The following question came to me this week from a dear brother regarding the financial support of a pastor:

“Mack– I have a quick question- Have you heard of a book called “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna? I an email from a person in our church regarding this, and I have never heard of this book or the authors. I shared the Scriptures in 1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim about pastors/elders being supported by the church, and how it is biblical. Just curious if you have heard of this book or the authors? A person I know is reading this book and it is scaring me. The book states that churches shouldn’t meet in buildings and that pastors shouldn’t be paid because all the tithes should go toward the poor, widows, orphans, etc. So now someone I know says they are going to a house church with a couple who read this book because they want an “organic church.” The book repeatedly refers to Paul as the model pastor who refused money for his preaching. But according to the negative reviews of the book, the only verses cited in the book are those which support the authors’ viewpoint.”

My reply

Dear brother,

These men, Mr. Viola and Mr. Barna, do not know the Bible well enough or they would not espouse such a view, much less, write a book that states such a position. It is a radically extreme tangent steming from Emergent theology which they are teaching that is not the position of the New Testament. To put it simply, they are wrong about this.

Viola and Barna cite the apostle Paul’s refusal of any financial support in 1 Corinthians 9 as their proof text to say categorically that no pastors or ministers ought to be financially supported.

Let’s think about the issue more fully. Paul, as a pioneering apostle, preached the gospel and was establishing churches in areas where the gospel had never been preached; thus he made a free choice to not receive any support directly from the places where he was laboring, NOT as a permanent pastoring elder, but as a missionary who would be moving on after the church was established. He did this directly for the purpose that no one in such a context could ever say that he came there to preach with wrong motives for money.

But If one takes the time to include all the verses that address the issue, they have to include not only 1 Cor. 9:7-14, but also Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7, and 1 Tim. 5:17-18, all of which directly teach the financial support of preachers, evangelists, or pastoring elders.

This is not an unclear or complicated issue. You have to be either biblical ignorant or dishonest with what Scripture actually says on this point to deny the clear teaching of the New Testament that the financial support of ministers is a God-ordained principle of truth. Men who are called of God have the freedom to decline support and they often do, for various reasons. But any biblical church does not have the freedom to withhold the support or to view it as being wrong or questionable. God has given commandment that it ought to be provided.

Let’s look at what both Paul and Jesus say about this issue of the support of gospel ministers.

In 1 Cor. 9:7-14, Paul clearly teaches that ministers are to be supported; the context without question is the gospel ministry and the physical, financial support that ought to come to those who labor in it. Far from arguing against the support of preachers, Paul is arguing FOR it.

In vs. 7, he uses three illustrations, all which are chosen to affirm support of preachers by churches:

1) “Do soldiers go to war or give service at their own expense?”– obvious implication- NO

2) “Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of the fruit?”– obvious answer- NO ONE

3) “Who feeds a flock and does not drink some of the milk of the flock?” — obvious answer- NO ONE

The three illustrations all are given to confirm a universal truth– those who labor at something are to be rewarded with provision directly because of that labor and in proportion to that labor.

Then in vss. 8-10, Paul affirms that this is not just his opinion, when he says, “Am I saying these things just as a man? Or does not the law say the same thing? for it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn’ (Deut. 25:4); does God take care of oxen? Or, says He it altogether for our sakes? for our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he that plows should plow in hope and he that threshes in hope should partake of his hope.” Thus Paul affirms, without question, that this is not just his opinion but rather is God’s ordinance.

Paul then applies this to the Old Testament priests, which he refers to in vs. 13: “Do you not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?”

Then the finishing statement is beyond question in verse 14, which verse has only thus far been illustrated by Paul, but now he says it openly and directly: “Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”

Paul has said that he has chosen, in his particular situation, to forgo that privilege because he is an apostle: “Nevertheless, we have not used this power, but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.” (vs. 12) Paul, laboring where the gospel has never been preached, chooses this path to make absolutely sure that no one can ever say that he has come into a geographical area as a stranger and is preaching with a motive for financial gain. That is why he gives his example, not as the rule, but as the exception to the rule.

His example of declining support is the exception, not the rule; otherwise, why would he argue so clearly for the support of ministers if he is setting his example forth as the rule to follow? His entire teaching through this chapter affirms that pastoral support is right and is to be commended rather than avoided. Paul’s choice to decline it is for himself, but he never even infers this to be the standard for all other ministers, especially elders who labor pastorally in a local church.

So 1 Corinthians 9, which contains Paul’s decline of ministerial financial support, is a powerful argument FOR ministerial support– that it is the revealed will of God and is the general principle which ought to be followed. Ministers can decline available support if their situation lends itself to that choice, but the church never has the freedom to withhold it or for anyone to judge a man wrong if he receives it.

Then we come to 1 Timothy 5, which contains instructions for the local church, such as the treatment of older men, younger men, widows, and then elders, which are pastoring elders in the church. In vs. 17, he says: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” Paul here makes a clear statement of command concerning what the church is to do toward the support of their pastoring elders, especially for those who “labor (work hard at) at preaching and teaching.” The church is to give “double honor” to those who do this, and then he clarifies and defines what that means, making it clear that he is talking about support in the physical (carnal) and financial realm by quoting again Deut. 25:4, what he’s already said to the Corinthians on the same issue in 1 Corinthians 9:9: “You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn”, thus affirming to Timothy that this is divine law and the reveal standard of God.

Secondly, in the same verse 18, Paul quotes Jesus from Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7, where our Lord, in sending out preachers and evangelists, stated that “the laborer is worthy of his hire”, thus showing the Lord gave clear instruction that the gospel laborer will be provided for in and through his labors in the kingdom.

When these texts are seen in their context, it is clear that Paul was not giving his example of declining support as the obligatory rule for all ministers who are pastoring or preaching. Instead, both Paul and Jesus affirm that such support is correct, logical, needed, and is the revealed will of God.

By the way, it is also true that other churches DID support Paul at different times, especially the Philippian church, which he makes abundantly clear in his writings.

So in using Paul’s example of declining support, Viola and Barna tell only half the story, give half the facts and half the truth, if indeed this is what they mean, when they conclude and teach others that it is wrong to pay preachers or elders because Paul was not supported. This completely misrepresents the New Testament position.

It’s sad and too bad that people are led to extreme and tangent positions on such issues by men who clearly do not know what they are talking about, but want to convince the wider evangelical community that they do. Regarding this area of eccelessiology in church life and doctrine, their position is a departure from the entire history of evangelical truth. These men ought to stick to what they do best, whatever that is, which is not interpreting the Bible. On this issue, Viola and Barna are weighed in the balance of biblical truth and are found to fail the test. The New Testament clearly teaches that ministers and pastors ought to be supported. Those who disagree are simply wrong because they are either misinformed, uninformed or dishonest.

I suppose the conclusion concerning our brother’s question at the beginning is simply this– Perhaps we ought to agree with Jesus and Paul on this matter of paying preachers rather than Viola and Barna. That, to me, seems very safe and much healthier for the church of Jesus Christ and the advance of the gospel.

And a final word to all you laborers– you are worthy of your hire!! Jesus is the one who said it; Praise the Great Shepherd of the sheep for that abiding truth! So keep on laboring !!

– Mack Tomlinson

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