The first regards my discussion of the means if the words, “literal,” “inerrant,” and “infallible.” I NEVER want there to be any misunderstanding about my very high view of scripture, and zi feel that I did not do a very good job of discussing the reasons why I stay away from the word, “Literal” and prefer the words “inerrant” and “infallible.”
Understanding a word as being “literal” means that we understand that word to be representing the very thing of which it speaks. For example, when Jesus says, “I am the Gate.” Is He literally a gate? If we are to use the word literal as it is intended, then we would have to believe that He is – Now, we know that in a sense He IS a gate – but not a literal gate. See the difference? You know me – words matter. A lot.
If we view this simple statement from the point of view of inerrancy and infallibility, the interpretation becomes more understandable and meaningful. Jesus says that He is the “gate,” and we know that He is – because the surrounding context and our knowledge of Jesus provides all of the understanding we need to know what He means. Moreover, as far as the message that Jesus is conveying is that no one comes to the Father except through Him – That message is infallible. The Words that Jesus Speaks never have failed and never will fail in their intent.
Let’s take a look at an another example that is near and dear to all of our hearts – the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Work through the ideas with me….
If we take these words that were written in 1776 literally, then we must believe that only MEN are created “equal” and endowed by their creator with rights. We know that is not the intent of these words, they are simply written following the masculine-oriented writing conventions of the time. Moreover, If we take these words as being literal, then all male slaves at the time should have been immediately released. They weren’t.
But we know the context. We know the background AND we know the VISION that these people had when they wrote these words. We are fallible humans who err regularly, so the example of the Declaration can not be compared “apples-to-apples” to the Word of God. Will these words fail in their intended purpose? That remains to be seen; but my point is that we actually make these sorts of “interpretations” all the time.
I have a very high view of scripture indeed. It is the Divinely inspired, infallible (inerrant), Word of God and the only authority of our faith and the practice of our faith – which leads me to my next point. The offering box.
Two weeks ago I spoke before the service about the generosity of this congregation and some of the plans and purposes we have for the resources that we have been given. This gave rise to several questions about why we do not take, or receive – however you choose to look at it – an offering. When we moved to the offering box, I spent time explaining the reasoning and the theology behind it. Let me give you the short response and then I will paste in the document that I wrote at the time.
There are three primary reasons why we do not “pass the plate” at Churchtown. The first is because I do not see that being done in scripture. I read of the spirit of giving in scripture; I read about sacrificial giving and cheerful giving and even of the right of the worker to receive his or her wages – but I do not see any example of passing the hat and putting pressure on people to give – even when Paul is collecting the offering to be given to the church in Jerusalem, all indications are that it is a completely free will offering.
Theologically speaking – I do not believe that churches should ask for money. Period. At most you will hear us talk about the opportunities that we have to give.
This leads into my next point. I believe that “passing the plate” places undue social pressure on church attendees to give. I have seen it and experienced it first-hand. It is a form of compulsion and I do not believe that it is the right thing to do.
Finally, you know me, I also operate on the, “we’re all grown-up here” principle. In other words, we all know that EVERYTHING costs money and that it takes this physical resource in order to keep the church open, clean, updated, safe and thus operating for the benefit of those who attend – all for the glory of God.
Here is the document that I wrote a couple fo years ago when we stopped asking for money and switched to the offering box.
1I really don’t need to write to you about this ministry of giving for the believers in Jerusalem 2For I know how eager you are to help, and I have been boasting to the churches in Macedonia that you in Greece were ready to send an offering a year ago. In fact, it was your enthusiasm that stirred up many of the Macedonian believers to begin giving. 3But I am sending these brothers to be sure you really are ready, as I have been telling them, and that your money is all collected. I don’t want to be wrong in my boasting about you. 4We would be embarrassed—not to mention your own embarrassment—if some Macedonian believers came with me and found that you weren’t ready after all I had told them! 5So I thought I should send these brothers ahead of me to make sure the gift you promised is ready. But I want it to be a willing gift, not one given grudgingly.
6Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.9As the Scriptures say,
“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
10For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. 11Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.
13As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. 14And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. 15Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words! (2 Corinthians 9 NLT)
This scripture, like no other, teaches us about the spiritual principles of giving. It is a very powerful teaching that describes giving as a free-will act of worship through generosity – an act that demonstrates the faith of the believer relative to what we hold to be most precious to us on earth – our wealth. It is a fair challenge for us to undertake because even if we are not “greedy” and hording wealth – we are still taught that our private property is ours, that we need it for a variety of reasons, and that we have every right to accumulate it and dispense of it as we see fit.
All of these things are true and none of these things are inherently wrong or evil. God simply challenges us through those earthly feelings to compare how much we trust Him with how much we trust in our own selves.
It is from this scripture that we get the, somewhat, biblical notion of “give and you shall receive.” Unfortunately, this notion has been both used and terribly abused by church leaders in their efforts to “receive” as much as they could from their congregations. The principle is sound, as you can read; God does indeed promise through Paul’s teaching that those who give by faith, of their own free will, with no expectation or strings attached, will thrive in God’s own economy. It is not God’s “get rich quick” scheme or a way that we can pull the wool over God’s eyes so that we can milk Him for everything that we want – God knows our hearts. He knows the attitude we have as we enter into our giving and whether or not our giving truly is an act of worship – or a perceived transaction with God Himself so that we get something in return.
Giving is worship and as such can never be coerced – and it is this principle that has motivated much of my thinking about doing away with “passing the plate” in church. You see, when we pass the plate and make that public display of giving, we inadvertently apply pressure to one another in the process. Some may feel coerced into giving because those all around them are giving. Some may feel shame in giving because they see that others can give more – or they are not able to give at all and must simply let the plate go by. In fact, as I have studied this, one of the reasons why the “passing the plate” method of collecting for the church was embedded within the Sunday service was because of the pressure it applies to the people in the pews - and the higher monetary totals that the pressure yields. I do not like these reasons, and I do not view them to be within the parameters outlined in the scripture above; those parameters being that the giver should give as they are challenged BY GOD to, of their own free will, as a sacrificial act of worship – and with the resulting cheerful disposition. (see Mark 12:41-44)
These ideas weigh on my soul. I know that you know the pressure is not intentional; I, nor anyone in our fellowship, would “shame” others into giving – But the fact that such emotions and coercion are unintended consequences (and one of the primary reasons that taking a formal offering during the service was even invented – so the church could get higher totals) is enough for me to make the change. Some have expressed concerns that if we move to this method of giving, donations will go down. I would say to them that if that indeed does happen, it would only serve to prove my point.
It is to this end that I made the effort to find the perfect vessel for us to use for our FREE WILL offering. I set about researching what it could look like and how much it would cost – but was very dissatisfied with what I found. I sought something that would say, “Churchtown” and nothing that I saw spoke to me. Then I learned something very interesting – the gentleman who purchased my childhood home was a master wood craftsman.
His name is Art Bert and I reached out to him and we began talking about this vision. He sketched and we talked – and he sketched some more. The result is a beautifully, hand-crafted, cherry wood, offering box that has been custom made for the Churchtown Church of God. It is beautiful, custom designed and locally crafted – right down to the local woman who added the calligraphy. I have included pictures – but they do not do it justice.
Over the next couple of weeks we will be talking about the new way of “collecting” our truly FREE WILL offering to the church. We will still pass the plate during this time of transition, but the box will be available also. Then, in a few weeks when we have all been acclimated to the new way, we will stop “passing the plate” at Churchtown,. You will simply drop whatever you choose to give into the box – before the service, during fellowship, after the service. Whenever.
I hope that you can see that the decisions that I make I make according to my faith and my faithful interpretation of scripture. I do not make decisions frivolously or just because I happen to think it is a good idea. (good heavens, can you imagine where we would be right now if I did?) Much thought and prayerful consideration has gone into this change and I believe with my whole heart that it is biblical and provides for a biblical standard of giving as taught to us in the New Testament.
We know that there are many physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and I would like you all to take the time right now to intentionally pray. Just take the next 5 minutes, be silent, and pray.