Arminian Today

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House Churches and Full-Time Elders

Does the New Testament promote the idea of full-time elders (or pastors)?  I know of many of my friends on this blog and outside who not only hold that it does but also they are full-time pastors.  In almost all cases they applied for their pastorate like any other job complete with paperwork and interviews.  In fact, the modern pastorate often resembles a CEO of a company more than taking over a church of God.  In many cases the interviews are full of questions mainly about budgets, organization abilities, and of course, numbers.  Attendance is a big issue for institutional churches since they operate on budgets that must be met.  I know of one large church in my area that sent out their yearly budget that totaled over $7 million dollars.  Less than 3% of that was going to missions.  Most of that $7 million was salaries and their buildings.  Since numbers drive the institutional church, the potential pastor must show that they can produce large results through various ides and organization.  The masses have to be kept happy.

The house church is nothing near that.  First of all, we have no budget.  Each person can give their money to whatever they want.  We don’t want it.  We don’t need it.  Occasionally we might have a family who needs money or a church planter who needs funds but we don’t regularly need your money.  Second, we have no buildings to pay for.  We have no mortgage.  We have no bills.  We offer no work insurance.  We pay no taxes since we own nothing and receive nothing.  Third, we have no staff.  We don’t pay a pastor.  We don’t pay a youth pastor.  We don’t pay a music leader.  We have elders who led us but they are not paid.

So what do we want you to do with the money that God gives you?  We want you to do what He tells you to do with in the New Testament.  First, Jesus said to give to the poor (Matthew 6:2-4; Galatians 2:10).  Secondly, give to hurting Christians (Acts 4:34-35; 11:27-30; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  Third, give to supporting apostles or church planters or missionaries (1 Corinthians 9:8-14; Philippians 4:10-20).  There is no biblical mandate in the New Testament to tithe to a local church to support their paying bills, salaries, etc.  Tithing is biblical but under the theocracy known as Israel.  We are not a theocracy.  Not once in the Epistles do the writers exhort God’s people to tithe.  If failing to tithe brings one under a curse (as some teach from Malachi 3:8-10) then surely the New Testament writers would want to keep us from that curse.  Sadly, those who teach this “cursed” view of Malachi 3:8-10 fail to show it this applies to Galatians 3:13.

Yet does the New Testament teach that there should be full-time elders?  In Acts 20 we have Paul holding a pastors conference (v. 17).  Paul the Apostle teaches these elders various things but one interesting thing that he says is in verse 35.  The words here are ascribed to Jesus although the Gospels do not contain them.  Using the words of Jesus, Paul tells the elders that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  Can you imagine hearing a prosperity preacher saying that to his TV audience today?  In fact, the thrust of Acts 20:33-35 is that Paul wants these elders to work and not seek money.  He point to his own example (Acts 18:1-4) as proof that he worked hard so that he could give his money to the weak (ESV).  In essence, Paul wanted these elders not to be full-time but to work so that they could give away their money.  What a radical concept for our time!

The other places we find the issue of money and elders is 1 Corinthians 9.  1 Corinthians 9 is not really about elders however.  In fact, elders are not found at all in 1 or 2 Corinthians.  Given how important the modern pastorate is in most churches, you would think that Paul the Apostle would address the elders to correct the troubles at Corinth.  He never does.  He expects the Spirit of God to lead His Church and for the people of God to obey the Spirit who leads them.  Not once in Corinthians does Paul address any leaders.  In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul deals with missionaries receiving money for preaching the gospel.  In verses 8-14 he makes the clear point that those who preach the gospel should live off the gospel.  Yet then Paul turns around and says that he has not done this despite his right to do so.  He tells the Corinthians that he didn’t want to be a stumbling block to them (vv. 15-18).  Paul could have asked for money but he gave up his right so that he could preach the gospel without hinderance.  In Acts 18:1-4 we find that Paul worked as a tent maker while preaching the gospel in Corinth.  He willfully gave up his rights to being paid so that he could work hard, give away his money, and preach the gospel.  How many modern pastors are doing that?

The final place we find elders and money is in 1 Timothy 5:17-18.  A couple of points are in order.  First, verse 17 does not use the word “money.”  I believe many read into verse 17 way too much about “double honor” as to teach that elders should be paid double what they would earn outside of the church.  The word “honor” here does not denote money.  The word is never used in the New Testament as a substitute for the word money.  Yet I have no trouble with honoring an elder who leads with much grace and ability in teaching the Word of God.  This honor can come in various ways including giving them money.  I don’t think we should isolate this verse and make it teach only money but we can give money to elders who fit this picture of verse 17.  Yet I don’t see in this verse that it teaches that elders should receive a regular salary.  Gifts?  Yes.  Salary?  No.  There is a big difference.

Frankly, I am weary of paying an elder very often since this could lead to one elder being exalted above others and can lead to this elder becoming a typical CEO type pastor only in a house church setting.  The plurality of leaders in the house church (Titus 1:5) helps to offset one elder dominating the others.  It also helps because elders are gifted in various ways other than teaching.  A full-time elder also would have a hard time fulfilling Acts 20:35 if in fact their income comes from the house church.

Lastly, if a house church is large enough to support a full-time elder, they are probably too large.  It’s time to split that house church.  House churches are strong because of personal relationships with one another.  This can’t happen if the house church is too large.  I recommend that house churches be no larger than a living room.  If everyone can comfortably be in a living room to worship God, pray, sing, eat, etc. then that is perfect.  Keep in mind that elders are to be among the people of God and not over them (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Hard work is something that we are scarred of in the West.  We need not be.  How wonderful it is to work hard and then to take our money and give it away to the kingdom of God through the poor, hurting disciples, or missionaries.  We are not to hoard up our funds but to give them away (Matthew 6:19-21).  Our treasure is not this world or money but the Lord Himself.  He is our delight and our reward.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/02/2012 at 10:52 AM

5 Responses

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  1. Just one simple comment about one issue: “Lastly, if a house church is large enough to support a full-time elder, they are probably too large. It’s time to split that house church. House churches are strong because of personal relationships with one another. This can’t happen if the house church is too large.” I assert this notion does not match with Biblical example. Specifically, the Jerusalem church. We read of only the church (singular) of Jerusalem, and it began at a size of 3000. I share your heart for smaller groups and churches. I don’t think the New Testament puts a clear concept that a church should always be small. In fact, we see hints of a high level of “organization” in that church throughout the first 6 chapters of Acts.

    And without getting too technical cause I don’t have the time to give a coherent defense of this, but I believe Acts 20:34-36 is not a command. He is very assertive in that discourse to command the elders, but in those verses he does not command them. These verses, in my opinion, are best understood as Paul’s personal conviction that he not be supported by people, for the sake of making sure his ministry isn’t discredited, even though it is his right, based on what he says in the Corinthian epistles. I don’t believe you agree with that interpretation of the Corinthian passages, but they plain enough to me that ministers of the gospel have the right to live of the gospel materially. In Acts 20, Paul is defending his character and authority, not commanding the elders about material needs. Just saying…

    • Let me seek to respond backwards from the end to the top of your comments. By the way, thanks for interacting with me on this. I would hold that 1 Corinthians 9 is directed toward apostles or in our day, church planters and not the modern pastorate.

      I would agree that Acts 20 is not so much a command as an example but He does cite the words of Jesus as a command. No doubt even modern pastors would agree that the words of Jesus are true even if they don’t practice them.

      In regard to the church in Jerusalem. We do read in Acts 2:46 that they met in homes. While the church was large, it was not large in one place. It was large in one city but they met in homes throughout the city. Same was true of all New Testament churches whether in Rome or Colosse. They met in homes and while there were probably thousands of disciples, they all met in homes. This is my conviction from Scripture.

      Does this mean then that the entire church never came together? I don’t know. I don’t see in the NT where they did but its possible they could have. We do know they met in homes but whether they ever came all together in a city is not found in the book of Acts.

  2. I agree whole heartily! I just published a post on my blog, ChurchPros entitled, ‘Should Pastors Be Paid?’ no more than two days ago. It reflects much of the same sentiments, only your article was worded a lot differently and brought into focus additional Scripture references. I was pleased to see that there are others who join in my belief that elders, pastors, missionaries and evangelists have had their functions and focus corrupted by the world’s model for church. Thank you! enjoyed your post considerably and invite you to visit my blog.

    Bobby Kmiec

    02/02/2012 at 11:58 PM

  3. Great post, lots of amen’s…..For years I sat under the false teaching of Malachi 3 and the curse, but since then God opened my eyes to that. I can’t tell you how many people I know that are still living under the Old Covenant in this matter, and not fulfilling the New Covenant command being led by the spirit in all things including giving. I wonder how someone could say they’re not violating the new covenant of giving without compulsion when they give like a 10% robot, most of which if not all goes to the local church…. Russ


    02/03/2012 at 2:14 PM

  4. […] of children, and also the issue today, which involves the paying of staff.  In this article from Reformed Arminian, the term ‘elder’ is being used to apply to anyone holding an ‘office’ […]

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