Regnum Potentiae


The Offering As An Element Of Worship

September 10, 2016

Question: Should the the collection of tithes and offerings be considered a divinely instituted element of corporate worship?

Before taking up the question directly it is first requisite that we determine the scope of that which is to be answered. Specifically it is important to know specifically what is not being disputed.

What is not disputed

The question is not whether an honorable maintenance is due to ministers of the gospel. The light of nature itself teaches that those men who are set apart for the service of God ought to be held in reverence and their physical needs provided for. Hence the Scriptures demonstrate that even Gentile kings show this work of the law upon their heart when they ensure the provision of such (Gen. 47:22; Ezra 7:24). Additionally the Lord explicitly appointed such maintenance for His ministers under the Old Covenant economy through the various tithes, first fruit offerings, cities of refuge and other means. The New Testament Church then ought to learn by way of analogy that the Lord has ordained that they who preach the gospel should make their living from that preaching (1Cor. 9:13-14). Furthermore it is the moral duty of those who are served by such ministers to ensure such a honorable maintenance is provided and a failure in this duty is sacrilege and a violation of the second commandment (WLC 109).

Neither is the question whether at least one tenth of a mans income ought to be returned to the Lord to fulfil his purposes. Just as God has made the number seven the periodical number of time he has made ten the periodical number of substance. Therefore just as men are to set apart at least one day in seven for the perpetual service of him, so too they are to set apart at least one tenth of their substance in the recognition of HimFor a fuller explination, see Joseph Mede, The Works of the Pious and Profoundly-learned Joseph Mede: Corrected and Enlarged According to the Authors Own Manuscripts. R. Norton, 1677. pp. 171-173; Increase Mather, A Discourse Concerning the Maintenance Due to those That Preach the Gospel: In Which, That Question Whether Tithes Are By the Divine Law the Ministers Due, Is Considered, And the Negative Proved. Boston:NE, Printed by B. Green 1706. pp. 42-43Hence we see that both Abraham and Jacob are instructed by the light of nature in this regard (Gen. 14:20; 28:22).

Neither is it the question whether the Lords Day is a fitting time to collect that which is due for the maintenance of the church or for the dispersion to the needy. As our Lord said, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day (Mark 3:4), and that it is good for us to collect for the needy specifically because it is the day that the Lord has set apart to be holy unto Himself (Neh. 8:10).

Statement of the disputed question

The question specifically is whether the collection of tithes and offerings ought to be considered a divinely instituted element of worship. God has told us that that when we come into His presence to worship Him we are to be careful to do only that which He has commanded (Lev. 10:1,3), being careful not to add to, nor take away from what He has specifically ordained (Deut. 12:32). Therefore it is not sufficient to show that the collection of tithes and offerings themselves are warranted in Scripture, but that the Scriptures explicitly command them specifically in the context of new testament corporate worship.

Why the offering ought not be considered an element of worship

Although the Scriptures do command the collection of tithes and offerings as a means of ensuring the maintenance of the kingdom, they do not specifically instruct that these collections should be a part of the worship of God. Therefore, absent such a command the regulative principle does not allow for its introduction into the divine worship itself. However we must discuss the places where some might seek to find divine warrant for such an introduction to clear the conscience.

Some appeal to the fact that the Old Testament frequently puts forth the necessity of bringing gifts or offerings to be used in the context of worship as a ground for the offering as an element of worship. However when a worshiper brought such items to offer to God they did not do so merely as creatures coming to worship God, but as priests offering the appointed sacrifices God requires. As Matthew Henry describes, even "Cain and Abel brought to Adam, as the priest of the family, each of them an offering to the Lord, for the doing of which we have reason to think there was a divine appointment given to Adam...God would thus try Adams faith in the promise and his obedience to the remedial law...and give shadows of good things to come."Matthew Henry, Exposition of the Old and New Testament. Philadelphia, 1828. p 49. It was the standing order then since the fall when people came to worship, they were to "not appear before the LORD empty handed" (Deut. 16:16; Ex. 34:20).

However in the New Covenant those sacerdotal ceremonies have come to their fulfillment in Christ, Him being the High Priest of the good things to come (Heb. 9:11). There is no further need of these priestly offerings because by Christs one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14). The only sacrifices which the people of God offer under the New Covenant administration is sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15), presenting our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1) acceptable to God through the once for all sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:10). The High Priest has brought His sacrifice and so its types have passed away.

This issue was particularly well understood by the first generation of reformers when they dealt medieval offering prior to the Lords supper. Prior to the reformation the catholic liturgy incorporated a collection to pay for the bread and the wine that was then being offered through the "bloodless sacrifice" of the massF.E. Brightman, The English Rite. London, Rivingtons, 1915. v1, p. cv; v2, p. 662. Protestants uniformly removed this from their liturgies because they understood there was no sacerdotal offering taking place but rather a memorial of Christs death and a sharing in His benefits through the consuming of his body and bloodFor a full account of this historically see: Elise McKee, John Calvin, On the Diaconate and Liturgical Almsgiving. Massot, Geneve, 1984. p 28; Hughes Oliphant Old, The Patristic Roots Of Reformed Worship. Zurich, Theologischer Verlag, 1975. pp. 12,14,17,19, 80, 87. Hence there was no need for the people to bring a payment or an offering to the altar, because the altar had been removed and replaced with a table of fellowship.

Second, contrary to the sacerdotal ordinary offerings that have already been mentioned, the ordinary maintenance of ministers under the Old Covenant through tithes was not a matter of public worship but rather an ordinary moral duty, governed by civil authority. For example in 2 Chronicles 31:4-12, King Hezekiah exercised authority over the collection of the tithes, commanding that the people give the proper portion to the priests and the Levites. When the people obeyed they did not bring the tithes as offerings to the temple but rather brought together all the things and "laid them in heaps" (2Chron 31:6), obeying the command of the law through the king. Similarly in Nehemiah 13:10-13 when Nehemiah saw that tithes for the Levites were not being delivered over to them he confronted not the people on their way to worship, but lesser magistrates (Neh. 13:11). They then ensured that the people were faithful to bring their tithes into the treasuries or storehouse (verse 12), not to a worship service as an element in worship. Therefore the ordinary maintenance of ministers continues to be a moral duty, but not one that is which is commanded in corporate worship.

Lastly, the objection that the apostle Pauls admonition to the churches in 1Cor. 16:1-2 gives warrant for an offering in corporate worship cannot be acknowledged.

Firstly, the collection that Paul is speaking of is not an ordinary collection for the maintenance of the ministry, but a specific gift for the poor and suffering within the Church at Jerusalem (1Cor. 16:3; cf Rom. 15:26). Therefore this could not possibly itself authorize a general collection in corporate worship, but could at most authorize special diaconal offerings.

Secondly, it cannot even authorize diaconal offerings in the divine worship because the duty which Paul admonishes the church to in these verses is not a duty that pertains to how one must worship (ie the second commandment), but a duty that pertains to how one ought to keep the sabbath (ie the fourth commandment). Paul commands that on the "mian sabbaton" (the first day of the week, the Christian Sabbath) the people are to consider the saints in Jerusalem, and lay something aside for them because of their poverty. This is not a new duty, but one which Ezra had admonished the people to as well in Nehemiah 8:10. After the completion of the morning worship service, the people were weeping because of the reading and explanation of the Law that they had heard. Ezra admonishes the people that the sabbath is not a day for mourning and weeping, but rejoicing, instructing them to "Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord". That is because the Sabbath is to be a delight(Isa 58:13) one of the duties implied in the keeping of it is to charitably lighten the burden of those whose providential circumstances make such delight more difficult For a fuller treatment of this topic see Zacharias Ursinus commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, question 103, section vi.. This is the same duty which Paul calls the Corinthian christians to observe. It is not a duty commanding something for corporate worship, but for how one ought to keep the sabbath - as a day - holy. This is why Paul modifies the statement with "para heautou"(each one by himself) making it a particular and private duty rather than a public one to be observed in public worship.

Lastly, the statement would not have been understood to the first century audience as referring to corporate worship. As has already been implied, the common Jewish usage of the word "thesaurizo" (treasuring or storing up in the passage) was the placing of offerings into treasury boxes outside of worship, either outside the temple (Mk. 12:41; Lk. 21:1), the city treasuries or storehouses (Neh. 13:12; 2Chron. 31:6), or at the synagogue. These "Tzedakah boxes" are clearly described in the Mishneh and the Talmud (cf Mishneh Torah, "Laws Concerning Gifts for the Poor" 7:5; Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 104a, Hagigah 5a, Baba Batra 9b). Just as we believe that the first century church would have known that "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 referred to singing only the Psalms of David on account of the Jewish practice in synagogues so too they would have understood this according to the same practice.