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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

03 May 2006

Offerings on the Floor?

Q: My church sometimes put its offering plates on the floor. Is that O.K.? Is there any Scripture on this?

Pile of MoneyA: There’s nothing specific in the New Testament about the gathering of the offerings. For one thing, much of the Christian Church’s early life involved house churches — small gatherings of believers in individual homes. We have no idea how the gifts were gathered in these early services. Quite possibly, some of the contributions gathered at each home were set aside for the special collections designed to help brothers and sisters in the faith elsewhere, as when Paul requested aid for the saints in Jerusalem.

Matthew 5:23-24 quotes Jesus in the matter of leaving gifts before the altar: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

This doesn’t mean that NT churches had altars in their homes, however — Christ gave the Sermon on the Mount in the context of Israel’s worship life in the Temple. In the case of grain and animal sacrificial offerings, the priests usually had some preparation to do before the gift was placed upon the altar. This teaching serves to remind us that we cannot be right with God if we refuse any effort toward being right with other people.

Still, the idea of not placing “soiled,” imperfect, or lesser gifts on the altar was common to much of the Church. Many churches reserve the altar specifically and solely for the Lord’s Supper. Anything not part of the Sacrament isn’t placed there. Theologically, this works to keep Christ central and focus most of all upon the gift He gives us in His body and blood. Practically, it avoids clutter and makes it easier for pastors to administer the Sacrament without tipping, spilling, or fumbling around the altar top.

Some congregations use credence tables (small, free-standing tables used to hold offering plates, additional communion vessels, and the like). Others have a shelf built above a wall-fixed altar or attached to the back wall of the chancel behind a free-standing altar. Called gradines, these shelves may include crucifixes, candlesticks, flowers, and offering plates.

As you note, some congregations lay their gifts before the altar, either carrying them up individually or else using ushers to collect them and bring them forward. The placement of these offerings might help remind us that any gifts we give in response to God’s love poured out in Christ Jesus are inferior to the Gift He gives us in His Son. Ultimately, the way in which we give our offerings is much less important than the spirit in which they are given.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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