Wednesday, December 19, 2018
The problem of digital giving. . .
I am, in so may ways, indebted to the wisdom and work of the Rev. Heath Curtis, pastor of Trinity Lutheran in Worden, Illinois. He is certainly tasked with this responsibility on behalf of the LCMS but he is also devoted to the topic, as witnessed by his August 2018 interview on the Issues, Etc. Curtis has rightfully reminded us that from the Western Church’s ancient beginnings, the offertory is related to the Eucharist, and its position in the middle of Mass, between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, is not accidental but deliberate. In reviewing the liturgical history of the offertory, Curtis explained the people would bring up their gifts of bread and wine to the priest, as well as the first fruits of their labor, which they offered up to God for the support of the church. From these first fruits, the priest would offer up the bread to the Father, on behalf of the community, bread that would become the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.
“It absolutely matters how people give liturgically,” Curtis said. The Offertory, he said, is not simply a transition point between the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful, but for the people to “worship the Lord with the sacrifice of their giving.” Pastor Curtis said churches need to think deliberately about how to maintain that act of worship in giving and respond to the ways in which people are giving. The important task of the Church with respect to giving is to establish for the giving members the context of “first-fruits giving,” the setting aside or the tithe or a dedicated portion of their income to the Lord before their money goes to anything else, is a liturgical act whether done online or in the pew, whether it is done weekly or monthly or even quarterly. People who give automatically this way must be taught this connection and catechized in this connection so that even digital giving maintains this appropriate context for what we give and how we give it.
It is always an easy and tempting idea that giving to the Lord the tithes and offerings of a grateful people is really just paying a bill -- the same way we routinely pay bills online. When this happens and the liturgical shape of this giving disappears, this temptation is even grater to see giving as fair share activities and subscription fees in exchange either for belonging to or receiving services from the Church. Surely as we approach the solemn and profound season of the Father's gift of His most precious Son, it is time for us to speak anew of the worship of hands and resources to accompany our words, songs, and prayers. The response of God's people to God's most amazing gift is to kneel in worship, adore God in flesh, believe the Word of Promise about Him, and offer Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, as once the Magi did in Bethlehem and the wise still do in the Bethlehem of the Lord's House where He comes to us in the bread that is His flesh and in the cup of His blood.