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“This one moreover shall be supported of the church which has chosen him, wherein he may be in need, so that he who serves the Gospel may live of the Gospel as the Lord has ordained.”
— Schleitheim Confession, Article 51
A Clear Command of Scripture
Until recently, the whole idea of paying one’s pastor was foreign to me. My church lifts an offering for the ministers, but a salary? It has never been discussed. I even thought that churches that paid their pastors were somehow less spiritual, as if salaried pastors were tainted with the love of money. Reasons have been given, but Scripture is clear. Consider the words of 1 Corinthians 9:13-14:
Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.2
Consider also Paul’s instructions to Timothy:
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 treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”3
This is not an obscure teaching, found only in some nook or cranny of the Bible. Paul lays out this teaching with clarity, with reason, and with directness. In all our beliefs, Scripture must be our basis, not personal preference. I believe that as Biblicists, we must reexamine our position. Perhaps we are ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture.
I was always under the impression that paying a pastor would make him greedy. Paul, however, has a different approach. He does not say that money causes greed, therefore don’t give money. Instead, he says that greed is sin; therefore choose a man who is not greedy. Notice how Paul deals with the heart. If a man is greedy, his love for money will show whether or not he has any. As R. C. Sproul quipped, “You don’t avoid hirelings by paying little, but by paying attention.”4
Another well-worn argument is that Paul himself did not accept money so that he would not be accused of selling the Gospel. Note that the Pauline exception comes from 1 Corinthians 9, the same chapter where Paul explains the pastor’s right to payment. Also note that the Pauline exception is, like the term implies, not the norm. When we apply it to all pastors, we are guilty of ignoring the context.
Notice that Paul did not refuse support from believers; we have record of other churches sending him support. Rather, Paul refused support from unbelievers, so that no one could accuse him of selling the Gospel. Therefore, in context, we see that the Pauline exception refers to missionaries—those evangelizing unbelievers—not to pastors.
A Real Job
Perhaps our oversight in this area stems from an improper view of pastors. We tend to view pastoring as a secondary responsibility, not a real job. Think about it: Our pastors work full-time jobs, and in every way carry normal responsibilities, but on top of that, they also carry the weight of pastoral duty.
A pastor is called to great responsibilities, but poverty should not be one of them. Instead of discouraging those who are in it for the money, our lack of financial support might actually discourage men who are gifted to lead, but cannot afford the financial burden. A lay pastor is placed in the impossible position of full-time provider, full-time family man, and full-time minister. Something must give. Either some of these areas will be neglected, or the pastor will burn out while struggling to fulfill them.
Could it be that our churches suffer because our pastors do not have the time or energy to preach well? Could it be that pastors’ families are neglected because our pastors are too stressed to be good husbands and fathers?
Not a Career
To be clear, there are a few ditches that we must avoid. First, while a pastor deserves payment, this does not mean that pastoring is a career. “[The pastor is not] selling his services to the highest bidder. His calling is distinct from the marketplace.”5 I believe strongly in using lay pastors, men chosen from the church, who are called by the local body. When the greater evangelical movement hires pastors because they have an M.Div., they do themselves a disservice.
Seminary is helpful, but it should train those who are called, not call those who are trained. Along the same lines, paying one’s pastor does not “buy a share” in his ministry. We must not try to control a pastor by putting the squeeze on his finances when we disapprove.
It makes sense that if a pastor is paid by the church, he should be expected to give up his other jobs in order to focus on ministry. However, financial support will not look the same in all cases. In some instances, a church, because of its size or the ability of its members, may not be able to fully support a pastor.
In other cases, a pastor may choose full support in order to focus on full-time ministry. Or, perhaps the pastor could work part-time in exchange for a partial salary. The specifics of financial support must be worked out by the local church.
Let’s Get Started
So where do we begin? After all, this will require a big change, a reversal of our current opinion. Yet it is what the Bible teaches.
It must start with us.
First, we must recognize and appreciate the work our pastors do. They work hard; let’s come alongside them and honor them. Second, while we should not seek to make our pastors rich, we should give generously. Let’s not force our pastors to just scrape by; let’s give them some dignity. Finally, we must check our own attitudes. Are we giving cheerfully or grudgingly?
The Bible commands us to honor our leaders: financially, yes, but also with our respect and encouragement. Perhaps this is an area where we need to improve. I suspect that change will not come quickly. It will require discussion, Scripture-searching, and time. Yet I believe that by obeying the teaching of Scripture, our churches will be blessed.
Question: In what ways could paying our pastors benefit our churches? How does your church approach this?
Written by Bryce Wenger. This article was originally published April 4, 2016 on www.radi-call.com, a blog with weekly posts “Calling young Anabaptists back to The Root.” Used with permission.
Click here to read original article on blog.
1. Wenger, J. C. “Schleitheim Confession of Faith, 1527” Web. 01-26-2016.
2. The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.
3. 1 Timothy 5:17, 18. Ibid.
4. Sproul, R. C., Jr. “How Well Should Pastors Be Paid?” Ligonier Ministries. N.p., 29 Mar. 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
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It is with grief that we note the discarding of historic Anabaptist distinctives by mainline Mennonites. In a recent comment piece in the Goshen (IN) News, a retired Mennonite pastor and retired Goshen College professor states, “To suggest that God communicates with humanity only through words written in a book two thousand years ago places restrictions on God that I am not prepared to accept.” He goes on to support “gay marriage” and those who perform same-sex ceremonies.
So, the question before us is, “What is an Anabaptist?” If the aforementioned writer in the Goshen News is an Anabaptist, then many of us are not Anabaptists. If the positions previously discussed in this column are truly Anabaptism, then he is not an Anabaptist! It cannot be both ways. The definitions cannot be broad enough to include a clear denial of absolute Biblical truth on the one hand and a clear affirmation of the absolute truth and authority of the Scriptures on the other hand.
The above is a bold-faced denial of Biblical authority and the historic Anabaptist position of the Holy Scriptures. It is clear to this writer that the above quoted minister does not worship the same God as Biblical Anabaptists! He does not believe in Biblical Anthropology (what the Bible teaches about man and his depravity). One would wonder if he believes there is only one specific and exclusive way of salvation or if individual salvation from sin is really necessary at all. We can only conclude that he does not really believe in the Heaven and particularly the Hell of the Bible. The principle of absolute truth is gone for him.
So, will the true Anabaptists please stand up, and will the pseudo-Anabaptists please sit down!
Written by: Paul Emerson
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This editorial is concerned with an issue that lacks clarity within present-day Anabaptism. It lies at the very core of our belief system and yet there is an almost intentional obscuring of the issues. The question before us is “How does one obtain salvation from sin?”
The first response of most conservative Anabaptists is “Of course we agree on the Biblical teaching of salvation.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Our Protestant friends have tended to totally divorce faith from works. Their implication (perhaps unintentional in some cases) is that it does not matter how one lives as long as he believes in Christ as his Saviour from sin. The Anabaptist position has always called for holy living as a necessary result of saving faith. Pollutions of doctrine have taken place so that faith and works have been mixed together, on the one hand resulting in a works salvation. On the other hand a moral yardstick has been established resulting in the loss of one’s salvation if anything on the “list” is disobeyed. This all has become very confusing and has caused some people to throw up their hands and avoid the subject altogether.
Confusion abounds within Anabaptist circles as to what salvation really is. As this writer understands the writings of the early Anabaptists, the following seems to be the case. First, in response to the Catholic works salvation of the day, Anabaptists wanted to be clear that salvation was not by works. In this way they appeared to share the Protestant position that salvation was by grace through faith plus nothing else.
Yet, in response to the Protestants’ individualistic libertarianism, the early Anabaptists wanted it clearly understood that a salvation that did not produce a radically changed and holy life was no salvation at all. Thus the Protestants accused the Anabaptists of mixing justification and sanctification together into some kind of unbiblical porridge. The Anabaptist position was no different than the emphasis of New Testament James in the requirement that genuine saving faith will be demonstrated by righteous works.
Anabaptist people tend to be confused by the two extremes. Legalism, which is nothing more than the old Galatianism, teaches that one is saved by faith plus works. Antinomianism, which represents the large body of Protestantism today, teaches that a holy life is not necessary for Christians today. Biblical Anabaptism rightly labels both of these as heresy.
In our next installment we will attempt to present a Biblically balanced view of salvation for today, consistent with the passion of the early Anabaptists.
Written by: Paul Emerson
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Many relatively conservative Anabaptist churches today have come to depend on Matthew 18:15-20 as the main, if not only, method of discipline within their midst. While it is true that this passage of Scripture provides a very effective means of Biblical accountability, this writer has come to question whether our Lord meant it as the only means of correction.
Experience has shown that Matthew 18 works well in the early history of a local church, but as a congregation grows in size it tends to become less effective. People who want their own way and share less of the original vision of the congregation tend to respond negatively to the loving counsel of their fellow believers. When correction is attempted using the three steps of Matthew 18, the transgressor often responds with comments like “that is just your interpretation” or “it’s not a salvation issue.” In these circumstances it becomes difficult to enlist the one or two witnesses of Step 2 of the passage. This, in turn, results in the stalling of good and proper Biblical order in the congregation. Thus the church moves on down the road of apostasy.
In view of the above state of of affairs, in many Anabaptist congregations today, the question of standing on isolated Scriptures must be addressed. While we certainly believe Matthew 18 is absolutely essential, we strongly question whether it should be pulled out of the Scripture and assigned the sole duty of maintaining good order in the church. As an illustration of such a wrong practice, it can be noted that there are those who have done the same sort of thing with the Sermon on the Mount. They have pulled it out of Scripture and made it stand alone as the believers’ only instruction code. If this procedure were correct we would not need the epistles. Neither would we need the church except as a court of final appeal.
There are several instances in the New Testament where discipline apparently took place without following Matthew 18. Illustrations of this include the immorality case of 1 Corinthians 5 and the withdrawal orders of 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and 1 Timothy 6:5. Some would want to superimpose Matthew 18 over the instructions of the epistles but such is not warranted.
We conclude that Matthew 18 must not be isolated from the other commands concerning good order and behavior. It is a part of a whole but only a part—namely, that of brotherly address. There are indeed occasions that require formative discipline, wherein the congregation is publicly taught what is acceptable and unacceptable Biblical behavior. There are times for public rebuke of public sin with or without the prelude of Matthew 18. Congregations must stop allowing Matthew 18 to be a scapegoat for transgression. With the pressures of individualism pressing in on the church from every side, let us insist on having a lovingly disciplined covenant community of faith by using Matthew 18 as one part but not the whole of congregational order.
Written by: Paul Emerson
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From the beginning of the Anabaptist movement, there has been a strong emphasis on simplicity of lifestyle. Some of this was initially required because of intense persecution wherein there was no possible security in material things. Early Anabaptists were on the run and were not able to accumulate goods.
This eventually changed and our forefathers became owners of property. Hard work and good management resulted in economic prosperity that resulted, in turn, in more complex lifestyles. It would seem that this wealth and complexity of lifestyle led to an assimilation into the world around. When assimilation did not happen, wealthy Anabaptists tended to set up colonies of isolation and lost their evangelistic fervor. Seldom did those who accumulated wealth and possessions maintain Biblical simplicity.
Biblical Anabaptism was founded on the principles stated in 1 Timothy 6:6-10. Therefore, personal wealth is either to be distributed to the cause of the Gospel or used to influence the cause of Christ. Wealth should not be used to “tear down old barns and build bigger ones.” Rather one should ask what is needful to glorify God. Are the fancy things in this life going to matter a million years from now? Can we even agree on what is needful? Are we willing to allow our brotherhoods to speak into our lives on these matters or does the spirit of American independence reign? (The contents of my pocketbook are no one else’s business.) Do we live to impress the Lord or our neighbor?
Living simply is most difficult in the land of the American dream. Most of us consistently have more than we need and the more we have the more we want while the world goes to Hell.
What would the early Anabaptists (the radicals of the reformation era) say to us if they were to see us now?
Written by: Paul Emerson
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One of the most obvious distinctives of Anabaptism has historically been adherence to the doctrine of nonconformity. From the very beginning of the movement in 1525, Anabaptists have dared to “march to the beat of a different drummer” in most, if not all, areas of life. Some may have taken this too far in being different for the sake of being different. Others have failed to take it far enough and have been absorbed into the general culture, thus losing their testimony altogether. The tension between these two extremes is very much with us today.
In order to properly practice Biblical nonconformity, it is probably best to imagine the putting on of a pair of eye glasses that filter everything through the Biblical Anabaptist perspective. This thought may aggravate some who are attempting to free themselves from what they call Anabaptist slavery. These are they who desire credibility within the larger evangelical community. The true disciple of Christ is exclusively desiring credibility with the Lord. Nothing else really matters. If, as we believe, Anabaptism is the correct perspective from which to see the world, said eye glasses are in order.
Nonconformity should be apparent in belief and practice. The teaching of our Lord, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, projects the marching orders for the true disciple. Such includes: nonresistance as a lifestyle, noninvolvement in the world of politics, modesty (including plainness) of dress, lowliness in deportment, meekness of spirit, contentment with necessities without luxury, and such other denials of the “American dream.” Nonconformity also teaches that the local church or community of faith has the responsibility to provide guidelines for the applications of Bible truth. The world system is seen as the kingdom of Satan and Christian disciples are to live distinct from it.
Anabaptists have insisted that lifestyle is a required proclamation of discipleship. Not that a silent witness is enough, but rather how one lives and appears speaks so loudly that the spoken witness can be lost without the appropriately consistent lifestyle.
In direct proportion to the loss of practical nonconformity, the whole testimony of Anabaptism will be lost.
Written by: Paul Emerson