The woman looked at me with smug satisfaction and said, “At my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we never pass a collection plate. It’s such a prideful thing to put your tithes and offerings on display for everyone to see. We do our giving in private.”
It’s likely that those who have spent much time around Mormons will have heard comments similar to this one – maybe multiple times. I’ve heard it quite often. The first few times the issue came up I was surprised and confused. Surprised at the depth of passion Mormons seem to have for this topic, and confused that they understand the passing of a collection plate in a worship service to be utterly inappropriate.
I suppose it’s true that no good thing on earth is beyond being corrupted by man’s sinfulness. I’m certain that throughout the Christian church’s history some people in some places in some periods of time have placed their offerings in the offering plate pridefully. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of some folks in Christian church congregations watching who did what when the plate came by. Nevertheless, I think many Mormons don’t understand the historic Christian concept of collecting the offering.
The Bible portrays the giving of tithes and offerings as an act of worship. As such, it is appropriate for the giving to be done during a worship service. When Christians gather together on the Lord’s Day in corporate worship, several things comprise the service including the preaching and hearing of the Word of God, praying, singing, sharing the Lord’s Supper, and giving.
Prideful giving is wrong. Giving to be seen of men is wrong. Judging others by what they give is wrong. But collecting the gifts of worshippers during a public, corporate worship service is not wrong. Giving to God as a demonstration of trust in Him, and as a declaration that we know our true treasure is in heaven, is pleasing to Him and is accepted by Him as worship.
I don’t think the mechanics of how we give matters much to God. Whether it’s placing a gift in an offering plate, dropping it in a box at the back of the church, or sending it through the mail, the important things are that we give and that we have a right heart attitude as we give. Yet having said that, another interesting aspect of the Mormon viewpoint on traditional Christian giving during the worship service is worth mentioning.
As an alleged restoration of the early Christian church, it’s surprising that LDS Church members find fault with the traditional passing of a collection plate in other churches. Christian apologist Justin Martyr (100AD-165AD) wrote a detailed description of early Christian worship services in his First Apology, addressed to Emperor Antonius Pius:
“On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together… The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read… the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.
“When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented with wine and water… A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person…
“Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president… in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.”
In the early Christian church, like now, offerings were collected publicly during the Sunday worship service. Nevertheless, this detail really isn’t that important. It would be much better for us to focus instead on 2 Corinthians 9:7:
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”