Is paid ministry unbiblical?

Anonymous said:

The concept, in general, of being paid for godly service is spoken against in the Bible reference below [Hebrews 5:4]. Also, it’s referred to when Elisha’s servant takes money and is then cursed with leprosy. … I just don’t understand why the practice of being paid for ministry ever started or is still in effect today if the Bible speaks against it.

I knew when I blogged about my pastoral internship it wouldn’t take long for someone to ask this question. It’s certainly a very important issue and I’m glad you brought it up. I’ll try to answer it as best I can.

Note: I started writing this post yesterday after Anonymous posted his/her first comment. I just noticed that Steve replied and Anonymous replied back, and I’ve made a few changes below to address those comments. I may comment again later after I’ve digested all of Steve’s thoughts.

A better case against paid ministry

Let me start by elaborating on your position, Anonymous. There are many other scriptures you could’ve used to make a better case for your argument, but let me start with the two you did mention.

Hebrews 5:4, as Steve has already pointed out, has nothing to do with pastors receiving compensation for their service. In your second comment, you point out that you meant I shouldn’t be applying for this job, but that God should be calling me to it as Aaron was called. I mean no offense, but I think you’re applying the passage a bit too liberally. In its proper context, the verse is talking about taking upon oneself the honor of priesthood. I firmly believe that Christ is the only Melchizedek priest and that anyone else who claims that priesthood is “taking that honor upon himself,” but that’s beside the point here. I’m not claiming any priesthood. I’m just applying for an internship.

The story of Elisha’s servant is intriguing. I assume you mean the story recounted in 2 Kings 5. In the story, Elisha heals a man named Naaman of leprosy. When Naaman tries to give Elisha a gift for his services, Elisha refuses. Gehazi, Elisha’s greedy servant, decides this is an opportunity for him to get something for nothing. He follows Naaman and lies to him, claiming that Elisha told him to accept some money and clothing. Elisha later discerns Gehazi’s sin and curses him with Naaman’s leprosy.

After studying this passage carefully, it’s clear to me that Gehazi’s sin was sneaking, lying, and stealing. Gehazi really had no part in the healing, so his sin could not have been accepting compensation for ministerial service. The only part of this story I do agree is relevant is Elisha’s initial refusal of the gift. However, Elisha doesn’t really explain why he won’t accept and we don’t learn from this passage whether it would’ve been a sin if Elisha had taken the gift.

Other scriptures I consider even more pertinent to this discussion include 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:7-9. In both these passages, Paul sets forth the requirements for various church officers. He makes clear that church officers should not be lovers of money, greedy, or pursuers of dishonest gain. Similarly, in 1 Peter 5:1-2, Peter counsels the elders of the church to serve God’s flock not out of compulsion or greed, but willingly out of love. Though they are more relevent to our discussion, I don’t think these passages rule out paid ministry. They are simply addressing the proper motivations of a pastor. The basic thrust of these verses is that a man shouldn’t go into full-time ministry expecting to become rich from it.

While none of the above passages positively rule out paid ministry, it would be easy to assume paid ministry is not of God if these were the only passages available to us. However, these are not the only verses on the subject.

In support of paid ministry

The Old Testament makes it clear that Levitical priests were compensated for their service in the temple. In Numbers 18:20-32, the Lord tells the Levites that they will be given no inheritance of land among the people of Israel. Instead, the Lord says, “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting.”

The New Testament also speaks of paid ministers. In Luke 10, the Lord commissions 70 (or 72, depending on the translation you use) missionaries to go out and preach the gospel two-by-two. He tells them not to take any money with them. When they go into people’s homes they are to eat whatever is given them, for “the worker deserves his wages.”

Paul says something similar in 1 Tim. 5:17-18:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

Perhaps the clearest defense for paid ministry is given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14:

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.

To be comprehensive, it should be admitted that Paul never claimed the right to compensation for himself. Paul worked as a tentmaker and refused to accept payment for his gospel service. Today there are many pastors who are able to support themselves in one way or another and do not accept a salary from their church. In this passage, however, we see Paul defending those who make their living from preaching and teaching the gospel.

In conclusion, I should also point out that Mormonism’s own scriptures allow room for a paid ministry. In fact, D&C 42:70-73 says that a certain amount of church funds should go to the bishop, his counsellors, and their families in recompense for their services in the church. I honestly have no idea why this isn’t practiced in the church today. Furthermore, General Authorities for the LDS church are compensated for their time and labor. It is claimed that many of them are independently wealthy and turn down the offered compensation, but not all are able to do that.

Conclusion

Paid ministry is not unbiblical. On the contrary, there are numerous scriptures which support and even command compensation for full-time servants of the gospel.

The bottom line comes down to motivation. If a pastor is preaching the gospel out of greed, he’s obviously not a very good pastor. If a church wishes to compensate their pastor for his valuable time and labor, they shouldn’t be hindered from doing that. End mark

  • http://www.wilcoxzone.com/scw/ Steven

    You go Joey! This gets back to the whole interpret scripture with scripture. You’ve taken a more comprehensive look at the context and all relevant verses and proven your point very well. My personal feeling is that people seem to be overly sensitive in general to ministers’ pay.

    I am still baffled by those who seem to think that pastors must live right at the edge of poverty. Anyone who thinks a hard working minister doesn’t labor or work doesn’t really know much about full-time service. I get really ticked at people who think that their pastor should make less than them (no matter what they happen to do for a living). That rather lowest- common-denominator standard certainly isn’t Biblical either.

    Carry on!

  • http://www.fixapicture.com Steve

    Whoa! Now there is a Steve and a Steven contributing to the site. I hope that people will not get confused if we contradict each other once in while.

    Joey, I too think you did an excellent job of making your point. You were not confrontational, and you adeptly used biblical context to show that the Lord may permit, accept, and even create paid ministries. Your comments caused me to evaluate my own beliefs on the subject and to research LDS Church teachings.

    Earlier, I might have counted myself among the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who believe it is completely wrong to pay ministers. However, I have never been ignorant of the biblical examples you mentioned, and I have always known that certain General Authorities receive living allowances. Yet, until yesterday, I had never researched the subject, nor had I determined for myself whether the Lord approves of paid ministries.

    Church Doctrine

    To my knowledge, the Church of Jesus Christ has not given any direct or official counsel on the subject of paid ministries. A search of Church publications (library.lds.org) reveals that Church leaders rarely talk about paid ministries. Another search (using scriptures.byu.edu) shows that General Authorities seldom quote any of the scriptures that deal with professional clergy. Consequently, we find ourselves without official Church pronouncements concerning the morality of paid ministries.

    Some Book of Mormon scriptures encourage priests to labor with their own hands for their support (see Mosiah 18:24 and Mosiah 27:5). According to context, the reasoning appears to be that Alma does not want the priests to think they are better than everyone else is. He does not want them to become proud, greedy, and idle, as he was as a priest under wicked King Noah (see Mosiah 11:3-6). Therefore, although these scriptures suggest that paid ministries can be dangerous and unwise, they do not clearly state that they are morally wrong or against God’s law. In other words, pride, greed, and idleness are sins we should avoid, but receiving money for full-time Church service may not be a sin.

    Church Practice

    Additionally, Joey, you are correct that “Mormonism’s own scriptures allow room for a paid ministry.” At times in the history of the Church, some prophets and apostles have received salaries and/or living allowances for their service. Speaking about the Church’s business holdings, President Hinckley once said, “The living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from [the Church's commercial] business income and not from the tithing of the people” (Ensign, Dec. 1985). Thus, we see that some General Authorities receive compensation for their services as full-time ministers. Some full-time mission presidents and even full-time missionaries also receive living allowances out of Church funds. Therefore, a form of paid ministry exists within the Church of Jesus Christ.

    Yet, Church members and General Authorities regularly emphasize that most Church leaders are unpaid. I liken their attitude to that of Paul, which you pointed out, Joey. Paul defended paid ministries, but also “boasts” in the fact that he is unpaid, seemingly placing a premium on unpaid ministers. I would expect a modern apostle or other Church leader to do the same.

    Conclusion

    In conclusion, I do not think the Church or God is against paid ministries. No scriptures or official pronunciations completely denounce them. Some scriptures defend paid ministries, and some LDS Church leaders actually receive living allowances for themselves and their families.

    Nevertheless, unpaid volunteers continue to perform the great majority of Church leadership and service. As Church members, we “boast” of this as Paul did, because an unpaid ministry is probably a better, safer, more selfless form of Godly service—but it is not the only acceptable form.

    I believe the Lord wants us to serve him and others “with no thought of reward” (Hymns, Go Forth with Faith, no. 263). Whether paid or unpaid, ministers should serve God unselfishly, with “faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God.” These things qualify an authorized minister for the work (see D&C 4:5).

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the clarity.

    Paid ministry is just not often discussed and I don’t know if those verses that have been pointed out would have ever jumped off the pages at me.

    If I post again, I’ll make sure I use a more original name than “Anonymous”.

  • Anonymous

    “Because we have a lay ministry rather than paid clergy, all Church service is voluntary.”

    http://www.mormon.org/learn/0,8672,826-1,00.html

  • http://www.fixapicture.com Steve

    Thank you, anonymous, for the post and the link. The Church “boasts” in many places that internal service is voluntary and unpaid.

    For example, the new “Preach My Gospel” book states, “All of the work in the Church is voluntary. No one is paid for such service” (p.87).

    President Hinckley declared, “We are a Church of lay leadership. What a remarkable and wonderful thing that is. It must ever remain so. It must never move in the direction of an extensive paid ministry” (“To Men of the Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 56).

    The Church has a right to make these statements. How many bishops, stake presidents, relief society presidents, and elder’s quorum presidents do you know? How many of them receive any monetary remuneration for their service? How much time do they sacrifice in order to serve? Let’s just say I am happy to let someone else perform that completely unpaid work.

    As a rule, the Church does not pay those who serve as ministers, priests, bishops, etc. As a rule, missionaries in the Church of Jesus Christ pay for their own full-time service. Most other callings are just “part-time.” (I am sure many Bishops would argue their service is more than part-time, but most of them still hold full-time secular jobs.)

    However, there are exceptions to the rule that “No one is paid for such service.” The exception includes missionaries and General Authorities who cannot provide for themselves, even with their family’s help. Currently, God’s way of feeding and clothing (see Matt. 6:25-32 and 3 Ne. 13:25-32) these full-time representatives, who were called as was Aaron, is through a living allowance.

    Some might argue that those receiving a “living allowance” are paid ministers for the Church. They might also argue that some Church authorities received salaries in the 19th Century. To those who insist the Church is hypocritical, I present my last post, and I repeat, “I do not think the Church or God is against paid ministries.” However, I find it amazing that, for the most part, we do not have them.

  • http://www.jaredandaubrey.net Jared

    In a Doctrine & Covenants study guide I own, it states that in the early church, bishops were paid with 10% of the tithing that they received. This practice was changed after only a few years, though.

    I don’t really have a lot to add, but I suppose that I just wanted to support both Joey and Steve’s views with some more information.

  • http://nathan.buzdor.com/ Buz

    As a layman who imbibes the ministry of my paid ministers, I don’t mind them being paid. I know a few bivocational (tentmaker) pastors who can not give their full energy, comittment, or focus to the church simply because they also have to feed, house, and clothe their families and selves (a God-ordained responsibility). Instead, I think it’s extremely reasonable for the body of believers to commit a portion of what they bring into the storehouse toward enabling their clergy to put the whole of their workday energies into the ministry. If a clergyman declines the salary, I have no objection. But if the church as a whole (though their board, of course) decides to release their pastorate from the bonds of secular employment, so be it.

  • Abrahm Adams

    According to the Apostle Paul found in 1 Corinthians 9:18-19, he claims that getting paid to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be abuse of power (or authority) which has been entrusted to him.

    Paid ministry is considered in the scriptures as “priestcraft” or “filthy lucre”. The scriptures tell us clearly that freely we have received of Jesus Christ and freely we should give. Jesus Christ and His disciples left home without purse or scrip and we are told to do likewise.

    Getting paid to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ is and abomination before our most hight God and should be eliminated in any church that claims to be following after our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are commanded that we must lose ourselves in order to find ourselves in Him. He is our Leader, our teacher and our role model. We must pick up our cross after baptism and follow after Him. We must live by His teachings and discover that when we get to the other side, the blessings of His Kingdom await us. If we have been paid to perform his work here upon the earth, we will most likely discover that we have already been paid in full for our labors performed here when we arrive at the gate of His magnificent kingdom. As for me, I would rather wait and get rewarded for my services there in His Kingdom than to receive worthless federal reserve notes for my efforts here in the flesh that have no lasting value as a quick payment.

  • Cline

    Hey guys,
    I love the blog. Great work. However, I need help to decipher something. Take a look back at 1 Corith. 9:14. You say correctly that Paul is a preacher of the Gospel, however, can you defend a ELDER being paid based off of that scripture? I am unsure. I also want you to do a word study on the Double Honor passage and hook me up with your best argument FOR and AGAINST “timh” and it’s derivatives meaning a material reward. Could this word hear mean just the word “honor”. Please site sources of your tools. I am writing a paper and I am having a hard time believing that this one time it can mean reward or compensation and everywhere else in scripture it does not mean that. I already know Bauer says it perhaps could be, but where else in ancient Greek text is it used in this way. It just seems to be setting a precedent in Greek Lit. Thanks for the help.
    KC

  • Duke R.

    Abrahm Adams (above) speaks the truth and backs it up. I just want to give a shout out to Bro. Adams. The truth shall set you free. “lose himself shall find it” Bro. Adams will find his treasures, rewards in heaven by losing himself in Christ’s service here on earth without receiving worldly compensation for that service.

    I don’t know much, but I have been blessed to serve as a missionary by working before my mission to help pay for it. Yes, I was a recipient of generosity of loved ones and choice friends to also help pay the cost of living on my mission, but I know I will be blessed for serving and not receiving funds for it with the proper attitude.

  • Fenrazer

    This is not accurate. You are assuming that he is speaking about Clergy, when he is speaking of Itinerant workers that traveled and preached the gospel to the nonbelievers. This is a common belief for folks who only consider the way churches function today, but when one sees how the church functioned back then, it is clear that Paul is speaking about what we consider to be missionaries now. That, and it was never wages, but what looks more like love offerings than anything. Also, as you stated, references to Pauls refuses these offerings so many times that it dwarfs the idea that we should accept it regularly.

    Also, you referenced OT points which were applied to Priests that were a part of a Theocratic Government. The yield given to the Priests, Widows, Orphans and Strangers. If you truly reference OT points and believe them, you should give an equal portion to the Widows, Orphans, and the Strangers.

    What we have supporting paid clergy is a great strain on scripture and how we look at it.

  • Ernest Andrews

    Timotiyos aleph 5:17 “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double respect…”

  • Gregoire

    Tithing and Fast Offerings
    We’ve been asked to give ten cents of every dollar we earn back to the Church to be used for the work of God here on earth. In return, God has promised great blessings.
    The Lord has counseled us to pay a tenth of our income as a tithing to be used for His Church here on earth. There is no paid ministry in the Church. To those who pay tithing, God has promised great blessings. Paying tithing is also a way for us to show that material goods and the accumulation of wealth aren’t the uppermost goals of our existence. Tithing isn’t a new thing. It’s been around since Old Testament time before Christ was born ( see Malachi 3:8-10 ). Once a month we also forgo food and drink for two consecutive meals and contribute a fast offering at least equal to the value of the two meals. Bishops may use this donation to care for those in need in their local area.

    http://mormon.org/church

    • Jeanette

      We do not live according to Old Testament when Christ died and was resurrected, we were given a better covenant that was not faultless. Heb 8:6-13.

  • Jeanette

    1Cor 9:14 is NOT saying that they should get paid. It is saying that your life should be that which is worthy to be called a christian and according to the standard of a Christian.
    1Cor 16:1–3 , the collection is for the NEEDY SAINTS!! Acts 11:29 for needy, Gal 2:10. A website called heavenwaits.WordPress.com/arguments.com has some great remarks regarding this subject. A minimum salary is ok for their work but not as a job, get a job like many preach to the members.

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