Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Double Honor

Once in a while the question of whether Elders should receive a salary is raised. Some denominations such as the Primitive Baptists deny paying salaries. One Elder in this church writes:

"18. Do Primitive Baptist ministers receive a salary?Answer: No, they devote their time and substance to the service of God out of love, and as the Lord blesses their labors among His people, those among whom the minister has labored contribute willingly to his needs (ICor. 9:9-14)."

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "salary" as fixed compensation paid regularly for services. Let us look to see if Scripture has anything to say on this subject or whether it is a human invention. At the outset let me say I only intend, in this discussion, to look at the question of paying Elders a salary in general and do not intend on taking up the discussion of whether or not there is a distinction in Elders commonly demarcated "Teaching" Elders and "Ruling" Elders, and whether both classes of Elders are to receive a salary. For a discussion of this debate, see chapter 10 of A Scottish Christian Heritage entitled "The Problem of the Elders" by Scottish Theologian Iain Murray.

In 1 Timothy 5:17,18 we read "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer is worthy of his wages.' " indicating that a man is to be paid for his services. While the term "double honor" is debated as to its precise meaning, the clear understanding of this passage that those occupying the office of Elder, who labor in word and doctrine are entitled to a wage.

Next let us take a look at the passage affixed to the quotation by Elder Kirby of the Primitive Baptists above, only let us start at 1 Cor. 9:6 where Paul questions whether or not Barnabas and him have a right to refrain from working. In verse 7 he goes on to ask who goes to war at his own expense, who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit and who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock. Paul uses this rhetoric for the purpose of showing the need for churches to support their Elders with a fixed income or salary. Later in verse 11 we are asked if it is a great thing for Elders to reap material things in return for spiritual things they give, to which the clear answer for anyone who serves God and not mammon (Matt. 6:24) is a resounding "NO"! Verse 13 instructs us that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar. In verse 14 what has been implicit becomes explicit as Paul declares "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel."

In 2 Corinthians 11:7,8 we learn that Paul preached to the Corinthians free of charge, but that he was paid a wage from other churches to minister to them. Finally, in 2 Thessalonians 3:9 Paul indicates that he had authority to compel a wage or salary but he chose not to, to be an example and as verse 8 says, to not be a burden. While it is true that Elders, as every Christian, live by faith and not by sight and congregations incomes do vary according to a number of factors such as size and income capacity, it is the responsibility of the church to provide support in the form of a salary, however large or small, to its Elders. An Elder may have to, like Paul did as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3), work another job but he should be paid for his services. This does not mean that churches have to pay for airplanes, boats, new vehicles or even homes but they are obligated to pay them a wage. While the gospel is not for sale (Acts 8:18-21) we are to take care of our own.

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