinonia from the sacred corporate time of the church would be to neglect an essential part of the worship of God. Can we say corporate worship contains the elements prescribed by God if we leave out the element of giving as a corporate body? May the church do what it wishes with this essential part? If so, is it at liberty to do the same with the other essential parts? May it never be!
The Scriptures provide for the church everything needed for both life and godliness. It provides guidelines for when and where the church is to approach God corporately to give back to the One who has richly given to it. May the church approach God in spirit and in truth as we seek to have koinonia with one another (Jn. 4:24).
(1) Circumstances for giving as part of the corporate worship of the church could be things such as whether or not a plate is passed, or the congregation lines up and presents their offerings to the Lord in a box up front. For an introduction to, though not exhaustive treatment of, the distinction between the parts and circumstances of corporate worship you can read a previous blog entitled Baby Dedications: Are They For The Church Today?. For a more extensive treatment you can read the ARBCA position paper on the regulative principle of the church. (2) If you are interested in reading more on the subject here are some starters: 1- Joseph Pipa, The Lord's Day, 2- Walter Chantry, Calling the Sabbath a Delight, 3- John Owen, A Treatise on the Sabbath, 4- Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (3) Not only are the things within the "bookends" regulated by God, the entire day is: The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.(Isaiah 58:13; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Matthew 12:1-13) 1689 LBC Ch. 22, Par. 8. (4) John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible, http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/genesis-28-22.html Much thanks to Dr. Sam Waldron, Dean of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, for his excellent course on the doctrine of the church, from which the meat of the material written above was taken.