Thursday, May 12, 2011

Paul's Rights?

I can't remember a time when I complained about my salary as a minister of the Gospel. My brethren have always taken great care of me and my family. I haven't asked for a raise since our second child was born in the late seventies, and I've never moved to another church family for a salary increase. It was always a lateral or less financial move. I am thankful that the "vow of poverty" is not one of the Catholic traditions we still keep today (among others that we do).
So, with the disclaimer out of the way, as I was preparing this week's lesson on God's Incredible Budget (every family has to deal with finances), I was completely surprised to notice some very interesting things the New Testament teaches about every member's financial responsibilities to the family. There really are only two reasons why God commanded His children to give money to a general fund. The only times members contributed in the New Testament was out of compassion for those in need, and to support those who teach the Gospel. To use familiar institutional language, it was for Missions and/or Benevolence. Christians gave to help family members in their congregation or other congregations who were in need, and to support those spiritual leaders who worked locally or were spreading the Gospel somewhere else. (Acts 2:42-46; 4:32; 1 Cor.16:1-2; 2 Cor.8-9) Everything else is a matter of expediency.
That is probably not such a new revelation to most students of the Bible, but what I found truly interesting was how much New Testament scripture was devoted to paying ministers. Read 1 Corinthians 9 again. Paul devoted more space to his "right" to receive financial support than most of the doctrines we call "essential" and "correct." He gives multiple illustrations of the principle of paying, sharing, or rewarding those who serve, and where else does Paul talk so much about his "rights" as a minister and an apostle? He is very clear: "...the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." But, after making all those arguments, he then explains "But we did not use this right".
I know it's semantics to most people, but I have argued for decades that ministers are not employees of the church or the elders, we are ministers of God who are supported by the church. That probably doesn't mean much to most people until you realize that ministers were never meant to be treated like employees by the church or by elders - even if that is what the government says we are. It's a relationship of partners in the gospel, not the "power of the purse."
Just a few sentences after deferring his rights, Paul declared, "...I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." If getting paid ever becomes more important than that passion and commitment - well, that person is in the wrong line of work. Still, I'm thankful that I don't have to learn how to make tents.

1 comment:

Campguy said...

Thank you for writing this. Too many of the brethren uses these verses to "prove" that we are commanded to give to the church for any purpose and condemn those who will not support building projects or other things that the leadership wants. ALL of the verses used points to the collection for the Saints in Jerusalem, not support for the local "House of God".