Faith for the Work
Donald L. Norbie, Greeley, Colorado, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The religious world as a whole treats church work as a business
Money is solicited; pledges are taken and budgets are made up. Church workers are hired and may be fired. Polls and surveys are taken to discover what the public wants in a church service. Religion is a product to be sold. Success is then measured by how rapidly both building and congregation grow. A mega-church is viewed as the pinnacle of success.
A far cry from the simplicity of the New Testament
It is all a far cry from the simplicity of the New Testament. Jesus Himself modelled a life of simple faith in His Father. He never asked for money and lived a frugal life of dependence upon His God. No one could accuse Jesus of greed or covetousness. ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich’, 2 Cor. 8. 9. Those who believed in Him and His message opened their hearts and homes to Him and met His needs. What a beautiful life of faith it was! His disciples drank deep of His spirit and emulated His life.
When the Lord sent His disciples out to preach He commanded them, ‘Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts . . . for a worker is worthy of his food’, Matt. 10. 8-10. He also said, ‘It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master’, Matt. 10. 25. They too were called on to live a life of simple faith in the living God. Later, Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’ So they said, ‘Nothing‘. Their every need had been met by a loving God, see Luke 22. 35.
After the Lord ascended the disciples were left with the commission to evangelize the world, an awesome task, Matt. 28. 18-20. The Holy Spirit was given to empower them, Acts 1. 8. At first their ministry was in Jerusalem but then persecution scattered them throughout the Roman world, ’Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word’, Acts 8. 4, and the task of world evangelism had begun. All believers were expected to be witnesses to their Lord. It was a dynamic, witnessing church.
Some felt the special call of God to devote themselves to full-time preaching
Some like the apostles felt the special call of God to devote their full-time to preaching the word, Acts 6. 2, and would go out with the commendation of their local churches, Acts 13. 1-4. Paul and Barnabas left Antioch with the blessing of the church but with no financial guarantees or pledges. No doubt an offering was taken to send them on their way but then they were expected to trust God for their needs. At times Paul might work at his trade as a tentmaker to supply his needs, Acts 20. 34. But often his needs were met by the gifts of the Lord’s people, Phil. 4. 16. This would free him to spend more time preaching the word. Elders were appointed in every church to give local leadership Acts 14. 23. These men were not dependent on the local church for support but expected to make their own living while serving the church together, Acts 20. 35. Peter warned elders not to serve the Lord for money, 1 Pet. 5. 2.
No professional clerical class was established under the apostles
All believers were expected to develop and to use the spiritual gifts that had been given them, Rom. 12. 6. No professional clerical class was established under the apostles. Had not the Lord warned them against such a thing? Matt. 23. 8-12. Churches down through the centuries have always tended to drift toward having a ‘priest’ or ‘pastor’. Even a nation like Israel under Samuel’s godly leadership cried out for a king like all the nations around them. Today, New Testament assemblies may look with longing at some of the large churches around them and feel that perhaps they should hire a gifted preacher to be their pastor. Years ago an elder in an assembly in California told me, ‘I am convinced we have been wrong in having elders. We need to hire a gifted preacher and function like the other churches’. Such an attitude is questioning the wisdom and authority of God’s word.
Some of the benefits of the pathway of faith
Firstly, God can control His servant by drying up the funds and preventing some project he is attempting. The brook dried up for Elijah and God directed him to a different place, 1 Kgs. 17. 7. Once, when we were considering a move, the Lord hindered the sale of our home. By this we reckoned He wanted us to stay longer in the city where we were and we recognized His hand in the circumstances. George Müller was very conscious of the Lord’s control over his orphanages in God’s financial provision.
Secondly, this pathway of faith and dependence upon God builds faith and character. Trees in the high mountains are battered by fierce winter winds and bitter cold. Their roots go deep and their branches are strong. Paul affirms that ‘we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope’, Rom. 5. 3-4. Do not rob the Lord’s servants of this opportunity to grow by guaranteeing to them financial security.
Thirdly, this dependence upon God for his finances preserves the worker’s independence of human control. The employer controls the employee. It is vital that the preacher is free to speak the word without compromise or favours. Preachers who are salaried may feel the pressure to please the congregation. Job security becomes very important. A Baptist preacher we knew said that he was concerned to leave his church and meet along New Testament lines but as he looked at his little children asleep in their beds he worried about how he would support them in the future if he did so. He did finally step out and realized that God could meet his needs. A Presbyterian minister said, when given a gospel tract, ‘I know that message but I can’t preach it here’. He was the slave of men, not of God. The prophet (preacher) must be free of human control so he can give God’s message fearlessly. Amos was threatened by the religious authority in Bethel and told to quit preaching. He replied with great boldness that God had called him and given him this message. He refused to be intimidated. We have to be free to say as he did, ‘Now therefore, hear the word of the Lord’, Amos 7. 16.
Paul could speak boldly to the Galatians, rebuking them for listening to false teaching. ‘For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be the bondservant (slave) of Christ’, Gal. 1. 10. Slaves are not for hire; they are owned. Recently a servant of the Lord was threatened twice by elders that they would cut off his financial support in order to restrict his ministry. He was thankful that he was depending on the Lord and was not their salaried servant. The preacher must be free to preach the word of God without fear of men.
Finally, the life of faith is a powerful witness to the existence and providential care of the living God. George Müller stated that one of the most important reasons for his great orphanage work was that it was a testimony to the power of prayer and the existence of God. Could God provide for the thousands of orphans without solicitation of funds or even hints of need? Indeed God could, and did, in amazing and wonderful ways. God does answer prayer. Earlier still than Müller was Anthony Norris Groves who left his dental practice and went out as a missionary to Baghdad and then to India, serving the Lord entirely on a faith basis. His example has inspired thousands of men and women to step out in faith to serve God likewise. The faith principle for serving the Lord is a vital principle in scripture. Let us beware of settling for less.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Donald Norbie is in fellowship with the assembly in Greeley, Colorado, and is a commended full-time worker. A regular contributor to Precious Seed and other assembly magazines his ministry is widely appeciated throughout N. America and the UK.