Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is a minister an employee?

This is a matter that is to be settled ultimately by Scripture. We bring worldly assumptions into this area at great peril to the church of Christ. When a member speaks of paying the minister's salary and having a right to demand things in return
they are expressing matters in entirely the wrong way. They have not 'hired' the minister, they have called him to exercise among them a function to which he has already been called by God. The spiritual offering of the individual's substance is to God, not a tax or a salary. Indeed, it is extremely dangerous to see it in this light, as though spiritual things might be bought and sold (Acts 8:18). In the
prophecy of Micah 3:11 this is rebuked and hirelings are also condemned from the mouth of Christ.

The ministry is a spiritual vocation not to be identified with secular employment. Where does this vocation or calling come from? Christ is the Head of the Church and He calls men inwardly Himself and then outwardly through the delegated authority of the courts of the Church who confirm that call (Ro 1:1, 1 Co 1:1). What is that man before he is ordained? He is a member of the Church, subject to the disciplinary
authority of Christ ministerially applying His decrees in the courts of His Church. What is he after ordination? He is a member of presbytery. He is an officer of Christ's church whom Christ has set apart for functions within that Church subject to the disciplinary authority of Christ ministerially applying His decrees in the courts
of His Church. As the older writers asserted the external call of the Church is mediate. A call that comes through a means; the means by which God calls men into the ministry is the church. We do not believe that men can set themselves up in the ministry without the mediate call of the Church but that does not mean that we are to regard that man as any less called of God than the prophets who were called by him
immediately and sent without means. The call from the church is a divine call mediated through the Church.

We must remember that a salary is not essential to the being of a minister. A minister who is retired may not have a salary or an active minister may forego a salary in exceptional circumstances (1 Cor 9:5,6; Acts 20:33; 2 Thess. 3:8, 9; 2 Cor. 11:8). Who pays a minister? Essentially it is Christ who pays a minister. He has ordained that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel (1 Cor 9:14,15).
He is the one who lays down the principle that a labourer is worthy of his hire (Mt. 10:10; Lk. 10:7). Who were the disciples working for? For a Church? No, this was not possible. They were working for Christ. He had sent them out as labourers and would ensure in His providence that they were maintained. He is the Lord of the harvest who sends them into His harvest field. The master of the house instructs those entrusted with the stewardship of His resources to supply to the labourers that He has hired that which is worthy of that hire. The Master provides his people with the substance and the willingness to offer of their substance, part of which is communicated to the work of the ministry. He lays upon them this duty. The means of supply should not be confused with the one from whom the supply comes. In this sense a minister is no more an employee of the Church than he is of the bank through the money may be paid. As Turretin points out: 'these wages can be paid in various ways; either by the volun tary offerings of believers which they liberally contribute of their goods for the
common use of the church from Christian love and justice (as was done by the first Christians in the time of the apostles and for some ages after); or from a mutual agreement and the joint pay of individuals brought together; or paid from the public treasury by the Christian magistrate; or drawn from tithes; or finally, from the annual returns and produce of fields and farms given and left to the church and other
ecclesiastical property'.

The church does not recruit. Christ recruits His labourers Himself. The Church does not sack a minister as an employee. It proceeds against him as against any member of the Church to discipline with the purpose of restoration. It proceeds using the prescriptions of the King and Head of the Church using its delegated authority. Christ through the means of His Church suspends or deposes a minister just as Christ through the means of His Church suspends a communicant member or applies other censure. If the Church disciplines a minister for something that is not required by Christ then it is ultra vires, this shows that ministers are not in the employ of the Church but of Christ.

Martin Chemnitz puts it well when he says:
Just as God properly claims for himself the right to call, also mediately, and it is accordingly necessary for it to be done according to divine instruction, so also has
God properly reserved to himself alone this power of removing someone from the ministry. 1 Sam 2:30, 32; Hos 4:6. But since that dismissal takes places mediately, it is therefore necessary that it not take place except by instruction and divine direction. Therefore as long as God lets in the ministry his minister who teaches rightly and lives blamelessly, the church does not have the power, without divine command to remove an unwanted man, namely a servant of God. But when he does not build up the church by doctrine or life, but rather destroys, God himself removes him, 1 Sam 2:30; Hos 4:6. And then the church not only properly can but by all means should remove such a one from the ministry. For just as God calls ministers of the church, so he also removes them through legitimate means. But as the procedure of a call is to follow the instruction of the Lord of the harvest, so also if one is to be removed from the ministry, the church must show that that also is done by the command and will of the Lord.

It is said that ministers have an employment contract. The word is objectionable but for the sake of argument let us ask. Who is the contract with? The vows are administered by the courts of the Church but they are as the Confession says "not to be made to any creature, but to God alone" and are a part of religious worship since a vow is of the like nature to a lawful promissory oath "the person swearing solemnly calleth God to witness what he asserteth or promiseth". The Church can only impose what the Head of the Church imposes through His Word. The Church itself is bound by the same vows to Christ, showing that the vows are made to Christ and not the Church.

When we consider the titles applied to ministers in Scripture, it should be clear who "employs" ministers. They are God’s servants (1 Cor 3.5), farmers (1 Cor 3.6), and fellow-workers with one another under God’s employment (1 Cor 3.9). Paul is God’s master-builder (1 Cor 3.10). They are servants or “ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4.1).

There is an important Scriptural and theological principle at stake in asserting that ministers are not employed by the Church. Added to this there is the problem of compromising the spiritual independence of the Church. If we assert that ministers are employees in the same sense as civil callings then they are under the employment legislation of the nation which means that the State has the right to determine who can be a minister and who cannot and to regulate all aspects of their