Muzzling the Ox

Occasionally I see critics of the LDS Church attack the salary drawn by General Authorities and the stipend given to Mission Presidents. I think the Church is fully justified by the Bible in offering these benefits to these men. The chief passage that allows for this practice is I Corinthians 9:1-18. In it Paul defends himself from the same charges.

Paul was a “tent-maker missionary”, someone who works full time to support themselves while ministering. Apparently at some point in Corinth he had eaten from the collective meal that Christians participated in as part of the Lord’s Supper. We learn from Chapter 11 that some believers were eating private suppers and getting drunk and not allowing everyone in the congregation to get a share of the portion of the meal. This was depriving some members of the body. Paul defense seems to come in context of this local controversy. Paul is incensed by this accusation because he feels that he’s not only allowed to eat from the church pantry but that he’s even allowed to take a portion of the offerings (though he does not).

Paul offers two defenses for the practice of paying those in ministry. Both are found in the Old Testament, which should especially appeal to the Mormon idea of practicing “Old Testament Christianity.”

The first is a reference to Deuteronomy 25:4. Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.

Paul argues that God is much more concerned about people than oxen and that it’s reasonable for workers to expect a portion of the harvest. “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?”

The Christians in Asia had been collecting and sending money to support the Jerusalem church. Paul identifies his work as just as foundational to the Corinthian church’s existence as the other apostles in Jerusalem.

Next Paul points to the practice of the Jewish priest at the temple in Jerusalem. “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? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” [we can tell this is not a reference to the Mormon practice of worship within a temple because Mormons do not sacrifice meat in their temples nor do they make offerings on their altars.]

The Jewish priests had performed their duties with an expectation that they could derive their living from their spiritual services. Paul says that receiving a living from preaching the gospel is not just an allowance but something that Jesus himself commands. This could be a reference to Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:8 where Jesus indicates that when the disciples go out to preach they can expect to have their needs met from their preaching.

Paul also makes a much briefer argument in Galatians 6 that Christians should seek to be self-sufficient and then share the fruit of their labors with those that have spiritual instructed them. “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.”

Critics of the LDS church may wish to condemn General Authorities and Mission Presidents for deriving a living from their work, but it is an argument that has to be made from outside of the religion. These men are not practicing priestcraft as defined by Mormonism because the act of drawing a salary is Biblically justified in both the Old and New Testament.

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15 thoughts on “Muzzling the Ox

  1. Tim, I agree with your assessment here. But most of the criticism I’ve heard has less to do with paying the GAs and more to do with what seems to be a double standard of condemning traditional Christianity for having paid pastors (and the ancillary criticism that pastors are in it for the money rather than to serve), while maintaining their own class of paid ecclesiastical leaders.

  2. I second Ross. I further add that it is not uncommon to hear, as an argument for Mormonism, that their leaders are not paid. By that, they mean the leaders of the local congregation. They fail to point out that the GAs and others are in fact paid.

    Like you, I fully support supporting pastors and church leaders.

  3. Don’t the LDS associate priestcraft with teaching false doctrine for popularity and financial gain without the authority of the priesthood?

  4. I think Mormons understand a certain level of pride and corruption among their leadership. . the believe that sort of corruption “is the nature and disposition of almost all men as so as they get a little authority.” (D&C 121.)

    I think that the tradition against paying local leaders is partly a reaction to the excesses of opportunistic preachers (e.g. CBN and its ancestors) in independent churches. I also think it is a method of maintaining some degree of independence in local congregations and consensus among the church. It is also a spiritual practice. Bishops are asked to sacrifice, for their own good, as well as that of their congregations. It’s part of the “law of sacrifice” and that is a big part of the LDS religion.

  5. “only a religion that requires total sacrifice has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary for salvation” (Lectures on Faith 6:5-7)- Joseph Smith

  6. So a religion that requires total sacrifice is the only way to actually make the faith necessary for salvation?

    Seems sacrifice and obedience are interchangeable there, but I understand what you are saying. I also recognize there is much more to the concept than we are addressing here.

  7. I think Joseph was pointing out what early Mormons thought was a truism. This concept was what made the mass western migration possible.

  8. I think a lot of the native Mormon pride in having an upaid clergy arose from a couple things in the early years:

    1. Anti-Catholic Protestant arguments that painted pictures of opulent cathedrals filled with corrupt fat clergy bedecked in jewels fit for a king, etc. This ran counter to no-nonsense native frontier American sensibilities (we’ve never been a country that liked pomp and circumstance much), and a lot of this American impulse still lives on in Mormons today.

    It’s fueled today by bad mega-church examples, as has already been mentioned.

    For myself, whenever someone accuses Protestant clergy of being corrupt for their pay – I remember a story I heard on NPR news a few years ago about how most pastors in America make around the 30K a year range and how many wind up bankrupt. I no longer share in those criticisms. I consider Tammy Baker and the like the exception rather than the rule.

    2. Mormons have a really stubborn and strong do-it-yourself ethic. We like being independent (ironic considering how often we get accused of being blind sheep) and don’t like taking orders. We also don’t like the idea that anyone is holding themselves out as superior in the Gospel – which inevitably a professional clergy creates the image of.

    We take a sort of in-your-face pride in the fact that we can take a humble plumber, lay hands on his head, and watch the mantle of the Spirit fall on him and make him the equal of the most expertly trained Anglican priest (as far as we are concerned anyway). A lot of pride is taken in how people of humble origin are transformed by the power of God and made equal to the occasion.

    That, I think, is where most of the modern LDS pride in an unpaid clergy comes from.

    You’ll probably easily get most Mormons to concede that the apostles and prophet are paid clergy. But I think you’ll find that Mormons still find a lot of populist pride in the fact that our apostles were men of trade, and not theology. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, farmers, and such, and not PhDs in theology.

    We still get a kick out of that – even if they are paid.

  9. Seth, Fair enough, and I can appreciate that. Just the same, and it seems like this is the case, I hope can understand why traditional Christians find the LDS criticism problematic. Most of our pastors are grossly underpaid for what they do, and there is justification for them to be paid.

  10. Well, I realize that – but it’s easy for media portrayals to poison the popular image. And Mormons aren’t immune to that.

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