Luther’s View on Financial Support for the Office of the Holy Ministry

money-46814-mIn the Sermon on the Mount Jesus stated, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) St. Paul also warned against the inordinate desire for money as a hindrance to true faith. (I Timothy 6:9-10) The Bible has many passages that concern money, riches, greed, and contentment. Money is a very difficult matter for most honest pastors to discuss. They do not want to be self-promoters or appear to be compelling others to make them rich. They know there are many charlatans and false teachers who preach falsely for riches. However, it is necessary for pastors to preach and teach on money and financially supporting a congregation’s ministry as St Paul did often (I Corinthians 9:8-14; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15).

Since I am not a pastor, but an historian, I thought it might be interesting to examine what Martin Luther taught on the subject of financially supporting pastors. What did the mature Luther teach concerning this issue? In the early 1530s Dr. Luther lectured on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. These lectures were published in 1535. If someone wants to understand Luther’s mature doctrine on justification he or she should read these edited lectures. I often tell my students to read article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s lectures on Galatians simultaneously for this reason.

Most of Luther’s work on Galatians revolved around the teaching of justification by faith alone. However, while lecturing on Galatians 6:6, Luther emphasized strongly the financial support of pastors. St. Paul instructed the Galatian Christians to share all good things with their teachers. Luther wrote plainly that this text commanded hearers to provide for their preachers. Here Dr. Luther admitted that he previously had wondered why St. Paul included these instructions when it seemed the late medieval church and its various institutions were the wealthiest in society. Luther explained that he had dissuaded people from giving to the greedy, corrupt clergy previously. However, he noted that true ministers of the Word now lacked decent financial support. He pointed out that many who had heard the Gospel now refrained from adequately supporting pastors. (Luther’s Works 27: 121-122)

Luther imagined that Satan sought to suppress the preaching of the Gospel through the impoverishment of pastors. Particularly, the devil did this through the greedy actions of civic leaders and nobles who refused to properly fund the pastoral offices. Others Satan lead astray through neglecting the study of Scripture and proper instruction in the faith. Quoting I Corinthians 9:11, Luther emphasized the need to support the pastoral office now that the oppressive practices of the papacy had been removed. He wrote that these liberated people now refused to give a small amount for the Gospel or the poor. Concerning this situation, Luther wrote, “This is the surest possible sign that they have already lost the Word and faith and have been excommunicated from our blessings, for it is impossible that true believers would permit their pastors to suffer need.” (LW 27:123-124, quote on p. 124) [Emphasis added]

When Luther explained Galatians 6:7, he connected it to the support for pastors. He particularly pointed out how nobles mocked God by attempting to make pastors their slaves. While he commended his own prince (John the Steadfast in 1531! John Frederick in 1535) as faithful, Luther pointed out how many nobles ignored the needs of preachers and deceived themselves regarding God’s judgment. Luther also noted his own reticence in teaching about the topic of sowing and reaping:

I do not like to interpret such passages; for they seem to commend us, as in fact they do. In addition, it gives the appearance of greed if one emphasizes these things diligently to one’s hearers. Nevertheless, people should be taught also about this matter, in order that they may know that they owe both respect and support to their pastors.

He continued by citing I Corinthians 9:13-14 and reminding his fellow pastors that they should feel no guilt from receiving wages that came from (formerly) papal properties. The nobles should not seize these properties for their own use but instead be returned to their proper use of supporting pastors and theology students. Luther explained that a man could not be a full-time minister and teacher if he had to work at another job to support his family. (LW 27:126)

While explicating Galatians 6:8-10, Dr. Luther continued with this topic. According to the Reformer, Christians performed a spiritual work through the support of ministers. While no one earned eternal life through good works, Luther noted that it was quite necessary to exhort Christians to do good for others, especially acting generously toward their pastors. Luther also stated that doing good things for others could be difficult and believers must persevere in the support of preachers. Finally, Luther concluded that St. Paul instructed believers to assist those in need, but especially members of their own fellowship. (LW 27: 127-129)

It is clear from these lectures what Luther thought about financial support for pastors. However, he also warned ministers of the Word against greed and looking to the world for affirmation and praise. For instance, in his lectures on Genesis 39:19, Luther exhorted his students (future pastors and preachers) to expect nothing but contempt from the world. Gratitude and respect can quickly become anger and hatred. (LW 7: 97) Lastly, in a sermon from 1534 Luther warned pastors that they must only seek God’s glory and their neighbors’ wellbeing. He recognized that false preachers, whom he compared to hirelings, sought personal gain and harmed their hearers. He concluded,

We preachers really require no more from our calling than food or raiment. Those who want more are hirelings who have no love for the flock; a devout pastor, on the other hand, gives up everything for the flock, even body and life.

(Misercordias Sunday, Luther’s House Postils 2: 81.)

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