Article 11. “On the other hand, the consistory, as representing the congregation, shall also be bound to provide for the proper support of its ministers, and shall not dismiss them from service without the knowledge and approbation of the classis and of the delegates of the (particular) synod.”
The connection between the above article and the preceding one is rather self-evident. Whereas a minister, once called by a congregation, may not leave that church without the consent of the consistory, it follows on the other hand that the congregation through her consistory is duty bound to provide proper support for the minister as long as he is engaged in her service. This duty belongs not alone to the consistory and neither must it be considered as one of those generalities that concerns the congregation and all of its members except me but rather as Dr. Bouwman expresses it, “The obligation rests upon every member of the congregation.” The complete quotation, freely translated, is as follows:
“It is the demand of the word of God that the congregation shall not only provide for the maintenance of the church in general but also particularly for the subsistence of the minister of the word and that upon every member of the church, in accordance with his prosperity, rests the obligation to dispose what is necessary for that purpose of his material gifts which the Lord constantly provides.” (Vol. 1, pg. 448)
That’s the rule. It would hardly seem necessary to write any more about this matter because in itself it is clear and indisputable. Even worldly common sense would dictate the rule as set forth in the eleventh article of the church order. Besides, the word of God is very explicit in regard to this matter as the following passages, selected at random, show:
Deuteronomy 12:19: “Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth.”Luke 10:7 “And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give; for the labourer is worthy of his hire.”
I Corinthians 9:11-14: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless, we have not used this power, but suffer all things lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things liver of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” (italics mine, G.V.)
Galatians 6:6, 7: “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
The explanation of the last passage as found in Calvin’s Commentary is instructive. Writes he: “It is probable that the teachers and ministers of the word were at that time neglected. This showed the basest ingratitude. How disgraceful is it to defraud of their temporal support those by whom our souls are fed!—to refuse an earthly recompense to those iron1 whom we receive heavenly benefits! But it is, and always has been, the disposition of the world, freely to bestow on the ministers of Satan every luxury, and hardly to supply godly pastors with necessary food. Though it does not become us to indulge too much in complaint, or to be too tenacious of our rights, yet Paul found himself called upon to exhort the Galatians to perform this part of their duty. He was the more ready to do so, because he had no private interest in the matter, but consulted the universal benefit of the church, without any regard to his own advantage. He saw that the ministers of the word were neglected, because the word itself was despised; for if the word be truly esteemed, its ministers will always receive kind and honorable treatment. It is one of the tricks of Satan to defraud godly ministers of support, that the Church may be deprived of such ministers. An earnest desire to preserve a gospel ministry, led to Paul’s recommendation that proper attention should be paid to good and faithful pastors.” (Galatians, pg. 176)
The validity of the rule we are considering is clearly seen in the light of these passages of Scripture. Yet, it will also be seen that a goodly number of practical difficulties arise here which are not and cannot be solved simply by making a rule or citing a few Bible texts. The matter has to do with money and with the material things of life which money buys. When, therefore, the minister or the congregation, or both are carnal and not spiritual, the practical difficulties that arise concerning the latter of support become insolvable. The result is that tensions mount, feelings become bitter and the course of the gospel is hindered in the church. The exodus from such unpleasant situations is usually that the minister accepts the first call he receives.
Now rules multiplied will not change these realities of life. Only the word of God sanctified in our hearts by the Holy Spirit will make us desirous that our minister is adequately cared for and that the ministry of the word is supported according to good order and decency as prescribed in the, word of God and the rules of the churches.
That there is much neglect and violation of good order in this regard is then because we are in a relative measure still carnal. Although the church is often guilty, the fault must not be laid entirely at her door. Frequently the minister himself is to be blamed. He may be a mercenary person who “runs greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” He may live lavishly. He spends recklessly and carelessly. He uses the office of the ministry for material gain. When his income proves insufficient to sustain such conduct he goes to the consistory and complains charging them with failure to adequately support him. If he should be then given an increased income it is not very long before the whole thing repeats itself. Surely no minister who so conducts himself has the right to appeal to either Article 11 or to the Scriptures in support of his demands.
On the other hand, however, the churches are often negligent in their duties. Frequently the matter of adequate support is not considered by the members of the church at all and only by the deaconate or consistory once a year when the budget is compiled. Even then the matter is rather quickly disposed of when it is noted that the minister and his family aregetting by without complaint on their present support and, consequently, there, is apparently no reason why they cannot continue to do so. Hence, the matter is conveniently shelved for another year unless the minister himself raises a complaint. This practice is wrong. It is a plain omission of the duty to investigate whether the support is actually proper.
Other churches will attempt to get by with the minimum. With them it is not a question of what is adequate and proper in accord with the times in which we live and the means which the Lord has given to His people but rather the whole question of supporting a minister is looked at from the perspective of how much does he need? What will suffice? What is the minimum requirement? Needless to say, this view of the matter is very carnal. It means that the appreciation of the spiritual riches ministered unto such a church is very meager. She also must learn that “proper support” is not synonymous with “bare necessities of life.”
Yet, it is here that the real question enters. What is to be considered as proper support and how is that to be determined? In shedding light on this question we do well to remember once more these words of Calvin: “Ministers should not revel in superfluous abundance nor should any of the necessary supports of life be withheld. They ought to be satisfied with moderate fare, and the danger which attends pomp and luxury ought to be prevented.”
To find this medium of moderation several things must be taken into account. First, it may be assumed that the officebearers of the church are men who are acquainted with the cost of living index and if not they should be. They should know in general what the cost of living will be for their minister. Secondly, the geographic location of the church must be considered because economic conditions are not equal in all geographic locations. Thirdly, the needs of the individual minister must be taken into account. If he is a young minister he very likely has need of funds to build and expand his library. Books are usually expensive. It is not unlikely that he also has student debts which must be met. If he has a family his needs will be greater than one without children. Furthermore, he should be provided with adequate means so that he may also be able to give liberally as a good example unto others. When all of these things are taken into consideration and the minister is provided so that he can labor without worry and can live with reasonable comfort we may say that he isproperly supported.
To provide such support is the duty of every church. A minister of the gospel should not be required to engage in outside work in order to make a livelihood. If one must do that it is a shame and disgrace to the church. This is not because it is beneath the dignity of any man to engage in some secular trade. Not at all. Even the apostle Paul labored as a tent maker in Corinth and worked with his hands in both Ephesus and Thessalonica. (See the ff.: Acts 18:2, 3, 20:34, II Thess. 3:8-14) In one place he did so because the church was poor and under the oppression of persecution did not have the means to provide for him. In another he would set himself forth as an example to the shiftless and lazy who refused to work. In still another place he labored supporting himself so that the enemies of the truth might have no occasion to speak slanderously concerning him or the gospel of Christ. The apostle was not too proud to perform other labor whenever and wherever the occasion demanded but this action of his did not nullify the rule that “those who labor in the gospel shall also eat of the gospel.”