Have you noticed the number of local churches working hard to raise money? This weekend a group was selling doughnuts at an intersection. Sometimes they sell nothing, only ask for contributions as you drive by. A month ago a local denomination sold fireworks from a portable building. A large sign promised that proceeds would go to support missions. In the past, churches might hold bake sales or offer various items for sale with profits funding the operation of the church.
It is obvious that the churches must have money. However, this author has some difficulty seeing Peter, James and John selling cookies at the gates of Jerusalem. Is there a proper and God approved way to finance the operation of the church? We think the answer is yes.
From the earliest days, God has expected that his worshippers return some offering to him. Cain’s offering in Genesis 4:3 is an example. Notably missing from this account is any use or reason for the offering beyond pure homage to Jehovah. The offering did not support anything or anyone but was designed only to honor God. Noah offered a similar offering at the end of the great flood (Genesis 8:20) and again, the purpose was worshipful thanksgiving alone.
Abraham offers two examples of offerings. In Genesis 22 we read of the offering of his only, promised son. The presentation of Isaac to God, although not consummated, clearly does not serve any purpose other than a test of the Patriarch. It is similar to those offerings previously discussed. However, Abraham’s offering to Melchizedek is clearly different and marks a change in the purpose of an offering. In Genesis 14:18-20 we find Abraham making an offering to Melchizedek who is described as a “priest of the most High God” (Hebrews 7:1). Abraham gave him a tenth of all he had (Hebrews 7:4). In this scenario, the offering obviously gave support to Melchizedek. This may be the earliest example of a free-will offering given in worship to support a spiritual function. The reader should note that Melchizedek was not a hireling and the offering was not a payment for services.
At Sinai, God established a detailed series of offerings and sacrifices designed to both honor Him and to provide for the support of the Levite priests. As the Tabernacle was being constructed, the freewill offerings of the people were noted to be in excess of what was needed (Exodus 35:20- Exodus 36:1-7). The important point is that the Israelites financed the construction of the Tabernacle not through retail sales, but through offerings of each family. Most of the offerings allowed the priests to take some of what was offered for their own sustenance. In this way, the religious aspect of Israelite life was financed. While many things changed when the Old Testament law was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14), the concept of the freewill offering did not. Men are still expected to finance the operations of God’s business through contributions and offerings they make freely and without receiving anything material in return.
(Part 2 will be posted next Sunday)