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.
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.