Issue #100 -------
January 22, 2004
A man there was, though some did count
him mad, the more he cast away,
the more he had.
John Bunyan (1628-1688)
"The Pilgrim's Progress"
A minister from California wrote, "Al, I would like to get your thinking on the contribution; your thoughts would be much appreciated." By "the contribution" this brother undoubtedly means our tradition of taking up a collection on Sunday during the "worship service." I think we are all familiar with the custom of "passing the hat." Every religious group with which I am familiar, Christian and non-Christian, has some methodology in place for collecting funds to further their work and facilitate their mission. Although the logistics of this collection of funds varies greatly from group to group, the purpose is rather consistent throughout. Great causes require great resources, which in turn necessitates a methodology for acquiring them.
Those who have a legalistic and patternistic mindset feel compelled to search Scripture scrupulously for the precise pattern pertaining to this collection. When it should be done, how it should be done, by whom it should be collected, for whom it should be collected, where it should be stored, to whom it should be entrusted, and countless other concerns weigh heavily upon their minds as they seek to reproduce EXACTLY the methodologies of brethren who lived in different cultures in distant times. Although such determinative evidence is scarce, they are not deterred. Where facts are lacking, assumptions abound. An entire code of law regulating this collection has evolved from human inferences, the minutest violation of which will incur the eternal wrath of God ... or, so they declare.
Yes, even over something so seemingly simple -- taking a collection -- God's people have fussed, fought, and fragmented. This whole shameful aspect of our behavior was brought home anew to me just a couple of weeks ago by an article in Forthright magazine entitled "Fund Raising." The author was Mike Benson, who is the minister for the Oak Hill Church of Christ in Evansville, Indiana. That article can be read in its entirety on Forthright magazine's website. Someone had asked him if the youth group could raise money for an upcoming mission trip to Mexico through such activities as garage sales, bake sales, and the like. Although he commended their desire to do mission work, and was encouraged by their zeal "to publish the Gospel," nevertheless he made it very clear that all such efforts to raise funds would be unscriptural. Why?! Because THE LAW had already been laid down as to how we are to collect funds. Where is that "law" located? 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.
Just what IS the "Savior's will in this particular realm"? What exactly IS the "law" with regard to the collection of funds? I doubt that anyone would question the importance of giving, but has the Lord regulated by law the various aspects of taking up a collection? The legalists and patternists insist that He has. I question that conclusion. After all, even the patternists can't agree among themselves as to the nature of the specific pattern supposedly contained in 1 Corinthians 16:2. Some see a Sunday ONLY collection, others do not. Some feel the funds collected must be put weekly into a church "treasury," others disagree. The latter feel the funds may be stored in individual homes, to be brought together and pooled later. Some feel this only "authorizes" special contributions for needy saints, others feel it is applicable to any collection for any purpose. Those who feel Sunday only collections are "authorized" by this passage will condemn those who take a collection any other day. I had a person tell me once that if any member of the congregation gives a contribution on any day other than Sunday, he will go to hell. In fact, this person said that if such a person came into the church office on a Monday to give a check to the church, then he had better date the check for the previous day, because if he dated the check for Monday, instead of Sunday, he would be eternally lost. Patternism. Legalism. Such nonsense leaves one speechless!!
Examining the Passage
Some, as we have noticed, believe 1 Corinthians 16:2 constitutes LAW for all men everywhere until the end of time with regard to the collection of funds for "church work." They perceive in this verse the "authority" for a Sunday collection ... and a Sunday only collection. This, they assert, is the "pattern," and it is not to be voided or varied under penalty of eternal damnation. If Paul instructed Corinth to take a collection "on the first day of every week," then that settles it for all eternity. Collections on Monday are sinful. Same with Tuesday, or any other day. Paul said "Sunday," and that is the ONLY day God will allow money to be given to the "church treasury." This they declare as divine LAW.
As always, context and authorial intent play an enormous role in correctly interpreting and applying a passage such as this. By studying the life and ministry of the apostle Paul we know that one of his major missions was to collect funds for the relief of the Judean brethren. Indeed, he had promised the leaders of the Jerusalem church that he would do just that in the course of his travels. James, Cephas and John "asked us to remember the poor -- the very thing I also was eager to do" (Galatians 2:10). There would have been a couple of key reasons why Paul was eager to bring such gifts to relieve the affliction of these Jewish brethren:
Because of Paul's purpose with respect to this matter, we see him frequently mentioning this godly mission during the course of his evangelistic travels.
Romans 15:25-28 -- "I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain."
2 Corinthians 8:1-5 -- "Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God." Also, the remainder of chapter 8, and chapter 9, deal with this same grace of giving.
Acts 24:17 -- "Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation." In Acts 20:4 we see a possible list of names of those who accompanied him to deliver this gift (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:3-4; 2 Corinthians 8:18f).
One of the things we notice most about this special contribution was that it was being taken up for a very specific purpose. There was a need, and these funds were being directed to the meeting of that need. It was not a general collection of funds to go into a general treasury to be used in the future as the elders, or whomever, saw fit. These weren't funds being collected to pay staff, mortgages, utilities, insurance, vans, or the like. Saints in Judea were in dire need of assistance, and this special contribution was being raised to meet that specific need. Thus, if the passage under consideration (1 Corinthians 16:2) "authorizes" anything, it "authorizes" special contributions for benevolent purposes. If we really wanted to be legalistic and patternistic about this, we could say it authorizes nothing else. Few of these factionists are willing to go that far, however, as it would remove their "authority" for collecting funds to further their own purposes. Thus, there are few purists among patternists.
Another truth we perceive in our examination of these passages pertaining to the special collection for the relief of the Judean brethren is that it was entirely voluntary. These were free will offerings; they were not compulsory! Indeed, Paul made it very clear to the Corinthians: "I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others" (2 Corinthians 8:8). Although the giving was not commanded, nevertheless by failing to give they would be revealing the nature of their hearts! Thus, the nature of one's giving says much about the nature of one's heart. "The New Testament knows only the spirit of voluntary giving, and its only directive as to the amount is Paul's evangelical rule which is devoid of even the appearance of legalism: 'as he may prosper'" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians, p. 760).
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, the Greek word we translate "collection" is logeia, a word found only here in all the NT writings. It "refers to a voluntary gathering of money for charitable purposes" (Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 363). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia points out that these contributions "were entirely voluntary in each church (2 Corinthians 8:3f)" (vol. 1, p. 767). It was not Paul's desire to place a legal obligation upon the brethren with regard to the assistance of those in need, but rather a moral and spiritual obligation. This was not a LAW matter, but a HEART matter. Those with right hearts would give liberally. Thus, men would not be compelled to give by LAW, but rather compelled to give by LOVE. Indeed, legislating giving undermines the entire concept; it defeats the purpose of giving. We do not give because we have to, we give because we want to!
Therefore, when the legalists and patternists turn 1 Corinthians 16:2 into LAW, they only demonstrate their complete ignorance of the very nature of GIVING. Giving is just a manifestation of grace! Do a word search, when you have the time, and notice the many, many times "giving" and "grace" are linked together in Scripture. That ought to tell us something! To seek to regulate and restrict a free will outpouring of grace by the imposition of law, is to display woeful lack of perception into God's purpose for giving. I think the Pulpit Commentary captured the essence of this principle when it observed, "We have to deal with aims, with impulses and principles, not with details of method and administration. There is no reason to suppose that all the methods and practices of the primitive Churches were unexceptionable" (vol. 19, p. 561). In other words, we need to abandon this notion of a "pattern" that constitutes LAW, and return to simply acting on God's principles as best we can in our own circumstance. It is principles that are binding, not patterns. Our Lord expects us to give .... He does NOT expect us to employ the exact methodology of an ancient people bound by ancient customs. Giving from the heart can occur anywhere, in a multitude of ways, and is not limited to any one set of traditional parameters.
Thus, on which day of the week one gives is irrelevant. Ideally, one will give every day, as opportunities present themselves. Giving isn't limited to one day out of seven, any more than loving is limited to one day out of seven, or acts of kindness or goodness. Further, whether we give directly to the need itself, or pool our resources with other disciples, is irrelevant. If needs are being met, and if we are freely and lovingly giving of our means to meet those needs, and if God is glorified in our actions and our brethren edified, then the methodology matters not at all. If a youth group wants to sell cookies outside the local Wal-Mart to raise funds to finance a trip to Mexico to preach the Gospel, more power to them! The legalists, of course, will say that the early disciples didn't sell cookies outside Wal-Mart to fund mission trips. To this I would simply respond: So what?! They didn't proclaim God's Word over the Internet either! Are we to limit ourselves ONLY to the activities and methodologies of disciples who lived almost 2000 years ago on the other side of the planet? If so, then please show me the specific command of God that so limits us!! I have asked the patternists for this specific passage for years .... they have yet to provide it! Show me the exact place in Scripture which says that if we use some methodology different from their methodology that we will be eternally lost. Provide that passage and I will print it in the next edition of Reflections. And please make sure it is a truth God declared, not one men deduced. There is a huge difference!
As to the methodology of 1 Corinthians 16:2, scholars are actually divided as to what that methodology even is. Some say the collection was to be pooled in the church "treasury." Others say the funds were to be kept at each individual's own home, and then pooled and delivered to Paul upon his arrival. Greek scholars argue passionately both views. The Pulpit Commentary, for example, says, "The Greek phrase implies that the laying up was done at home, but when the money was accumulated, it was doubtless brought to the assembly and handed over to the presbyters" (vol. 19, p. 549). Lenski wrote, "The Christians were to retain their gifts at home until such a time as they should be called for. Each member is to keep the growing amount 'by him,' in his own home, and is not to deposit it with the church at once" (p. 758-759). "Verse 2 teaches that the collection was to be set aside by each individual (and family) on the first day of the week, but we are not told specifically that it was to be collected at church. Some have interpreted the words 'by himself' to mean 'at home'" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 293).
But, why did Paul specify this was to be done on the first day of the week? Is that not a LAW? Is that not a restriction with regard to giving? The patternists think so. However, it may have been nothing more than a matter of convenience. It may also have simply been a desire to replace one habit with another. After all, psychologists will tell you the best way to overcome a particular habit is to replace it with another. Both the Jews and Gentiles had a custom of contributing to various causes and charities at regular intervals. Thus, both Jewish and Gentile Christians were in the habit of regular acts of giving. Perhaps Paul merely sought to replace these Jewish and pagan habits.
Although we don't have evidence to suggest this was Paul's thinking here, neither do we have evidence that it was not. The only thing we can safely declare is that Paul encouraged giving, he encouraged it to be from the heart as we have been prospered by God, and that it be regular in nature, not haphazard. To go too far beyond that and create LAW regulating and legislating matters of methodology is to go "beyond what is written." It seems to me the Lord frowns upon that!
In summary, there is nothing in the context of Paul's instruction to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:2) that even remotely suggests the authorial intent was to establish universal law applicable to all people everywhere until the end of time, with any violation of said law to be punishable by eternal damnation. Paul was engaged in a mission of charity and love, and merely sought to give advice that might help them pre-arrange their gifts so that his time with them might not be spent raising money, but rather in proclaiming God's message of grace. Indeed, he directed that the collections CEASE upon his arrival.
Am I opposed to the traditional practice of taking up a collection each Sunday during our "worship service"? No, I am not. Nor am I opposed to our tradition of tacking it on to the tail end of the Lord's Supper. Nor do I find any fault with using silver trays (or gold), or bags, or baskets, or any other device one may prefer. Nor do I oppose singing a hymn during the collection, as we frequently do here. Nor do I condemn those who may choose to give more or less frequently than on Sunday .... after all, not all are prospered to the same degree, or at the same time. I am not opposed to those who may return from vacation and drop a check by the office on a Tuesday. I am in favor of a spirit of giving; I am NOT in favor of a spirit of rigidity, restriction and regulation with respect to that spirit of giving. I see absolutely nothing ungodly in our current tradition of taking up a weekly contribution to fund the mission of the local congregation. However, I do have a problem with those who try to use this passage (1 Corinthians 16:2) as a LAW to command such a contribution, or to regulate virtually every aspect of it. That is an abuse of the text and context, and it needs to be exposed as such.
Paul would likely roll over in his grave if he knew the extent to which his few words of counsel with regard to a special contribution had been twisted to formulate restrictive legislation regarding the grace of giving. If he could see the division that has ensued, the factions that have been formed, the fellowship that has been severed, the heartache that has been inflicted, it would grieve him to the depths of his being. Matthew 23 would come across as a eulogy compared to the bold rebuke he would most certainly deliver to such legalistic patternists today who had wrested his words to their own factious purposes.
It is my prayer that the eyes of more and more of God's people will be opened to the deadly dangers of patternism and legalism in the weeks, months and years ahead. Souls are at stake, and we must be bold and blunt in our renunciation of this errant theology.
From a Reader in Texas:
Some time ago, I arrived at a philosophical view that seems so "abecedarian" I can't understand how I could have missed it for so many years:
From a Reader in Kentucky:
Al, I was just noticing your quote from Dostoevski. Have you ever read Crime and Punishment? What a wonderful work. It helped me as much as any biblical passage to understand the need to judge sin but not the sinner. Marmeladov and Sonya -- both were people who hated their sin but found themselves stuck in it. Marmeladov through habitual addiction that he couldn't reform; Sonya through sacrifice of her own life, dignity, and morals in order to save others. Anyway, I always think highly of someone who quotes from Dostoevski!
From a Reader in Texas:
Upon reflecting on Reflections #99, I have a sad observation: tendency to the "neos" grows worse with age. And that group often calls the shots across the brotherhood. We sorely need the Spirit's guidance from the cradle to the grave. Thank you for the dedicated work you do all the time.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
When I read the response from the editor of Watchman Magazine, I had to laugh. That is so typical of the legalistic brethren --- making certain that we use "a" rather than "the." While they may be "legalistically" correct, what does it really matter? They missed the whole point of your article.
From a Reader in Washington:
Al, I didn't get a chance to thank you for your article Fractured Fellowship ... I loved it! It brought to mind a new song recently written by a band called Casting Crowns. The song is: If We Are The Body.
This is why our conservative brethren aren't "winning souls" ... because they sit on their hands waiting for people to come to them, and if they don't come in, then they are verbally condemned. When the non-legalists decide to get off their hands and do something that works to win souls, we are called "liberal" and verbally condemned. Jesus DID pay much too high a price for US to pick and choose who gets to be saved. Thanks yet again for a wonderful exploration into the Body of Christ. I can't wait for the Reflections milestone: issue #100.
From a Reader at Texas Tech University:
Your most recent Reflections reminds me of the quote (I think it was from "The Essay on Man") from Alexander Pope:
From a Reader in California:
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Fractured Fellowship. My husband and I have been married 46 years. We were each raised on the church bench, and, having come from warring factions within the conservative Church of Christ, we have seen so much heartache and hurt that it is hard to fathom that people can claim to study the Word, claim to follow Christ, claim to be born again, claim to be the only Christians in town, and yet fail so miserably to ever come to a knowledge of the Truth. From the time we were both youngsters our families have been either directly or indirectly involved in some kind of split in the church. Splits which resulted in fragmented churches and fractured families and friendships. Splits which I was reasonably sure were never "our" fault (because we had all Truth), and always "their" fault (because they were liberals ... and, of course, because my Grandpa said so). These splits invariably led to pain, frustration, loneliness and depression, and to forced separation from family and friends who did not see eye to eye with Grandpa (or whomever was in charge).
As the years progressed, my family was continuously involved in quarrelling, bickering and in-church fighting. Disagreements over doctrine led to incidents of name calling and disfellowshipping. Whole families were often affected; mothers and fathers separated from children ... grandchildren separated from grandparents ... cousins were forced to "take sides" with their parents no matter how wrong they perceived them to be. Lack of grace, lack of love, and lack of understanding by those in power, mixed with the ever-present disagreements over doctrine, always terminated in an "action" of some form against those "gone liberal." People have remarked that where they once were envious of our large, seemingly spiritually close-knit family, they are now secretly thankful to have the families that they had. This is offered, for whatever it is worth, from the Central Valley of California.
From a Reader in Colorado:
Al, I have just returned from a Medical Mission to Ecuador. The workers consisted of a collection of "saints" from all facets of our fellowship, and yet we worked hard for the week focusing on the need at hand. When one sees and serves (both with medicine and the Word) 3,000 needy souls, there is no time to get side-tracked on the differences that exist between us. A great experience!
From a Reader in Mississippi:
It has been shown that stress can not only shorten lives, but bring on lifelong problems as well. Studies show that children who lead abnormally stressful lives grow up and suffer problems such as asthma and auto-immune disorders as adults. High levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by stress, can be very toxic and harm the development of children. In adults, it can also cause cardiovascular problems, extreme fatigue, loss of muscle mass and even lead to osteoporosis! Thus, stress is not a good thing, especially for kids! From a physical standpoint alone, finding a good balance between Neophobia and Neophilia is important.
From a Reader in Nevada:
Al, Neophobia and Neophilia is another great article. Thank you. Like the Athenians we continue to establish new idols and we dedicate them to the god of restrictions. But, it is also discouraging to see churches operating as business organizations, accepting anything and everything in order to gain followers. As you pointed out, the Berean spirit is a great example for us to follow. I look forward to your next mailing.
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