By Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
In the April, 1976 issue of Searching The Scriptures, Connie Adams pointed out how sensitive the subject of the support of preachers is to both preachers and congregations. For fear of being accused of preaching for the money few preachers have addressed themselves to the subject and consequently many churches are untaught regarding .the matter. Through the years, we preachers have had a reluctance to talk about our finances. In addition to the sensitivity of the subject is the fact that the lines of communication are not always sufficiently open on this subject and a man in a local work and the brethren with whom he works cannot freely and objectively discuss its several aspects. We preachers have simply been too modest on the subject and the brethren have a lack of understanding. In this writing, many things could be said about the support of preachers. However, space will only permit a lengthy discussion of scriptural support of preachers and some of the abuses of what the Bible teaches on the subject.
The Bible and Support of Preachers
As has been pointed out by others the preacher is certainly engaging in an activity which scripturally entitles him to wages (2 Cor. 11:8). The preacher is a worker (2 Tim. 4:5), he is a minister or servant (1 Tim. 4:6), he is a teacher (2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:11), and a student (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:15).
The Bible declares that the preacher has a right to be supported both from individuals and congregations. Let us consider first the individual support. Paul said in Gal. 6:6; “let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” The word “communicate” means “to give a share to, distribute” (Thayer). The individual is to share with and distribute to the needs of the preacher. In 3 John 5, John commended Gaius by saying, “beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren and to strangers.” We know that John had reference to teachers of truth because in verses 6-8, he referred to teachers who “went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.” Gaius’ charity unto them had been witnessed before the church and John said he did well in bringing such teachers forward on their journey. There should be more of this going on today.
Now we will give attention to church support of preachers. There are several passages which teach the right of churches to support the gospel preacher, either fully or in part. We will begin with the obvious, the fact that the apostle Paul, in 1 Cor. 9 defended that right in a series of arguments: (1) His right to “eat and drink” (v. 4); (2) His right to have and support a family (v. 5); (3) His right to “forbear working” (v. 6); (4) A soldier does not serve at his own charges (v: 7); (5) A husbandman eats of the vineyard he tends (v. 7); (6) A herdsman benefits from the flock he feeds (v. 7); (7) An argument from the teaching of the law that treading oxen were not to be muzzled (v. 8-9); (8) The plowman and the thresher should work in hope (v. 10); (10) and the conclusion that “even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (v. 14).
Then, there is Phil. 1:3-5; 4:10, 15-16, where Paul said, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now . . . But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity . . . Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.” Notice that the funds were sent directly to Paul to fulfill a need. We will say more about this later in the article.
Next, let us notice 2 Cor. 11:8, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them to do you service.” “Wages,” which is a payment in exchange for service, is what Paul received. The Lord’s Day contribution (1 Cor. 16:1-2) not only supplied the wants of the destitute saints, but enabled the church to abound in “every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8), among which was the paying of wages for the support of preaching the gospel.
Norman Fultz, in his tract, “The Support of Preachers,” said, “Yet, let it be understood that the preacher is not `paid to preach’, nor is he working for the brethren. He is doing the Lord’s work, in His minister (sic., I think he meant ministry, jt, 1 Tim. 4:6), and seeks to please Him (Gal. 1:10). When one is `paid to preach’ instead of simply being supported so he may give himself to preaching, he becomes a hireling and a men-pleaser” (p. 4).
The Bible clearly teaches that the individual and the church is to support the preacher so that he can give himself to the work of preaching the gospel. The preacher cannot do his work well without a great deal of preparation. The sermons he delivers and the classes he teaches are only the tip of the iceberg of the work he does.
The Pattern Of Support Abused
One should reread 2 Cor. 11:8-9 and Phil. 4:14-16. The church at Philippi sent to Paul at least twice while he was in Thessalonica. They had fellowship with him by supplying what he needed. When he was at Corinth, several churches sent wages to him there. Even when Paul was in Rome, Philippi continued to send to his needs (Phil. 1:3-7; 4:17-19). They sent wages to him by their messenger named Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-28; 4:18).
Thus, one church or several churches supported a gospel preacher in other cities and regions removed from the supporting church. The man was supported directly from the church, i.e., there was no intermediate agency or church between the church sending the wages and the gospel preacher receiving the wages. A church, or churches, sending wages through another church to send to a preacher constitutes a sponsoring church, and is an abuse of the scriptural plan. Sending to a board of directors enabling a missionary society to do the work of preaching is likewise an abuse of the plan. In New Testament times each church communicated directly with the preacher supported, and the preacher communicated directly with the church or churches supporting him.
The plan of supporting preachers (as discussed above) is a wonderful plan for it is a .scriptural plan. It is the plan revealed in the scriptures! It is an understandable plan for no one can misunderstand the passages above without a great deal of help. It is a practical plan for each congregation in the world can practice it. It is a workable plan for it worked in the first century and is still working in the century in which we live. It is a unifying plan for all churches and brethren could be united by supporting preachers in this manner. This plan will do away with the division that exists in the brotherhood today. It is a .simple plan for it does not demand elaborate organizations, promotions, campaigns nor boards and conclaves to administer it. It certainly is a successful plan because it accomplishes the end result of saving souls, spreading the gospel and establishing churches; yet is not divisive nor hurtful to the church of the Lord in any way (I am grateful to Bill Cavender for this latter thought, jt.).
Only within this plan of sending wages directly to preachers can churches of Christ remain completely independent, autonomous and equal. Any plan of centralizing through boards, conventions and sponsoring churches makes the wages sent to preachers unscriptural and sinful. Let us stay with the pattern of God’s word in supporting the preacher.
Truth Magazine XXI: 10, pp. 153-154
March 10, 1977