Ok, so it seems that my last post on how the clergy life is easier than life for the rest of us has generated lots of comment and reaction. I wanted this. But the last thing I wanted was to undermine respect for, or confidence in, the clergy.
As always, let’s get a working definition happening: By referring to clergy or the ministry, I’m referring to people in paid-ministry, whether ordained or not. This is a bit of a fiddle I know, but it saves me typing “paid full-time stipendiary ministry” a million times per post.
So, I argued that clergy life is easier than life for the working man or woman.
And I stand by that argument.
But do not forget, I also argued that clergy life is a tremendous privilege that the rest of us do not receive. And we who are not in the clergy life must not resent or disrespect those who are clergy.
We are going to have a look at what Scripture says about those whose responsibility is to be the under-shepherd over us. We’ll do this by looking at my working-principles, my ‘theology of paid stipendiary ministry’. This way, whether you choose to agree or disagree with me, you know what it is you’re agreeing with or disagreeing with.
So, here’s traindriverrev’s principles of paid stipendiary ministry:
- Firstly, I eschew any traditional Christian-culture suggestion of ‘calling’ to ‘the ministry’. The Old Testament does present plenty of cases of prophets or kings being called to a specific purpose, and they were specifically Spirit-filled for that purpose. Under the New Covenant in the New Testament (those words in fact mean the same thing), the only calling is the call to salvation. The Greek word transliterated kaleo is only used with the call to salvation and is cognate with the word we render elect. All Christians, therefore, are called. Called to be saved. Called to be heaven-bound. There is no sense of a special ‘calling’ to ‘the ministry’. So we do not ‘elevate’ clergy because we think they are receiving ‘special treatment’ from God for some sort of ontological reason. But God does ask us in his Word to honour them, just the same. We honour them as equals in authority over us:
- Secondly, I firmly believe that the biblical model for the church is for a hierarchical church. The church is the household of God (Eph 2:19), and I firmly believe the biblical model for the home is hierarchical. Building on this, passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:28ff provide an order. 1 Thessalonians 5:12, speaking of what we call the clergy, uses the words “over you in the Lord”.
- Thirdly, this hierarchy is not an order of importance or standing, whether in God’s eyes or the eyes of man. They are our equals, but over us in the Lord. The biblical analogy is the hierarchical authority a father has in his home. This hierarchical authority of a father at home or a pastor over his flock does not mean that he is to behave like a prince, or ‘better’ in God’s eyes than anyone else. For example, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:24 that he does not “lord it over your faith”. Jesus was clear to his disciples not to lord it over people like the Gentiles do (Luke 22:25, Matthew 20:25, Mark 10:42). Therefore, this hierarchy is one of leadership, decision making, responsibility to care for your welfare.
- Fourthly, this hierarchy is sacrificial. When preparing non-Christian couples (for that matter, most Christian couples), they baulk at the words of the First Order of the Marriage service in An Australian Prayer Book (AAPB) because the wife, and the wife only, vows to ‘love, honour and obey.’ Of course, this comes from Ephesians 5:22ff, a source of much sophistry among many who try to make it not say what it plainly says. So I would take my wedding couples to this passage and explain what it is saying. Interestingly, no Christian couple ever adopted the AAPB’s First Order form of vows, but a number of non-Christian couples did take on board the words of Scripture with a new appreciation and say these vows happily. If you read Ephesians 5:22ff (and do not try to water it down by reading 5:21 as part of the passage. In the original, 5:21 is part of the sentence beginning at verse 18 and goes like this (adapted from the NIV1984): (17)Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (18)Do not get drunk on wine (which leads to debauchery), rather be filled with the Spirit [by] (19)speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; singing and making music in your heard to the Lord, (20)always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21)and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In other words, verse 21 is one of the methods of being filled with the Spirit, not a governing idea for what follows. So, from verse 22 onwards we encounter a new idea not governed by verse 21 as a sort of ‘thesis statement’ like many teach. Verses 22 onwards place the husband in a ‘headship’ position. But that does not mean that the husband has the right to demand his slippers, his beer or sex. What it means is that the husband has a very great responsibility… following in Christ’s footsteps and being willing if necessary to give his life for his bride. He does not use this passage to brutalise his wife but to serve her, as Christ served the church. This is the very great responsibility of husbands over wives. As is the final responsibility in matters affecting the family. Now, the husband may ‘outsource’ financial management to the wife. But if she messes up the finances, the husband bears the responsibility. Don’t like it fellas? Don’t become a husband. Already married? Sorry chum, you signed up for this. These principles apply also to pastors. Pastors, if you don’t like this responsibility, either repent or resign. Non-pastors, if you don’t like that there is this hierarchy, repent.
- Fifthly, this hierarchy is one for the benefit of the congregation. I guess I’ve said that in a few different ways already but let’s make the implicit explicit. Look at 1 Timothy 17, which refers to the ‘elders’ (presbyters, from which the word priest arises) directing the affairs of the church.
- Sixthly, we read in the same verse that this hierarchy is worthy of double honour, and this is emphasised for those whose work is preaching and teaching. Preaching and teaching is a huge responsibility, and those who do so face a stricter judgement (James 3:1, chilling for me as a continuing preacher; more chilling for the unrepentant teachers who did me in). Someone once asked me what “double honour” means. Without quick access to my commentaries which are in storage I’d suggest that it means you don’t just honour them as you would (and should) any fellow human, but you esteem them highly as someone with a heavy and sacred responsibility. They are not better than you, but they are to be honoured greatly. Think of it this way: I’m now of an age where the police officer pulling me over to randomly breath test me is about half my age. He or she is just a mere kid. He or she humbly calls me sir (which always elicits a giggle from me). But if I were to be over 0.05% BAC, this kid calling me sir has the authority to arrest me and take me to the station, hold me until the station test either clears me or condemns me, and has the power to do whatever the law allows in relation to those results. Yet on election day, this kid has the same voting rights as I. At tax time, this kid has the same responsibility on his or her tax return as I. We are equals. He or she is not ‘better’ than I. And despite he or she calling me ‘sir’, I am not better than he or she. But the law of the land grants him or her the authority over me to enact those laws should that be necessary. Therefore I honour the young police officer appropriately. Similarly, as a trainee train driver, I sometimes work with fully qualified train drivers who, again, are half my age. I don’t usurp their authority and decision making just because I am older. I honour their training and rank and do what I am bloody well told.
- Seventh, that means we must be very careful therefore about how we speak about our pastors, how we gossip, how we trash his or her reputation: Again, 1 Timothy 5:19 says “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” How my life would have been different if that were followed. In every church I have been a member of, but not the pastor, I hear this very verse breached all the time. It is so ungodly! And in every church I have been the pastor of, I have had to deal regularly with the consequences of this verse being breached and the nuisance value (at best) and eternal destruction (at worse) it causes in people’s lives.
- Finally, the worker deserves his wages (1 Tim 5:18). That was to have been the next subject I was to write on after my last post, but I felt it necessary to schedule this one in first to ensure that me previous post doesn’t cause disrespect for ministers. As I’ll post soon, Sydney Anglican clergy are paid extremely well. Their stipend may not appear healthy but when you factor in the very cleverly devised and fully legal non-taxable benefits, they are very comfortably off. But do not begrudge them their good packages. Scripture makes it clear that they ought to be honoured materially. There is no ‘vow of poverty’ for ministry. I’ll deal with the ‘give me more’ attitude I sometimes encounter next time. But for now, let them enjoy their healthy stipends with neither criticism nor resentment.
So, based on my principles, I ask you this:
Clergy: Your life is both a privilege and a responsibility. Do you live up to the lofty standards? Are you worthy of the respect I have argued for you?
Workers/non-clergy: Do you respect your pastors and clergy the way Scripture asks you to?
EDIT: 11:34am: In my haste to get this published, I forgot to add a very important link from 9Marks ministries that challenges us. If you are of the theological bent (as I am) that believes in male headship of the home, do you honour your pastors on the same basis? And if you’re a pastor, do you honour your bishops or denominational authorities? (In my denomination, the individualism of clergy results in horrible expressions of disrespect for the bishops) And if you’re not clergy, do you honour your boss as you ought? Link here, via the Geneva Push (which is a church-planting movement, not a Christian sexual position): http://thegenevapush.com/blogs/9marks/consistent_complementarianism
Coming up next (Lord willing): You clergy deserve every cent you are paid. Just don’t act the martyr.