A reader wrote me recently to ask what I thought of tithing or giving offerings to the church electronically. These days many churches allow and even encourage giving to be done automatically – the bank simply transfers funds directly from a person’s account to the church’s account at a set time of the month. This reader had a concern about this program. Having spent some time thinking about it, I came to realize that I do too.
There are a couple of real benefits to this method of giving to the church. First, a member of a church can ensure that he is giving consistently. He can simply tally the amount he makes on a monthly basis, decide how much of this he would like to give to the church, and know that it will be given each month. Second, this member of the church does not have to worry about forgetting to give financially. He will not be one of those people hurriedly scribbing a check using a tiny little “pew pencil” while the offering basket is coming down the row towards him. Even if he is on vaction, he will be giving to the church. Third, the church will not see the usual decline in giving during the holiday periods because the money will be debited from members’ accounts regardless of whether or not they are present in church.
So what could be wrong with this? It is convenient. It ensures we are giving to the Lord what we know He requires and deserves.
But there is a question that arises. Isn’t our giving to the Lord an act of worship? Is this not one of the few acts of corporate worship that we see clearly practiced in the early church of the New Testament? If our giving is an act of worship, are we not missing out on this if we make our giving automated? It is odd that while no one would think of doing all their singing during the week and then standing silent during the songs of corporate worship on Sunday, people will do this with giving. Or what if I chose to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Thursday so I could leave church a little earlier on Sunday? Clearly this would be deemed inappropriate.
A couple of years ago, when I was visiting my parents in Atlanta, I attended their small, Presbyterian church with them. Immediately prior to the offering the pastor told the congregation that this was an opportunity to worship the Lord. He told the visitors that they were not expected to give, but encouraged them to watch and consider what these Christians were doing as they gave the firstfruits of their labor to the Lord. This allowed unbelievers to consider the fact that when Christians participate in giving they are worshipping. But what of those who stood silent and still, arms crossed, with nothing to give? Were they worshipping or merely watching?
As I pondered this, I remembered that Don Whitney wrote about a similar situation in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. The book was published in 1991, before the advent of electronic giving, but Whitney deals with a similar situation with people who give only in the weeks they are paid. He provides a useful quote from Wayne Watts’ book The Gift of Giving.
“While researching the Biblical principles of giving, I considered the subject of worship. Frankly, I had never before studied worship in detail to find out God’s point of view. I have come to the conclusion that giving, along with our thanksgiving and praise, is worship. In the past I made pledges to my church to be paid on a yearly basis. Once a month, I would write a check while in church and drop it in the collection plate. Sometimes I would mail a check from my office. My objective was for the church to get the total pledge before the end of the year. Though I had already experienced the joy of giving, the act of making my gift had little relationship to worship. While I was writing this book God convicted me to begin giving every time I went to church. The verse that spoke to me about this was Deuteronomy 16:16 – “Do not appear before Me empty-handed.” When I started doing this, if a check were not handy, I gave cash. At first I thought about keeping up with the money given. Then God convicted me again. He seemed to say, “You do not need to keep up with the amount of cash. Give to me simply out of a heart of love, and see how much you enjoy the service.” I made this change in giving habits, and it has greatly enhanced my joy in our worship services.”
Whitney’s encouragement is for believers to bring a gift to the Lord at each worship service. If giving is an integral part of our worship, we can only participate if we come with something to give to God. We can only make giving an act of worship, if we actually give. So I suppose I would have to say that while I do not disagree with electronic giving, we still need to regard the offering as a time of worship that we will benefit from only if we participate in it. Thus we should bring something to the Lord each time we enter His house. Even if this is only a small amount of cash, this will still allow us to participate. So give however you wish, but heed Watts’ challenge not to appear before God empty-handed.