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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

Do Churches Talk Too Much About Money?

Take the title of this post and google it.  You’ll be surprised at how many various opinions come up about money and the Western Church.  Sadly, many atheists see the American Church in particular as a “much-profit” organization that is out to use their “non-profit” status simply to make more money.  I personally have seen situations where someone would like to give some money to someone and the local church would tell that person to give the money first to the church and designate the money for that family in order for it to be viewed as true charity.  Sadly, this was money not given to a poor family but to the pastor who was already making decent money from the church.

This is the time of the year when every ministry I know of is begging for money.  “Get your money in now before the end of 2011 so that we can make your donation with a matching pledge” is the slogan these days.  Just yesterday I received not one but four ministry news letters in the mail all asking me to give to their ministries.  Some are better at begging than others.  Some just offer you a CD or a book for such and such amount.  Some play the guilt trip: “We will not be able to continue as we have if you do not give to us.”  I wish one would simply just ask me to give money because they need it and that is the bottom line.

Many of the churches I have attended over the years do beg for money.  Typically the old “tithing” sermon is best given when giving is down.  Preach a poor exegeted sermon off Malachi 3:8-10 and let the Spirit do the rest.  Preach that tithing is commanded by God (and it was under the theocracy of ancient Israel) and watch the money roll in.  It has been stated that nearly 85% of all giving in the United States in the church goes toward salaries, buildings, upkeep, etc.  Less than 2% of all donations in the American church actually goes toward missions and evangelism.

Yet consider the house church.  Here you’ll find no salaries.  No begging for money.  Why?  Because we have no professional Christians among us.  We are all priests unto God (1 Peter 2:4-11) and all of us are expected to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16).  We have elders who sometimes receive blessings from God’s people (1 Timothy 5:17) but this is not always in money (nor does 1 Timothy 5:17 teach that it is).  We have no upkeep for buildings since we have no buildings.  We do take up monies from time to time to support apostles (church planters) or hurting Christians or even the poor (Galatians 2:10).  We never use the money for any other purpose than what is stated.  We require no tithe.  We require no giving to us at all but we do ask disciples of Jesus to give as He commanded (Matthew 6:2-4) but each person has freedom to do with the money the Lord has given to them as they see fit in the Spirit (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

I do believe that churches talk too much about money.  It seems much of what is done is often to get more money.  Even “evangelism” events are often not completely seeking to reach people with the gospel but rather to get people to come to that said church so that the numbers increase and thus the giving perhaps will increase.  More people hopefully equals more money but lost is the condition of their souls before God.

Where are the churches who will faithfully preach Philippians 4:10-13.  Sadly, many are true of Revelation 3:17 instead.  I pray that we would never be a hindering to someone coming to faith in Jesus over the idol of money.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/28/2011 at 12:23 PM

A Friendly Reply on Tithing

Tithing, like baptism or spiritual gifts, has a tendency to divide people and bring out the debating side of folks.  This was true of my post on house churches and tithing.  As I pointed out, house churches don’t need the tithe.  What would we want with your money?  We have no clergy-laity system that needs your money.  We have no buildings that requires we take your money.  We have no denominations to support with your money.  From time to time we might ask for a gift to be given to help the poor, hurting Christians, or to support apostles (or sent ones) but other than that, we don’t need or want your money.  You are free to support whatever you want to support from giving to missions to giving to the poor to giving to causes such as cancer research.  Jesus said that His disciples would give (Matthew 6:2-4) and Jesus was specific in Matthew 6:2 that His disciples would give to the needy.  I would hardly call a professional Christians salary “needy”.  I would also point out that Paul said in Galatians 2:10 to remember the poor.  This would be the same as the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:2.  Jesus also taught His own Apostles in Matthew 10:9 that they were not to acquire gold or silver (money).  While this is obviously in the context of Jesus sending out the Twelve to preach the gospel, it is interesting that Jesus would make such a statement knowing that the Church would follow their pattern.

I have a friend who is a clergyman.  He is the pastor of a medium-sized Baptist church and he posted conceding the issue of tithing.  So I thought I would offer a friendly response to his post.  You can find the post here.  His post was not written against me nor against the house church movement as he was following up a sermon that he had preached on the subject of giving.

Before I take a look at his points, let me state a few things about giving and tithing.  First, I have no doubt that disciples of Jesus Christ will be generous since our Lord was Himself generous.  We must be careful, however, not to make generosity all about money.  We can be generous with our time, our work, even our words.  Romans 12:7 does speak of disciples being generous in contributions.  It is helpful to understand what contributions Paul was referring to.  I believe that it is in error to read into “contributions” as tithing or giving to a local church to support the clergy-laity system or fund a building.  That would be reading into the text something Paul did not say.  When we look to Acts we find that the disciples contributed mainly to helping hurting believers such as in Acts 11:27-30.  This was also the praise Paul had in mind in 2 Corinthians 8-9.

Secondly, I don’t really care if a person “tithes” so long as they are giving to biblical reasons.  I find nothing in the New Testament to suggest that we should tithe or that the tithe must be given to a local church to support a professional Christian who “earns” their income by doing the work of the ministry that the church as a whole should be doing.  I also find nothing in the New Testament to suggest that tithing was required to support buildings of any kind.  Even John MacArthur in The MacArthur Study Bible acknowledges that the early Church met in homes (see Acts 2:46 or Romans 16:5 for examples of just a few house churches in the New Testament).  If tithing, as taught today, was to be a biblical practice for New Testament churches, why is nothing said about the practice?

Thirdly, I believe the clergy-laity system prevents people from seeing that the New Testament doesn’t promote tithing.  Clergymen want to see tithing in the New Testament because their livelihood depends upon the system.  To teach otherwise might endanger their positions and they might have to get a “secular” job.  A few, such as John MacArthur above, reject tithing but most evangelicals accept the practice.

In my friend’s post he first traces the history of the tithe in the Old Testament.  I have little to say about this other than to point out the obvious that the tithe was the equivalent of taxes in the theocracy of Israel.  Tithing, as I have often stated, is biblical but is now obsolete in Christ (Hebrews 8:13).  The Law does mention tithing but we are not under the law but under grace as New Testament disciples of Jesus (Romans 6:14).  The ceremonial aspects of the Law are gone as Jesus finished the work of the Law for us (John 19:30).  I would also point out that while the tithe was before the Law, the Scripture says that Abram tithed (Genesis 14:20 and referenced in Hebrews 7:4) and Jacob likewise tithed in Genesis 28:22 but in both cases they tithed once their entire lives at least as far as we can tell from Scripture.  The Scripture never says that Abraham nor Jacob ever tithed again but if the practice was so vital to Christians then why is tithing found only once in their lives?  I believe it is a very weak argument to state that tithing is biblical because Abram and Jacob tithed once and this must be a pattern for us to now tithe weekly to a clergy-laity system.

My friend then moves on to post on the history of the tithe in the New Testament.  He first states the truth that there are few references to tithing.  He states that Jesus endorsed the tithe in Matthew 23:23 and that Jesus pointed out that the Pharisee tithed in Luke 18:12.  A couple of points here.  First, Jesus is not endorsing the tithe for New Testament disciples.  In the context Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for their failure to keep the Law.  In fact, in every reference to tithing in the New Testament, it is looking at the practice under the Law of Moses (except in Hebrews 7:4).  Matthew 23 is speaking to the Pharisees who are under the Law.  Luke 18:12 can hardly serve as a good example of tithing for New Testament disciples since Jesus is pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisee and not praising him.  Jesus did teach that His disciples would give (Matthew 6:2-4) but He never says that we should tithe nor does any other passages in the New Testament.

The next section refers to the practice of tithing in the history of the Church up to the current day.  I don’t deny that tithing was taught by the Roman Catholics (as was the worship of Mary and praying to the saints and the exaltation of the papacy among other heretical teachings).  I don’t deny that many Protestants taught tithing as they failed to reformed the Church completely to preaching the priesthood of the saints but instead maintained the clergy-laity system as seen among the Catholics and Orthodox.  Certainly you can find quote after quote of Church Fathers calling people to tithe.  However, the quotes by the Church Fathers hardly are Scripture.  Just because John Calvin endorses the tithe or anyone else doesn’t mean that it is necessarily biblical to do so.  In many European nations, all people “tithe” to the state Church such as in Germany with the Lutheran Church or in England with the Church of England.  This “tithe” has caused many problems in evangelism as people see the Church as only money hungry and not truly preaching the gospel or helping people at all.

My friend closes his post with nine points about being generous.  He writes:

  • Giving is an act of grace developed in all Christians. All Christians give.  No stingy Christians.
  • It spreads through testimony.
  • It’s consistent and persevering.
  • It’s tied to the giving of one’s entire self.
  • It’s rooted in the Gospel.
  • Churches should do the right thing with what is given.
  • Church leaders should be seen doing what is right with what is given.
  • “Sowing” generosity may not “reap” more money, but will reap good works, righteousness, more generosity, and worship.
  • Giving is ultimately about God, not the givers.

I don’t disagree with any of the above points.  My only added point would be that we are not required to give to a local church.  Many clergymen would teach the above but then tell people that they must be generous in giving to that church.  I disagree.  You are free to give your money to whatever you desire (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).  We are not bound anywhere in the New Testament to give to support a clergy-laity system.  We are free to support whatever we desire so long as we are using the money that God has given us to glorify Him.

The post closes with the following:

  • Jesus endorsed tithing, and Paul expected full-time ministry in the church to be paid by the congregation (Matthew 23:23 and 1 Corinthians 9:13-14).
  • Ask, “How much dare I keep?” instead of “How much should I give?”
  • Wealth-building is wise, but so that we can give in fear of covetousness and greed (Hebrews 13:5, 2 Corinthians 8:13-15).

I have already commented on Matthew 23:23 and how Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees who are under the Law and yet not really living it.  But does 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 mean that we should have a professional Christian serving over one church?  First of all, the Bible never teaches that one person is to “run” the local church.  The New Testament presents elders as leading the local church (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5).  We always find “elders” in the plural form when speaking of leaders of the Church and we always find leaders in the plural form as well (see Hebrews 13:7, 17 for example).  We don’t find a one man show in the New Testament.

Regarding 1 Corinthian 9:13-14, let me state first that verse 14 is often isolated to appear to teach tithing or at least supporting a professional Christian in “full-time ministry.”  Is this the case?  First of all, verse 14 never says anything about money.  In fact, verse 13 mentions mainly food.  Even further, the context of 1 Corinthians 9:14 shows that Paul is actually pointing out that he is glad that he did not receive support from the Corinthians and he states clearly in verse 18 what his reward is for preaching the gospel.  Read in its context, 1 Corinthians 9:14 is hardly a good verse to support a clergy-laity system.  Even Paul himself gladly worked which many clergymen are not willing to do but instead preach an Old Testament Levitical priesthood that would cause people to think that they must give their money to support a professional Christian as they “do the work of the ministry.”

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/19/2011 at 4:01 PM

>Join in the Work of God: Give to Missions!

>I rarely talk about money.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I posted on the issue.  I know that money is an important issue to many in the Church as pastors, evangelists, etc. often beg for money as they need the support to survive!  Jesus talked much about money but I believe this was an issue of idolatry, trying to get people focused on serving the one true God and not the god of money (see Matthew 6:24 NKJV).

However, I do believe that as disciples of Jesus we should use the money that God gives us to glorify Him.  There is certainly nothing wrong with paying bills, having some fun, and of course, providing for our families (1 Timothy 5:8).  Jesus said in Matthew 6:2-4 that we were also to give money to the poor.  I hope you are doing that (Galatians 2:10).

Yet even further we learn from passages such as Philippians 4:10-20 that the disciples also supported church planters or missionaries (to use our language) such as Paul.  Paul traveled, planting churches and preaching the gospel.  He was able to do this because the disciples gave money to support him in his labors.  He did work when necessary such as in Acts 18:3.  The longest Paul ever stayed in one place was Corinth where he stayed for just over 2 years.  He did this, according to Romans 15:20-21, because he wanted the gospel to go forth into all nations as Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19).

I believe it is then important for us to give to missions.  We should support those who are seeking to plant biblical churches and make disciples.  You perhaps know some from your own fellowship that you can support or perhaps you can visit such ministries as Gospel for Asia.  Either way, I pray that you would consider supporting missions.  The gospel needs to go forth into all nations.  This is not about Arminianism or Calvinism but its about the precious gospel of Jesus Christ, that He came to die for our sins and that He is risen from the dead.  I pray that you and I would share our faith with the lost (Acts 1:8) but also that we would all support missions.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/07/2011 at 9:00 PM

Posted in Missions, Money

I’m Thankful For Missions

I reject tithing.  That is worth a post or more right there.  I believe that the modern Church has abused the Old Testament principle of tithing for many reasons including 1) a false clergy/laity system that divides up the body of Christ between professional clergy and secular people which is not found in the New Testament Church (1 Peter 2:4-11; Revelation 1:5-6), 2) to provide money for pastors and buildings that are not found in the New Testament.

Yet I don’t want to focus in on tithing at this time.  I want to focus on why Christians should give money.  One of those reasons is missions.  Paul and the other New Testament Apostles were given money by the Churches to build up the kingdom.  Paul mentions this in Philippians 4:10-19.  Oddly missing from many of the New Testament letters are Paul and the Apostles begging for money.  Not a day goes by that my mailbox doesn’t find me receiving letters from various ministries begging me to please give money to them. They will beg me saying that their budget has fallen way down and that they must meet this financial goal lest they have to cease sending out the gospel.  My thoughts are usually, “Well, perhaps they need to reassess how many of these letters they send out begging for money to save money.”  Paul tells the Philippians that they had supported him by sending gifts to him (notice gifts).  Paul doesn’t twist the Philippians arms to make them give but he does bless them for it.

I believe that one of the areas that God wants us to use the money that He give us is in missions.  Paul was a missionary.  He planted churches.  I believe that giving to help missionaries is vital.  Paul and other missionaries after him go forth to build the kingdom of God (Matthew 28:19-20).  I do firmly believe that Matthew 28:19-20 applies to all disciples but there are those sent out by the Church (Acts 13:1-3) to make disciples and plant biblical churches.  Paul was truly seeking to fulfill Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19-20 in that the longest he stayed at one church was 3 years in Corinth.  Paul was always on the move seeking to plant churches and then the Spirit would raise up elders to lead that church (Titus 1:5).  Paul never “pastored” a church.  He made disciples of Jesus and then abandoned them to God.  Amazing!

I give to missions and I love it.  I love supporting church planters.  I try to find church planters with Paul’s heart – to make true disciples of Jesus in as many towns as possible.  I will admit that I am not big on giving money to support a person who wants to plant a church and then remain the pastor of that church for years to come.  But I do believe in giving to those evangelists who desire to plant churches by making disciples of Jesus and then raising up local brethren to lead the church.  That is a New Testament concept and it works.

One web site I recommend for this is K.P. Yohannan’s ministry at Gospel for Asia.  Brother Yohannan supports the idea of giving to church planters who are seeking, in their native lands, to make disciples of Jesus.  As we approach Christmas, how important it is that we give to the heart of God which is the salvation of souls (1 Timothy 2:1-6).  The only way that the kingdom of God will advance is to support the command of Jesus to go forth and preach the Word (Mark 16:15-16).  We should pray for world missions (Romans 10:1) and pray for the advance of the gospel (Matthew 9:37-38).

I am thankful for world missions and I love giving money to see the gospel of Jesus Christ go forth.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/17/2010 at 3:46 PM

What We Can Give To Jesus This Christmas

I was reading today from Matthew 9:13 when the words of Christ struck me, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (NIV). Jesus’ very heart was to call sinners (that would be you and I and the entire world; Romans 3:23) unto Himself. His very birth was to set up His death on the cross and His resurrection (John 19:30; Romans 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 17; 1 Peter 3:18). This Baby was born to die (Luke 2:29-32; John 1:29; Galatians 4:4-6).

From the birth of Jesus Christ we catch a glimpse into the very heart of God. God’s heart is for the lost. God’s heart is a missionary heart where He wants to redeem fallen humanity and bring us back to Himself (John 3:16). We often hear the expression at Christmas that God is the greatest gift giver since He has given us His one and only Son. Yet the heart of God is not just in giving His Son but in calling the Church of Christ Jesus to go forth with the gospel. We are not to sit idle and enjoy the blessing of Christ and His salvation for us but we are all called to communicate the gospel (Mark 16:15).

As I pondered this I believe that the one gift we can give to God this Christmas (and throughout the year) should be to support His heart: missions. Certainly I believe that we are all called to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) but I also believe that in all our gift buying, let us not waste money on temporal things while ignoring eternal things (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). We need to see that only what we give to heaven will surely last (Matthew 6:19-24). Our hearts should be to invest in eternity.

And what a better way to invest in God’s heart than in missions! Let me point you to a few websites that I believe are worth giving to. Perhaps you support church planters in your church but if not, I would ask you to pray about giving to God’s heart, to missions. The world needs to hear the glorious Christmas story as well as the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing is worth more than souls. All the gifts we give and receive cannot compare to the wonder of a person hearing the gospel and being baptised into Christ.

This Christmas, let us give toward the heart of God by investing in souls.

Gospel For Asia (K.P. Yohannan) – Supports gospel preachers in India who are native Indians preaching the gospel to 1 billion Indians.

Wycliffe Bible Translators – Translating the Bible for unreached people groups.

Hope Worldwide – Ministers to hurting people’s needs all over the world by not only preaching the gospel to them but feeding the hungry, clothing, shelter, and daily provisions.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/22/2008 at 1:21 PM

Posted in Christmas, Missions, Money

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