Why do we pass the offering plate?

Sunday after Sunday, I sit in the front and watch the offering plates passed back and forth across the aisles. People accept the plate if they have something to put in or if someone else in the row has something to give. Many of us today do not bring regular Sunday offerings. We give by check mailed periodically, we give by a regular debit to our account, or we give by transfer of stock. We give our offerings in a very different way today than we did a couple of years ago when I was a child. So, why do we pass the offering plate?  
We might believe we pass the offering plate because, “it’s always been done.” But history tells us this is not true. “Colonial American churches did not depend on voluntary, weekly giving from their members. Instead, as had been the case in Europe, the government established churches, sanctioning certain congregations and supporting them financially. Most New England colonies established Congregational churches, while the Southern colonies along with New York, New Jersey, and Maryland established the Anglican Church. Most of the colonies could not imagine a state without an established church. A prosperous society depended on having citizens of good character, and the people expected churches to create virtuous citizens. Since churches served the public good, it made sense to fund them through public taxes and fees—such as poll and property taxes—rather than voluntary offerings.
Public funding of American churches did not cease immediately after the American Revolution. Only in 1833, when Massachusetts rescinded its religious tax, was every state church in the Union officially disestablished.  Churches and pastors now had to come up with new ways to raise the funds they needed in order to survive and thrive in the free market of 19th-century American religion.
Churches used a variety of methods to raise money. For example, while some Christians today act like they own the pew they occupy each Sunday, many Christians in the 1800s actually did own their pew (or at least rented it). Other groups, such as the Baptists and Methodists, often preferred to use a subscription book, which listed the total funds needed in the front. A church would pass the book around, and the members would record how much they pledged to contribute that year. 
As pastors and other Christian leaders sought to motivate people to give, they increasingly looked to the Bible for support. In the late 19th century, people had come to see giving as a biblical mandate, a spiritual matter, and an act of worship. Therefore, it made sense to incorporate the collection of offerings into Sunday morning worship alongside preaching, singing, and prayer.”  
I too, believe our offering is a spiritual matter and should be part of worship. But with technology as it is today, what is the point? If we believe that all of what we have is our own doing, then maybe there is no point. But if we believe that all of what we have is a gift from God, then when the offering plate is passed, it is our reminder that nothing we have is our own. Even though we give our gifts to the church online or by check, Sunday morning is a good time for each of us to be reminded that whatever we have in our pocket is not ours.  
Excerpt from Passing the Plate by Mark Rogers, Christian History, March 12, 2009. Reprinted from www.christianhistory.net
Our family is going to start a new habit. We are going to look around our house on Saturday night or Sunday morning, and whatever change is laying around will be taken to church and put in the plate when it is passed. There is something spiritual that happens when we pass the plate from one person to another. There is something to be gained by releasing from our hands and putting into the hands of others. There is the possibility to be moved by the person seated next to us, but it can only happen when we give of ourselves.  
Why do we pass the offering plate? It’s because our life will be changed when we give Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, not worried about what we give, but that we give.
~ Eldonna Hazen
 

Posted on July 16, 2014 at 9:16 am in Featured Content.

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