Translations of 1Cor 16:1-6

During recent months, I’ve been involved in 1Corinthians as a translation project, along with a group of others whose Greek skills are far better than mine.  As part of this program, a short description of which may be found at http://coffeewithpaul.com/gnt3/ (scroll down to #3 under “More Information”), study partners work on both a “literal” and a “paraphrase” or “idiomatic” translation and receive feedback both in a live presentation and via e-mail.  As I’m able, I become somewhat familiar with other translators’ texts, and I learn along the way, but this is the third time I’ve tried my hand; 16:1-6 was my text this time.  [My first text was 4:1-5 (one blogpost here); my second was 11:23-26 (which I may post soon).]

Below I’m offering my translations of 16:1-6.  If you have questions or comments, I’m all ears.  “Why did you translate _____ instead of _____ or ______?”  “Why did you go in X direction with Y phrase?”  I may or may not have a good answer to your question, but I’ll appreciate the question, just the same.

One difficulty I had with this text—and there were many—was the very use of the word “collection” when Paul is clearly not recommending a weekly collection of funds into a common treasury.  An eventual bringing-together of the stored funds is in view in v2, but I’ve opted for “scare quotes” in the idiomatic translation of v1.

Should you want to compare my renderings with more reputable but less salient 🙂  English translations, here’s one place to go (opens a 2nd window).

LITERAL

1 Now, about the for-the-saints collection . . . as I instructed the Galatian churches, so also you should all do:   2 On the first [day] of the week, each of you should put aside [money], storing it, according to how well things are going,[1] so that no collections[2] need occur when I get there. 3 Then, whenever I arrive, I will send the approved ones [3] with letters so they may convey the gift to Jerusalem; 4 and, if my going is advisable,[4] as well, it’s with me they’ll go.

5 And I will come to you when I’ve passed through Macedonia[5]—and I will pass through Macedonia—6 and I will perhaps remain with you or even spend the winter there, so that you might send me on my way to wherever I should go.

PARAPHRASE

1 Now, getting to the matter of the “collection” for the ones who’ve been made holy . . . all of you, please do follow the same directions that I gave the Galatian churches:

2 On the first day of the week, each one, put some money aside—saving it up (according to your financial prosperity)—so a focused collection effort as such shouldn’t be necessary when I get there.

3 Then, when I do show up, I will send these you’ve approved, commissioning the combined gift onward to Jerusalem with my endorsements. 4 If at that point my also traveling seems to be a good idea, well, then it’s with me they’ll go.

5 And I will visit you in conjunction with my journey through Macedonia—yes, I’ll definitely be going through there—6 and I might stay a long while with you, up to and including wintering there, so that you can send me on my way wherever I go next.

[1] εὐοδῶται | euodōtai—traditionally, “how you are being prospered” or some such. BDAG offers, “. . . in our lit. only the pass. is used, and not literally ‘be led along a good road.’” The word (used only 3x in the NT: here, Rom. 1:10, and 3John 2) appears to suggest how things are going financially, i.e., how one is prospering. The NRSV goes a bit further with “whatever extra you earn,” and some have suggested allusion to any recent business deals. These translations leave the particular reference open here, rather speaking to a general sense of “how things have been going.”

[2] λογειαι | logeiaiL-N suggests a verbal meaning for this plural noun (a word used only in 1Cor 16 in the NT): “the act of collecting contributions, especially those involving voluntary response.” Other lexicographers have pointed out the distinction between this “collection” on the one hand and the Jewish tithe for Levites on the other. Found primarily in inscriptions and papyri, λογειαι has connotations of being voluntary (i.e., no “taxation” sense) and for “religious purposes.” This plural would seem to have a different shade of meaning than the singular λογεία in 16:1. I read the 16:1 instance as a nonstandard or special-sense use of “collection”—perhaps with the “scare quotes” I have included in the paraphrase—since Paul goes on in v2 to prescribe individual action. At some point, v3, the individual reserves are come together in some sort of collected whole.

[3] Greek texts differ in where a comma is inserted to segment the passage. The resultant question is whether the words διʼ ἐπιστολῶν | di’ epistolōn go with the verb πέμψω | pempsō or with the verb δοκιμάσητε | dokimasēte. That is to say, the comma-less Greek text does not clarify whether the Corinthians are writing approval letters or Paul is writing letters to send with them to Jerusalem. To an extent, my translations leave this question open.

[4] Or, fitting, worthwhile, or valuable.

[5] Lit., Μακεδονίαν | Makedonian. English convention has been to render the kappa with a c.

A common church lie

Now, all y’all atheists, don’t get all excited.   This is not what you think.

While I believe there are doctrinal and philosophical lies ushered around on the arm of Christianity, my concern for today is not particularly doctrinal.  In fact, the topic here is nearly a-scriptural and merely a function of church tradition.  It has little to no bearing on “salvation” in eternity.

I’m by no means the first to have noted this negatively.  I’m concerned here with a tradition peculiar to the Church of Christ (and, I think, the Christian Church — which I have much less first-hand experience with).

I’m speaking of habits in the ritual practice of communion and the collection.  It’s the joining at the hip — the both-and — that bothers me.  Far too often, it goes like this:

  1. Sermonette/”table talk” or scripture reading
  2. Prayer for the bread
  3. Passing around of the bread trays
  4. Prayer for the “cup,”¹ with or without additional comments
  5. Passing around of the juice trays
  6. The mumbled phrase, “And now, ‘separate and apart from the Lord’s supper,’ we’re going to take up an offering for the Lord’s work. . . .”
  7. Passing around of the collection trays

Of the Sunday morning church assemblies I’ve been in, the above items have occurred in this exact sequence about 98.6% of the time, and my temperature is rising because of the communicable disease that has been spread.

Aside:  it bears asserting that, while both communion and the collection have longstanding traditions associated with them, only communion has a real biblical rationale.  The presence of the collection in the liturgy is born of the traditional understanding that we must support religious systems.  While there are very good (some explicitly biblical) supports for charitable giving, no valid, scriptural rationale exists for a weekly, ritual collection.

It also bears mention that there are scads of other aspects of communion that are more important to consider, practice, and discuss.  But the theological underpinnings of either communion or charitable giving are way too deep for my simple purposes today.  Establishing that there is or is not a rationale for one or both of these is not my raison ecrire.

Please refer to #6 above.

The main point here is this:  it is a stupidity, really, to perpetuate the illusion that the two are “separate” when they are completely conjoined in actual practice.  We say they are “separate and apart” while, in reality, they are not at all separate.  In an ironic turn of the tables, so to speak, many men who are designated “table talkers” even make a point of connecting the two through their comments.  Communion and the collection may thereby become joined not only in terms of sequence and time, but also in theological concept.

Falling over ourselves to claim the two practices are separate surely warrants the adjective “disingenuous,” at least.  I would go so far as to say we have frequently borne false witness.

We ought either to stop doing it the way we do it, or stop telling the lie.

===============

¹ We say “cup” since we’re chicken to say “juice” and chicken to use wine, as some of the songs have it.

Dollar drop

I think often of all the things we do poorly or even wrong as parents.  We want our little boy to experience life safely and well . . . and with joy, when possible.  We make a few good decisions, probably more bad ones, and way too many non-decisions (which is probably worse than bad decisions).

Anyway, our current congregation has the habit of singing a song while the children drop dollar bills in an offering jar, up near the place where the leaders USdollarstand.  I call this activity the “dollar drop.”  A weekly event, it never fails to make a large number of people smile, including the children.

The first Sunday, of course, we didn’t know what was going on.  We had a decision to make.  You see, the situation can get out of hand with just the right mixture of chilluns and adults, so we felt we should set a limit.  We wanted our son to experience this whole thing, mostly for him but also for the life of the church . . . but we didn’t want him to run around excessively, drawing too much attention.

So we came up with a rule — a practice for our son.  Each Sunday, he takes one dollar from us and puts it in the jar, then he is allowed to take one more dollar from one of the adults who are, fern-like, smiliningly dangling dollars all around the hall.  After he’s done, with a lot of energy and a big smile himself, our nearly-five-year-old returns to his seat.  He knows his rule and has even told others about it.  He seems comfortable with it.

Sometimes I wonder if we have stolen some of Jedd’s joy.  In other words, if he could run around and grab four or five more dollars, would he learn more of the joy of giving?

For now, I think it is fine the way it is.  We’re not ones who believe children should get too much focus when in groups of adults.  This is plenty, and I think it is going fine.  A few adults may think we are too hard on him, but that is okay with me.  (At least, it is better than the other way around.)  We know Jedd better than they do, and He seems both obedient and happy.  I should be so obedient and happy!

We’re comfortable with the effect of the way he, as a member of our family, does the dollar drop.  But, believe me, we don’t always make parenting decisions that turn out this seemingly well.  Good thing we’re blessed with a child who doesn’t require a lot of correction.  He is not particularly strong-willed, so we don’t have battles of will.  He likes pleasing others and being affectionate and hanging out and helping.  He also thinks of others fairly often.

Hey, isn’t this backwards?  He’s more of a good example for me than the other way around!

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Collecting (my thoughts)

collection plateMaybe it was just me,¹ but I grew up thinking that contributing to a collection plate every Sunday was a practice legislated by the Bible.

I know full well that most evangelical churches teach or strongly suggest this very habit, but the nature of the devoted-biblicist orientation in the Church of Christ gave the idea a special focus.

As nearly as I can tell or remember, the chief text that suggests that such a contribution is 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.  Here, supposedly, one is told a) to contribute b) weekly, on Sunday.

Problem is, there are hermeneutical issues on several matters in this text.  

Matter one.  First off, I would ask how “lay by in store” equates to “take it out of your pocket/purse and put it in a plate.”  I suppose we could say that the church treasury is the “storehouse” into which we’re “laying by,” but few church treasuries I’ve known about could aptly be characterized as being in existence to address physical needs, which was presumably the situation in view in 1 Corinthians.

Matter two.  There is another phrase that, at least in my memory, the religious professionals conveniently left out.  You see, even the King James has it right:  “lay by him in store,” yet the way I remember it was “lay by in store.”  Catch the difference?  If we leave out the “by him,” it’s easier to justify an institutional collection.  Other NT uses of this word, e.g., in Luke 12:21, also appear to communicate storing up for, or by, oneself.

The NASB renders it “put aside and save,” with a note that sent me scurrying to Greek resources.  (You’d think I’d have done this long ago, feeling as I do, but I’m not that devoted.)  Sure enough:  there are three original wordings that translate roughly as 1) putting 2) by oneself, and 3) storing up.

The long & short:  contributing to a plate forchurchupkeep the sake of institutional support could only vaguely be suggested by 1 Corinthians 16.

Matter three.  We at least ought to question the first-day-of-the-week “rule.”  Might the expression “as he is prospered” imply some chronological correspondence with financial intake, in addition to relating giving to total prosperity?  In other words, a) if one has no income, or b) if that income is taken in on a schedule other than weekly on Fridays or Saturdays, it seems to me that every-Sunday contribution makes little sense.  The passive-voice, subjunctive-mood Greek tense of  the verb (which doesn’t always appear this way in English) “might be prospered” would further appear to suggest that it is not a given that everyone is always “prospered” and therefore will be storing up.  No, the “prospering” involves an implied “if.” ²

Incidentally, some churches (maybe yours?) offer means of giving “online” — which really isn’t completely online anymore, since so much is wireless, but that’s beside the point.  Maybe you want to use that convenience.  For me, online giving wouldn’t really be preferable unless I could set it up as a recurring, automatic “payment,” but that’s bad, because giving for God’s purposes would be in the category of bill-paying.  This is the case for us with giving to World Vision.  I have to admit that I don’t think about the small, monthly, automatic “gift” we make until we get some correspondence from this organization.  Anyway, some might at least enjoy the freedom of matching “when I get paid” with “when I contribute.”

A comparative hermeneutical glance might also be cast in the direction of 2 Corinthians 8:2.  The notion of giving as one is able, or according to what he has, is present there, as well.

Those who don’t feel lists of responsibilities in life might not be bothered by the notion that writings a check is just something you have to do every Sunday, but I am.  I would be more impelled by, say, spontaneity, purposeful giving, desire to be generous because of heart, cognizance of generosity I have experienced, etc.  Somehow, the checking off of the “write check” box on a Sunday “list” doesn’t get it for me.

I hasten to add that such preferences or likes/dislikes of mine wouldn’t matter if scripture clearly instructed otherwise.  Fact is, though, that while there are historical, institutional, and even individual conscience reasons for church contributions, freedom exists in this arena, scripturally speaking.

Matter four:  what should be made of the occasional nature of the letter to the Corinthian believers?  If we understand all scripture (really? all of it?) as prescriptive — as a sort of blueprint — we’re a) illogical and b) in trouble!  This “1 Corinthians” letter was, after all, written to people in Corinth in a certain time and place.  It seems as though there was a specific situation that Paul wanted them to be ready for.  A principle of saving (or an overall life-ideal of using “margin”) might be extracted, but a legal practice for all time isn’t in view here.  The virtuous principle of generosity is admirable, and to be practiced, but, moreover, when Jesus affirmed the woman with the two bits, I doubt she was giving to the establishment or to the new temple fund.

So, just recently I was reconsidering all this, having decided to contribute some to our church according to our monthly pay schedule.  Our church hasn’t made me feel uncomfortable about not contributing regularly . . . and it’s a good thing — we’re living in the red, so I might facetiously ask for alms if someone asked why I didn’t drop a check in the plate!  The vested interests of the leadership in most churches would make people pretty uncomfortable, though, if pew-people thought they should contribute according to their paychecks.  Making “giving” more connected to “prosperity” (and less of a habit) might reduce the overall church income.  And that would be bad in terms of fiscal affairs.

[Please, no one bring up the word “tithe.”  The tithe was for the support of Levitical priests, wasn’t it?  It is not directly related to the Christian age.]

I grew up feeling that contributing to a church treasury was a godly principle and practice, and I don’t think it was just me.¹  It’s not that it’s not godly to give; of course it is.  But the rationales and practices deserve some challenge and have led to unfounded guilt that I am trying, finally, to get rid of.  Its vestiges still give me a bit of discomfort.

I have the distinct feeling that if I had not had an unhelpful notion of giving solidifying in me for all these years, I would now find it less of an effort to be charitable and generous.  

But, if you should be shaking your head at my questions and challenges in tradition-submissive churchmanship, you might smile again if you knew that, during the final editing of this essay, I wrote a check to our (fairly traditional) church.  I am doing it because I want to, because I’m thinking of dear hearts there and their desires to do good, and because I have experienced God’s blessing in the last couple of days.  Incidentally, it happens to be payday two days later.  Maybe I should have waited till next Sunday.  Nah. . . .

==============

¹ Here’s another “maybe it was just me” post:  Communion

²  Hmm.  It strikes me to mention that certain televangelisty theology assumes financial prosperity for faithful Christians, while Paul does not assume that here.  Not surprising that there’s a philosophical gap between the two.

A seasonal offering meditation

We sing,

All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;

Seriously?

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;

Really?

Another verse for this song—rarely sung—says this:

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

It would seem that if we feel the joy of full salvation, we will not only 1) worship, but will also 2) live a life of giving … and this life lived becomes a reflection of the redemption gift we have been given.  We will not only relate vertically but also exist horizontally in relation to others.

During this season, the thought of giving to others may lead you to one of several follow-up thoughts:

  • “Gift of the Magi,” the short story by O. Henry, in which the poor husband buys a set of expensive combs for his wife’s beautiful hair, at roughly the same time that the wife cuts her hair off and sells it for a few dollars to a wig-maker so she could buy her husband a present
  • Any number of other seasonal movies in which the heart comes alive and becomes tender and giving
  • Or maybe the pure, childlike heart represented in “The Little Drummer Boy” – giving what he could
  • Better yet, the widow’s mite … or the woman of Luke 7 who gave the gift of penitence and washed Jesus’ feet with her heart’s tears.  She gave herself, I would say, in spontaneous worship—and that, in itself, was a gift.

The communion remembrance, however distant from its origins, is a gift to Him.  A gift of the heart.  And we now have opportunity to give other gifts for various sub-causes that come under His Lordship in our congregation.


Inhospitability, considered further (2)

Neither visitors nor regular members of a church should be guilted into contributing money.  I “contributed” toward this kind of guilt inducement last Sunday myself, and I repent.  This post continues from yesterday’s.

I vaguely recall that Tommy, a fellow leader at a church in Texas years ago, was of the mind to link communion and collection even more solidly and inextricably than most–by intentionally connecting 1) what Jesus gave to 2) what we give.  On the surface, this seems as logical as it is spiritual.  What could motivate us more to give money but a fuller realization of the fact that Jesus gave it all?  Strains of gospel songs waft over the Christian airstreams:

Jesus paid it all!  All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.  He washed it white as snow.

~ ~ ~

But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe.

~ ~ ~

Savior, Thy dying love Thou gavest me.
Nor should I aught withhold, dear Lord, from Thee.
In love my soul would bow, my heart fulfill its vow,
Some off’ring bring Thee now–something for Thee.

~ ~ ~

Why did my Savior come to earth and to the humble go? …
Why did He drink the bitter cup of sorrow, pain, and woe? …
He gave His precious life for me because He loved me so.

~ ~ ~

I led the immediately preceding song last Sunday, and I’m afraid it contributed to a negative kind of guilt induction.  Follow the line?  “He gave His precious life” naturally leads, at that time in the official Sunday proceedings, to “well, at least I can give 50 bucks like everyone else.” This is not what the Lord had in mind with communion … and He doesn’t appear to have had anything in mind at all with regard to the Sunday collection of an offering, since there is no example of, or instruction related to, such an offering.

Perhaps the worst of all is the song I have led around communion and collection in past years (many churches would call this song the “offertory”):

I gave my life for thee; my precious bled I shed,
That thou might’st ransomed be, and quickened from the dead.
I gave, I gave my life for thee.
What hast thou given for me?

The crowning glory embarrassment is in the final stanza:

And I have brought to thee, down from My home above,
Salvation full and free–my pardon and My love;
I bring, I bring rich gifts to thee.
What hast thou brought to Me?

See what we have here, in the words of this song?  Jesus standing there in front of our adoring eyes, having left glory, having died lovingly and sacrificially, and having re-ascended to glory, now imploring us, “I gave my physical life willingly.  I gave you the salvation of your souls.  This is a lot.  Can’t you give money to Me?”  (In our warped, legacy-ridden minds, the “Me” of the last line is somehow morphed into “church treasury.”  Please don’t overlook this parenthesis; it is really quite material to these thoughts.)

Does Jesus want our money?  Well, yes.  But He wants so much more, and the monetary angle of the institutional church has been so corrupted through the centuries that I think it’s both logically and spiritually dangerous to link His gift to us only to our gift of money.

In themselves, the words of Frances Havergal’s song seem apt enough, almost unique, and worthy of the Christian’s time.  But not at the time of collecting money, as though we could possibly satisfy the debt we owe to our Lord by dropping a check in the plate.  Not as though our response to Him is summed up, or even answered in any substantive way, by offering money.

I’m sorry that, last Sunday, I went along with the program and led a song that contributed to a concept I don’t believe in.  I don’t intend to do that again, and I shall never, ever lead “I Gave My Life for Thee” in connection with the collection.

Inhospitability, considered further

Many moons ago, I published words to the effect that even hinting to a visitor in a church that s/he should contribute to that church’s bill-paying fund is inhospitable.  I find abhorrent the slightest glance in the direction of someone you don’t know, as you’re passing the collection plate.  (Find this earlier post here.)  No, let a person in a pew make the first move toward dropping money in the plate.  No usher or table servant should be in the position of demanding money.

I’d like to add to these thoughts the idea that even those within a church–even the regular members–should not be guilted into contributing.  I “contributed” toward this kind of guilt inducement last Sunday myself, and I repent.

In the Church of Christ, we have this odd legacy that leaves us with three parts of communion:  the bread, the juice, and the collection.  Many churches have been accustomed to making a point of separating the first two from the last through the use of the words “separate and apart,” but it really hasn’t been separate at all.  Some of this, I imagine, developed out of convenience:  those men serving the elements of communion were already up out of their pews and in their service mode, so why not just use them, right then and there, to pass the collection trays?  It’s efficient, and I get this.  But the feigning of separation–the silly declaration that it was separate when the reality was that it wasn’t separate at all–has not served our assemblies or our minds and hearts well.

On rare occasion, when I have been in charge of such things, I have made a point of switching up the order and having the collection first (understand that it would have been my first choice not to have it at all, and I’ve often inadvertently almost left it out, but it would have been too radical to do this intentionally!).  This change in pattern has never lasted; the linking of communion and collection in the practices of the Church of Christ now appears fixed.

Tomorrow:  guilt-inducing thoughts in song texts, and my vow

Tithing by choice (2 – practicalities)

This post jumps right on in to perhaps even more troubled waters after the toe-dipping of yesterday’s post.  I’d like to offer practicalities, philosophies, and other thoughts related to tithing and contributing.

Nowhere in all the New Covenant documents is the tithe enjoined upon believers.  Charitable giving is a choice—a good one, but a choice nonetheless.  Yes, “God loves a cheerful giver,” but He does not say, “First, love me.  Next, love your neighbor.  Third, give 10% of your money.”  The decision to give, and the percentage are up to the individual.

I once felt good about approaching 10% and even surpassing it over a fiscal year or two, way back when.  As I recall, more than half of this was given to Christian organizations other than my church, and that was because I found the church budget philosophically and practically wanting.  I would have been found in direct contradiction to scripture if scripture had any command for Christians to tithe, but it doesn’t.  (There is no Levitical priesthood in the church, so there is no reason to tithe.  That part of it really is that simple.)

Since then, I have had to feel good about smaller amounts.  It’s not easy, because I would like to give more to Christian and humanitarian charities I believe in.  If I had more of a surplus for daily living, I would give more.  Remember the widow with the two pennies, I try to tell myself in my discouragement.  But I still have questions.  Here are some more.

Should we “tithe” according to our pay schedules—every two weeks, on Fridays?  bi-monthly on the 15th and 30th? or every month, in some cases?

In calculating, does the 10% come off the top, or after tax?  Should we wait to calculate until after the final reckoning of the tax return? How can we know how we’ve “prospered” until after April 15? What would the institutional church do if no one paid the bills until sometime after April 15 every year?

Would the answer be different if paying taxes to Caesar were a choice and not exacted by mandated withholding?

What about tithing by credit card? (Although that might be convenient and get me “rewards” which I could then tithe based upon (!), it sure does seem cold and institutionalized.)

When a Christian college student receives a paycheck for $72.51 for two weeks of every-other-day work, does he exempt himself from tithing because he is a poor college student, or does he give $7.26 (rounding up would seem to be safer than cheating God out of a half-penny) to the collection plate next Sunday?  Does he hold Christians around him to a different tithing standard because they’re not college students?

When college students or foreign missionaries receive care packages from Aunt Sue or Martha Supportive, do they offer 10% of the cookies to poorer students or to indigenous neighbors?

Does contributing to the Red Cross or to Hope International or to the World Bible Translation Center “count” as part of your tithe?

Does an individual have the right or responsibility to approve or support the spending of the money she tithes?

This last question makes me think of the question of ownership of a retail establishment and spending money in that store.  For instance, at one time, a large grocery store chain was owned by Mormons.  Did buying a gallon of milk there give me the right to say “No, you can’t send a penny of my $2 to the LDS Church”?  Well, no, but it did give me pause about patronizing that store when I had a choice.)  In this age of mobility, global communication, and lots and lots of free choice, I figure I have some responsibility to be prudent in where I spend and contribute money.

If large portions of a church budget are allocated to salaries for staff positions I don’t believe in, or for physical plant/facilities, it makes me look elsewhere for a greater “return” on my dollar.  While this may seem overly humanistic and even crass in its monetary outlook, the alternative, for me, is a careless, thoughtless, or even halfhearted dropping of a check into a plate–which ends up being a gesture of upholding the status quo and religion’s establishments than a faith-based offering to advance God’s Kingdom.

All this would be pretty troubling if tithing were an in-force law, wouldn’t it?  🙂

~ ~ ~

For further reading:

  1. This prior post, (which says some of the same things I’ve said above in different ways), and/or
  2. This one on the inhospitable nature of church offerings, and/or
  3. This brief article (not my own), with caution and with the caveat that I do not necessarily endorse its spirit or even the ramifications of the actions suggested therein.

On being inhospitable

Despite the relatively recent (in the modern era, at least) push toward “seeker sensitivity” and “seeker orientation,” churches have a penchant for being inhospitable to guests. We insiders rarely realize how un-oriented we really are to those who are not us. It’s not that we’re intentionally rude toward outsiders; it’s just that we’re obtuse and intermittently stupid about some things.

The collection/offering/so-called “tithing” opportunity offers us but one example of how blind we can be to the feelings, if not the presence, of visitors in our assemblies.

Picture this real experience from our life (perhaps you will be able to relate) … the collection is in progress. We’re sitting on the end of a row. No one is beside us; in fact, no one is sitting anywhere else on our pew. One of the servers/collectors is coming down the aisle toward us. There is no one on any of the four rows in front of us, and, despite my attempts to avert my eyes, the man’s dutiful gaze meets mine. I’m a visitor in his church, and he has never seen me before. He looks at me expectantly, beginning to hold out the tray in my direction. I shake my head almost imperceptibly, also raising my forearm and bending my wrist back, giving the universally recognized “stop” signal. My message is clear: please don’t bother handing me the tray, for I am not prepared to put anything in it.

It’s a mildly awkward moment for both of us. This has happened to me far too many times, though, and I’m saying something about it.

Given a) the last 30+ years of history with money-grubbing televangelists in this country, not to mention sordid stories of CEOs and CFOs in the business world, and b) the utter lack of clear, New Covenant example for regular, required offerings in the assemblies of the church, all ushers and servants and leaders and all other type of collectors should think five times and pray for guidance (and forgiveness) before offering an unknown visitor a collection tray.

I’d like here to repost some previous comments I made about tithing:

There is precedent for paying someone to do the work of the Kingdom. There is also precedent for paid “regular staff” under the Old Covenant — the Levites were professional regulars.

But I see no precedent for anything like what we have today in churches. We are not Jews, and laws such as tithing are not applicable, per se, since we should not have Levites to support. The vast majority of our religious professionals work in roles that are fabricated from human tradition much more than they emanate from the pages of scripture. . . .

I realize that if I’m in a 2% minority on fighting the clergy system, I’m in a .02% minority on fighting the notion of tithing … so I hasten to point out that the idea of being charitable and supporting the Lord’s work is *not* relegated to the Old Covenant. It’s the strict tithing concept that is an Old-Covenant thing.

Whether you find the notion of the tithe foreign to the New Covenant or not (and at least one of my good friends has verbally disagreed on this point), I hope you will accede on this final statement:

It’s uninviting, inhospitable, and downright dumb to assume a visitor will help to pay your church bills.

Please also see this follow-up post.