Opinions on faith and life

They Have Received Their Reward

In Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew, particularly chapter 6, He speaks of those who have traded the approval of God and His wages for those of mere humans. We normally think first of those who give to charity for show, or to reduce their taxes, or like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), to give a false impression of piety. Others are told that they should give to get something back from God, which is not giving at all but investing. All of those people have forfeited the rewards they could have gotten in eternity for that which moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal (Mt. 6:19).

But probably the biggest group of those who have received all the reward they will ever get are the paid clergy. They are already being compensated for their careers, and I don’t hesitate to call them careers either. What else is it when you go to seminary, put out resumes, and apply for a management position like any other job? While missionaries have no guarantee of support and trust God for provision, these clerics expect a regular salary and benefits. They see this as fair and necessary because of all their business responsibilities: overseeing committees, preparing speeches, performing rituals and ceremonies, etc. It is an executive position in a corporate entity or nonprofit club.

Sure, they do spiritual things too, but what true believer doesn’t? Do other believers get pay or recognition for visiting the sick, giving their time and talents to community service, spreading the gospel, studying the Bible, or anything else every believer is to do? How about the Sunday School teachers, are they paid? Are the nursery workers paid? Why is it that most believers are expected to support themselves, support others, and exercise their spiritual gifts as well, while shepherds are supported by the sheep and think their particular spiritual activities are somehow superior or more demanding?

As an egalitarian I have long recognized the inherent flaw in hierarchy, but many who recognize this between male and female still do not see the inconsistency of accepting the clergy/laity class distinction. They argue for allowing female clergy, but a better argument would be to disallow male clergy; no believer is to rule over other believers.

In the NT’s head/body analogies for the community of believers, never is any individual likened to the head. Jesus is the Head and we are His Body. Just as the OT says that a husband joins to his wife, so also Jesus joined to His Bride. And no body part is superior to another (1 Cor. 12:4-29). Although in this analogy the Head does not represent rule but unity, the point I’m making here is that there is no believer through whom all other believers must go; there is no spiritual gift above other spiritual gifts, for they are all on the same level. Paul does mention the greater gifts (1 Cor. 12:31) but defines them as whatever builds up the Body (1 Cor. 14:1-12). Of course those whose gift is to teach truth and guard against error are building up the body, but so also are those who heal, who prophesy (which clearly includes women), and who encourage (Rom. 12:3-8). And who would deny that those we refer to as prayer warriors build up the Body?

It is these lowly volunteers who have the greater reward; in fact, only volunteers will get a heavenly reward at all, for those who have been compensated in this life have already received theirs.

If any of you reading this are currently employed as pastors, let me strongly encourage you to find some other means of employment and put yourself on the same level as your spiritual equals, who serve voluntarily. Give up your office, figuratively and literally. Give up your privileges and your title. If you truly are gifted to lead, others will see Jesus in you and follow naturally, without any external cues. True believers know who resembles the Chief Shepherd, but they will run from the hired hand (John 10:12-13).

12 Comments

Lin

Funny you blogged on this. I was just reading that whole passage in Matthew to my daughter and each one talks about getting their reward NOW. We talked about this in depth.

Interesting to link this to pastors salaries. I had not thought of this before but it makes sense. A friend of mine recently finished seminary, while working his PT career. His goal has always been to be a bi-voc pastor. And that is what he is doing. Making tents while preaching.

I was also reading through John 10 recently and saw that the thief is the false shepherd and the Wolf is Satan. The thief plays right into Satan’s hands. We will answer for those we follow.

John 10:1 1"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.

The gate is Jesus Christ. Yes, we have so many who are hirlings who have come into the Body by ways that are not through Jesus Christ. They do it for ego, fame, control, wealth and other reasons that have nothing to do with laying down their lives for the sheep.

Paula Fether

I think that such "coincidences" are spiritual markers or signposts, telling us that the message is from God. The prompting for this post came quite suddenly out of nowhere.

Janice

I have a lot of sympathy for what you’re saying about the clergy/laity divide. But in relation to being paid, what about 1 Timothy 5:17-18?

"Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, ’You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,’ and, ’The laborer deserves his wages.’" (RSV)

You might be interested in reading this post from an Anglican priest who is expressing his doubts, "whether Anglicanism, and specifically the Anglican understanding of priesthood, will always disempower people, and can therefore never really change society."

Paula Fether

I don’t think that passage is talking about money, because if elders get double pay, who gets single pay? Also, Paul follows with a statement about the fact that while it takes two witnesses to accuse an elder, it also means a guilty elder gets public rebuke. So I think Paul means literal honor. But even if he doesn’t, his own teaching and example overall is to lay aside rights.

Actually, this is rather like the issue of his teachings on women speaking in the meetings. If he meant absolute silence then he contradicted himself in giving instructions on how women could pray and prophesy. And the solution of course is that he never commanded this alleged silence. In the same way, if we think Paul is talking here about a salary, then what do we do with all his other teachings about children not supporting their parents and him not being a burden?

I read the article you linked to, and I think he makes a good point. The System as I call it is designed to divide, to keep people in place.

Janice

OK. I’ve read this blog post (the comments from missionary readers are interesting, and the previous two posts are on the same theme), and this article on tithing and, finally, for a contrary view, this article from Primitive Baptist Online.

What interests me about the last one is that the author refers to:

"a great cause that your poor little pastor is treading out all alone, without your full cooperation and loving assistance." (emphasis added)

Before that he writes that the minister, "exhibits the gift and calling to lead people toward the mark of the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus". It’s odd, then, that such a work of leading people is not expected to result in the minister having fellow workers, but in him continuing to do that work, "all alone".

So, yes. I wouldn’t want to say that the salary is all the reward all paid clergy are ever going to get but, by and large, I think you’re right. One of the things that has bothered me about the trouble between the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion is that a lot of pixels have been used up expressing concerns about who gets the church property and about clergy who might lose their housing, stipends and pensions. It’s depressingly worldly.

Paula Fether

Thanks for those links, Janice. That first one does make a good point about timing. But here again we’re talking about missions and support, which is very much in line with Paul’s many exhortations for local congregations to send someone out with whatever they needed. But neither was this a case of a group continually supporting them.

The second one does a thorough job of arguing against Paul commanding a salary for elders. Good reading there.

Yeah, that third one... it begins with leaning on the word "rule", which is the exact opposite of the "under rower" taught by Jesus and Paul. Then the part you mentioned is preceded by the claim that no sane person would see this as a lucrative career, but many do in fact see it that way.

I think what disturbs me more though, is the article’s emphasis on what a terrible burden this calling is. Jesus’ burden is light! And to tack on this "show me the money" attitude is just pitiful. (not to mention the phrase, "poor little pastor"; HA!) And how many "pats on the back" do all the others get? Does somebody keep track so that the pastor gets twice as many? Such a whiney article.

But I do agree that it is God who will determine whether paid clergy get rewards, of course. My point is that they are surely forfeiting quite a lot if they think only their spiritual gift is worthy of compensation.

Kathleen

Thank you, Paula, for this. The subject is like the elephant in the living room. I’m glad someone else besides me thinks that there is something morally and biblically wrong with pastors or clergy making tens of thousands (or much, much more) of dollars more than the average congregant.

I once was listening to a radio preacher with some local ministry that takes no stipend for teaching. He explained that he works for a living at a job and also preaches the Word of God and ministers to people.

You don’t hear that very often.

Paula Fether

You’re very welcome, Kathleen. I think we’re finally seeing more people waking up to this, especially with how bad the economy is getting. We need to keep spreading this word.

A discussion on paid clergy « Kate’s Chosen

[...] discussion on paid clergy By Kathleen At Words of a Fether, Paula poses some good thoughts on paid clergy, and the Bible texts they use to support their idea of hierarchy over the Body of Christ. She puts [...]

Junkster

Paula, excellent article.

I’ve been pondering for a while what Paul might have meant in 1 Tim 5:17-18 (“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching"). "Double honor" might not necessarily refer to monetary compensation, but it is not unreasonable to think that some form of payment is at least a possible interpretation, based on the examples Paul uses in support of his statement ("For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." NIV)

So I’ve been thinking -- how might this verse have been practically applied in the context of a 1st century NT church, functioning as a body, with all members ministering to one another according to their gifts (as pictured in 1 Corinthians)? First, we have to set aside our cultural and historical notions of elders/overseers/pastors as a professional clergy, recognizing that as a Catholic concept which was carried over into Protestant churches. (The Reformation changed a lot in terms of the doctrine of salvation, but not a lot in terms of the assumptions about how a church should function. The tendency to see the church in institutional terms is still very much with us.) If we look at the teachings and examples in the NT, we see (as you and others have noted) that elders are spiritually mature members of the body, to whom other believers naturally look for guidance and instruction, because they see in the elders’ lives evidence of maturity and devotion to Jesus.

So with this NT paradigm in mind, how might this teaching about “double honor” have worked? As an example, let’s say a group of believers recognized their need for a better understanding of God’s Word on a particular matter, so they could effectively apply it and put it into practice in their lives. And those believers had a trusted spiritual elder amongst them, one who they knew would diligently study and pray to seek to understand God’s word in order to teach the congregation what it meant and how to live it out. But like the rest of them, the elder had to feed and clothe and care for himself and his family, so the elder had no more time than anyone else had to do the "labor" in God’s Word necessary to be able to explain the particular passage to everyone else. They didn’t have paid vacations or sabbaticals from work, so if they didn’t work, they and their family didn’t eat. Unless ... the congregation said, "You take the next few weeks or months away from your regular labors, and spend that time in study and in preaching and teaching this passage so we can all benefit as a body, and we will honor you by ensuring that your normal day-to-day responsibilities are covered, and by meeting your financial needs. Then, when we as a body have learned what we need to learn, you can resume your regular work."

And further imagine that there were multiple elders, and multiple such areas where the body could benefit from giving those elders the time to study, preach, and teach -- so they might do this with one elder for a brief time, then another, then another.

In short, what I am saying is that churches might well have paid elders to preach/teach for periods of time, but it probably wouldn’t have been a way of life or career for the elders, just an “as needed” thing.

I think we’d understand and apply Scripture much better if we can just get our minds outside of what we have always seen and experienced, and try to see the Bible through the eyes of those to whom it was written, and see the church in terms of a living, growing organism, a true body of interdependent members, all functioning according to their gifts.

Just my 2 cents …

Junkster

Another thought ... it has come across to me as self-serving when preachers insist that church members must give 10% of their income, and that the 10% should be given to the local church (as the "storehouse"), and that any other giving to Christian ministries outside the church must only be after that 10% has been given to one’s local church -- which just happens to pay the salary of the man preaching all this. If I was to be cynical, I might say it seems like a bit of a racket.

Paula Fether

Welcome, Junkster! Glad to have you here.

Good thoughts too. And that’s the beauty of a non-coerced or codified support system: it’s flexible and from the heart. There are a lot of details we just don’t have about practical issues like that, but what we do know from scripture is that not even Paul allowed himself to be a burden, though he certainly had the right.

And I agree that what we might call the "tithing package" as typically preached qualifies as a racket. Even in my days as a churchian, I wondered why those preachers didn’t focus on why the people weren’t forking over more cash. If they were spiritually immature, whose fault was that?

The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. However, it was not written by good men, because good men would not tell lies by saying ‘Thus saith the Lord’; it was not written by bad men because they would not write about doing good duty, while condemning sin, and themselves to hell; thus, it must be written by divine inspiration. ~ Charles Wesley, McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict , 1990:178.

Christians are not distinct from the rest of men in country or language or customs. For neither do they dwell anywhere in special cities of their own nor do they use a different language, nor practice a conspicuous manner of life… But dwelling as they do in Hellenic and in barbaric cities, as each man's lot is, and following the customs of the country in dress and food and the rest of life, the manner of conduct which they display is wonderful and confessedly beyond belief. They inhabit their own fatherland, but as sojourners; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is to them a fatherland and every fatherland a foreign country… They live on the earth but their citizenship is in heaven.~ The Epistle to Diognetus, near the end of the second century.

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