Should preachers of the Gospel minister without pay and support themselves with another job?
What can we learn about this from the Bible?
Jesus laid down His carpenter’s tools when He began His ministry. When He called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him, they left their fish nets and boats behind (Mark 1:16-20). Matthew stopped collecting taxes. All the disciples of Jesus left their places of employment when they followed Him, Judas being a possible exception, as he continued to be an embezzler (John 12:6).
What does Paul, the self-supporting tent maker, say about this?
In I Corinthians 9 he defends the right (authority) that ministers of the Gospel have to be supported by the ministry.
He actually makes a case for it…
(1) From examples in life. “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?” (I Cor. 9:7 NIV).
(2) From the Law. “It is written in the Law of Moses, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain'” (verse 9). He tells us this was written totally (πάντως) for those who minister the Gospel, like the apostles and their fellow workers. “Surely [God] says this for us, doesn’t He?” (verse 10). This law was not given simply for the benefit of oxen. As Martin Luther has said, “Oxen cannot read.” It was given to provide for the support of those who preach the Gospel.
(3) From common sense. “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” (verse 11).
(4) He cites the practice of priests who minister in the temple. “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” (verse 13).
(5) He gives us an injunction from the Lord Jesus Himself. “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the Gospel should receive their living from the Gospel” (verse 14). This is a reference to what Jesus said in Matthew 10:9 and 10 and Luke 10:7.
Paul did not use this right, though he and his companions in missionary work had a legitimate claim to it (I Cor. 9:6,12,18). Why not?
(1) False apostles were looking for an “occasion” to discredit his apostleship by accusing him of doing what he did for financial gain, which would hinder the Gospel (I Cor. 9:12).
The following quotes under #2 are from R.C.H. Lenski’s Interpretation of I and II Corinthians.
(2) Paul was different than all the other apostles. He did not first become a follower of Jesus and then later accept the Lord’s call and commission to the apostleship. How was it different for him? He was given a stewardship (I Cor. 9:17), laid out for him in his call to apostleship, on the day he fell to the ground on the road to Damascus. And he was not asked for his consent in the matter. “[Stewards] were slaves, whose masters gave certain goods or property into their hands to be administered in trust.” They were not asked. They were simply handed the stewardship. “When a slave, who had nothing to say in the matter, was put in charge of such a trust he had no claim to wages for administering the trust” (Lenski, page 371).
Lenski goes on to say, “Paul’s case was different from that of any other apostle. He came into the church as an abortion [miscarriage-I Cor. 15:8], was not fit to be called an apostle. All the others were believers, and as such were finally called as apostles. Not so Paul. Dead fetus that he was, fit only to be buried quickly out of sight, on the road to Damascus Christ called him to be an apostle even before he was converted to faith. This imposed on him the obligation, which he felt so keenly, never to take pay for his work. What Christ did by calling him into the apostleship while he was still such a hideous thing, Paul accepted as the stamp upon his entire apostleship. No church ever owed him anything, a man such as he had been, a persecutor of Christ and of the church. He felt that he could never make use of the right that they who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel. He, too, had this right, but how could he ever think of using it?” (Lenski, pages 1252 and 1253).
Whether a minister pays his own way, or is supported by the ministry, is determined by his own decision before God, or the circumstance he finds himself in. But this right preachers of the Gospel have, to live by the Gospel, should never be misused. As for those who decide to pay their own way: let them keep in mind the command of our Lord Jesus and the teaching of Scripture. It is wise to remember where our loyalties lie as followers of Jesus Christ. “If a man loves me, he will keep my words” (John 14:23). Let them also ask themselves if they have the time to effectively serve the Lord in this way.
Recently it was brought to my attention that a non-salaried ministry is a doctrinal position generally held by the Plymouth Brethren. Other doctrines, which are now widely accepted, actually originated with them within only two centuries of our time. They include the pre-tribulation rapture, dispensationalism, and a distinction between the church and Israel. For nearly 1800 years these teachings were unknown in the church!
The lack of a clergy/laity division is another. The Brethren advocate a leveling of the body of Christ. It is virtually flat. There are times when this practice, combined with their stress on the priesthood of all believers, a Biblical doctrine that “came of age” during the Protestant Reformation, may seem strangely similar to the attitude that brought on the rebellion of Korah in the Old Testament (see Jude 11 and Numbers 16:1-3).
Some honorable Christian brothers have been Brethren. Perhaps the most renowned is George Mueller, though there came a time in Mr. Mueller’s life when he had to decide whether he was going to believe the Bible or J.N. Darby, a well-known member of the Brethren whose dispensational teachings were widely disseminated. “I am a constant reader of my Bible, and I soon found out that what I was taught to believe did not always agree with what my Bible said. I came to see that I must either part company from John Darby, or from my precious Bible, and I chose to cling to my Bible and part from Mr. Darby” (George Mueller).
Charles Spurgeon was aware that there were faithful brothers like Mueller among the Brethren. But Spurgeon spoke out against Brethren teachings. Tracts and a pamphlet, deriding him, were distributed by some of them because of this. In response he wrote the following statement in the February 1867 issue of Sword and Trowel:
“…We have so little faith in the spirit which inspires the Brethren. …the issue [distribution] of the pamphlet is, we fear, a wickedly malicious act, dictated by revenge on account of our remarks upon their party. …These men, who pretend to be so marvelously led of the Spirit, have in this case deliberately, and in the most unmanly manner, sought to injure the character of one who has committed the great sin of mortifying their pride, and openly exposing their false doctrine.”
© James Unruh 2015 and beyond