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Karl Barth on giving thanks to God alone

Only God deserves the thanks of man. We speak of true and essential gratitude – of the gratitude in which man must accept permanently and unreservedly the benefit he has experienced as the benefit which he simply cannot do without, as the perfect benefit showered upon him in the sovereign freedom of the Benefactor. We thus speak of a gratitude in which acceptance of the blessing has a depth and abandon and constancy corresponding to its character, in which obligation towards the Benefactor is felt to be absolute so that it cannot be fully discharged by any attitude of gratefulness which it may arouse. There are also other and more modest benefits. All the benefits which one creature can be or give towards another belong to this category. We do not underestimate the fact that these other more modest benefits exist, and that they are genuine benefits because first and last God the Creator is their source. Similar there is also another and more modest type of gratitude – the gratitude which creatures may show one another for reciprocal favour, and which can be genuine because first and last it is to God that they are thankful when thy receive genuine benefits. Butt his also implies that all other thanksgiving is weighed in the scales and placed under the question whether it refers to a genuine benefit of God for which man is giving thanks, and whether it is therefore the true and essential gratitude which is appropriate to this benefit. Our present theme is this true and essential gratitude. The divine benefit demands this. And it alone can do so. It alone is the indispensable, perfect and free blessing poured out upon man. It alone promises the grace which maintains and saves man. It alone spells the salvation which alone can and does help the creature living on the edge of the abyss of destruction. Hence it alone merits thanks in the strictest sense of the term. Because God alone can be and is a Benefactor in this sense, the One in relation to whom man can and will transcend the limits of his intrinsic possibilities (which is what happens when he thanks God), therefore God alone deserves thanks. Thanksgiving is wasted, indeed, it rests on error and can only lead to further error, if it is not directed tot he one benefit of this one Benefactor, even in the grateful acceptance of benefits from creaturely benefactors. As thanksgiving which is part of an absolute obligation and is permanently binding, it can be directed to this one benefit alone and therefore to this one Benefactor alone.

Church Dogmatics III/2, 169

Taking the offering or offering worship?

In a class this morning, we were discussing the challenge of giving in the evangelical church. You are probably aware that the average giving of an evangelical in America is around 2.5%. You may not be aware that there are significant generational differences within that number. Older evangelicals give a decidedly higher percentage of their income than do younger ones. So, we got into an interesting discussion of why this was and what we can and should do about it.

Now at least some of this may have to do with the soccial demographics of affluence in this country. It’s entirely possible that older Christians are simply better off financially than younger ones. I don’t know that this is the case, but it’s possible. And, I’m sure that this is a complex issue with multiple contributing factors. But I wanted to highlight a couple of things that I think are at work here.

First, the younger generations, as we all know, are significantly less driven by duty and institution. Indeed, institutional loyalty is, for many, virtually non-existent. Unlike previous generations, the younger generations won’t give just because they’re supposed to. But, that doesn’t mean that they won’t give. Actually, when these younger Christians find something that they resonate with, they can be exceedingly generous. So, the question is, how do we help them resonate with the church?

That leads me to my second point. The younger generations want to give to mission, not institution. They want to know that their offerings (nad their lives) are making a difference. If we want them to step up to the plate financially, we need to convince them that the church (your church) really has a mission worth investing in. If we find that these younger Christians are not resonating with the church, and consequently are not giving, it may be because we have not succeeded in convincing them that our churches really are missional.

Finally, in many of the evangelical churches I’ve attended, we’re doing a terrible job celebrating giving as worship. Instead of seeing giving as inherently connected to a lifestyle of praise, it feels more like and intermission or addendum to the real task of worship. I find it interesting that many churches sound almost apologetic when it comes time to take the offering. We make it very clear that we don’t want this to be a burden, we don’t want visitors to feel obligated, etc. What we often don’t make clear is that this is an expression of worship. This should be a time of joyous celebration, glorifying in the bountiful goodness of God’s grace. Even for those who lack financial resources, it can be a time of gratitude for the gifts we have received and a renewed awareness of how much we do have to offer back in gratitude. Instead, the “offering” sometimes feel s more like paying a bill than worshiping the King. We need to teach this generation to worship.

I’m sure there’s more. But those were the issues that immediately jumped to my mind.