The Tithe and Offering in American Presbyterian Worship

When the Westminster Directory of Public Worship (1645) was revised by the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1788), an amendment was made to include the offering as part of the normal worship service. Previously, in Presbyterian churches, the offering was made outside of the worship service, on the Lord's Day, typically in a collection box, and the offering was not viewed as a distinct element of worship.

A century later, the Presbyterian Church (USA) (Northern), in 1886 revised its Directory of Public Worship to add the word “collection” to its chapter on “The Preaching of the Word,” and it added an entirely new chapter titled “The Worship of God by Offerings.” The Presbyterian Church (US) (Southern) followed suit in 1893, adding a new chapter to its Directory also titled “The Worship of God by Offerings,” thus further codifying the view that the financial offering to the church was a distinct and regular element of public worship.

The path that led to this change in Presbyterian worship is partially documented in Julius Melton, Presbyterian Worship in America: Changing Patterns Since 1787, in which he discusses the 1788 revision of the Directory (pp. 17-22), and changes to the Northern and Southern Directories (pp. 111-114); and by James Hudnut-Beumler (Dean of Vanderbilt University), In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar (pp. 52-57), in which he discusses the increasing emphasis given to the doctrine of the tithe and its connection to the offering in worship within American Presbyterianism (sometimes called the “tithing renewal movement,” see David A. Croteau, Perspectives on Tithing: Four Views, pp. 183ff), largely beginning in 1873 with the publication of a collaboration of two Virginia Presbyterian ministers Alexander Lewis Hogshead (1816-1880) and John Wood Pratt, Sr. (1827-1888). Hogshead wrote The Gospel Self-Supporting to which an appendix was added by Pratt titled Will a Christian Rob God? or, The Tithe the Minimum of the Christian’s Oblations. Arnold De Welles Miller (1822-1892), a South Carolina-born minister who pastored in North Carolina at the time also published in the same year The Law of the Tithe, and of the Free-Will Offering. In 1875, William Speer (1822-1904), the famous evangelist to the Chinese, published God's Rule for Christian Giving: A Practical Essay on the Science of Christian Economy, which also taught that the tithe was mandatory in the Christian era.

These views were not without controversy at the time, but they helped to pave the way for understanding the offering to be a distinct element of Christian worship and Presbyterian liturgy. Just as this topic was a matter of great concern to 19th century laymen and presbyters, the place of tithe and offerings remains of great interest to many today. To understand the tithing renewal movement and its arguments, one may delve into this literature from a pivotal moment in 19th century American Presbyterianism here at Log College Press, by clicking on the author links above and downloading these titles for further study.