Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

Should We Pay our Pastors?

Ministers struggle between commitments to a self-sacrificial calling on the one hand and providing for their families on the other. Congregations want to attract capable leaders and keep them, while grappling with declining contributions and tight budgets. And personnel and pastor-search committees find a bewildering array of charts, comparisons and suggestions for ministerial compensation.

 -Robert Dilday, “How much should we pay the pastor?”
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The question of ministerial salary, both ecclesiastical and civil, are highly pertinent questions today for Singaporeans, therefore it seems appropriate that we lay out some fundamental principles first behind the concept of the Church’s ministry:
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(1) The efficacy of the Church’s Ministry is dependent upon the Holy Spirit who works through the proclamation of the Word and Sacrament alone, not based on the charismatic powers of the preacher or his “leadership” skills or even personal experience as the Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hermann Sasse rejects in the Bethel Confession,
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The power of the ministry does not depend either on an historically established institution nor on the powers with which a human soul may be gifted. We therefore also protest against the attempt to apply the modern leadership [Führungs-] principle to the preaching ministry. The preaching ministry is service to the Word of reconciliation, and is therefore the opposite of any magical powers of leadership. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:11ff.).
The church ministry is the ministry of preaching and administration of the sacraments, and only through the Word proclaimed does the Holy Spirit work to grant faith and eternal life through that Word. Any other grounds or reasons for belief essentially displaces Christ and the Word alone as the object and grounds for belief.
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(2) Ministerial “pay”, if we must use that word, is, or at least should, be “communistic”, that is, simply needs based, not merit based. They will receive their reward in heaven for their service, and whatever stipend they receive on earth is not as a “reward” for their service but merely a provision for their material earthly needs. I think the Methodist got this principle right when they declare that the stipend which the minister receives is not a pay but “a method of providing the material support to the minister without which he or she could not serve God”. Therefore, considerations of qualifications, scope of work and responsibility should be irrelevant. The point is not “how hard you work” or how much you achieve, the reward for your service is in heaven and from God’s hands alone. The point is, how much do you need to survive and provide for your family and your own material needs, which needs obviously does not correspond to educational qualifications or achievement.
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With these two principles entrenched, we can now consider the question of ministerial employment and pay.
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There has been a curious and persistent evasion of St Paul’s highly practical and sound wisdom in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
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I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
Let’s simply admit it. The married person is indeed concerned with worldly things and cannot devote as much time to the Lord’s ministry and the work of the Church. Yes, the worldly vocations are no less “meritorious” or “sanctified” than sacred vocations, but they are simply not the same thing and it is simply dishonest, not forgetting contrary to St Paul’s teaching, to maintain otherwise and blabber the “no-sacred-secular-divide” nonsense and turn worldly vocations, like marriage, into an “aid” to the preaching ministry. They are simply not the same thing and the person who is married really, empirically, and truly, will have less time for the preaching ministry and the Lord’s work.
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With good reason did the Apostles subcontract the duty of distributing and dividing the alms between the Greek and Hebrew speaking Christians to the deacons saying, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2) This is not to say that the preaching of the Word is “superior” or “inferior” to serving at tables, it is simply that different people have different work and no one can do everything and that we should not confuse one type of work with another.
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Therefore, we must recognise that married man will essentially be burdened with worldly material demands, he will need time and effort and resources to provide for his family, which would take away time, effort and resources from the Church’s ministry.
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Unlike Roman Catholics, I do not recommend a canonical ban on married presbyter, but simply a recognition of the distinction between the married presbyter and the unmarried presbyter.
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To that end, I think most presbyters would be married, and they would be like the Brethren Church and/or Presbyterian church’s elders, simply senior “man of honour” in the congregation who takes on the function of ruling and preaching in the congregations. They would of course require some theological training, such a training in the church’s confessions and maybe at most a knowledge of biblical Greek, but they don’t need to such an in depth command of theology. (Anyway as I understand it, presbyterian elders are required to subscribe to the Westminster standards, although one can’t help wondering as to whether they have actually read it!)
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Since these presbyters or elders are simply senior man of honour in the congregation, who continue to live in their secular or worldly life and merely serves the church at particular instance, they would not need to be paid at all since we assume prima facie that they would provide for their own material needs in their secular or worldly life. Since the barrier to entry to the office of elder is relatively low (in terms of theological training anyway), we can have a substantial amount of elders to perform the daily work of the ministry, e.g. visiting the sick, perform the anointing of the sick, or the ministry of absolution and counselling to the troubled or those in need of aid, etc. In a sense, the presbyter would hover somewhere between a cell group leader and a traditional presbyterian elder.
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For most of these day to day ministry, honestly how much theology do you need to perform it? The more I study and read theology, the more convinced I am that a lot of it is unnecessary and irrelevant in the daily ministry of the Church. There is simply no co-relation between the quality of preaching and the amount of theological education one receives. (At least, none which I can perceive in Singapore). Honestly, how much Greek linguistics do you need to understand a piece of Scripture? As a Barthian theologian once quipped,
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I’ve been closely following the pistis christou debates, and I can’t tell you how relieved I am that, according to some scholars, I am justified by an objective genitive. I’d been getting so worried that I might need some complex periphrastic or optative construction to get saved that I’ve been brushing up on my Metzger and Moule.
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It is here that the Protestant iconoclasm against tradition has lead to the unfortunate side effect of constantly needing to reinvent the wheel in every age. Most theological issue which arise in our time has already been dwelt with by theologians past. With a standard liturgical and confessional text, a ruling elder, in functional terms, has pretty much everything he needs for the average daily ministry of the church. They don’t need to keep deducing every single practice, “from bottom up” as it were, from the Greek text or the vast scope of historical documents in intricate or minute detail.
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Therefore it seems right to me to distinguish these types of presbyters or elders, let’s call them “ruling elders” from “teaching elders” or specialised theologians. The ministry or work of the specialised theologian or teaching presbyter isn’t the same as that of a ruling presbyter. A specialised theologian is needed in times of theological controversy where you do need to get technical and precise to discern the true from the false, etc, with carefully crafted formulas. But because of the infrequency of such points of controversy, you don’t really need a lot of them as compared to the work of the “ruling elder”. The primary task of a teaching elder is simply that providing the service of clarifying points of doctrine or interpretation, ensuring ecclesiastical orthodoxy, and providing consultation in times of theological controversy.
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Thus, because of the necessary dedication which the teaching presbyter needs to be able to specialise in theology, they should, prima facie, normally be celibate and unmarried that they might devote their time and resources to the study of theology. And of course, being unmarried and unburdened with material demands, the church does not need to pay them a lot for their daily needs.
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Along with this, it seems good and practical to me that the “teaching presbyter”, who seeks to devote the entirety of their lives to the work of the Church, should take monastic vows. However, these vows are not for life but like initiates, are periodic vows, like for a period of say five years, etc, which can be renewed at each interval. Thus, if a teaching presbyter decides that he wants to marry, then we simply wait for the vow to expire and he can have the option of remaining simply as a ruling elder while he moves into his secular life or vocation. Maybe when the teaching presbyter reaches 45, we can offer him the option of being bound for life.
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One comment on “Should We Pay our Pastors?

  1. Pingback: On the Absurdity of Organised Religions; The Communion of Saints is not the Commonality of Canon Law | The Rationality of Faith

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This entry was posted on August 26, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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