Saturday, February 03, 2007

Freely you have received, freely give (for a "suggested donation" of...)

I thank Paula for her comments on my previous entry. As I hoped, I’m glad that the entry is prompting examination of the issue of “selling ministry”. As I set out to answer some of her questions, I realized that the length of my response was better suited as a new entry.

I agree that people who labour in the ministry God gives them are “worthy of their wages” and those on the receiving end are responsible to support them materially. Paul upholds this (1 Cor. 9: 7-14, 1 Tim. 5:17). However, Paul never demanded payment for his services rendered in preaching the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:12, 15-18; 2 Thess. 3:8-9).

These scriptures appear to give responsibility to both the giving and receiving ends with regard to payment for ministry: 1) on the part of the minister, to follow his calling and offer freely of his gifting, trusting that the same God who raised him up to serve will also raise up his supporters; 2) on the part of those ministered to, to accord “double honour” to those who serve, and give materially to those who labour for them on behalf of the Lord and are “worthy of his wages”.

As for ministry transmitted by books, recordings, etc., this wouldn’t have been commonplace in Paul’s time, other than Paul’s letters to the churches (it’s amusing to imagine if one of Paul’s epistles ended with “the suggested donation for this papyrus is 20 drachmas”). Of course, in light of the labourer being “worthy of his wages,” it would be wholly unreasonable to demand that those transmitting their ministry through mass-media cough up their production costs (even though Keith Green did so, and prospered). So I don’t have sufficient grounds to determine that the “selling” of such ministry is unallowable. Such ministers are nonetheless accountable to seek God on what constitutes “freely giving” in accordance with the spiritual gifts they freely received from God (Matt. 10:8).

I suppose in this time and place, such “ministry” is consumer driven, and it’s the buyer who makes the choice to fork over 20 bucks for this or that item with the hopes of beefing-up his belief. But as I said in my last entry, this “consumer” has been encouraged and edified by precious little that he actually had to pay for, and greatly blessed by ministry that has been freely received and given in part.

So what does the minister do if his support dries up? In Paul’s case, he says he was “compelled to preach the gospel” no matter what. Paul had to make do with much at times, and with little at other times (Phil.4:10-13). It is also recorded that Paul sometimes worked as a tent maker to support himself in ministry (Acts 18:1-4; 2 Thess. 3:7-10). George Tabert, who I referred to in my previous entry, himself doesn’t receive a salary but is supported by those who receive from and recognize his gifting to teach. George once told me that if his support dried up to the point where he could no longer fulfill his God-given obligation to support his family, he would “go out and pump gas.”

On this note, I have long perceived a need in the church for clarification as to what actually constitutes “ministry”. There tends to be a lot of playing fast and loose with calling this, that or the other activity a “ministry” (such as the work of plumbers, doctors, musicians etc. being called their “ministry”). A distinction has to be made between the exercise of vocational skills, which is mandated in the creational commission to work and rule over creation (Gen. 1:28; 2 Thess. 3:6-10), and the exercise of spiritual gifts, which is specifically outlined and mandated for the edification of the body of Christ (1 Cor.12:7-10, 27-28; Eph. 4:11-13). The former report to earthly clients and bosses who are in turn responsible to pay for the services rendered. The latter report to God in the exercise of the gifts, and are duly provided for on account of his authority and promises to do so.

For example, my position as a school teacher is not my “ministry”; it is my vocation for which there is a contractual exchange of service for money. If God gives me a spiritual gifting (such as for teaching in the church), I am bound to freely impart it to others, and leave them accountable to God on “what they owe” for the service.

Bottom-line: it requires, on the part of both minister and ministered-to, the free exercise of faith that it is God who supplies so that they can bless others, and thus follow the command, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Now here’s a celebrity missionary… Bono! (who, like God and Willowcreek CC, “isn’t short of cash, mister”)

Before I raise my questions of restricting/charging money for ministry materials – and how Bono even remotely fits into the mix – let me first make this statement: U2 is by far my favourite secular band. I don’t have it listed in my favourites because it goes without saying and is a class unto itself. I mean, let’s face it: Bono is the undisputed Pope of Rock’n Roll. What else, at a purely sensory level, can lift the soul higher than Bono’s high-octave peals as he existentially laments our human confines? As for Bono’s profession of faith in Jesus Christ, it is at best enigmatic and confounding. But he is a compelling poet who echoes the cries of many-a-heart, and one would be hard-pressed to find fault in his work to fight poverty and injustice. Bono is indeed one person I would very much enjoy meeting in this life – placing a close second to Joshua Harris.

Now the inspiration, followed by the point, of my entry: Bono’s (strictly copyright) interview by Bill Hybels of Willowcreek Community Church (click for a small description and interesting discussion about it).

Now without having seen the interview, or knowing who is responsible for the near-impossibility of access to it, I can’t make too many comments about it. I know that my sister's church in Thunder Bay heralded the good news of Bono speaking at Redwood Alliance (via taped interview) in a local paper. However, what greatly amused me was this email sent to my sister from a friend in Germany who tried in vain to find the video on the web:

No Bono interview on the internet. Willow Creek offers a couple of DVD’s from the leadership conference, but as for the "exclusive interview with Bono" it says "not available". Well, maybe Bono would sue them if they would sell his precious thoughts and insights.... Only to give the money to the poor, obviously....

I still laugh at much of what is done in the name of Christian ministry with a price-tag attached (I mean, even Bono seems to agree in U2’s live version of “Bullet the Blue Sky” -- delivering a stinging indictment of money-pandering preachers with the quote up above in the blog entry title). I don’t think restricting/ charging money for books, recordings etc. is completely unallowable, just worthy of calls for greater examination in light of scripture (1 Corinthians 9:18; Matthew 10:8).

I, for one, have been far greater blessed and refreshed (and far less impoverished) by ministers and their materials that “offer the Gospel free of charge” à la Paul, or who at least give free license to reproduction and distribution as such, like Ray Comfort and Keith Green (whose estate, however, has discontinued the practice). has sermons that are offered freely by prominent teachers like John Macarthur and John Piper (who is by and large pretty sound, except his “Christian hedonism” kick is still pretty whacky to me – probably the topic of a future entry).

But I have not been more blessed than I have been by the ministry of George Tabert. Links to his works (freely received and freely given) are under my Favourites column. I particularly recommend his recent sermon series explaining how the Levitical sacrificial system demonstrates the great breadth and richness of our salvation in Christ (which, as you can surmise, money can’t come close to touching).