What About Professional Clergy?

1 Corinthians 9:

7 Who ever serves in the army at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Who tends a flock and does not consume its milk?

8 Am I saying these things only on the basis of common sense, or does the law not say this as well?

9 For it is written in the law of Moses, "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." God is not concerned here about oxen, is he?

10 Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest.

11 If we sowed spiritual blessings among you, is it too much to reap material things from you?

12 If others receive this right from you, are we not more deserving?

But we have not made use of this right. Instead we endure everything so that we may not be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ.

13 Don't you know that those who serve in the temple eat food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar receive a part of the offerings?

14 In the same way the Lord commanded those who proclaim the gospel to receive their living by the gospel.

(NET Bible®)

Paul made it clear that those who spread the gospel are due monetary payment. There is definitely a place for professionals within the Christian church. But who? And how many? And out of which tithe do we pay them?

Do we need one professional for every ten families? If we have fewer, we end up with church professionals making more money than the donors. True, I omitted the cost of facilities, but still. If the first tithe is meant to support a professional priesthood, we end up with a rather large amount of money available for paying priests.

If we apply the Body of Christ principle, then we don’t need that many professionals. A small church need not have any. On the other hand, large church probably would be hard to manage without some fulltime staff. (But as I argue in the previous chapter, such staff should be paid out of the second tithe.)

But just who is supposed to be paid according to Paul’s quote above. Was every deacon and bishop a full time professional? (The term “bishop” meant something different from the modern term. There were multiple “bishops” in a town in Paul’s letters [Philippians 1:1].) The church leaders were to be esteemed highly [1 Thessalonians 5], but were they paid?

A possible clue comes from the first New Testament precedent for paid spreading of the gospel message:

Matthew 10:

5 Jesus sent out these twelve, instructing them as follows: "Do not go to Gentile regions and do not enter any Samaritan town.

6 Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

7 As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near!'

8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.

9 Do not take gold, silver, or copper in your belts,

10 no bag for the journey, or an extra tunic, or sandals or staff, for the worker deserves his provisions.

11 Whenever you enter a town or village, find out who is worthy there and stay with them until you leave.

12 As you enter the house, give it greetings.

13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

14 And if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your message, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or that town.

15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town!

(NET Bible®)

In this passage, the disciples were to be paid for their labor – but not very much. It was purely pay as you go. They were not to carry any money or supplies on the road. Under such conditions, the disciples were poor. It may have been a voluntary poverty, but it was poverty nonetheless.

This describes many modern missionary efforts. Many modern missionaries may well qualify as “New Levites” for this reason. (And the “listen to the leader” approach does make more sense than the “body of Christ” approach for a startup church composed of people newly converted.)

All this said, support for some paid missionary outreach leaves plenty of tithe money left over for doing good works using first tithe money.

And if the churches do enough good works, there is little need for paid evangelism in areas near existing churches. Doing good works is the most effective form of evangelism.

Matthew 5:

16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

(NET Bible®)

Blurring the Tithes

All this talk of tithing and Christianity runs us into trouble when we try to use the early churches as our example. Many of the early churches were communist! With all the money in a common pot, the notion of individual giving becomes blurry indeed!

I am not a Christian communist, but perhaps the Christian communist model is appropriate for taking back some government functions that were once church funded. When a church funds a daycare center, a school or a hospital, it is well within the ancient communal tradition. A church school that only accepts members is questionable as first-tithe charity, but I think some tax deduction could be appropriate as the church is removing a burden from the state. (But there is a downside: the state gets say in how the school is run…)

Hospitals provide a very interesting situation. The laws of our land generally require hospitals to admit anyone, and most church sponsored hospitals do so. Doctors and other staff at such hospitals would constitute paid clergy of a sort – after all, part of the job of the Levites was public health. To the extent that such doctors provide lower cost/free service to the poor, such payments are indeed charity and would count towards the first tithe. But the line is blurry.