Question: What do the scriptures teach about paid ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ?

Table of Contents

Question: What do the scriptures teach about paid ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ?

Having a paid clergy is not in and of itself a terrible thing. Problems arise when the issue of money becomes a greater motivator than the things of God

The scriptures mention circumstances in which a paid ministry is appropriate, and also provide several cautions about the practice.

Having a paid clergy is not in and of itself a terrible thing. Problems arise when the issue of money becomes a greater motivator than the things of God (and this can happen to any member). So the members support those who are engaged full time in the work of the Church if necessary, but we also do not have a system where one can simply choose to become one of these full-time workers (for example, by getting a degree and looking for a job as a clergyman). This lack of a professional clergy acts as one of the checks on helping to make sure that it is not the financial reward that drives those who serve in the church.

New Testament: "who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?"

In general, the most explicit statement about it comes from 1 Corinthians 9:7-12:

7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?

8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?

9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?

10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?

12 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.

13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?

14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

The King James language can be a bit archaic; the NIV translation of the last two verses (13 and 14) may be more clear:

13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

Most of the early members had a real distrust of paid clergy

Within the church, we often tend to forget that the context for the "unpaid" aspect of the church goes back to general distrust of paid clergy at the time the church was formed (in 1830), which stemmed largely from a Protestant view of Catholicism—so most of the early members had a real distrust of paid clergy.

Within the lifetime of Joseph Smith it became apparent that you cannot have a religious organization with individuals who are devoted to the work of that organization (full time) without finding a way to provide for their material needs (and there were swings of opinion as to the extent that the church could or should support individuals even in the first couple of decades). The New Testament verse that they used to justify helping support some leaders in the early LDS Church was Luke 10:7, whose language was reflected in D&C 70:12 –

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. Go not from house to house.”
D&C 70:12: “He who is appointed to administer spiritual things, the same is worthy of his hire, even as those who are appointed to a stewardship to administer in temporal things;”

The Doctrine and Covenants Student manual notes:

In addition to his many responsibilities in the Church, Joseph Smith had a family, and he could not neglect them, although his responsibility was chiefly a spiritual one. Although not completely relieved from responsibility for his temporal needs at that time, the Prophet was told by the Lord to look to the Church for temporal support. Elder Bruce R. McConkie commented about those who are asked to give full-time service to the Church:

“All our service in God’s kingdom is predicated on his eternal law which states: ‘The laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.’ (2 Nephi 26:31.)

“We know full well that the laborer is worthy of his hire, and that those who devote all their time to the building up of the kingdom must be provided with food, clothing, shelter, and the necessaries of life. We must employ teachers in our schools, architects to design our temples, contractors to build our synagogues, and managers to run our businesses. But those so employed, along with the whole membership of the Church, participate also on a freewill and voluntary basis in otherwise furthering the Lord’s work. Bank presidents work on welfare projects. Architects leave their drafting boards to go on missions. Contractors lay down their tools to serve as home teachers or bishops. Lawyers put aside Corpus Juris and the Civil Code to act as guides on Temple Square. Teachers leave the classroom to visit the fatherless and widows in their afflictions. Musicians who make their livelihood from their artistry willingly direct church choirs and perform in church gatherings. Artists who paint for a living are pleased to volunteer their services freely.”[1]

Temporal support from the members is probably only part of what is implied in these verses, however. The members were encouraged to support and sustain the Prophet in every possible way.[2]

Church members have a particular sensitivity to issues surrounding paid ministries particularly due to admonitions in the Book of Mormon relative to a practices known as priestcraft

Perhaps the most explicit scriptural statement about this issue from a negative perspective comes from 2 Nephi 26:31 (cited above).

Church members have a particular sensitivity to issues surrounding paid ministries particularly due to admonitions in the Book of Mormon relative to a practices known as priestcraft, which is "that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion" (see 2 Nephi 26:29). It is warned against and decried repeatedly (see Alma 1:12,16, 3 Ne 16:10, 3 Ne 21:19, 3 Ne 30:2, D&C 33:4). For this reason, the idea of compensation for service seems contradictory to strongly held values of the Latter-day Saint community. However, it should be noted that priestcraft as it has been defined is a condemnation of intent (to get gain and praise, and not for the welfare of Zion), and not about an individual receiving support. Living stipends are not compensations for service, but recognition of a practical reality that individuals who dedicate their full time to Church service are sometimes unable to simultaneously provide for their own modest living needs.

The example of King Benjamin adds to the LDS value of self sufficiency of leaders in particular. Benjamin, while king, still labored for his own support (see Mosiah 2:14). This is a very admirable demonstration of humility on the part of the king. However, this example was being used in the context of his political position as king, and would be comparable to a President refusing to accept his salary for his service. It should not be used to condemn the practice of helping provide for the modest living needs of full time leaders who are unable to dedicate time to earning a living.

Many people of other faiths admirably desire to serve as clergy in their respective churches, and go through extensive training to do so

Many people of other faiths admirably desire to serve as clergy in their respective churches, and go through extensive training to do so. Most clergy live on subsistence level wages. Principles of priestcrafts apply equally to these people as to our own leadership. The scriptures denounce preaching the gospel solely from a desire to make money and get rich, or to defraud people (see 1 Peter 5:2). The Book of Mormon likewise defines "priestcraft" as teaching for the sake of getting gain while not seeking "the welfare of Zion" (see 2 Nephi 26:29. Likewise, many members of other faiths devote time to their churches without any monetary compensation. Certainly they follow the teachings of Jesus by so doing, and accomplish much good thereby.


Notes

  1. Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report (Apr. 1975), 77.; or "Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice," Ensign (May 1975), 52.
  2. https://www.lds.org/manual/print/doctrine-and-covenants-student-manual/sections-21-29/section-24-declare-my-gospel-as-with-the-voice-of-a-trump?lang=eng