Offering is not an Element of Public 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



The Bible teaches that we are only to worship God in that way that He prescribes in Scripture (see The Regulative Principle of Worship).  

The Old and New Testaments teach that tithes and offerings are to be collected on the Sabbath (1 Cor. 16:2), though there is no place where they are either commanded, exampled, or can be necessarily inferred, to be acts of public worship from God’s Word.  The Levitical ordinances of animal sacrifices (Lev. 1-5; Mt. 5:23), according to the book of Hebrews (chs. 8-10), have been abrogated and only spiritual worship remains in the New Testament era (John 4:24).  

As the churches of the Old and New Testament always have (2 Kn. 12:9-10; 2 Chron. 24:8-11; Mk. 12:41-44), historic reformed churches have often appointed a box in the back of the meeting place (or a similar indifferent means) for the collection of the tithes and offerings of God’s people.



Order of Contents

The Westminster Standards
The Continental Reformation

A Summary of the Church of Scotland
Order of Quotes
Historic Reformed Quotes  (10)
When did Offering as an Element of Worship Begin?




Moeck, Gregory – The Offering as an Element of Worship  2016  12 paragrahs

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 and Offering in American Presbyterian Worship  2018  4 paragraphs

The Collection of Tithes and 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. 




The Westminster Standards  1645  **

The Westminster Confession 21:5, note the absence of offering as an element of worship

The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God…


The Westminster Public Directory of Worship

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



The Continental Reformation

Hughes Old, Worship, Guides to the Reformed Tradition (JKP, 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.



A Summary of the Church of Scotland from the Reformation through the Covenanting Era

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

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  **
The Church of Scotland  1648
The Free Church of Scotland  1848

Secondary Sources

William Maxwell  1955
G.D. Henderson  1935
Richard Muller and 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.



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 and 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 is one of the leading historians in the world today on reformed worship.

Hughes Old, Themes and 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 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,” 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; 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