Offering is not an Element of Worship

 “…the priest took a chest, and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it beside the altar, on the right side as one cometh into the house of the Lord: and the priests that kept the door put therein all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord…

2 Kings 12:9,10

“And at the king’s commandment they made a chest, and set it without at the gate of the house of the Lord.  And they made a proclamation through Judah and Jerusalem, to bring in to the Lord the collection that Moses the servant of God laid upon Israel in the wilderness.  And all the princes and all the people rejoiced, and brought in, and cast into the chest, until they had made an end.”

2 Chron. 24:8-11

“Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him”

1 Cor. 16:2



Order of Contents

.       In the Bible
.       In the Westminster Standards

Continental Reformation
Summaries of the Church of Scotland
Historic Reformed Quotes  10+
When did Offering as an Element of Worship Begin?



Travis Fentiman, MDiv.



The Bible teaches that we are only to worship God in the way that He prescribes in Scripture (see The Regulative Principle of Worship).  While we are to give heartily unto the Lord and his ministry, yet as monetary collections are not worship in Scripture (as will be demonstrated in detail), neither should they be in the worship service of the Church.

This Biblical viewpoint has been shared by a large portion of reformed history since the Reformation, notably by Westminster (as will be thoroughly demonstrated) and the Scots of better days.

How is it that persons and churches examining the same texts in Scripture come to opposite conclusions, one that offering is worship to God, and another that offering is not worship unto God?  The fundamental difference, as will be seen, is between a loose and amorphous understanding of the Biblical texts and the Regulative Principle of Worship (which loose view is nearly universal in our day) and a close, careful, particular and accurate understanding of the Biblical texts and the Regulative Principle of Worship (which view had the ascendancy amongst the puritans).

May we be like the Bereans and search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) to find out the mind of God on this matter.


The Bible

The Old Testament Generally

As money cannot redeem our souls from our sins (Ps. 49:6-8), so God did not require money as a worship-offering from the Israelites in the regular, public worship of his Old Testament Church, but rather required his people to come to Him through the offerings of symbolic animal sacrifices (Lev. 1-5) which pictured Christ’s blood and death (which does atone for sin).

Rather than being part of the worship, money through the Old Testament was contributed and collected in chests at the entrances¹ to the Temple and synagogues (2 Kn. 12:9-10; 2 Chron. 24:8-11Mk. 12:41-44; Mt. 6:2).

¹ Thomas Peck (Works, ‘Systematic Beneficence’, p. 139) notes by italics that the chest, in 2 Kings 12:9, was ‘set… beside the altar’.  Peck implicitly uses this as an argument that the monetary offerings were part of the Temple worship.  However, the parallel account in 2 Chron. 24:8-11 makes it clear that the chest was ‘set… without at the gate of the house of the Lord’ where the common people could drop in their money directly (2 Chron. 24:10), whereas they could not step foot in the court of the priests, where the altar was.  The language in 2 Kings 12:9 is relative and does not bear the close placement to the altar which Peck desires it to bear, as is manifested from the further specification in that verse, that the chest was to be placed ‘on the right side as one cometh into the house of the Lord.’

This method of collecting the monetary contributions, according to the passages, was at the prudent appointment of the king (a man), which demonstrates that the particular method used was an indifferent circumstance ‘ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word’ (WCF 1.6), rather than the method of collection being religiously significant with its particulars being appointed by God (which would make them a substantial part of worship, perpetual and unchangeable).



One of the first lessons God taught the human race is that He does not accept money for worship.  Money is simply representative of the work and labor of our hands, as well as, often in Scripture, the produce of the land.  In societies where money as a financial commodity is not common, donations of value were made in the actual commodities themselves of animals, crops, vegetables, etc.  Hence the main Hebrew words used in the Old Testament for ‘offerings’ (terumah & minchah) often do not usually connotate money, but rather the donation of resources, materials, produce, animals and other items.

When Cain brought an ‘offering’ (minchah) of the work of his hands from the crops of the ground to the Lord, the equivalent of money, the Lord did not accept it, but rather accepted Abel’s bloody animal sacrifices (Gen. 4:2-5).  Not only was the equivalent of money rejected by the Lord as a means to come to Him, but this offering of Cain was a thank-offering out of gratitude for the kind, natural provision of God through Creation (as many Christians conceive monetary offerings to be), it coming at the end of the harvest season (Gen. 4:3 literally says, ‘at the end of days’, or ‘at the end of the season’).  Yet God still did not accept it as worship to Him, nor would He through the rest of Scripture, as will be documented.

The ‘tithes’ of Abraham and Jacob in Genesis are sometimes pointed to as warrant for God accepting the gift of money or bloodless-property as worship.  However, John Owen points out that when Jacob vowed to give a tenth of his substance from his stay with Laban (which was mainly animals) to the Lord (Gen. 28:22), Jacob paid this in the form of altar-sacrifices to God (Gen. 35:1-6).  Owen infers from this that it is likely that Abraham, when he gave a tenth of his war spoils to Melchizedek, did this in the form of altar-sacrifices where it was possible (Gen. 14:20; Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 1840, vol. 3, of 4, p. 427).  It is possible that some of the war spoils which Abraham paid to Melchizedek were not in sacrifices, yet note that in none of these passages do the texts speak of the ‘tithes’ given as ‘worship’.  This is consistent with the later Israelites’ tithes not being offered in worship or called ‘worship’ in Scripture.


The Tabernacle & Temple

While the Lord did require ‘offerings’ of the Israelites for the construction of the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:2; 35:5, which involved the donations of materials, not money), no such collection of offerings were appointed for, or made in, the worship services of the Tabernacle itself.

At the inception of the Tabernacle, needless to say, the one-time, flat-rate, per head, ‘atonement money’ charged to each male Israelite twenty years old and above who was fit for war (Num. 1:2-3), in order pay ‘a ransom for his soul’ and undergird the services of the Tabernacle (Ex. 30:11-16), forms no warrant for monetary donations being a continuing element in worship services.  This tribute money was never called worship, nor was it ever offered in the worship services of the Tabernacle as worship.  Where churches today do practice monetary offerings as worship, they would probably be appalled at the notion of it being regarded as ‘a ransom’ for their souls.  Christ has done away with such positive, ceremonial, teaching regulations and rites.

While bloodless food-offerings from the produce of the ground were used as sacrifices in the Tabernacle worship (Lev. 2, 6:14-23), yet (contrary to Cain’s offering) these offerings were specifically appointed in detail by God as to how they were to be done and they held a specially appointed, spiritual significance (symbolizing our familiar, meal-fellowship with the Lord and spiritual peace, reconciliation and communion with Him).  The food sacrifices did not bear simply their natural meaning as monetary offerings today do; and it was due to this added and appointed spiritual meaning from God’s ordinance that the Lord accepted them.  The produce of the ground, or the fruit of man’s labor, would not be accepted if it was offered to God in any other way than in the specially detailed recipe (e.g. Lev. 6:15,20-21) which God prescribed for the Israelites to use in making these cakes to be sacrificed on the altar by priests.

When the Lord instituted tithes for the Israelites, these were not ‘offered’ to the Lord in public worship.  For example, the tithe for the Levites and the poor throughout Israel every third year was to be laid up by the city gates (Dt. 14:28-29).


Leviticus 27

The Lord in Lev. 27 made provision that, if, through a personal, voluntary vow, a person or thing was dedicated to the Lord’s service, it could be ‘redeemed’ (Lev. 27:13,15,19-20,27) by a set amount of money delineated in the chapter.  Such a redemption freed the person or thing from its obligation to the immediate service of the Lord.  This provision was kindly made by God as natural circumstances may come up after a personal vow, which one could not foresee, where it would be more in line with moral law to forego (at a cost, giving the Lord his due) the dedicating of the thing to God’s service.

It is affirmed that personal, religious vows made to God are acts of worship to God, which are to be used occasionally (see WCF 21.5 and its proof-texts).  Similarly, this last chapter of Leviticus describes not any regular ordinance of the public worship of the Tabernacle, but occasional provisions.

The payment of the money (which was not part of the vow itself, nor always connected with it) involved ‘redeeming’ persons from the obligations they had to God which they could not meet.  As money has no inherent value before God, the sanctity of the highly regulated purchase price only had significance from the sovereign, ceremonial appointment of God as a picture of atonement and buying persons out of their debts to Him.  As money has no power to buy persons out of their moral obligations to God, this rite was a prefiguring of the only thing that has this power: the blood of the Son of God (Acts 20:28) which redeems us from the debts of our iniquity.

While personal, religious vows to God of themselves (without such peculiar attendant circumstances) are acts of worship to God (being evidenced as such in other parts of Scripture), the rites in Lev. 27 have been wholly ceased with the ceremonial system, apart from which they have no concrete applicability today regarding offerings, though their spiritual teaching continues.


Are Monetary Offerings Called Worship in the Old Testament?

In none of the examples above are monetary offerings or payments called ‘worship’.  However, the English translation in the King James Version (KJV) of 1 Chron. 16:29 may appear to give some semblance otherwise through its use of similar ideas:

“Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before Him: worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”

The Hebrew word for ‘offering’, though, mincha, most commonly means an animal or food sacrifice (see Brown-Driver-Briggs, Hebrew Lexiconp. 585).  This natural understanding of the word shows that the verse is consistent with the Old Testament Temple practice of coming to the Lord through altar sacrifices, which actions were the prescribed worship of God.


The New Testament Generally

The book of Hebrews says that all Levitical, Temple ceremonies and especially the animal sacrifices (which were typical of Christ), have been abrogated by Christ’s coming (chs. 8-10), as Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice to God through the Spirit for us (9:14; 10:12).  Hence, the sacrificial offerings, which were elements of worship in the Temple services, have ceased, and yet the moral obligation of the indifferent collections made apart from the Temple worship continue.

Persons today who hold that monetary offerings are an element of worship often argue that, while the ceremonial aspects of the animal sacrifices ceased with the Temple economy, yet there was a moral element in the people of God offering their material possessions to God as worship, which moral element continues into the New Testament.  However:

1 – The detailed and specifically enumerated precepts which God instructed Israel with for his sacrificial offerings cannot stand, or be kept, in part.  They must be performed fully in as much detail as they were originally given, or not at all, if the positive statutes have been abrogated (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:14-15).

Any partial fulfillment of God’s commandments is a ‘want of conformity unto the Law of God’, or, sin (James 2:10).  Gal. 2:18 says of partially bringing Old Testament ceremonies back into New Testament worship: “For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”

2 – The moral elements of worship in the Old Testament can be known by which ordinances of worship were kept outside of the Temple, that is, in the Jews’ private, social or synagogue worship (Ps. 74:8; Mt. 4:23; Acts 15:21, etc.).  Naturally, if certain worship elements were ordained for the temple and priests, they could not be done apart from the Temple or the priests.

It is clear from both Scripture and extra-Biblical history that prayer, singing praise, reading the Word and preaching were part of private, social and synagogue worship apart from the Temple (Jonah 2:1; Ps. 118:15; 2 Chron. 17:9; Mt. 4:23; 6:5; Lk. 4:16-22; Acts 15:21).  However, neither animal sacrifices nor monetary contributions are evidenced to have been part of the private, social or synagogue worship in the Old Testament or the extra-Biblical history of the worship of the synagogue.  The Church’s worship is grounded not in Temple worship, but in the moral worship which is sanctioned by God in Scripture and was exemplified in the worship of the synagogue.

3 – The great rule of New Testament worship is that it is spiritual (Jn. 4:23-24); that it is mediated through spiritual means.  This is in contrast to the predominantly physical and outward nature of Old Testament worship (Gal. 4:3,9-10)..

For whatever ways in which the substance of one’s possessions were involved in worship in the Old Testament (in animals from one’s herd being sacrificed upon the altar, etc.), yet worshipping God through physical objects is not consistent with the nature of the spiritual worship of the New Testament.

4 – If monetary offerings (or, in less financially advanced societies, the contributing of animals, grain, vegetables, etc.) continued into the New Testament as a moral element of worship (as it was practiced in the Middle Ages), one would expect this to be evidenced in the New Testament.  Yet, as will be shown, the New Testament nowhere evidences that the contributing of money (or animals, grain or vegetables) is an ordinance of worship.


The Gospels

When the wisemen laid gifts at the feet of Jesus, not only was this not called worship, but it is differentiated from the worship they did give Him in directing their humble bowing and adoration to Him (Mt. 2:11).

Strangely, some persons use Mt. 5:23-24, where Jesus says to leave your gift at the altar and reconcile with your brother if he have ought against you, as a proof-text that offerings are elements of worship in the Church.  However, as the only offerings brought to the altar were animal or food offerings, it is these that must be referred to in the text, which things have ceased.  A general moral principle remains of this teaching of Christ, but it is not that offering is an element of the Church’s worship.

Thomas Peck, a late-1800’s, American, southern presbyterian (who was a leader in the movement to bring offering into presbyterian worship), argued, in part, that monetary offerings were worship as almsgiving is given close proximity to prayer and fasting in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6:1-18; Ibid.).  Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not only close to each other in the discourse, he says, but they also have ‘the same general nature and design’..

Yet, letting our yea be yea and our nay be nay, saluting persons in the market and walking an extra mile with soldiers are also in close proximity to prayer and fasting in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:37,41,47).  Are these things worship ordinances also?

If it be objected that these other things do not have the same general nature and design as almsgiving, yet giving our cloak to the person who sues us at civil law for our coat, and not turning away the person seeking to borrow something from us (Mt. 5:40,42), do have the same general nature and design as almsgiving.  Are these things also ordinances of the worship of God?  Note as well that almsgiving is to be done in secret, not before men (Mt. 6:1,4); yet in many churches monetary offerings are done in their public worship, seen of men (Mt. 6:1).


The Apostolic History

In the apostolic history, the disciples did not offer money to God as worship; rather, they laid the money down at the apostles feet to be distributed to the poor by them, on any given day of the week (Acts 4:34-5:2).  For the sake of consistency and orderliness (as indifferent circumstances are to be ordered by the light of nature), the apostle instructed the churches to lay up their contributions on the Lord’s Day (1 Cor. 16:1-3)..

There is no evidence in 1 Cor. 16:1-3 that this laying up was an act of their worship to God.  This passage is not in the section of 1 Corinthians where Paul does instruct the people in the elements of public worship (1 Cor. 11-14), but rather it comes at the end of the letter with his other directives about the indifferent circumstances of his travellings.

Silence in a passage is not warrant for adding things to God’s worship.  The Scottish Church from the Reformation well understood this, and hence did not think you could worship God by money, but yet still, per the apostle’s commandment, they laid up their contributions for his service on the Lord’s Day.


Are Monetary Offerings Called Worship in the New Testament?

Worship in Scripture is a two-sided coin.  On the one hand, there is a narrow definition of worship, where this world’s affairs are put away and one’s full attention is given directly and immediately to worshipping and spiritually communing with the Lord (Gen. 24:26Ex. 4:21Ex. 32:8Josh. 5:14Mt. 14:13Mt. 28:91 Cor. 14:25Heb. 1:6Rev. 5:14, etc.) through the means of the external ordinances by which God has promised to dispense his grace and Spirit  (James 1:18,21Mt. 6:6Isa. 55:111 Tim. 4:11,16Jn. 17:172 Chron. 7:14Matt 7:7-1121:22James 5:15Eph. 5:18,19; etc.), which ordinances constitute the Church’s public worship.

On the other hand, there is a broad sense in which all of life is worship (Rom. 12:1Mk. 12:33Zech. 14:20-21Ps. 103:22Ps. 149:6-91 Sam. 15:22Rom. 15:162 Tim. 4:61 Cor. 6:19-20Eph. 5:2Rev. 1:6; etc.), in that whatever we do, all is to be done unto the glory of God in his service (1 Cor. 10:31Josh. 24:15Col. 3:17) and is to praise the Lord (Ps. 150).

Thus, it is not surprising that material offerings in the New Testament (along with numerous other everyday affairs) in this broad sense are metaphorically called worship and sacrifices in a few places in the New Testament.  Paul says, speaking to the Philippians (Phil. 4:14-19):

“…ye did communicate with my affliction…  in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.  For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity…

Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.  But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.”

Note in this narrative that these material, love-donations by the Philippians to Paul in his ministry are not said to have occurred in public worship, but were simply given according to necessity in Paul’s travels.  The ‘gifts’ and ‘things’ donated were probably not money, but actual objects that would help relieve his necessities..

If donations in this passage are worship in the narrow and proper sense, this would make charitable contributions to persons in daily life, of itself, to be the worship of God in the same kind as the ordinances of public worship such as prayer, reading of the Word, the singing of psalms, etc.

Heb. 13:15-16 is another passage which likewise correlates offerings with worship, in some respect:

“By Him [Jesus] therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.  But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

‘Communicating’ here likely refers not to communicating goods unto God, but unto each other in our daily lives.  While it is called a sacrifice unto God, along with the prayers and sung praises which come from our lips, yet so is ‘doing good’.  Yet who will make doing good in all of its extent in daily life on par with the nature of the ordinances of the Church’s public worship?  Should such an endless variety of actions be included in the ordinances of the public worship of the Church?  Clearly these verses are speaking to walking in the will and commandments of the Lord in all of life as being a well-pleasing sacrifice.  This has already been seen to be called worship in a broad sense by metaphor in Rom. 12:1-2, yet the public worship of the apostolic Church in the New Testament was limited to only a handful of direct and immediately God-centered ordinances.

The interpretation of the previous passages is sealed by the teaching of 2 Tim. 4:6.  Paul calls his anticipated martyrdom an offering unto God:

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”

Yet who will contend that martyrdoms are to be an ordinance of the Church’s worship?  Because things are done in life to the glory of God with praise on our lips and may be called sacrifices, shall we make faith, simply (Phil. 2:17), or fighting in war and executing our enemies to be elements of worship also (Ps. 149:6-9)?  Clearly the notions of sacrifice and worship are being used in these passages metaphorically, in a broad sense, in that God is well pleased with them when they are done in faith to his glory, as many things are which do not enter into the Church’s worship.

As has been seen, there is no place in the Old Testament or New Testament administrations where offerings can be found to have been commanded, exampled or necessarily inferred to be an ordinance of worship for God’s people.


The Nature of Worship & Monetary Collections

While monetary contributions are to be given with faith to the Lord (Ex. 30:14; Ps. 72:15Lk. 21:4; Mal. 3:8) through his ministry and are honoring to Him (Hag. 1:8, more directly than other things done in daily life to his praise), yet elements of worship involve more than this in Scripture.

John 4:24 says that we are to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’, as God is a Spirit (it befitting his nature).  Whether ‘in spirit’ refers to man’s spirit (and hence means ‘spiritually’) or whether it refers to the originating influence of the Holy Spirit, or both, is immaterial for our purpose.  On either meaning our worship is to be spiritual, as opposed to physical, as God is a Spirit.

New Testament worship is predominately spiritual, as prayer, singing and the hearing of the Word and preaching all stem from, or are received through our spirits as the primary originating source or terminal end.  Every ordinance of spiritual worship conveys knowledgeable content by which our spirits are edified..

Where physical objects have been incorporated into New Testament worship, such as the water in baptism and the bread, wine, table and cup in the Lord’s Supper, yet these physical objects only have meaning insofar as their divinely, positively appointed, religious, symbolic significance is apprehended by the soul in faith.

However, monetary offerings in the New Testament have no positively appointed, symbolic, significance (as the payments in Lev. 27 had, for example).  Nor do they convey knowledgeable content which is apprehended by, and builds up, our spirits in grace.  Because of this there is no meaningful way by which God’s Spirit may commune in fellowship with our spirits through the giving of physical objects..

If monetary offerings are worship to God, then one is simply worshipping God through merely physical means (as Cain did).  Worshipping God through the creation is also known as idolatry.  Such is not spiritual worship.  While the Old Testament worship was much more earthly and physical than that in the New Testament, yet even all of these Old Testament physical objects only held significance insofar as they had been given divinely appointed symbolism, speaking of better spiritual things.  In the Old Testament God was not worshipped simply through bare, physical means (such as monetary offerings).  “God…  neither is worshipped with men’s hands” (Acts 17:24-25).

As worship in Scripture is, by its very nature, a God-appointed, promised means of spiritual grace, so God promises to bestow grace and to spiritually commune with us through: the preaching of his Word (Isa. 55:11; 61:1; Acts 3:12,19-20; 4:1,41 Tim. 4:11,16, etc.), the reading of Scripture (Deut. 17:19; Neh. 8:1-6; Jn. 17:171 Tim. 4:13-16, etc.), prayer (2 Chron. 7:14Matt 7:7-11Matt 21:22; James 5:15, etc.), and the singing of praise to God (Ps. 22:22; 147:1149:5-6Eph. 5:18,19, etc.).

While there is a promise for a blessing in obeying the natural and moral obligation to give unto the Lord monetary offerings (Mal. 3:10), yet there is no promise in Scripture for God to dispense spiritual grace and commune with our souls through the giving of monetary donations, as physical money does not have the nature for this.  As offerings are not a means of grace, they are not an element of worship, either privately or publicly.

To illustrate and confirm our point:  When it is prophesied that gentile kings shall bring their gold to the Messiah, the gold is said to be ‘given’ to Him.  In differentiation from this, when Scripture says in the same verse that ‘prayer also shall be made for Him continually’, such prayer, by parallelism, is equated with ‘praise’ (Ps. 72:15, KJV):

“And He shall live, and to Him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for Him continually; and daily shall He be praised.”

* * *

Many churches today collect money from the people in worship and then place these physical objects on a table in front of the congregation.  Persons then, with backs turned to the people, on behalf of the congregation, lift up this offering to God in Heaven, as they did in the Middle Ages.

The Table though, has no significance outside of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:21), and in this practice, is turned into an altar, as the persons doing the offering act as intermediary priests for the congregation.  The action of lifting things up in offering unto God was a spiritually significant action in the Old Testament which was prescribed in detail and regulated by God Himself (Ex. 29:23-25; Lev. 7:30; 10:15; etc.), the people not being free to make it up.  It is absent in the New Testament, God not having prescribed this as a religiously significant action for his worship in this age.

To add any religious value in worship to something which God has not given religious value to before Him, is idolatry (so the puritans taught according to Scripture).  The conclusion is inescapable.  When the pure light of God’s Word shines on our works and churches, turn not from it, but repent and turn to the Lord in reformation.  To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22).


Offering as a Circumstance in the Worship Service?

Where some reformed churches from the Reformation did have a collection in the worship service, yet they by and large considered it an indifferent circumstance within the service, and not an element through which we worship God (see Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old’s quotes below on this page).  It is hoped that where contemporary churches do have an offering in the service that this is how offering is understood and treated (which is more in accordance with its physical nature), despite the language of worship often used with it in many churches.

While it is possible to have such indifferent circumstances in a worship service without those things (when properly understood) entering into our spiritual worship, yet indifferent circumstances ought to have a sufficient reason for them and ought not to be multiplied unnecessarily so as to ensure that there are not distractions from our spiritual worship of God.  A service of worship (or serving God by worship) ought, by its very stated purpose, to be composed of only worship (hence the name, ‘worship service’).

As collecting charitable funds can be suitably done in other circumstances, is more suitable to other circumstances, and is not worship, so it ought not to be in the worship service.  Human wisdom loves its own reasons (Lk. 7:35) and hence persons will yet find innumerable natural reasons to have an indifferent monetary collection in the worship service.  Yet for all of this, monetary offerings still were not in the public worship of the people of God in the Old or New Testaments as an indifferent circumstance.  Why not simply worship God the way He says?

In accordance with the teaching of the Old and New Testaments, a large share of reformed history from its classical era has appointed a box, chest or other indifferent means for collecting monetary donations for the Lord’s service when people come to the meeting place on the first day of the week.  Other contemporary, indifferent ways of collecting donations (yet still through faith by those who give) may be by dropping a check in the mail, automatic bank transfers, etc.

What should you do if your church has offering as part of the worship?  Obey God’s Word and give your gift before or after the service, or otherwise; no one ever seems to mind.


The Westminster Standards

The consensus of Westminster in her standards was that ‘the collection for the poor’ was not an element of worship:

The list of the elements of worship in Westminster Confession, 21.4-5 does not include a collection.  A collection does not appear in the regular worship service for the Lord’s Day in Westminster’s Directory for Public Worship.

This clear testimony has sometimes been clouded by a misunderstanding of The Form of Presbyterial Church Government (1645).  Under the head, ‘Of the Ordinances in a Particular Congregation’, the Form lists a ‘collection made for the poor’ before the Benediction.  However, this list is not a list of worship ordinances in a particular congregation (much less an order for them); it is simply a list of ordinances in a church.

A collection for the poor is an ordinance of particular churches (something that the Lord has ordained to be done by churches), though it is not an ordinance of worship.  This is seen in that the same list includes catechizing, which is not an element of worship and took place at the Reformation outside of public worship (see this documented on our page: Sabbath Schools).

If there were any doubt, Westminster later published a more polished version of their views on Church government in 1647, entitled, A Directory for Church Government and Ordination of Ministers.  Under the heading, ‘Of Ordinances in a Particular Congregation’ (on p. 8), catechizing remains in the list and the ‘collection for the poor’ occurs after the benediction.

A collection is also mentioned in the Directory for Public Worship at the end of the section, ‘Of the Celebration of the Communion’.  The reference occurs after the administration of the Lord’s Supper has been fully described and completed.  It reads:

“The collection for the poor is so to be ordered, that no part of the public worship be thereby hindered.”

Whoever thought that a collection for the poor was part of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper as Christ gave it in the Gospel accounts?  The reference in the Directory distinguishes the collection for the poor from the ‘parts’ of public worship: that ‘no part of the public worship be thereby hindered’, the Directory implying that the collection was not such a part of worship.  The term ‘part’ was used synonymously by Westminster for ‘element’ (as is seen throughout WCF, ch. 21).

Henry Hammond was a high-church, Anglican (and Arminian) who wrote what appears to be the first negative commentary on Westminster’s Directory for Public Worship.  This contemporary of Westminster interpreted the Directory in his own day as we have, that it does not provide for a collection of money as an element of worship.  In lauding the practice of the Anglican Church (as prescribed in their Book of Common Prayer), which held the offering to be an element of worship, he contrasts this with Westminster’s Directory (A View of the New Directory…,1646, pp. 42-43):

“…this offering of Christians to God for pious and charitable uses, designed to them who are his proxies and deputy-receivers…  is received and brought to the priest, he humbly prays God to accept those alms, and this is it which I call the service of the Offertory… but [it is] wholly omitted in this Directory ([which] only [has] a casual naming of a collection for the poor, by way of sage caution that it be so ordered that no part of the public worship be thereby hindered) upon what grounds of policy…  I know not, unless out of that great fear lest works of charity…  should pass for any part of the service or worship of God…  as pars cultus, a part of worship…”

If contemporaries understood the Directory, from its plain language, to teach that a collection for the poor was not an element of worship, who are we to say otherwise?  The wording in Westminster’s Directory allows that the collection for the poor be taken outside of the worship service and it in no way necessitates that the collection be in the worship service.

It is true that many of the English churches before Westminster held a collection for the poor during the service, the collection largely being understood as a circumstance in the service (and not an element).  Often the manner of taking it up disturbed the elements of worship, which the Directory addresses.  However, Westminster intended to, and did make (large) changes to the status quo worship taking place previous to the Assembly..

The only national Church at that time which adopted the Westminster documents (including its Directory for Public Worship) was the Church of Scotland.  When the Church of Scotland made changes in its own worship in order to come into more full consistency with the Westminster Directory, it did not practice a collection in its public worship services (which was consistent with the Church of Scotland’s practice before Westminster).

The Westminster documents consistently and significantly refer to monetary givings as a ‘collection’ and not as an ‘offering’.  An ‘offering’ in English is an ambiguous term.  The word may connotate simply a voluntary contribution, or it may include the additional aspect of a set apart, act of worship to be received and accepted by God Himself, similar to sacrifices offered on an altar unto the Lord.  Hence, the term ‘offering’ might designate an act, or element, of worship.  However, the phrase which Westminster uses, a ‘collection for the poor’, can in no way designate an element of worship, as if the collecting of physical money from persons, itself, were an act of worship unto God.

The Directory also refers to the collection under its head, ‘Concerning the Observation of Days of Public Thanksgiving’.  The reference reads:

“At one or both of the public meetings that day, a collection is to be made for the poor (and in the like manner upon the day of public humiliation)…”

The reason stated for this by Westminster is not because a collection is part of the worship of God, but, “that their [the poor’s] loins may bless us, and rejoice the more with us.”  The reference says that the collection is to be made ‘that day’.  It also specifies that the collection is to be made ‘at one or both of the public meetings.’  Note that the Directory does not say that the collection is to be made at the ‘worship service’, or even ‘in the public meetings’, but rather ‘at… the public meetings’.  This is consistent with the Scottish practice where church members dropped in their monetary donations at the door (see the documentation on this page below) when they came to attend the public meetings where spiritual worship would be offered to God.

To finalize the whole, the list of the elements of worship in Westminster Confession, 21.4-5 (which does not include a ‘collection’) was intended to be exhaustive, as will be thoroughly and conclusively demonstrated (especially from the explicit testimony of the ‘Preface’ to The Directory for the Public Worship of God) on this website in the days ahead.





‘The Collection of Tithes & Offerings in Light of the Regulative Principle of Worship’  (2013)  7 pp.

This was the letter of a local church’s session to their presbytery informing them of their change to the Biblical and historic, reformed practice, while requesting the presbytery to search the Scriptures regarding this Biblical teaching in order to reform according to the Word of God.

Moeck, Gregory – ‘The Offering as an Element of Worship’  (2016)  12 paragraphs

This article is very instructive, bringing in scriptures and exegetical insights often overlooked.  The footnotes contain valuable references to the older puritan literature on the topic.  Moeck is an Elder in the O.P.C in San Francisco.

Myers, Andrew – ‘The Tithe & Offering in American Presbyterian Worship’  (2018)  4 paragraphs



The Continental Reformation


Hughes Oliphant Old

Worship  in Guides to the Reformed Tradition  (John Knox Press, 1984), p. 153

“Early in the Reformation the liturgy of Strasbourg [Germany] eliminated the offertory.  No collection was taken in the service of worship itself.  Nevertheless a chest was put in each of the churches so that on leaving the church worshippers could deposit their alms.  The collection of alms as people left worship became characteristic of Reformed churches.  We hear of this being the practice of the Reformed Church of Augsburg [Germany].  In Basel [Switzerland], after the minister had given the Benediction, he was to remind the congregation to contribute to the care of the poor, and as the people left the service they put their alms in one of the alms chests which stood near the door.”



Summaries of the Church of Scotland


Steuart of Pardovan, William – bk. 2, Title 10, ‘Of Collections & Recommendations for the Poor’  in Collections & Observations concerning the Worship, Discipline & Government of the Church of Scotland…  (1709), p. 126

Nicholas Dickson – Ch. 6, ‘The Elder at the Plate’  in The Kirk & its Worthies  (1914), p. 189 ff.



G.D. Henderson, The Scottish Ruling Elder  (1935), p. 74 ff.

“Custom as to method of collection varied at different times and in different places [in Scotland].  Sometimes it was taken at the church door, outside or inside, or at the kirkyard [church-yard] gate.  Sometimes it was taken within the church during the service.  In 1573 the General Assembly ruled that collections be taken ‘only at the kirk doores.’  At Markinch elders were posted at the door ‘so as to keep ye people from raming [ramming] past without putting anything in ye [the] box.  In 1574 the collection for the poor at Aberdeen was ‘at the kirk dure,’ and in 1616 we hear of the ‘tass’ [a collection container] at the door and in 1621 of the bailies, council and elders with ‘others of the most honest rank of persons,’ to stand at the kirk door and collect, while after the Revolution settlement [1690] the Town Council had trouble with Episcopalian elders who insisted upon standing at the church door and taking the collection. 

At Elgin in 1591 someone was accused of ‘refuising of the puiris bred’ (board [which was the collecting plate]), and elders were ordained to stand and collect in turn in the most convenient place.  Boyndie (Banffshire) Kirk Session in 1625 decided to take the collection at the door ‘for escheuing of confusione and withdrawing of the people’s harts from devotion and better exercis of thair minds,’ while similarly at Fordyce (Banffshire) in 1627 a similar change was made and at Galston (Ayrshire) the collections began to be taken at the door in 1635.  In August, 1647, the Presbytery of Turriff agreed that the collections be ‘gathered in all the kirks of the Pbrie [presbytery] by the elders at the kirk doores,’ and in the following year [1648] the General Assembly passed an Act forbidding collections during service as being ‘a very great and unseemly disturbance of divine worship.’

At Elgin in April, 1648, there is a curious entry.  The minister complained about the smallness of the collection, and it was arranged that the collection was to be made ‘at the kirk door befor sermon and not after sermon within the kirk as befor,’ and that all the elders were to collect every Sunday, and ‘that they require from all that enters the kirk doore.’  Elders were in touble at Oldhamstocks in 1649 for being late in arriving to take the contribution at the church door, and at Ceres in 1659 we hear of an elder being slandered as ‘not worthy to stand and hold a broad [board, a collections plate] at the kirk door.’  In 1676 the Session of Essil ordered the collection to be now at the door ‘because the people were so throng in the body of the church that ther was no collecting off [of] it within doors,’ while at Alyth in the same year it was decided that the collection ‘whilk formerly was in the time of the singing of the Psalms shal be heirafter gon about befor the psalms begin.’  At Grange in 1680 it was arranged that in the summertime the collection should be at the door.

‘Brod’ or board seems to have been the common name for the [collection] plate.  In 1634 an Elgin elder was charged with refusing to collect with the ‘brode’ at the church door, and in 1650 the Session there agreed with a wright to make a ‘broad for gathering the poor’s money at the kirk door.’  At Yester in 1652 we hear of ‘a new box, with two broads for our collections.’  In the Kirkcaldy records for 1678 there is mention of ‘the elder that held the brod.’ 

Other words are sometimes used.  Oldmachar had ‘two tasses’ [collection containers] at the door in 1645, one for the fabric [material upkeeping of the building] and one for the poor.  In the following century we hear of the elders at Elgin who ‘stand at the basons,’ and find that the congregation possessed four pewter basons for collections, six stools on which to set them, and eight napkins for the stools.  In 1702 Keith Session bought ‘two stools to collect the offering.’  At Cullen (Banffshire) bad money was melted down to make a cup to collect the poor’s money at the Communion tables.  At Dumbarton in 1699 ‘two collection cups’ were sold and instead ‘two larg tinn plates’ were bought.  J.F.S. Gordon speaks of a baptismal basin, and even silver Communion cups being to his knowledge used at church doors for collections. 

The use of the ladle was common in certain parts of the country in the mid-nineteenth century.  At oldmachar in 1869 the Session discussed the relative advantages of ladles and plates.  Sometimes one reads of ‘the box.’  At Glencairn (Dumfries) in 1879 the collection was taken by means of ‘receiving boxes.’  Ladles are still in use in various churches [in 1935]—for example Newhills (Aberdeenshire) and Cullen.  The shaft of such ladles was sometimes long, sometimes short, the box sometimes open, sometimes partially covered.  There are several in Edinburgh.  Collection at the door seems to have been very general at the date of the New Statistical Account [1834-45].”

[Note that the birth of the Free Church of Scotland was in 1843]



Order of Quotes  10

** – denotes a Westminster divine

Primary Sources

Glasgow Church Session  1583
Nicholas Bownd  1613
Alexander Henderson  1641  **
Samuel Rutherford  1642  **
Church of Scotland  1648
David Dickson
Free Church of Scotland  1848

Secondary Sources

William Maxwell  1955
G.D. Henderson  1935
Richard Muller & Roland Ward
Hughes Oliphant Old



Glasgow Church Session Minutes on Offering  1583

As quoted by William Maxwell, A History of Worship in the Church of Scotland, 1955, p. 60, footnote 6

Glasgow Kirk-Session Minutes, 30 August, 1583

A collector was appointed for the first time to stand at the Laigh [Tron] Kirk door to receive alms of town’s folk that go into the said Kirk to hear preaching.



Nicholas Bownd  1613  was an English divine

Sabbathum Veteris Et Novi Testamenti: or The True Doctrine of the Sabbath, 1635, ed. Christopher Coldwell (Dallas, TX and Grand Rapids, MI: Naphtali Press and Reformation Heritage Books, 2015)  Buy  pp. 353-355.  HT: Andrew Myers.  Preceding the quote below, Bownd argues for several pages that giving an offering is a Sabbath duty.  Here he goes on to argue that, although a Sabbath duty, it is not appropriate to give financial offerings in public worship. 

“But No Collection Is To Be Made In The Time of Divine Service

Therefore though I cannot like of the disordered gathering for the poor that is in many places, where in the time of divine service you shall see men go up and down asking, receiving, changing, and bestowing of money – wherein many times you shall have them so disagree, that they are louder than the minister – and the rest stand looking, and listening unto them, leaving the worship of God (as though it did not concern them), and thus all is confused; so yet I am persuaded that this is the fittest time to make this provision.  And I presume that it is not the meaning of our godly wise rulers in the church and commonwealth (who are abused therein), that any such thing should be done; but that the gathering being made at some other time of day, before or after the divine service, they might have it in a readiness beforehand, to bestow at the end of service upon the needy, according to their discretion; or generally to take some good order that God might be best served, our brethren relieved, and no man justly offended.

{And it seems that Justin Martyr would insinuate thus much unto us, that in his time at their public assemblies not only there was collection for the poor, but in this manner.  For speaking of all things that were done publicly, he speaks of this last, as though it were last done, when he says: ‘first the books of the prophets and apostles were read; then some exhortation was made to the people; after this there was prayer and thanksgiving.’ [157]  Not that there was none before, but then were there solemn prayers for the whole Church, and for them that are in authority.  ‘Fourthly, the creatures of bread and wine were blessed and distributed unto the people; and last of all the richer sort did contribute something to the poor, as God did make them able, and willing.’ By which as we may presume that it was his meaning to show that this was their order, that the reading and preaching of the Word of God and prayer went before the sacrament, so all of them before their collection for the poor; so that it did neither prevent any of them, nor was mingled with them; whose example should be our imitation.}

157. Justin Martyr, Apolog. 2 [Cf. First Apology, ch. 67, ANF 1, 186. Cf. Migne, PG 6, 430.]

But we may say of this thing [offering during the worship service], as the papists do of private mass (which they cannot defend), that the iniquity of the people brought it in.  For when men through covetousness would not follow the rule of the apostle, to put something apart for the poor, as they should find God had blessed them (1 Cor. 16:2), and so bring that with them and have it in readiness, as he says here, being persuaded that it is a duty which God requires of them, and so do it cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7), as unto Him who has promised to reward it; but being left to their discretion, they have shifted it off as they might; and when divine service was ended, and now nothing more was to be done in the church but that, they would not tarry [for] it. Then, the collectors for the poor were compelled to take them in the midst of God’s service, when for very shame by starting {aside} they could not refuse.  But from the beginning it was not so; and seeing God is not the author of confusion, all things in the Church must be done honestly and in good order (1 Cor. 14:33-40). {But what order can there be in this, that then, when the minister is reading or praying, unto the which all should attend without interruption, others should be chopping and changing of money, and squaring about it?  Or to speak the best of it, quietly taking out their purse, seeking in it, and distributing out of it?

We would think it strange, if while the pastor were thus occupied, some other men should read aloud a chapter in another end of the church, or three or four should begin to sing a psalm.  Why then should it not seem as strange unto us, when the minister is occupied in the public service, that others should interpose themselves with gathering of money?  Especially seeing that others may better agree together than these two, seeing they are more suitable, as being all of them parts of God’s divine immediate worship, and so is not the gathering and giving of alms, though it be a work of the Sabbath day.  Besides, seeing the apostle does justly blame the Corinthians for not using their spiritual gifts so in the public assemblies, as the whole church might be best edified by them – saying, What is to be done then brethren? when ye come together, according as every one of you hath a psalm, or hath a doctrine, or hath a tongue, or hath revelation, or hath interpretation: let all things be done unto edifying (1 Cor. 14:26) – then how much more would he blame them, for so using their temporal gifts in the church, that they should tend to the destruction of themselves, and others?

Now for a man, when he is devoutly occupied in any part of God’s public worship, to have another man come and pull him by the sleeve, and to whisper in his ear, and for him then to draw out his purse, and to change money; whether this be likely to edify, or destroy them both, that is, to further, or to hinder them in that about the which then they should be occupied, let other men judge.  I am sure it is contrary to an injunction made in the days of our late sovereign Queen Elizabeth, of most blessed and famous memory, which as far as I conceive is not reversed by any of the last canons and ecclesiastical constitutions made in the first year of his Highness’ reign (whom God preserve and bless), in which it was decreed, ‘that no man, woman, or child, should otherwise be occupied in the time of service, than in quiet attendance to hear, mark, and understand that that is read, preached and ministered.’ [158]

158. Elizabeth, Injunct. Article 38 (Q. Iniunct. Articl. 38). [Cf. Injunctions given by the Queens Majesty concerning both the clergy and laity (1559; repr. c.1840), 9].

And so I conclude, that as alms giving is a necessary and perpetual duty to be performed upon the Sabbath day, so that it ought to be performed after that manner that no part of God’s public worship may be hindered, interrupted, or made unprofitable by it.”



Alexander Henderson  1641  **

In commenting on the office of deacons, Henderson explains how the collections were taken on the Lord’s Day prior to the Westminster Assembly (which didn’t start meeting until 1643).  HT: Michael Daniels

Alexander Henderson, The Government and Order of the Church of Scotland  (1641), pp. 31-32

“The means for the maintenance of the poor are collected, by the deacons, the first day of the week, and other days of the public assembling of the people to the worship of God, at the entry of the Church.  And if this prove not a competency, then do the people either bring in their charity on such days as are appointed by the eldership, or are willing to be taxed, according as they shall be judged to be able.  In some cities, and parishes where this order has been carefully observed, none have been suffered to beg, and none have lacked.”



Samuel Rutherford  1642  **

Peaceable and Temperate Plea for Paul’s Presbytery in Scotland, 1642, London

Ch. 20, Whether or not the government of the Church of Scotland can be proved by God’s Word to be lawful?

11th Article, Elders and Deacons

“Upon the first day of the week, everyone lays by in store, as God prospers him, giving it into a broad [collection plate] at the church door, for the relief of the poor, as 1 Cor. 16:2.  It is provided that ministers have competent stipends, as 1 Cor. 9:13, and that hospitals be upholden, Matt 25:35,36; Eccl. 11:1,2, and that the fabric [buildings and external furniture] of the Church be upholden by the [civil] patron and free-holders [civil town citizens],¹ as Mal. 1:10; Hag. 1:4; Hag. 2:16.”

¹ [The Scots followed the practice described in the Westminster Confession, Ch. 23.3, of the Establishment Principle, that the Civil government is to materially support the church with regard to its external well being (though not in spiritual matters).  Thus the civil rulers and citizens of the town were also responsible for contributing financially to the maintenance of the Worship of God, as such is a moral (1st and 2nd Commandment), social and civil obligation (see 2 Chron. 24:8-11, which was by commandment of the king).]



The Church of Scotland

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland adopted the Westminster Directory of Public worship in 1645, the Westminster Confession in 1647, and then in 1648 they seem to have felt the need to clarify the language at the end of the section in the Directory on the Lord’s Supper which reads: “The collection for the poor is so to be ordered, that no part of of the public worship be thereby hindered”.  They passed the following act.  HT: Michael Daniels

Act of the Assembly 11th, 1648

“Collections for the poor, in time of divine service, (which is practiced in some churches abroad) are discharged, as being a very great and unseemly disturbance thereof.  And kirk sessions are ordained to appoint some other means for receiving these collections.”



David Dickson

An Exposition of All St. Paul’s Epistles…  (London, 1659), p. 69 on 1 Cor. 16:2

“Reason 2. Because nothing is required of them unfitting or burdensome, but that once every week, in convenient time and place, every one would contribute according to that measure wherewith God had blessed him: And the manner is plain, whereby the collection might be made publicly every Lord’s Day, and yet every one should lay it by himself, i. e. no man knowing the sum: We may imagine that they imitated the example of the ancient Church, a bored Chest being placed in the entrance to the house where they met for the Worship of God.”



The Free Church of Scotland  1848

Free Church Declatory Act of 1848, as quoted in, G.D. Henderson, The Scottish Ruling Elder, 1935, p. 75

“…in the circumstances in which the Church is now placed the main and primary object of the ordinary church door collections must necessarily be the supplementing of ministers’ stipends, it being for the most part more expedient that the relief of the poorer members of the Church should be provided for by occasional and extraordinary appeals.”



William Maxwell on Offering  1955

A History of Worship in the Church of Scotland, 1955, p. 60, footnote 6

“Some twenty years or so after the Reformation in Scotland [1560] it became common, and later normal, to collect alms at the church-door; e.g. Glasgow Kirk-Session Minutes, 30 August 1583: ‘A collector was appointed for the first time to stand at the Laigh [Tron] Kirk door to receive alms of Town’s Folk that go into the said Kirk to hear preaching’.”



G.D. Henderson  1935

The Scottish Ruling Elder, 1935, p. 71, Henderson is quoting from primary sources.

At Rathen [Scotland] in 1609 the collection is “gaddered by ye deacons at ye kirk door.”



Richard Muller & Rowland Ward  2007

Richard A. Muller & Rowland S. Ward, Scripture and Worship: Biblical Interpretation and The Directory For Worship, p. 114.  HT: Andrew Myers

“The [1645 Westminster] directory [of Public Worship] urges that the collection for the poor not hinder the worship.  An act of the Church of Scotland Assembly in 1648 actually forbade the collection during the service as “a very great and unseemly disturbance of Divine Worship.”[7]  With large congregations and few fixed pews, one can understand this.

[6] In Scotland, those who seceded from the Established Church in 1733 are an early example of voluntary support. Cf. also John H. Leith, An Introduction to the Reformed Tradition (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1977), 185.

[7] W.M. McMillan, The Worship of the Scottish Reformed Church 1560-1638 (London: James Clarke & Co., 1931), 123. Collection at the church door had long been customary although obviously not universal in the 1640s.”



Hughes Oliphant Old

Old was one of the leading historians in the world on reformed worship.

Hughes Old, Themes & Variations, pp. 109-10, as cited in Terry Johnson, Leading in Worship, p. 35, fn. #12

“The giving of alms for the support of the suffering, the poor, and the neglected has become an increasingly important liturgical concern [in ‘twentieth-century American Protestantism’].  This is expressed by the fact that the collection of alms is made during the service of worship rather than before it or after it.  This was not the older practice; there has always been a certain hesitancy about collecting alms during worship.”



When did Offering Begin to be an Element of Public Worship?

While Romanism and the Anglican Church have long had an ‘offertory’ in their public worship services, and while one may occasionally find a collection for the poor in the service of some of the post-reformation reformed churches (it being considered an indifferent circumstance in the service), it appears that the first time that offering began to take on the official status of an element in the public worship of God in reformed churches was in 1788 with the American, presbyterian, Directory for Worship.

Julius Melton, Presbyterian Worship in America: Changing Patterns Since 1787  (John Knox Press, 1967), pp. 17-18, 21-22, 26,149  HT: Andrew Myers

“The status of the Westminster Directory [of Public Worship] in colonial Presbyterianism was discussed in 1729 when the synod [of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.] decided to adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith as its creedal statement.[3]  Its ‘Adopting Act’ of that year was somewhat ambiguous even with regard to the Confession, because of the hostility some presbyters showed toward having any authoritative document standing between themselves and Scripture.  When it came to worship, the colonial synod only ‘recommended’ the Directory to its members, ‘to be by them observed as near as circumstances will allow, and Christian prudence direct.’  The synod of 1729 therefore gave only a qualified endorsement to the Directory, as it reflected on the unique aspects of American experience and the variety within American Presbyterianism.

[3.] For a copy of the ‘Adopting Act’ of 1729, see Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America [1706-1788] (Philadelphia, 1841), p. 93.

After the Revolution, as Presbyterians prepared in 1786 to give more coherent form to their national church organization, they again ‘adopted’ the Confession of Faith and ‘received’ the Directory and the Form of Government, ‘as in substance agreeable to the institutions of the New Testament.'[4]  It is difficult to ascertain exactly the status of the Directory in the colonial church.  But it is clear that Presbyterians entered the national era with no firm tradition of a recognized and controlling standard to order effectively the denomination’s worship.

[4.] Ibid, p. 519.

Among the steps taken to prepare a constitution for the new Presbyterian General Assembly was the appointment in 1786 of a committee to revise the old Westminster Directory for [Public] Worship.  Its chairman was one of the most distinguished pastors in the nation, John Rodgers of the First Presbyterian Church of New York City….

Rodgers’ most active colleague on the committee was Alexander MacWhorter, a popular preacher of Newark, New Jersey, who was also accustomed to decorous worship…. Two younger members of the revision committee, James Wilson and Alexander Miller, were both graduates, as was MacWhorter, of the College of New Jersey, at Princeton.

In 1787 this committee produced a draft of a revised Directory for Worship.[7]  It left almost no section of the 1644 Westminster Directory untouched. Many of its revisions expressed so well the American Presbyterian consensus that the synod had no trouble approving them.  Other features of the draft, however, were excised or drastically altered before final approval of the Directory.  Among these were some verbose or overly detailed portions, evidently deemed inappropriate  for a general set of directions.  But the 1788 synod’s primary objection to the draft stemmed from the committee’s excessive reliance on an urbane and rather formal view of worship.

[7.] Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, A Draught of the Form of Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (New York: S. and J. Loudon, 1787). Few copies are extent of this book, which contains also the draft of the Directory for Worship. The one used in this study is in the Speer Library of Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.

A preface to the draft Directory, which never found its way into the approved version, revealed in a striking way the motivating concerns of the committee.[8] The men on this committee had been studying the subject of worship more carefully than almost any Presbyterians since 1644.  Their preface displayed some striking contrasts between how a late eighteenth-century American and his seventeenth-century forebears approached worship.[9]

[8.] Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, The Directory for the Worship of God (Wilmington, 1803). The title page of the entire volume, The Constitution, contains the statement: ‘Ratified and adopted by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia,…1788.’

[9.] Citation of the individual points referred to in the Directory for Worship and in its drafted form of it which appeared in A Draught of the Form of Government is rendered unnecessary by the brevity of these documents and the ease of locating subjects in them which their division into chapters affords.

The [Final, 1788] Directory’s Description of Worship

ORDER OF WORSHIP. The arrangement of chapters in the draft and certain procedural remarks implied the following order of worship:

Prayer of adoration, invocation, and preparation
Reading of Scripture
Singing of praise
Long prayer of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, and intercession, followed by Lord’s Prayer
(Lord’s Supper, when celebrated)
Singing of a psalm

A collection, the singing of ‘a psalm or hymn,’ and a benediction closed the service.”




“And Jesus sat over against the treasury… And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites…. And He… saith unto them… That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”

Mk. 12:41-44

“Take heed that you give not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 6:1




Related Pages


The Regulative Principle of Worship 

Tithes and Offerings