Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Collecting money in 1 Corinthians 16

“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.”

Having beaten the topic of breaking bread into the ground, I want to look at a text that is somehow strangely related. In countless tracts, we find 1 Corinthians 16:2 paired with Acts 20:7 to prove unequivocally that Christians met for a worship assembly on Sunday and only on Sunday. And that one of the authorized acts of worship is giving. (For those who may be unfamiliar, the teaching goes that the authorized acts are not only allowed, but must be present in the main assembly each week)

Interesting passage this one. If I were to read all of 1 Corinthians, I would have to conclude that Paul is instructing the Corinthians about something new. Note that he doesn’t say “as I instructed you before.” No, this is something that he has shared with the Galatians. He doesn’t say “here’s what I want you to do with the collection that you take each week.” No, he tells them when to take a collection. It’s a new instruction, not something that had been taught to them as a normal requirement.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that this passage is legislative, that Paul is laying down rules for all places and all times. Using the laws of approved example and silence, let’s make a brief list of what those rules would be:
  1. This collection was "for the saints." Any use for non-saints is prohibited by silence.

  2. We also see that this collection was for the saints in Jerusalem. Any use for non-Jerusalem saints is prohibited.

  3. This collection was for saints in another geographical area (as are all collections mentioned in the New Testament). Collecting money to be used locally is prohibited.

  4. These collections were to end before Paul went to Corinth. Any continuation of collections by Christians are thereby prohibited.

  5. Monies collected are to be held until Paul's arrival. Any prior disbursement is unauthorized and thereby prohibited.

It’s interesting to me that we can take a brief mention of a short-term, special collection and somehow extract “laws” for the modern church. It’s a wonderful example of Christian generosity, of how the church should come together to meet a specific need such as the famine in Judea. The procedure used is no more normative than the practice seen several times in Acts of selling goods to raise funds for the local church. One could easily argue that a garage sale is as scriptural as the Sunday collection and even moreso when applied to funds destined to be used locally.

But that wouldn’t suit our purposes, so it’s much easier to mold 1 Corinthians 16 into something that it never was.

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