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Ever wonder why we Lutherans use the form of worship we do? In this series we examine the depth and meaning of the various elements of our Lutheran worship service.

What are your thoughts when the offering plate is passed during the church service or—in some of our churches—when you place your offering in a plate or box in the narthex upon entering the church? Oftentimes, we don’t consciously think about the significance of the offering at all. Placing an envelope in the offering plate becomes an automatic action, somewhat like operating our car without consciously thinking about steering, accelerator, brake, turn signals, and so forth. We just get in the car and go somewhere, without actually thinking about those various components of driving. Our financial offerings, a part of the Offertory, can also quite easily become one of those “unconscious components” of what we do.

If we do actually think about our offerings, it’s very easy to view them as simply an economic necessity to support the expenses of a church: facility costs, salaries, mission work, publication of the bulletins or other materials, and so forth. But if that were all there is to the Offertory, there would be no real reason for including it as part of our liturgical worship. Our offerings do, of course, provide for all those and more economic needs, but that view of “economic necessity” is blind to a more important and more personal aspect of the Offertory: it is essentially spiritual , not economic. Our offerings are acts of worship; they are part of the liturgical element called the Offertory. In the words of Luther D. Reed, “The Offertory as a whole includes the Offering, the Offertory sentences [now typically the sung “Create in me a clean heart, O God, . . .”] and the Prayer of the Church [the General Prayer]; as such it begins a new and prevailingly sacrificial part of the Service.” Believing in the one true God, we are in the Offertory worshiping Him and offering to Him sacrifices from our sustenance—not just writing out checks to pay the bills.

The overall Offertory is, indeed, a sacrifice; but it is a sacrifice of homage , not propitiation . That’s a critical distinction. What that means is that it is not, as some have erroneously taught, comparable to the Old Testament sin offering to atone for sins. Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death has atoned for sins once and for all (Hebrews 7:26-28, 9:11-12, 10:10). Jesus was and is and always will be the only and the complete sacrifice for the sins of all mankind of all times. Our offerings, therefore, are not a matter of some foolish attempts to somehow offset our sins by paying money as though we were trying to buy indulgences from the Roman Catholic Treasury of Merit. The very idea that we could in any way purchase forgiveness of our sins is offensive to the truth of the Gospel.

Not propitiation, but homage. That means that instead of foolishly thinking that we can in some degree purchase forgiveness, the entire Offertory is a matter of reverence (homage) that we render to God in response to His abundant blessings—both material and spiritual—bestowed upon us. We remind ourselves of that truth, and also of the proper perspective on our material abundance, when we sing the first two verses of Hymn 441 (TLH):

"We give Thee but Thine own.
Whate'er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.

May we Thy bounties thus
As stewards true receive
And gladly, as Thou blessest us,
To Thee our first fruits give!"

Let us, then, in the Offertory, joyfully worship our God and Savior.

Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.