As instrumentalists play or a soloist sings, as ushers file slowly down the aisles, congregants give money as an act of worship and to support the ministry of the church. If the people don't give, then the pastor goes unpaid, the building never gets built, and the missionaries stay home. When Christians go to church, most expect the collection of an offering as much as they expect preaching, singing, and prayer. Unlike preaching, singing, and prayer, however, the weekly offering did not become a fixture in American worship services until the late 19th century.
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. While the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibited Congress from establishing a national church, the states still supported churches through taxes. In the years following the Revolution, men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Leland fought against religious establishment in Virginia. Isaac Backus and other Baptist ministers led the charge in New England. Only in 1833, when Massachusetts rescinded its religious tax, was every state church in the Union officially disestablished.
- You can read the rest of the article HERE. . .
Christianity History offers an interesting review of the offering plate. . .
From then on, churches in America have tried pew rent, pledges, assessments, free-will offerings, tithes, guilt, inspiration, and fund raising to finance the work of the Kingdom. It is a sorry history of begging in the Name of the Lord and it remains to me one of the saddest things Pastors and congregational leaders must do -- ask people for money. (Look at the picture... a couple of singles and a fiver... oh, yea, that'll by a lot of ministry!!)
While we assume the offering plate has been around forever, it has not. Some churches do not have offering plates and do not take time to pass them around on Sunday morning. They have alms boxes or offering slots and people put their tithes and offerings in them on their way into the sanctuary. One Roman Catholic congregation was robbed but the thieves did not get the plates -- they do not use them -- the thieves ripped out the alms boxes and offering "kiosks" in the narthex.
The passing of the plate is on the verge of being challenged by "on-line giving" (which you can do here at Grace Lutheran Church by going to this secure web page and supporting God's work in this place from the privacy of your own home -- shameless plug). This has become not an option but a necessity as more and more folks use debit cards or credit cards only and neither carry cash nor write out paper checks anymore.
One of the great things about Constantine and the status of "official religion of the empire" that followed was that he and his successors opened the treasury of the empire (and their own personal wealth) to support the Church and her work (it was never fully supported only by the Sunday offering). Since we don't have a monarchy and since our version of nobility (the politically elite, media stars, landed gentry, and successful entrepreneurs) are not so generous (take a gander at how little Obama gives to "charity" while protesting his critics who wonder if he is Christian).
I for one wish we would go back to the tax. That is how the tithe started out -- a God tax. Look it up in the Old Testament. So far as I know, Jesus never said, "Okay, now that I am here lets ditch that awful temple tax." Instead He said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." St. Paul told us all that "God loveth a cheerful giver" but apparently giving is not done very cheerfully by the majority of folks in any given congregation since the IRS tells us the average family gives annually a paltry percentage of income (after taxes) somewhere around 2%. So I vote the God tax -- no more fund raising appeals, no more guilt sessions when we don't meet the budget, no more offering envelopes, no more uncomfortable emergency calls for cash, and no more embarrassing bulletin blurbs that say how little was given last week and how much we are behind our budget... and we get to save the time it takes to pass around those plates, solemnly bring them forward, and sing about how much we really love to give (and would if we only had extra money)...
I feel better now... I am going to sit down and write out a great stewardship sermon!!