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.