Friday, May 16, 2008
(An ongoing dialog between brothers and sisters in Christ)
by Keith Giles
I've been having a great online dialog with some dear friends who have been trying to step outside the traditional model of Church in order to experience the freedom of "Being the Church". Along the way they've had some great questions regarding Pastoral Salaries, the purpose of the Tithes and Offerings collected by the Church, etc.
Below I've copied some of my answers to these great questions. Hope it helps all of us to re-think what the Bible has to say about faith and wealth and pastoral support.
WHAT IS "SUPPORT"?
First, I have to say that the kind of "support" that the Bible is talking about when it comes to the clergy is more like daily sustenance (food, drink, a place to sleep for the night), and not a house, a car, a 401K, and $50,000 a year, etc.
If you want to read a great book on this subject I'd recommend "Faith and Wealth" by scholar and historian Justo Gonzalez; it's a great look at the early church and what we know historically about how those first Christians felt about money and what it was for. (Hint: it belonged to the poor, not to the clergy).
NOT A MYSTERY
It's not a mystery what the early church did with their money. As much as some may wish it were a mystery (so that they could justify an extravagant lifestyle perhaps), it is not a mystery that they used it to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow among them.
We do see evidence that those who travelled as missionaries or evangelists were cared for and supported for their work, but this is usually more along the lines of providing a place to sleep for the night, a basket of bread and wine for the journey, etc. We don't see the early Church supporting a clergy class. Far from it.
It was very likely that they continued to follow the work ethic set by Jewish Rabbis of the day who worked a trade with their hands to support themselves as they taught in the synagogues and taught their disciples to do the same.
If you want further proof, beyond the New Testament accounts, I'd recommend looking at the Apology of Tertullian, a 2nd Century Church Father. As he attempts to explain what early Christians believe and practice regarding money he says:
“Even if there is a treasury of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in initiation fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest contribution- or whatever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering…to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old…"
You can read the entire Apology of Tertullian section on this subject:
FIRST CENTURY CHURCH POLICY
The early church also had a policy that said, "If you don't work you don't eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10) which, I believe, applied to the pastors, teachers, and apostles as much as it applied to the "average person" among them. (I put that in quotes because I also think that, in the early church, there was no average human being, they were all one and did not "Lord it over one another" as Jesus commanded them).
OUR PERSONAL STORY
When my wife and I felt called to leave our traditional Church and plant our house church it was our desire to have a church, like the early church, where 100% of the offering went to the poor around us. Therefore, it was my personal conviction that for me to take a salary would not work. Due to what I had learned in my studies of the early church practice, and based on the passages I studied from Paul regarding his attitude about receiving support, I determined to quit my on-staff job as a pastor and find a job in the real world, working with my hands to support my family, so that the offering collected in our house church could be given, all of it, to the poor.
It took me a year to find that full-time job, and I had to work temp jobs and contract assignments to support my family in the meantime, but the hardship was worth it. We managed to give away all of the money our house church received (and we still do this today)...and it has blessed everyone's socks off!
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT SUPPORT
So, in my own struggle to work all this out I've studied the New Testament passages at length to make sure that we're being true to the values handed down to us.
In 2 cor 11, verses 7-9 Paul reveals his attitude about receiving support from the Church:
"Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so."
Here Paul tells us that receiving support from another church in order to preach to the Corinthians was comparable to "robbery" in his mind. Suffice it to say, he didn't feel comfortable with doing it, but he did agree to this at least in this instance in order to devote himself to the service of the Believers in Corinth.
Of course, even though Paul calls this "Robbery" he does accept it and Paul also makes it clear that those who preach the gospel should make their living from the Gospel. If you read 1 Cor 9 (and I recommend you read the whole thing if you haven't already) you'll get a very shocking look at Paul's teaching and his attitude on this subject of receiving support.
JESUS COMMANDS US
First, he says that it's his right to expect food and shelter, or "support", in exchange for his work of preaching the Gospel (verses 1-14 of ch. 9) even going so far as to declare: "In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." (v. 14)
WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE
However, immediately after this, in v. 15, Paul goes on to say, "But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast."
He goes on to say, in the rest of this passage, that, although it may be his "right" to receive support of this kind (and he's clear that there is nothing wrong with it in God's eyes), but he has a personal conviction to not avail himself of this right.
"What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it." - Paul (v. 18)
TO RECEIVE SUPPORT OR NOT TO?
So, in a way those who receive support from the Church are doing the will of God, and those who choose not to receive support, but to work with their own hands and support themselves, are also doing the will of God.
However, Paul was not a pastor, as we think of them today. He was a travelling, church-planting evangelist and apostle.
NOT ABOUT BEING "RIGHT"
I've never felt compelled to rebuke a pastor for taking a salary for their work of preaching the Gospel, but I would ask them to give me the same grace for choosing (like Paul) to preach the Gospel for free and work with my hands...so that the money that might have been spent on my salary could be spent to bless those in real need.
Those who choose to work a day job and pastor the Church are just as free to do so as the one who chooses to receive finanical support from the Church.
However, "preaching the Gospel" as Paul means it does not involve teaching weekly in a gathering of the saints. He means it in the sense of those who travel outside the Church and preach the Good News of the Kingdom to the lost. That's a big difference.
My friends who originally asked me to comment on this subject recently had a very ugly disagreement with someone who wanted to attack them over this subject.
As a "What if?" to their pastor friend I would want to ask, "What would your Church do with your annual salary if they didn't have to pay you?" - Would they use it to help single Mom's pay their bills? Would they use it to buy food for the homeless sleeping the park? Would they use it to buy a new sound system for the worship band? Would they use it for new flat panel HD TV's for the nursery?
IT'S ABOUT THE HEART
The early church had of view of money that was very different from our own. That, ultimately, is what we differ on I think.
When Peter, James and John met with Paul and Barnabas to send them out as their first missionaries and church-planters they had only "one requirement" - to remember the poor. Paul's response to this was that it was "the one thing I was eager to do". - (Galatians 2:10)
The early christians placed a high priority on charity and sharing and giving to those in need. Jesus said that the way we treat the poor was indicative of our love for himself (Matt 25), and the Disciples displayed a radical compassion for the poor by taking the money laid at their feet and distributing it to the poor among them (Act 4:32).
Paul had such a passion for upholding this value that he refused to receive regular support from the Body and preferred to work with his hands so that the maximum number of people could be served and blessed.
Do we have the same passion for this value of serving the poor? Do we have the same heart that Paul and Peter and James and John and Jesus did?
This, for me, is the real discussion.
Hope this helps.