The Elements of Public Worship
“What Ought To Be Done in Meetings for Worship. Although it is permitted all men to read the Holy Scriptures privately at home, and by instruction to edify one another in the true religion, yet in order that the Word of God may be properly preached to the people, and prayers and supplication publicly made, also that the sacraments may be rightly administered, and that collections may be made for the poor and to pay the cost of all the Church’s expenses, and in order to maintain social intercourse, it is most necessary that religious or Church gatherings be held. For it is certain that in the apostolic and primitive Church, there were such assemblies frequented by all the godly.” – The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) – Chapter XXII, Of Religious and Ecclesiastical Meetings
In his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” (1 Cor. 16:1-2)
Here Paul is instructing the members of the church that it is their duty to give as the Lord has prospered them for the relief of needy members of the church. He instructs that this collection should be held on the first day of the week (i.e. Sunday) and presumably this took place at the time when the members of the church gathered together to worship the Lord. We learn from this that an acceptable part of our Sabbath day worship is the collection wherein Christians set aside a portion of the riches that God has given for the relief of the poor, the furtherance of the Gospel, and the “cost of all the Church’s expenses.”
Throughout the Old Testament the giving of tithes and offerings was an essential part of the worship of God’s people, it was a visible sign of their heartfelt devotion to the Lord. “But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.” (Deut 12:5-6) To withhold a portion of their tithes or worse, to not tithe at all, was considered robbing God: “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” (Mal. 3:8)
God has promised His people that His blessings will always exceed their giving: “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.” (Mal. 3:10) Therefore as Christians we are to give joyfully as an act of worship, knowing that we are only stewards of all that we have, that God who is merciful will see to our needs, and that the ultimate purpose of the collection is to help spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
A few notes and observations about the collection and Old School Presbyterians.
The Collection is not specifically mentioned in the Westminster Standards, which frankly is not surprising given that at the time of their composition, it was assumed that they would be the Confession of all the established churches of the British Isles. The established churches were supported by tax revenues collected by the state, and thus the salaries of Pastors and the expenses of the church were paid by the government and collections were not necessary for that purpose. However, even with state support, the Directory For the Publick Worship of God, assumes that collections will be irregularly taken up during public worship to relieve the needs of the poor.
Obviously the needs of churches in the United States are no longer met by the state, and therefore generally speaking it is the giving of God’s people alone that meets the needs of the church. Unfortunately, recent polls tell us that only 4 percent of believers tithe, and the average level of giving is 2.3 percent of income. Now 2.3% is not a sacrifice, I mean I hate to say it, but I probably misplace more than 2.3% of my income and my wife can attest to that. R.C. Sproul is probably right when he noted that this trend was probably a sign of the spiritual weakness of American churchgoers, or as he put it, “Stewardship and tithing are easy in comparison with many aspects of Christian life, so a faithless giver will likely neglect weightier matters of faith.”
Regarding how much you should be giving to to the kingdom; that is ultimately between you and God, but it should never simply be from your excess. Remember the example of King David who came to make a sacrifice at a particular threshing floor in 2 Sam. 24:20-25 and his servant Araunah offered to give Him the threshing floor and the oxen and the wood as a gift, but David said “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.”
Whatever your tithe is, make sure it really is a sacrifice rather than simply a surplus.
More important than simply the amount however, our tithing should be a heartfelt act of giving rather than simply a grudgingly performed duty. Therefore let your tithing be done:
According to your true ability, as the Lord has prospered you – “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2)
Generously, cheerfully, and from the heart – “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)
Before God, and not so that other men would see you – “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” (Matt. 6:3-4)
[I had intended to publish this much later on, but a question from a reader caused me to bring it considerably forward in the order.]