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A Hallelujah Offering is when the unsuspecting congregation has to peel off pew by pew and parade past the offering plates left on the communion table. Here, those who had been ambushed passed before scrutinizing eyes, and put their money where their mouth is - or don't put it. It is mighty bad timing if you only give once a month because you get a paycheck once a month but I suppose you could parcel it out every week just in case.

Alms in Secret?

alms, Matthew 6, Lord Jesus Christ, Adam Clark, tax deductions, offerings, tithing, Hallelujah Offering, Church of the Nazarene

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

As a baby Christian, I was intent on unraveling the mysteries of scripture. At the time, the Lord had given me a job at a denominational church as the janitor; and this was great because I was far removed from many of the worldly vices I had before the Lord Jesus Christ saved me from my sins. Usually, in the sanctuary, there is not much smoking, drinking, cussing, or the chasing of wild women going on, though it may be going on in the parking lot or the pastor’s office. 

At first, I didn’t have any resources to look things up, so I’d write down chapter and verse numbers in question at home.  Then, while going about my janitorial duties, if the pastor wasn’t using his office, I’d do some research in his library. Finally, I was able to buy an Adam Clark abridged commentary, and probably got through all of the New Testament over a few years, and some of the Old as well. 

After a year as the mop jock, I quit and went into full-time ministry and was free to visit other churches.  One day I went to the big one down the road, which was run by a young and nationally popular pastor who emphasized the word of God.  When the congregation of thousands opened their Bibles to the lesson, the turning of pages sounded like a rushing creek.  Impressive!  The pastor had charisma, told of his personal life in amusing ways, and inserted some jokes every now and then.  One could see why his followers attended: simple Bible lessons covering one or two chapters in forty-five minutes.  As a matter of fact, the service was actually a huge home Bible study, and one could go casual or dressy; and in the winter, you could always find a naturalist wearing shorts no matter how cold it was. Much of the pastor’s exposition of the scriptures was from standard commentaries, but he presented it as if he personally studied and came up with it himself.  The explanation he offered about giving alms in secret was…

The church hypocrites in Jesus’ day liked to be noticed giving alms, for which they had a little trumpet hanging around their necks by a chain.   When doling out to the poor, they would go to a public place like a market, put their little trumpet to their lips, and tweet a tune to signify their offering was about to be given.  The Pavlovian paupers would then appear, and these hypocrites would pass out the cash to be seen of men.  I think I had read this explanation before somewhere but knew there must be something better in the scripture than reciting something that he had no personal knowledge of.  You know, something more tangible than a tale, though the tale may have been true.

The pastor went on to explain that one ought not to give to be seen of men, but one ought to give by personal check so the staff could keep records.  But if you gave cash, you could put your name on the offering envelopes, and they’d keep track of that too.  Evidently it was ok for their employees to know what you gave, along with the IRS.  He also emphasized one needed to be a good steward of God’s money and get those rewards from Uncle Sam called “tax deductions.” However, I read the scriptures very differently – being a good steward was doing it the Lord’s way – in secret.  That reminds me…

After being the church janitor for a year and leaving, I insanely went back after being gone for three years and worked there six more.  (The price you pay for going backward.)  It was then that I noticed the pastor actually signed the members’ year-end receipt for contributions.   So, not only did the bookkeepers know what everyone gave, and a secretary or two, the pastor who was hired by the givers knew as well.  Asking the pastor about this, he said he just signed his name on the receipt and didn’t look.  Good business advice I’d say – don’t look just sign.   (I wonder if anyone ever tried to slip him their application for an auto loan to co-sign?)  Well, he was probably a more disciplined than most, because I’d be tempted to take a peek and see what some of those doctors were contributing to my salary, if you know what I mean.  Also, maybe I’d think it was my duty to assess if the sheep were really giving a tenth of their income over and above all the other things they were concocted to give to.

You can read in the word that we are to try and let no one know what we are giving, so I put it into practice.  That means, you might give your money in an envelope without your name, but not with an identifying number either.  However, this also means that people might think you are not tithing or giving offerings if you do it in secret.  I ran into an unexpected situation because of this. One day the pastor came up to me in a bullying sort of way, said there was no record that I was tithing to the church, and sputtered, “I’ll have no one on my staff working here that isn’t tithing!”  (So much for not peeking.) I told him I did tithe, and then he wanted to know where.  And I told him it was none of his business, and he was happy to see me leave some time later.

Anyway, I was getting blessed and challenged to practice giving in secret.  For a time, while attending the big church down the road, I’d drive over during the week and have my little friend drop the tithe into the foyer offering box.  She’d drop it in with her right hand while keeping her left hand hidden in her pocket because we didn’t want her left hand to know what her right hand was doing.

Now about twenty-five years have gone by, and it is amazing how the Lord can keep teaching you more and more about the same thing because he and his word are eternal.  Why, just the other day while reading and meditating upon the old familiar alms giving verses, it struck me with great joy to see another truth - that I laughed out loud.   You see, today’s congregations don’t need to toot a little trumpet tune to get attention for their offerings because they have the time and place scheduled already in the bulletin.   And usually, they have an offertory accompanied by a choir, a singer, a musician, or all three at the same time.  My friend, the offering is the most unsecret part of the service.

The public offering time can also be a quandary for visitors if they are unfamiliar with the procedures, and are unprepared to pay as they pray, give as they go, and hand it over as they hallelujah.  Also, modest givers feel pressured to fold up their one dollar bills so the denominations aren’t visible, but hundred dollar givers rarely fold theirs. Once, in children’s church, I saw the cute innocence of a child’s pride burst alive as he jumped up in the air waving his offering for all to see, and announced, “I’ve got a five dollar bill!  I’ve got a five dollar bill!”  Back then, children were usually given only a few coins to drop in the basket.

On another occasion, there was the “Hallelujah Offering.”  This is when the unsuspecting congregation is ordered to peel off pew by pew, and parade past the offering plates left on the communion table and make their drop.  Here, those who had been ambushed pass before scrutinizing eyes, and put their money where their mouth is – or don’t put it.  It is mighty bad timing if you only give once a month because you get a paycheck once a month, but I suppose you could parcel it out every week just in case, and by doing so, stifle unwarranted suspicion. The impromptu Hallelujah Offering is also a good tactic to rid the church of what they consider “deadbeats” who are not paying their share. So mortified because there is nothing to pull out of their pockets, they probably won’t come back again, or they’d always come prepared in the future.

It was at this same church when I received my membership with the others on stage, the pastor not only shook our hands, but at the exact same moment with the other hand, gave us our personal tithing envelopes.  He might as well have said it out loud, “Welcome to the Church of the Nazarene - now give us your money!”   Perhaps along with the right hand of fellowship could have been a Bible instead.

By the way, I have actually heard a solo trumpeter play for the offertory in the same synagogue - ah, I mean, church.

God loves you.  Read your Bible.

 

Maranatha

 


The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen