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.)

About Dr. Matthew Phillips

My name is C. Matthew Phillips and I am Professor of History at Concordia University, Nebraska. I completed my Ph.D. in medieval European history at Saint Louis University in 2006. My research has focused on medieval monasticism, preaching, devotion to the True Cross, and the Crusades. Additionally, I have interests in medieval and early modern European education and the writings and life of Martin Luther.

At Concordia I teach World Civilization I, World Civilization II, Europe Since 1914, Early and Medieval Christianity, Renaissance and Reformation, The Medieval Crusades, The History of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union, and The Modern Middle East.


Luther’s View on Financial Support for the Office of the Holy Ministry — 7 Comments

  1. Dear Dr. Phillips,

    Thanks for a great post! Luther throws in a couple of sentences or two about the “greedy nobles” and “miserly burghers” in all sorts of sermons, treatises, commentaries, etc. You never know when it will pop up in his writings, so it must have been quite a problem and always on his mind. I like how you balance those quotes with his quotes about the dangers to clergy in having the love of money or avarice. Both need to be said–and Luther did!

    By the way, I have heard a lot of good things about Concordia University-Seward recently. I think the Liturgics conference made quite the impressions. Also folks from our area took some of our LCMS youth for a college visit to Seward, and they all loved it. We are glad to have you there teaching and guiding our next generation of church-workers!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. @Martin R. Noland #1
    Thanks for a great post! Luther throws in a couple of sentences or two about the “greedy nobles” and “miserly burghers” in all sorts of sermons, treatises, commentaries, etc.

    We are lacking in “nobility” but of “miserly burghers” who worry about everyone’s support of the pastor but their own, we have no lack.
    I remember a Voters’ where an indebtedness was mentioned and someone immediately calculated what each family owed to pay it, as if all families had identical incomes (and responsibilities).

    That. does. not. work.

    Where that mentality is dominant the pastor is liable to get the short end of the stick.

  3. @helen #2

    I’ve seen that kind of short stick treatment attempted upon pastors over the years, too. While the preferred norm of Scripture is that pastors have their living from the preaching of the Gospel, I am sympathetic to the worker-priests who follow in St. Paul’s footsteps. In our time and place, with corruption rampant, a pastor who can speak freely both Law and Gospel because his congregation cannot manipulate him with money (either positively or negatively) certainly has a place.

    Since we have no state or institution to support our pastors, it falls to the congregations to support them. If the congregations won’t, then the apostolic model of the worker-priest will become more prevalent, as pastors must support themselves and their families.

  4. @Brad #3
    I am sympathetic to the worker-priests who follow in St. Paul’s footsteps.

    St Paul had no wife and family.
    [We have single Pastors; the Confessions support it, but brother Pastors, let alone congregations, often do not.]

    If the Pastor has to support his own family as well as serve the church, the members should remember that his basic job is Word and Sacrament and not pile other chores (that they should do themselves) on him. Being a good Pastor is not really a “weekend job”.

    The “secular job,too, pattern” may be a necessity in a few cases but something is going to get shortchanged. The Pastor needs time to study the Word and write his sermons, unless we are going to go back to the first century of Lutheranism, when a few Pastors had time for that luxury and many others bought books of sermons [e.g., Luther’s Postille] written by those few, to read from their pulpits.

    More often today , the problem is that the members don’t want to share with the Pastor what they deem “necessities” for themselves. They “need” newer cars, nicer clothing, the latest technology and the like, but let the Pastor preach even half a ‘tithe’ and he may find himself on the street.

    [Or his wife has a job to make ends meet in the parsonage and then the ‘righteous’ complain about women who work outside the home!]

    End of rant. ;

  5. @helen #4

    I’m not sure that the discussion of worker-priests is fully in line with the intentions of the original poster, but it is a phenomenon I have great interest in. It is obviously a model supported by the Apostolic example, while the Apostles themselves seem to have envisioned a more stable life for their successors in the Office of the Holy Ministry. It would seem that in their time, as perhaps in different times and places since, the proclamation of the Gospel would need to be free of financial coercion or of the hint of trafficking in the Gospel… in such times and places, this model has re-emerged, even alongside pastors whose living comes of the gifts of the faithful.

    I would offer, however, that worker-priests can be every bit as faithful in their vocation, as pastors with a single vocational duty. It does take a tremendous amount of work, however, and a bit more willingness to see the pattern of work hours more normative to past generations (i.e., forget about 40 hour work weeks and regular vacations…) A worker-priest will be burning the midnight oil regularly to accommodate adequate study of the Word and preparation of the weekly lectionary texts, as well as tending to the souls in crisis throughout their area of responsibility (local parish, chaplaincy environment, etc.)

    When Word and Sacrament are the primary duties of the parish pastor, together with the care and support of his family, then all the other secondary duties can be prioritized accordingly. My observation, is that contemporary Reformation churches really stopped seeing their pastors as primarily stewards of the mysteries of God several decades ago, and more as charismatic CEO types that can grow the numbers and programs… or as congregational slaves, upon whom they could dump any extraneous duty, because in their hearts they begrudged the pastor his living from the Gospel.

    Strip away the accretions to the Office, and make the main thing the main thing once again, and the Apostolic model of the worker-priest is doable (if yet very hard and sacrificial.)

    Just my thoughts.

  6. @Brad #5
    Strip away the accretions to the Office, and make the main thing the main thing once again, and the Apostolic model of the worker-priest is doable (if yet very hard and sacrificial.) Just my thoughts.

    It’s “doable” because some men are doing it. I expect it might work if the Pastor has a secular job which allows him to leave when necessary or is self employed. The Pastor is called to emergencies which do not always happen after “8-5” or on weekends. (This despite some folks’ illusion that the Pastor only works on weekends!)

    I expect the family gets the short end, but my Dad worked (away from home, not on the farm) six days a week. We didn’t see as much of him as we or he would have liked either.

  7. @helen #6

    Yes, prioritization is crucial. As in anything, there’s always more to do than can ever be done. With a strong partnership between pastor and elders/deacons/lay people, emergencies can be handled around the clock in any given parish. If multiple pastors are necessary, then they need to be called… but there’s a lot that a well catechized and properly prepared laity can do to assist their pastor in his Office (executed, by the way, on behalf of the congregation’s baptized priesthood– a partnership that should not be optional, but normative.)

    Families don’t have to get the short end, though they often do, when pastors allow the congregation’s demands to trump the needs of their family. For most pastors, their sacred vows to their wife pre-date their sacred vows to the Office. No pastor is faithful to his Office, if he is unfaithful to his family. Congregations must be taught this principle, so they don’t destroy a pastor’s family, and thereby, destroy their pastors.

    I’m not advocating that the worker-priest model should be the norm, any more than I would advocate for the celibate priesthood to be the norm. But it has a place, and can be faithfully executed under the Word of God.

    Blessings to you.

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