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Religion uses the Bible as its authority to influence and even control the lives of its subscribers. Yet there is one subject that religion refuses to yield to the authority of scripture…paid clergy. I’m not bringing this subject up because I’m angry, contentious, or disgruntled…I do it because I seek the reform of the true Church and her Gospel. As I’ll prove today, the scripture is not ambiguous with regard to buying and selling the Gospel, yet people pour billions of dollars into the business of religion with little consideration of what they are actually doing.
Our world is held in captivity to an endless parade of religions and ideologies that are held to religiously. Our culture has unknowingly transferred our faith in God and placed it upon our faith systems…and now we can’t tell the difference. Thus religion, in its efforts to be a beacon of the gospel, has instead obscured it, neutering the Gospel of its power, by capitalizing on it. Religion can highjack people’s lives to the point where the religious mind believes liberation from it is sinful. We are not unlike the religious in Jesus’ day. Today, it seems only angry Atheists warn us about religion, but anyone who strives to hold a biblical worldview should do so as well, but for different reasons.
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:2-12)
Why was Jesus message subversive to religion?
We must realize that the mission and message of Jesus, as well as that of the early Church, was the liberation from religion, which controlled access to God through compensatory transaction. The Gospel message was different. It was transformation by faith in Christ (Christ following) which allows all comers free and unfettered access to God, without price, regardless of who a person is, or what they have done. If the life, mission and work of Christ was what scripture describes, then Jesus is the end of appeasement to God for all humanity. Instead of appeasing God through religion, or some evacuation strategy to get to heaven, Jesus revealed Heaven has come to us, apart from any religious apparatus, with no pastor, priest, imam, or guru to pay. Instead of religion, Jesus offered the first and only “Spiritual but NOT Religious” community of those who share this faith. Instead of fee for service rituals, rites, and pomp, this diverse group became the living body of Christ on display to the world.
Biblically speaking, the Christian faith was the alternative to religion, NOT a new alternative religion. If you are funding a church which seeks converts to a religion, your gift is out of step with the Gospel.
Pastors always quote Paul when justifying their right to be paid. If the church is preaching the same gospel as Paul, then it seems reasonable that it would adopt the same posture as Paul. I invite you to read this passage in its full context below and decide for yourself. Many pastors use this passage as the biblical justification to be paid clergy, and I agree Paul builds a case that it is a “right” if one chooses to do so. So then why do paid pastors throw out Paul’s admonishment toward a higher standard?
“If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:11-18)
Paul’s love and mission to share the Gospel, did have occasional gifts that supported his efforts, but these gifts that were gathered by one church were not spent on that community, but given to other communities in need (1 Corinthians 16:1-3). Furthermore, Paul worked along side the people in the church in a trade, in other words, he had a job and he taught people on weekends. He was not a wealthy pastor. He was not a paid evangelist. While his mission had supporters, there was never the expectation (like today) that this support should extend to a comfortable living, a posh building or meeting space, nor cradle to the grave attractional services. He was never building a business, he could have stayed a pharisee of pharisees (Philippians 3:4-6) and been a paid clergy, but he forsakes it all for the Gospel.
“…and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:2-4)
All parishioners need to ask if their pastor would do their job if they weren’t paid for it. The answer should set a course of action and a new agenda for those who truly yearn for the see the true Gospel work in its power within our culture. Perhaps the power of true healing will again accompany the Gospel as its original companion just as it was in the ministry of Jesus and the early church.
“And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.” (Matthew 10:7-10)
Can you see how fidelity to the Gospel as revealed in scripture sets Christ followers on a different course than that of institutional religion? This puts the sincere pastor on the heels of an uncomfortable decision between being employed within the business of religion which often obscures the Gospel and distorts its message, or forsaking all the entrapments, protections, and economies of religion in the hope of restoring the Gospel in its power.
Since most pastors are not very well paid, and most churches are struggling to even exist, the gap between secular vocations and remaining a paid clergy are negligible. The issue becomes one of time. If the framework is oriented around the message and not around a building, or institutional power, then the pastor becomes free from the bondage of working to prop up a religion which should not have existed in the first place. Then the pastors can lead from within the community and the billions of dollars which are pulled out of our cities and spent on religion, can go back to serving humanity at their point of need. This makes the gospel believable again, and as Proverbs 11:10 says: “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices”
Consider the tax dollars that religions, which function as un-taxed businesses, expunge from our cities. The use taxpayer services, roads, EMS, infrastructure, but pay for none of it. And only a small majority of them, have resources which benefit the marginalized in the cities. Go and visit a successful church in the suburbs and look at what not paying taxes can buy. Yes, it’s all very nice, but that was never the goal of the gospel. America has embraced this, and prefers this to the TRUE Gospel.
I know this painful challenge personally. I tried for years to make a living from within religion, but even as an insider, I kept calling religion out for its biblical inconsistencies and failures. This meant I was always marginalized. As I became retrained and began serving along side those who work everyday, my ministry took on a new shape. I was online a decade before covid when people were not open to it. Now, I spend less than $1000 a year and have reached as much as 80,000 people a week with this ministry. Instead of religion, I invite people to learn what Christ following means. Over time, many of you have come out from the suffocation of religious overreach to find a life liberated in new ways. That continually sets in motion a path of healing and transformation which I am fortunate enough to hear about months and even years later.
A marketplace ministry is what Paul had. It’s what Jesus had. It’s what the early church had. Despite the push back many of you may be feeling due to the affinity for the religious system, I hope you will consider the words of scripture and find it in your heart to live in fidelity with them. If your pastor can make a living from selling books, or seminars, or counseling then more power to him or her. But if a pastor is living off the donations of the congregation, and is unwilling to do this work unless they are paid, then the problem is worse than we think. If a pastor will seriously consider the work they do, just as I and many others have, they will realize that much of what they are paid to do, has little or nothing to do with the gospel, and is almost entirely about the business of religion.
To such a pastor or congregation I offer this: May we please pray earnestly about this, and be willing to let scripture shape our agenda, our giving, and the future of the gospel.