Brenton C. Ferry
The purpose of this essay is to encourage faithful giving to Worldwide Outreach, which represents our denomination's ministries of foreign missions, home missions, and Christian education. This is a motivational essay, answering the question: Why give? I am writing to sessions, which have the responsibility of allocating annually budgeted money to pay for what the denominational church has been commissioned by Christ to do. To support it, or not to support it?
Without attempting to be exhaustive, my approach is to consider what the Westminster Standards teach about financially supporting the work of the church. Then I give attention to what the Bible says by discussing the charity model of giving, the wage-earning model of giving, 1 Corinthians 9, and Abraham's tithe to Melchizedek. I conclude that if you belong to the OPC, contributing to Worldwide Outreach is a duty grounded in the law, but motivated by something greater; namely, a love for the glory of Christ and the building of his kingdom.
The Larger Catechism directly associates supporting the ministry of the Word with the second commandment: "You shall not make for yourself an idol." We read, "The duties required in the second commandment are the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his Word; particularly... the ministry and maintenance thereof" (WLC 108). The Scripture references in our catechism (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:7-15) indicate that by "the ministry and maintenance thereof" is meant the financial supply of ministerial wages. In other words, to neglect paying the minister's wage is a kind of, cause of, means for, or occasion to the sin of idolatry (WLC 99.6). In addition, indirectly, the Larger Catechism aligns supporting the ministry with the eighth commandment: "You shall not steal," which requires "rendering to everyone his due" (WLC 141).
The Westminster Standards, then, approach this topic from the perspective of a wage-earning paradigm involving both tables of the moral law. More specifically, according to the Westminster Standards, it is like unto idol worship and theft to neglect financially supporting your missionaries.
When we look at what the New Testament says about the collection and distribution of money, we see a distinction between the charity model and the wage model. The former is applicable to the practice of collecting a deacons' offering, which is used to help those in need. The latter applies to paying bills, expenses, wages, and other debts the church might owe individuals or companies who provide services at a fee.
The charity model appears to have eschatological significance, and is perhaps the more glorious of the two. In the Old Testament every seven years all debts among God's people were to be forgiven as a prophetic shadow of the future kingdom of heaven. Deuteronomy 15:4 says, "There will be no poor among you." This was called the Sabbath year.
The inaugurated fulfillment of this Old Testament calendar event likely took place in the early life of the New Testament church. Luke records that in spite of all the poor among the multitudes of converts in Jerusalem, "there was not a needy person among them" (Acts 4:34), because everyone was donating their property to a diaconal fund, the proceeds of which were first distributed by the Apostles, and then by the seven deacons of Acts 6. With the onset of persecution, the regional church of Jerusalem became the object of charitable support from surrounding regions, as Paul traveled from place to place collecting a diaconal offering from areas like Corinth, Galatia, and Macedonia (1 Cor. 16:1-5; 2 Cor. 8:1-9:15).
Our current practice of diaconal collections for local needs and beyond are what remains of that practice in the early church, signifying that the age of the Sabbath year has been inaugurated and awaits the consummation of our Lord's return. This is the charity model. It has a diaconal focus, and reflects the already-not-yet eschatology of the New Testament age. The needy in the church are provided for, because we live in the age of the Sabbath year.
While funds given to Worldwide Outreach are probably applied toward some charitable concerns, the money they receive should, rather, be thought of through the wage-earning paradigm. Giving to Worldwide Outreach is not charitable giving. By allocating money to Worldwide Outreach, your session is not doing anyone a favor, but fulfilling an obligation, not unlike the one your employer has towards you at the end of each pay cycle.
Unlike charity, a wage is "not counted as a gift but as his due" (Rom. 4:4). Are the ministers and missionaries in the OPC wage earners or objects of charity? Diaconal giving aside, when we put money in ecclesiastical offering plates, are we paying a fair share of what we owe (the general parameters of which are helpfully indicated by the publication of requests), or are we donating to a company of beggars? What about the money our sessions designate to Worldwide Outreach? Are our foreign missionaries, home missionaries, and Christian educators working wage earners sent by us to preach and teach the Bible for the expansion of God's kingdom, or are they mendicants sent into the wild blue, subject to the whim of our charitable sensibilities? What is the nature of our responsibility towards such people?
The Bible teaches that, while such men have the right to decline a wage, the church is nevertheless obligated to provide one (1 Cor. 9). With respect to supporting the ministry of the Word, the Bible establishes a wage-earning paradigm, not a charity paradigm. And since we are connected Presbyterians, supporting these ministries on a denominational scale is an ecclesiastical obligation of highest order, similar to any local financial obligation your particular church may have. The money we contribute to Worldwide Outreach is not charity for the needy or a ministerial welfare program, but a debt we owe to men working for income, at least; and more than that, for the Great Commission.
During the Protestant Reformation there was a group called the Anabaptists (also known as the Radical Reformers), who are primarily known for opposing two things: infant baptism, and the union of church and state. Their modern descendants include the Amish and the Mennonites. Perhaps lesser known is their opposition to ministerial salaries. According to Francis Turretin, they believed the gospel should be preached gratuitously, either by wealthy people who need no salary, or by people who can support themselves by a tent-making trade. If an Anabaptist minister needed diaconal help it was provided, but not as a proper wage. After all, they reasoned, Paul was a tent-maker, the gospel is free, and offering ministerial salaries will only encourage a desire for sordid gain. The Anabaptists, in fact, accused our Magisterial Reformers of selling their services to the highest bidder.
An acquaintance of mine is an Anabaptist preacher. He is convinced that receiving a wage from my church compromises my fidelity to the Bible. He once said, "Brent, you don't have the freedom to adjust possible errors in what you believe, because if it gets someone's attention you might lose your job." Objectivity is lost. His assumption is that a living wage necessarily compromises fidelity. My assumption is that a living wage is required by the second and eighth commandments. Who is right?
What does the Bible say? Turretin points us to 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul offers at least eleven arguments for paying ministerial salaries. In context, he is explaining the rights of a missionary. The word translated "right" [ἐξουσία, exousia] in this context means to have the power of possessive control. Paul has the "right" to eat and drink (v. 4), the "right" to take along a wife (v. 5), the "right" to receive a wage (vs. 7-14), and the "right" to decline a wage, which Paul refers to as not making full use of his "right in the gospel" (v. 18). So, in context Paul is not talking about receiving charity through pity, but an earned entitlement.
Paul's first argument for the wage-earning paradigm is from the eighth commandment. Verse 4 rhetorically asks, "Do we not have the right to eat and drink?" In other words, not to provide Christian missionaries with their earned resources to live on is to rob them of that to which they are entitled.
The second argument is from equality. Verse 6 says, "Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?" Paul means that he and Barnabas should not be required to work a side job to support themselves, since other ministers are paid a living wage for their ministerial work. In local terms, since you pay your pastor, you should also pay your missionaries, and vice versa. They are equal and have equal rights to an earned wage.
From here Paul lists a series of arguments from analogy. The third argument is from analogy with a soldier. Verse 7 says, "Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?" The fourth argument is from analogy with a viticulturist. "Who plants a vineyard," continues verse 7, "without eating any of its fruit?" The fifth argument is from analogy with a shepherd. Verse 7 then says, "Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?" The sixth analogical argument is from analogy with a plowman. "The plowman," says verse 10, "should plow in hope." Which means the plowman should be able to hope to eat from his labor. The seventh analogical argument, also in verse 10, is from analogy with the thresher, who threshes "in hope of sharing the crop."
Eighth, Paul argues from a comparison of unequal things, writing, "If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?" He means that a material wage for a spiritual service is not asking too much, because a spiritual service is worth more than a material wage. It is a bargain.
Paul also makes two arguments from the general equity of Old Testament laws. Ninth, quoting Deuteronomy, Paul says, "For it is written in the law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.' Is it for oxen that God is concerned?"< By this he means, if beasts of burden have the God-given right to live off of their work, how much more missionaries? Tenth, he argues from general equity of the Old Testament priesthood, noting that they were paid for their work. Verse 13 says, "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?"
Finally, Paul argues from the words of Christ. "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." He is referring to Matthew 10:10, the substance of which is repeated in 1 Timothy 5:18 in a similar context. These arguments all serve to establish that ministerial work entitles one to an earned material income.
Turning to Galatians 6:6-7, the church is warned against not properly supporting the gospel ministry, saying, "God is not mocked." Which means not supporting ministers of the Word amounts to scornfully teasing God with contempt, a sin no one gets away with.
The ministry of the Word is not supported on a charity paradigm, but a wage-earning paradigm. The money a church collects, other than the deacons' offering, is not charity. If the church has a pastor, the collection is towards an earned wage that the congregation owes its employee. Similarly, if the church has a mortgage on a building, or rent, utilities, and maintenance costs, the collection is not charity, but payment towards a debt the congregation owes the bank, or the utility company, or contractors, or others.
Our local obligations are comparable to our denominational obligations. As connected Presbyterians, we believe this principle of corporate responsibility extends beyond the local church. The needs of our larger denominational ministries like Worldwide Outreach are not of marginal importance. Their expense is our debt.
Worldwide Outreach supports over one hundred households around the world: twenty-four families on the foreign mission field, fifty-two families in home missions, and thirty families involved in Christian education, approximately. "Worldwide Outreach is not a program without faces," says Richard Gerber. Without our regular support, "missionaries will come home, churches will not be planted, interns will not be trained to be pastors, materials will not be published to assist the churches in discipling their people, the website will go dark, and New Horizons will not be published."
Ordinarily the question of how much we must give the church leads into a debate about tithing. But the wage paradigm requires a different answer; namely, you are required to give what you owe, which might be more or less than 10 percent of your income. The question of the amount of your contribution does not strictly rest on how much you earned, but also must take into consideration how much the other people working for you earned. If everyone gives 10 percent, yet the heating and air conditioning repairman has not received full payment for his services, then the people in the church must give more, according to the eighth commandment. That same principle applies to the support of Worldwide Outreach.
Some believe that Christians in the New Testament era are required to give their church a tenth of everything they earn, while others believe the tithe was part was part of the Mosaic ceremonial law, which is not enforced in the New Testament age. Those who support a compulsory New Testament tithe appeal to Genesis 14, where Abraham tithed to Melchizedek from the spoils of war. This, it is assumed, demonstrates that tithing was not unique to the Levitical ceremonial system, since that event predates Moses. As if to say: since Abraham was required to tithe then, you are required to tithe now. You can establish and dissolve the Mosaic covenant a thousand times, and it will not change the tithe law, because that law existed apart from the Mosaic ceremonial law.
However, this argument does not take into account what the author of Hebrews says about the tithe Melchizedek received from Abraham. Namely, that Abraham was not required to tithe to Melchizedek. There was no law on the matter.
In Hebrews 7 the author discusses the typological likeness of Melchizedek to Jesus Christ, in order to stimulate a mature interest in the Savior. In verses 1-3 the author explains that Melchizedek was a prophetic shadow of Jesus. And in verses 4-10 the author explains that the Melchizedekean priesthood was greater than the Levitical order of priests. The remainder of the chapter explains the necessity of Christ's priesthood. My concern is with verses 4-10, which establish the superiority of Melchizedek to Aaron.
Melchizedek's superiority is seen in two ways. First, Melchizedek received a tithe from Abraham. Second, Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The act of tithing demonstrated Melchizedek's superiority over the Levites, insofar as the Israelites paid their tithes because the law required it. The tithe was compulsory. It was illegal not to tithe. Verse 5 says, "And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham."
But Melchizedek received a tithe in the absence of any legal instrument of compulsion. When verse 6 states, "But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham ..." it means the one to whom the law did not apply collected a tithe. In other words, Melchizedek did not have the proper genealogy to qualify for demanding a tithe, let alone from Abraham. Yet Melchizedek received a tithe, even from the patriarch himself. Therefore, the Melchizedekean order of priests of which Christ is a part is greater than the Levitical order, because Abraham tithed to Melchizedek apart from any legal compulsion. William Lane explains,
The writer stresses in v. 5 that the particular ordinance by which those priests who descended from Levi and Abraham exacted the tithe depended on the total legal system of authority. By contrast, Melchizedek is identified as "one not tracing his descent from them" (v. 6a) who did not require the law to authorize his reception of the tithe.
Donald Guthrie notes the same thing, writing, "In the matter of rights, Melchizedek differed from the Levitical priests in that he received tithes not by command, but by the spontaneous action of Abraham."
Would the Israelites have tithed to the Levites if the Law had not required it? Would you pay your taxes if they were voluntary? Yet, Abraham brought a voluntary tithe to Melchizedek. Imagine a king whose government is so great that foreigners voluntarily offer to pay a tribute to that king in support of his kingdom. That is how great Melchizedek was. That is how great Christ is!
He does not tax his people like Solomon. The offerings Jesus receives are presented to him in the manner of Abraham's; not compelled by the yoke of the law, which no one can keep, but by the irresistible inherent dignity and value of the king himself and his kingdom. The Melchizedekean tithe!
When we give to Worldwide Outreach, it is not simply because our denomination has bills to pay for services rendered, but more importantly and essentially because we love to give honor to Christ, and we have an interest in seeing his kingdom come.
 The Confession of Faith and Catechisms: The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as Adopted by The Orthodox Presbyterian Church with Proof Texts (Willow Grove: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2005), 246-247.
 The Confession of Faith, 283.
 Francis Turretin, The Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison, 3 vols. (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1997), 3:269-274.
 See also 1 Timothy 5:18.
 Email correspondence, February 4, 2009.
 William L. Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 7, Hebrews 1-8, eds., David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker, John D. W. Watts, Ralph P. Martin (Dallas: Word Books, 1991), 168-169.
 Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 15, The Letter to the Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. Leon Morris (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 158. See also Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The Greek Text with Notes and Essays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 176-177.
Brenton C. Ferry is pastor of Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Ordained Servant Aug./Sept. 2009.