This blog posts continues my short series on a passage in Tertullian’s Apology that deals with church meetings around 200 AD. The first entry in this series was called “Church Meeting in Tertullian – Part 1“. The following passage from chapter 39 follows from the passage in the previous post:
Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.
This passage obviously deals with money. The church that Tertullian met took up an offering. But, notice what this offering was used for: caring for the poor, orphans, older people confined to their homes, victims of shipwrecks, and those who were being punished in various ways because they were Christians.
It is interesting that this collection was taken monthly, not weekly. Also, it does not appear that believers were required or even asked to give a certain percentage of their income to this collection.
Tertullian was very clear in pointing out that this collection was not used to fund lavish feasts or parties. Some of his pagan opponents were probably suggesting that the Christian’s “Agape” feasts (which are discussed later) were simply drunken orgies. Tertullian is countering this claim by pointing out that the people gave money to support those who were in need – even those who were not part of their specific group of Christians.
What do you think about Tertullian’s description of church collections in 200 AD? How does Tertullian’s description of collections compare to collections (“tithes and offerings”?) today? How does Tertullian’s description compare to Scripture?