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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

CONTRACTS AND CHRISTIANS?




Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee when he saw two fishermen named Peter and Andrew.  He approached the two of them and said, "Follow me and sign this contract and I will make you fishers of men." He went a little further and saw two other fishermen, James and John, and he took out a contract and said, "Sign this contract for your own protection and mine and follow me."  

Now Jesus had four men under contract to begin his earthly ministry.  Soon he would bring that number to twelve.

Now the Bible does not tell us whether these were one year contracts or three, but we know that Jesus would never have taken a chance of being burned by these twelve men without a contract to protect Himself.  After all, He needed to make certain they fulfilled their end of the deal in His ministry and He also wanted to make certain that any work they did for Him while they were with Him was His possession and not theirs.

Probably there was something in that contract stating that if there was a dispute between Him and any one of them that they would be liable for court costs and that He could terminate this contract at any time if they reneged on their part of the agreement.  

Perhaps this contract was not really legally binding, but He was using it as a way to avoid problems with the IRS, so it really was more of a fraudulent scheme.  They would still get to be disciples, but they needed to sign it to protect everyone involved.

Sound ridicules?  Of course it does, but it is exactly what is happening in our independent Baptist churches across America under the guise of being "good business."  Now, there is no doubt that the church is in some regards a business, therefore there are many things that we must do to operate with good business principles.  However, does that mean that we now must lower ourselves to use contracts with those who serve in our churches?  

There is an alarming trend in the independent Baptist world to force staff members, missionaries and even widows to sign contracts in order to serve on the staff or be given money. Christian school teachers are being turned into contractual laborers rather than fellow-laborers in Christ.  

Can you imagine Paul signing a contract in order to receive support for his missionary endeavors?  Can you imagine Paul asking Timothy to sign a contract in order to serve as  a pastor, or Barnabas in order to be his assistant? Can you imagine the New Testament Church asking widows to sign legally binding contracts in order to receive support? Can you imagine that daily and in every house only those who signed contacts ceased not to teach and preach Christ?

One must wonder if maybe Demas would not have been so quick to forsake Paul had he known that Paul could have taken him to court.  Or, maybe John Mark would never had abandoned Paul if he had been under contract.  Paul could have filed suit with a Christian if we are not supposed to take a brother to court?  What purpose do they then serve?  You must wonder if the Christians in Rome gave Phoebe a contract to sign when Paul asked them to support her.  

What in the world is going on here?  Why have we turned to such things?  Well there are several things that might explain it.

Perhaps it is because we don't trust people.  Maybe preachers just do not want to get burned any more and they need these contracts to protect them from people who might hurt them or take advantage of them in their eyes.

Perhaps we are too interested in being in control.  Maybe we have such a need for control that we have now taken it to this ultimate length of making them sign a commitment to us.  Dr. Jack Hyles used to say, "Strong men seek to influence others, weak men seek to control them."  These contracts are filled with legal language that literally places the person who signs them under legal bondage and control of the local church.

Perhaps it is because we are looking out for ourselves.  This is as tragic. Maybe pastors today are more worried about not getting burned than they are about serving others.  Dr. Hyles used to say, "I know people use me, but that is what God put me here to do, to be used." Should we have members sign contracts when they join the church?   

Don't laugh!  There is a group of churches in America that are beginning to do just that.  Members must sign a document stating that they will do certain things including tithe to that church in order to be members and if they don't follow the contract they will be removed from the church.  Some church constitutions are becoming legal contracts. It is gaining momentum in popularity.  Why?  Because it is easier to get people to do something by fleshly reasons than by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps it is because we have become too much like the business world. When we begin to treat each other like mistrusted associates instead of like brothers an sisters in Christ we are in trouble.  To have a Christian school teacher sign a contract is to say you are not my brother or my sister in this matter, you are a legal subservient.  

To have former employees and widows sign a contract in order to receive their retirement support is to say, "After serving this ministry for decades because of your love and devotion, now I want you to sign a legally binding contract in order to receive this money because basically, WE DO NOT TRUST YOU!

Perhaps we are too lazy to depend on prayer and the Holy Spirit to handle those who may misuse or betray us.   It is to be expected that those in denominations, which have lost their charters as churches would use such means, but never would you think that "spirit-filled" independent Baptists would resort to these methods.  We have always left these matters up to the LORD and did our best to pray and seek God's face in matters regarding those people in our ministries.

This is not the way of Paul or any of our forefathers in the faith!  This is not the way of God's Word regarding the leadership of our churches.   This is the way of the flesh and it is wrong.  Every pastor in history has been burned by staff. Every pastor knows what it is to give money to someone only to have them turn on us or even steal from us.  Are we now going to solve that by resorting to contracts? Are we going to make these legal matters?  If not, then what purpose does the contract serve other than to intimidate some?

Perhaps we are seeking men's loyalty to our institutions more than to the LORD.  These contracts are not geared to protect the LORD from those who walk away from their commitment to Him.   It seems that these contracts are all geared to protect the pastor and the church,but they certainly do not seem to show much concern for the LORD.  God does not operate that way and neither should God' people.  

A pastor must pastor his staff just as he does everyone else who attends his church. He must win their loyalty and love.   He must earn their devotion, not demand it. These contracts are totally self serving and violate the very spirit of our faith.

Perhaps we would rather that our people be led of a contract than of the Spirit.  When a man signs a contract he is forced to change his loyalty from the LORD to the institution because he must obey the contract in order to be honest, yet that means that he cannot follow the LORD if that leading of the LORD is contrary to that contract.  That is wrong!  God's church is not an institution of control, but an instrument of the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps we do not want to be good to people unless they are good to us. This strikes at the heart of contracts for people to whom we are giving money, maybe after they have retired. Rather than giving from a heart of love for what they have done we want to make certain that they do not make us look bad or do anything to embarrass us. We demand that they do everything we say if they expect to get the money we promised them and if they do not…sorry! The contract says we don’t have to. 

What kind of Christianity would do that, much less even have a contract that suggests that they can or may do it? Widows are taken from being cared for because of the gratitude of a church for the service of their husbands to being welfare cases feeling they are debtors. Suddenly their security is gone. 

They now are living under the fear of a legal document that could take everything away. Even if the pastor says it is not so, there should be no document that hints that it may be so. Remember pastor, you are just as human as the people you are asking to sign this contract. How does she KNOW she can trust you? What makes you any better than her?

Here is a novel idea. Maybe the church ought to be the one made to sign a contract. After all, just as staff members have been guilty of hurting churches, so have churches hurt people. There are plenty of stories of pastors widows who have been left out in the cold by churches who could care less about the years of service her husband gave. 

These widows have literally been left to scrape by because of lay people and new leaders who only care about the present, not the past. How about this idea? If the staff should sign contracts then they ought to be able to start their own union. Then, they would have something to protect them. This is all so sad.

There are some pastors who say, “I cannot operate a school if my teachers do not stay the year with me. For that reason I need a contract for that year.” The answer to that is simple. If they leave, God has a plan and God will provide. Now there is a novel thought for a pastor. Yes, it may inconvenience you, but you will make it. Maybe you are putting too great an emphasis on your school in the first place.

Finally let us address the excuse that these contracts are being used to legally protect the church and the one being asked to sign it. HOG WASH! Any decent tax attorney or financial planner could set up any number of ways to accomplish the same thing without such a restrictive contract. 

There are plenty of other means to accomplish this. That is a smokescreen. The truth lies in one or more of the reasons mentioned above. The only other possible reason for a pastor to allow these contracts in his church is that he was told to do it by another pastor and he did not have enough good sense to question it and see the wrong in doing so.

But, what does the Bible say about this matter or is it silent in the subject?

"And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. BUT YE SHALL NOT BE SO: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." Luke 22:25-26 (KJV)

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