LDS Laborers Not Worthy of Hire?
November 9, 2019, 7:00 AM

A popular LDS tract that lists “17 Points of the True Church of Jesus Christ” includes a claim that the true Church must have “no paid ministry.” As long as I have known them, the LDS have prided themselves on this principle. So imagine my surprise when I learned that the LDS were commanded in their scriptures to financially support not only Joseph Smith, but future church leaders as well, all the way down to the local rank and file.

To support their argument that church leaders should not be paid, today's LDS cite Acts 20:33-34, where Paul reminds the Ephesians that “I worked with my own hands to support myself” while he was serving there, and John 10:11-13, where Jesus criticizes the hired hand who does not truly care for the sheep. They also cite 1 Peter 5:2, where Peter exhorts elders to care for their people “not for shameful gain.”

Today's LDS can also cite Mosiah 27:5 from their Book of Mormon: “Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want.” Similarly, 2 Nephi 26:31 states, “But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money, they shall perish.”

(For more of the LDS case for a non-paid ministry, see https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Mormonism_and_church_finances/No_paid_ministry.)

The Book of Mormon taps into a popular resentment for paid clergy in the frontier America in which it was published. But as Joseph Smith records further revelations in his Doctrine and Covenants, we find passages that defend his right, and the right of later church leaders, to financial support. Joseph says he is told in July 1830, “And thou shalt take no purse nor scrip, neither staves, neither two coats, for the church shall give unto thee in the very hour what thou needest for food and for raiment, and for shoes and for money, and for scrip.” (D&C 24:18)

The following year, in Kirtland OH, Doctrine and Covenants 42:71-73 makes it clear that it is not just Joseph Smith, but also local church leaders who deserve financial support: “And the elders or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counselors in all things, are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop…Or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services… And the bishop, also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services in the church.”

Several more times in 1831, the same theme is repeated. God reportedly says concerning Joseph, “if ye desire the mysteries of the kingdom, provide him food and raiment, and whatsoever thing he needeth to accomplish the work wherewith I have commanded him.” (D&C 43:12) “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…” (D&C 70:12) Finally, “Behold, I say unto you, that it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those, and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.” (D&C 75:24)

Jesus says of those who labor for the sake of the Gospel, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7) Paul quotes Jesus’ teaching verbatim in 1 Timothy 5:18, and echoes it again in Galatians 6:6: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” Paul also writes, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor (the word timÄ“ also means “price” or “compensation”), especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)

While Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 9:14, “the Lord appointed that those who proclaim the Gospel are to get their living from the Gospel” (see 9:3-18 for the entire context that backs up this reading of the Greek), Paul deliberately chooses to forego that right, so that he is beholden to no one but God. No one can say that Paul preaches for the same reason as Cher’s huckster father does in her song “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” for whom “preach a little Gospel” was just as good as to “sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good.”

While I sharply disagree with their claim that God decrees that church leadership must be unpaid, I greatly admire the LDS for the extent to which they practice what they profess. When I read the LDS romance novel The Bishop’s Bride: The Honeymoon’s Over (yes, I have read LDS romance novels!), I was impressed by the extremely busy life of an LDS bishop portrayed in that book. All of their church labor must be squeezed into evenings and weekends!

One can hardly devote 45-50 hours per week to such a calling and stay sane. Nor would that bishop be able to prepare a full-length sermon every week comparable to a sermon preached by a Christian pastor. Much of what a pastor might do, has to be delegated to an army of ward members, including delivery of Sunday talks, which no doubt has an advantageous effect on the average LDS believer.

But there is still a lot of labor for the LDS church that is paid. Don’t tell me that none of the laborers in their 26-story office building in Salt Lake is paid. Full-time educators are paid. (Those who teach religion at BYU even have theological training.) All of the Apostles, the First Quorum of Seventy, and regional fulltime Mission Presidents have living allowances. (See https://www.mrm.org/should-pastors-be-paid.) And although missionaries normally pay for their own two-year missions, local wards have been known to pass the hat for young people who otherwise would not be able to afford to go on a mission.)

Now, the job description of a Christian pastor includes not only the administration and guidance done by an LDS bishop, but also the work of a paid LDS educator, including weekly preparation of one or more competent Biblical sermons averaging 20-30 minutes, requiring the expertise of a BYU religion professor. For this work, most Christian pastors are paid less than LDS bishops are paid for their non-church careers.

Certainly Christian churches can learn and benefit from the LDS model. And certainly LDS wards might benefit if they had local bishops who were professionally trained and who could devote full time to their duties. God is already unleashing Christian laypeople. Paid fulltime LDS bishops would require the audacity of a President Nelson to pull off. (Let’s see what he has up his sleeve at the next General Conference…)

I categorically reject the claim that a completely unpaid ministry is a requirement of the true Church. Jesus flatly rejects the claim; Paul clearly concurs. Not even Joseph Smith was required to operate this way, except when compelled by economic realities. As the apostle Paul acknowledges, to serve God without pay gives us admirable “bragging rights.” But our willingness to value the fulltime labor of Christian leaders is clearly what Jesus intends.


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