Ministry Support, 19th Century Style

On August 16, 1848, in an article in The Morning Star, a paper published by the Free Will Baptists in New England, George W. Baker outlined a proposed covenant that would bring final solution to the continuing problem of support for the ministers of the denomination. Before reminding his readers that the denomination had fallen behind others in dealing with this concern, he pointed to Scripture to show that ministers of the gospel should live by the gospel.

In churches where that was not the practice, he argues, the pastors were not free to give themselves fully to the task to which they had been called. “We cannot doubt, that though our denomination has been prospered, if its ministers from the beginning had been supported, and thereby enabled to apply themselves to study and to labor more extensively in the gospel, its number would now be many times larger than it is, and its usefulness far more extensive.”

The proposed covenant called for each member of the local church to give to the church according to ability. But, in order to be sure that adequate funds were collected, Baker added a number of specifics: (1) that each male should pay $1.00 per year plus one eighth of a cent on every dollar he was worth above his debts; (2) that ladies pay $.75 per year; and (3) that those who plead poverty be investigated by the church leaders in order to determine their ability to contribute. He wisely admitted that some might take offense at his bold proposal.

Baker was on the right track. Support for the ministry is still a topic that often appears in our denominational papers. And so it should. We must be sensitive to the needs of those who serve the Lord as pastors and in other offices of the church. We must be sensitive to the needs of those who serve the Lord as pastors and in other offices of the church. An adequate salary does indeed allow God’s servant to give himself to the task of his calling. But Baker’s covenant is unnecessary if God’s people faithfully “faithfully lay aside” their tithes and offerings for the Lord’s work. God calls upon His people to meet not only the needs of the local church, but also to fund the task of reaching the entire world for Christ.

About the Writer: William F. Davidson was professor of Church History at Columbia International University, in Columbia, South Carolina. Dr. Davidson is an alumnus of Peabody College, Welch College, Columbia Bible College, Northern Baptist Seminary, and New Orleans Baptist Seminary. The Ayden, North Carolina, native also served as pastor of Free Will Baptist churches in Kentucky and Virginia.