Thursday, October 07, 2010

FINANCIAL SUPPORT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT - Part 1

In the debate over whether or not pastors or church leaders should receive financial support for their service to the Church there are three main verses to look at.

In part one I will look at 1 Corinthians 9:7-18. In part two I will combine the verses found in the two epistles to Timothy in one article.

Comments are welcome, but please first take the time to read my entire article before you respond. Please also keep this conversation friendly and focused on the topic, not the author or the commenters.

Thanks,
-kg
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FINANCIAL SUPPORT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT - PART ONE
Before we can even begin to have this discussion it must be pointed out that there is no New Testament analog for our modern day senior pastor. The closest you can get to leadership in the New Testament church is a group of elders, or overseer, but not one single leader who handles all teaching, preaching, counseling, and administrative duties.

This fact makes it very difficult for us to effectively guess what the Apostles might have taught on the subject of whether these senior pastors should receive financial compensation. One might wonder if the Apostles would be even more concerned that one single person was leading the local church himself than whether or not that person should be compensated financially. But, I digress.

If we can attribute the function of the local senior pastor to the work done in the New Testament church by elders, then there might be grounds for arguing that a pastor in our modern day churches should be supported financially. That's more of what this article will attempt to discuss.

Let's begin by looking at 1 Corinthians 14 and what Paul has to say regarding whether or not Apostles should receive financial compensation for their work.

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?" - (1 Corinthians 9:7-12a)

If we stop right here, (and most do), it would seem that Paul believe quite strongly that those who minister in the Body of Christ should rightfully expect to “reap a material harvest”. However, let’s continue to read further and see where Paul is going with this argument before we make up our minds.

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

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. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 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.” - (1 Corinthians 9:12b-18)


Here, Paul affirms that Jesus has commanded that those preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. This sounds pretty convincing for those who believe that pastors should be put on the payroll. But “those who preach the gospel” are evangelists, and like Paul and the other apostles, travel from town to town preaching to the lost and helping to establish churches. That's not what senior pastors do. They, like the elders and the overseers in the New Testament church, remain with the local assembly to provide ongoing spiritual guidance under the leadership of Christ.

Paul is not arguing that those who remain behind and who facilitate the regular gathering should be financially supported here in this passage. What’s more, he goes on to say, in the strongest words possible I might add, that “he would rather die” than to “hinder the gospel of Christ” and to offer his preaching of the gospel “free of charge.”

Does this really come across as a glowing endorsement for financially supporting those who preach the gospel to you? To me, taken all together in context, it would seem that Paul feels that it’s more than a little possible for such practice to “hinder the gospel of Christ.” This should give us pause, I believe.

I also believe it’s no small distinction to point out that travelling missionary evangelists like Paul and the other apostles are the only ones who have any right to material harvest, according to the New Testament. Historically, we know that this support was usually in the form of a place to sleep and food to eat for as long as they remained in the city preaching the gospel to the lost. It did not correlate to $50k a year and a housing allowance with medical and dental benefits.

In 2 Corinthians 11, verses 7-9 Paul reveals more of 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.

The Didache, written in the late first or early second century, was a collection of teachings used by the early Christian church to guide them in church matters. Here we find the following instruction:

“Let every Apostle, when he comes to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet. And when he departeth let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he findeth shelter; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.” – (Didache 11:4-6)

So, clearly, there were those, even in the early Christian church, who desired to fleece the flock and the leaders of the church provided instruction on how to deal with them. Specifically, those who ask for money were considered to be false profits, which suggests also that Paul’s passionate example (in 1 Cor 9:12-18) had an impact on how the church supported those who were apostles.

Now, I'm not saying that our senior pastors are trying to fleece the flock. Most of them are humble servants of Christ who have responded to a genuine call on their life to encourage their brothers and sisters in Christ and teach them to obey the words of Jesus. Many of my dear friends are senior pastors and I have been an associate pastor myself who served alongside these men and have myself been supported financially by the church.

But that was before I felt God calling me to leave that model in favor of one where all of the offering from the church could go to help the poor in the community. I, like Paul, felt that it hindered the gospel, and my own walk with Christ, to participate in a system where the church spent most of the money received on herself and not on the poor and the broken around us.

In our next article we'll see what Paul has to say in his letters to Timothy regarding elders in the church and what compensation - if any - they are due.

-kg

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know this is off topic, but here goes anyway:

Your reference to the didache mentions apostles staying a day or two at the most, if they stayed three days they were false prophets.

I've always been under the impression that apostles, like Paul and Peter, stayed months even years on end and have never been particularly impressed by the itinerant model of "dropping in for a sunday preach" then leaving on Monday.

Does the Didach in fact actually encourage this "fly-by-night" approach in your mind, I ask because I have never read the Didach and you obviously have.

Anonymous said...

May I ask what you do to earn a living? I would be curious to know, especially in light of your blog.

Keith Giles said...

Yes, you may ask. I work as a copywriter in an in-house marketing department for a large, global technology distribution company.