One Sunday morning in church an usher dropped the collection plate and the offering flew everywhere – coins rolling on the floor and bills floating through the air. The congregation couldn’t help but laugh, so the usher felt he needed to give an explanation: “I couldn’t help but drop the plate. I was just too excited. I’d never seen a hundred-dollar bill in the offering before!”
Well in Europe, you are not likely to see a $100 bill in the Sunday offering because you are not likely to see a collection plate at all. How then do they pay for the building, the program, the minister – by the nation taking the tithe out of your pay cheque. Let me explain. In these old countries, there is a close connection between church and state. So close in fact, that a number of governments collect a tithe of your income as a religious tax. Here’s how it works. When you are born and your parents fill out the birth certificate, they not only write down your (name, date, height, weight, etc.) they also put in your religion; be it Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. Then from that moment on, any income you earn in life, a tithe is taken out by the government – which gives it to your denomination which gives it to your place of worship (minus various administration fees collected throughout the process). In return, in addition to the fifty-two weekly services you and your family get to attend, you also receive the right to such things as: baptisms, communion, confirmation, bar mitzahs, confessions, weddings, funerals, burials, etc.
However, should you decide you do not want to have anything to do with religion, there is a process (for a fee) where you declare yourself non-religious and become exempt from the tithe taken out of your pay. And it is here that Germany has made the news. Recently, Berlin, in need of more income to finance government social programs, announced new taxes on such things as inheritances, capital gains, etc. This has led to hundreds of thousands of long-religious Germans suddenly declaring themselves non-religious and filing for the tithe exemption to counteract the new taxes. (Up to now less than a hundred people a year had been filing for the non-religious tithe exemption.) This in turn has led to some German politicians, seeing what is going on, to push for legislation that requires the faithful to show their tax return at the worship door before being allowed to enter in or access any sacraments. Thus the title of the article – O Come, All Ye Faithful Taxpayers.
By the way, in the early years, North American mainline churches were financed the same way; not with freewill offerings but with tithe-taxed income. And then the Founding Fathers came out with the radical Baptistic idea of the separation of church and state. Financially, this meant that the days of any government here collecting and distributing money to churches was over. Congregations were now on their own. This sent denominations scrambling for ways to come up with the cash to meet the bills, leading to such ideas as – rent a pew, charity raffles, pledge drives, etc. But eventually, the weekly free-will tithing scriptures were discovered, preached, and the offering plate became a part of their regular worship as it is till this day.
But none of the above is true for Baptistic churches (including those in Germany). We have always looked to the saints, not government for funds . And that is why around here – we praise the Lord and pass the plate.