I was developing a website for a church last year and I asked the guy in charge of the site if he wanted me to set him up with online giving through PayPal (see example). His response was, “Nah, I was searching the Scriptures in regards to that, and I found a verse that says to bring your tithes so I don’t think it is really biblical to do online giving.” I assume he was talking about Deuteronomy 12:11 – “Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the LORD:”.
Now, we could get into a discussion about biblical tithing and whether or not is mandated for New Testament Christians, but that is outside the scope of this post (maybe in the future!). The main question I’d like to answer is this: “Is online giving more biblical than passing the plate?” I can only assume that at this gentleman’s church, they traditionally “pass the plate” like most Baptist and mainstream churches do today. In fact, my church passes the plate, usually near the end of the service.
When I introduced online giving on my church website, I expected some mild resistance from a member or two. I didn’t have anyone in mind, but the general demographic of our church is probably 40’s-60’s, so naturally I expected some push-back against the technology of online giving. I was wrong. I didn’t get any push back or resistance, and my pastor, who is in his 60’s, welcomed the idea.
Now, back to the gentleman I spoke about above. Obviously, being a 28-year old technology and web-nerd, I am inclined to appreciate the convenience and simplicity of online giving. But let’s see what Scripture has to say about how we should give our offerings. First off, the word tithe is only mentioned twice in the New Testament, and both references are spoken of by Jesus – and He is ridiculing the Pharisees for being hypocritical with their tithes (see Matt 23:23 & Luke 11:42 – they both refer to the same incident, I believe). The only reason I bring that up is that I will use the word “offering” when talking about our voluntary gifts to the local church for God’s work.
I don’t think it is very wise to build any doctrine using a single verse. It is even more dangerous when you use a verse from Deuteronomy. As New Testament Christians, we are no longer under the law (hallelujah!), and therefore the laws of Deuteronomy are not directly applicable to our lives today. Sure, we can derive inspiration for Christian living from certain of the commandments, but the general idea that we can pull a verse from Deuteronomy and apply it to our lives today can be dangerous.
So what does the New Testament say about offerings and giving? Let’s take a quick look at a few key passages:
2 Cor 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
This verse gives us a good, general idea of how a New Testament Christian should give: not of necessity (not mandated), not grudgingly (with a good attitude), but cheerfully. So it doesn’t really give us a proper means or method of giving, but no matter how we are to give, we must be giving out of a cheeful heart because we love God.
Mat 6:1-4 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. (2) Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (3) But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: (4) That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
Now we are getting somewhere. From this passage, which is spoken by Jesus Himself, we can summarize three key thoughts:
- 1. When you give, don’t do it in front of people (v 1)
- 2. Don’t produce fanfare and bring attention to yourself when you give (v 2)
- 3. Do your giving in secret – and be so secretive, that your left hand is hidden from your right hand (v 3-4)
2Ki 12:9 But Jehoiada the priest took a chest, and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it beside the altar, on the right side as one cometh into the house of the LORD: and the priests that kept the door put therein all the money that was brought into the house of the LORD.
In this OT passage, we see King Jehoiada put an offering box in the temple so the priests could collect the money for the special building offering that was needed to repair the temple. This is one allusion to church goers bringing their offering to the church, but rather than passing a plate around while everyone watched, they gave their money to the priests, who then deposited the money in the offering box “on the right side as one cometh into the house of the Lord.”
I cannot find anywhere in Scripture (correct me if I missed it) where it says to pass an offering plate around so everyone can put their money in. I don’t see any direct or indirect references to this practice. If anyone knows the origin of this, please comment below and I will update the post (please provide a reference). Based on the limited passages I’ve described above, it seems that the most biblical way to give to God through your local church is through online giving. A case could be made for mailing in a paper check, or discreetly giving the money to the church accountant or administrator, but the latter two methods are not generally acceptable practice.
My point is this. Online giving, in my opinion (which is based on my limited knowledge of Scripture alone) is 100% biblical, and a case can be made that it is way more biblical than passing an offering plate or bag. I would love to see churches today offer several modes of giving such as: online giving, offering boxes in the back, mailing in a paper check, or even depositing into the church bank account directly at the bank. ALL of these methods seem more biblical to me than passing the plate.
As the offering plate/bag is passed, how in the world can we keep it a secret (Matthew 6:4)? This is out in the open, for everyone to see – which is directly contradicting the mandates of Christ in Matthew 6. My hypothesis is that pastors grew up in churches where the offering plate was passed, then they became pastors themselves and guess what they do – they pass the plate! I’m not even sure they think about a biblically acceptable practice for receiving offerings, but maybe they should think about it.
Another reason they may pass the plate is that they might think the offerings would be less if they didn’t. This is obviously the wrong attitude because God wants Christians to give cheerfully, not grudgingly (“here comes the plate again, I better put something in so Deacon Maddog, who is standing right next to me, doesn’t think that I don’t give”). If a pastor wants to pass the plate so he can keep the offerings up, then where is the pastor’s faith to provide the needs of the church? I’m not accusing every pastor who passes the plate of having a lack of faith, but you have to think that is a viable reason why the plate is passed in churches today.
So, what do you think? Are you a pastor? Do you pass the plate in your church? If so, why? I’d love to hear some constructive criticism and alternative points of view. Please leave your comments below. Thanks.
UPDATE: After the original post, I found this article on the history of giving offerings in American churches.