J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.
J. David Newman is executive editor of Ministry.

Is it time for the church to change its philosophy of remuneration? Are the counsels from the past still pertinent today?

The following comments and quotations are directed only and specifically toward the denomination's ministerial, educational, and publishing forces, who are still on the church's wage scale.

We agree with Martin Luther's statement that "there are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind, and the purse." Next to the kingdom of God, our Lord discussed most frequently the subject of money. He repeatedly warned against the deceitfulness of riches. "You cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13, RSV). "Do not layup for yourselves treasures on earth" (Matt. 6:19, RSV). "Sell your possessions, and give alms" (Luke 12:33, RSV).

In his letter to Timothy, Paul summed up his wage scale philosophy: "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" (1 Tim. 6:6-11).

On the other side of the biblical picture, these warnings and admonitions do not justify condemning riches per se. The real question is What do you do with your wealth? It is your lifestyle that God takes into account. Neither the Bible nor the Spirit of Prophecy condemns being rich. Rather, the warnings to the rich concern their motivation and the use they make of their wealth.

Wage scale philosophy

The 1989 remuneration scale booklet introduces the wage scale philosophy in tended to govern the North American Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Note several points: "1. We have one central objective for all branches of our work the salvation of man. 2. All denominational employees have a responsibility to participate in this mission objective. 3. Our remuneration scale is predicated upon the fact that a spirit of sacrifice and dedication should mark God's workers irrespective of the position they hold or the department they represent. 4. The work of the church, including every denominational organization, is a mission to which lives are dedicated, rather than a business or a commercial venture. 5. The church remuneration scale does not always compensate its dedicated workers in monetary units commensurate with their talents, accomplishments, and contributions, but does provide them with a modest living income, which gives recognition of responsibilities borne, preparation undertaken, professional attainment, previous experience, and years of service. 6. Our church philosophy of remuneration was developed on the scriptural and spiritual imperative, 'Give us this day our daily bread.' 7. Because of this philosophy, all denominational employees are regarded as church workers placed in one or two harmonious categories and designated either as ministers or missionaries. 8. Both categories call for commitment and sacrifice but allow for different functions. 9. The basic remuneration scale provides a spread between minimum and maximum rates in the various categories of from 15 to 30 percent."

With the exception of its health system employees and a very few others, the church remunerates all workers on the basis of a sacrificial philosophy built upon Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy. The last two pages of the wage scale booklet provide for the hospital system's remuneration scale to be built on a market-sensitive concept.

Counsel to J. H. Kellogg

In 1890 Ellen White sent a lengthy letter of counsel to]. H. Kellogg, the recognized leader of our medical work, dealing with principles related to remuneration for employees in a church-owned hospital. Although the counsel is concerned mainly with physicians' wages, we believe that the principles enunciated are applicable to all workers operating on our wage scale and have undoubtedly influenced the development of our present-day remuneration philosophy.

As you read the following excerpts taken from the letter to Kellogg, note carefully the spiritual basis of the principles laid down for an equitable wage scale. "The idea is entertained that the physicians at the sanitarium and men in responsible positions in the publishing house are not under obligations to be controlled by self-denying, self-sacrificing principles of Christianity. But this idea has its origin in the councils of Satan. When physicians make manifest the fact that they think more of the wages they are to receive than of the work of the institution, they show that they are not men to be depended upon as unselfish, God-fearing servants of Christ, faithful in doing the work of the Master.

"Men who are controlled by selfish desires should not remain connected with our institutions, and their course of action had better be exposed, that every church of Seventh-day Adventists may know what principles govern these men.

"As they judge of their worth from a money point of view, God will judge of their works, comparing their services with their valuation of them. . . . Selfishness and self-glorification are becoming the curse of our institutions, and leavening the whole camp of Israel. We have come to the place where God calls a halt, and we must now investigate, that we may know the motives which prompt to action and may know in whom the words of Christ are fulfilled. Jesus has said, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me' (Matt. 16:24). Self is to be hidden in Christ. . . .

"The Christian physician has no right to follow the custom of the world, to shape his action to obtain the patronage or praise of the ungodly. He should not accept exorbitant wages for his professional services, for the reward is awaiting the faithful and true. He has no more right to minister to others requiring a large remuneration than has the minister of the gospel a right to set his labors at a high money value, but only in accordance with consistency and mercy and the value of his work" (Ellen G. White letter 41, 1890).

Equitable wage scale

I urge our readers to study carefully Section V, "The Remuneration of Our Workers," in book 2 of Selected Messages, chapters 19-21, pp. 171-218. Here Ellen White lays down clear principles for equitable wage scales. She appeals for equality, while providing for pay to be according to labor within our denominational structure. Another section deals with the toll of large wages. One section specifically deals with higher wages proposed for superior men. Another section appeals to God's workers not to copy the world's standard, since our talents belong to God.

Chapter 19 traces the roots of Solomon's apostasy to seemingly slight deviations from right principles. The theme is the spirit of covetousness, the seeking of the highest wages that so prevails in the world. The chapter concludes with an experience in Adventist history when the spirit of sacrifice was not so manifest: "In some of our institutions the wages of a few workers were increased beyond reason. Those who received these wages claimed that they deserved a greater sum than others, because of their superior talents. But who gave them their talents, their ability? With the increase of wages came a steady increase of covetousness, which is idolatry, and a steady decline of spirituality. . . . Strange principles, like evil leaven, permeated nearly the entire body of believers. Many ceased to deny self, and not a few withheld their tithes and offerings. . . .

"The work of God in all its wide extent is one, and the same principles should control, the same spirit be revealed, in all its branches. It must bear the stamp of missionary work. Every department of the cause is related to all parts of the gospel field, and the spirit that controls one department will be felt throughout the entire field. If a portion of the workers receive large wages, there are others, in different branches of the work, who will call for higher wages, and the spirit of self-sacrifice will gradually be lost sight of. Other institutions and conferences will catch the same spirit, and the Lord's favor will be removed from them; for He can never sanction selfishness. Thus our aggressive work would come to an end. Only by constant sacrifice can it be carried forward" (ibid., pp. 177, 178).

The idea of comparing our wages and benefits with those in the world has arisen before. Ellen White pointed out the devastating effect upon workers in the cause if some should demand higher wages than others are receiving. What she wrote surely still applies today.

"This is the evil which today threatens our schools, our institutions, our churches. Unless corrected, it will imperil the souls of many. One man will think that he should be greatly favored, because he is doing a line of work which among unbelievers would command large wages. . . . For the safety of the principles that should control all who labor in our institutions, the Lord bids me say to all who carry responsibilities, 'Disconnect from all such without any delay; for this is the evil leaven of selfishness and covetousness' " (ibid., p. 196).

The danger of wage inequalities

Ellen White elucidated the dangers of high salaries or inequalities within the denominational wage structure. She stated: "The Lord will have faithful men who love and fear Him connected with every school, every printing office, health institution, and publishing house. Their wages should not be fashioned after the worldling's standard. There should be, as far as possible, excellent judgment exercised to keep up, not an aristocracy, but an equality, which is the law of heaven. 'All ye are brethren' (Matt. 23:8). A few should not demand large wages, and such wages should not be presented as an inducement to secure ability and talents. This is placing things on a worldly principle. The increase of wages brings with it a corresponding increase of selfishness, pride, display, self-gratification, and needless extravagance that the people who do their utmost to pay their tithes and present their offerings to God do not have. Poverty is seen in all their borders. The Lord loves the one just as much as the other, with the exception that the self-sacrificing, humble, contrite souls who love God and strive to serve Him, are ever kept nearer to the great heart of Infinite Love than the man who feels at liberty to have all the good things of this life" (ibid., p. 192).

An expensive family

This entire section in Selected Messages, book 2, contains numerous statements relative to various facets of the church wage scale. These counsels speak to those who constantly aspire to get higher wages, never experiencing true prosperity. Ellen White labeled resolutions that were proposed and accepted to pay large wages to those working in the Review and Herald publishing office as victories for the enemy. She also pointed out that an increase in wages leads to an increase in family living expenses. We operate on desires, not on needs. In connection with family living expenses she wrote: "Men have written to me saying that they must have high wages, and pleading as an excuse an expensive family. And at the same time the institution with which they were connected was obliged to figure closely to meet running expenses. Why should anyone plead an expensive family as a reason for demanding high wages? Is not the lesson that Christ has given sufficient? He says, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me' (Matt. 16:24). . . 

"Let everyone connected with these institutions' say: 'I will not set my wages at a high figure, because that would rob the treasury, and the proclamation of the message of mercy would be hindered. I must practice economy. Those who are out in the field are doing a work that is as essential as the work that I am doing. I must do all in my power to help them. It is God's means that I am handling, and I will do as Christ would do in my place. I will not spend money for luxuries. I will remember the Lord's workers in mission fields. They have more need of means than I have. In their work they come in contact with much poverty and distress. They must feed the hungry and clothe the naked. I must limit my expenditures, that I may share in their labor of love'" (ibid., p. 183).

"Do not talk about your meager wages. Do not cultivate a taste for expensive articles of dress or furniture. Let the work advance as it began, in simple self-denial and faith. Let a different order of things come in" (ibid., p. 188).

We regret that there are some who will use the Spring Meeting action as a precedent to call for a change in the wage scale for other branches of our work. Undoubtedly some of our educational brethren with their degrees, many of which were earned at their own expense, will request higher wages. There will be pastors who carry extra responsibilities as leaders of larger churches who will make the same request. In our printing houses, certain skilled workers who are able to draw much higher wages in outside institutions will make the same appeal. But if these requests are granted, the very spirit of our entire denominational wage scale will be destroyed. Any further dismemberment of our wage scale system will severely cripple the advance of God's cause. We pray that the material presented in this article will help all of us to understand the deep spiritual principles involved in our present remuneration system.

In conclusion

It is clear in the counsel that God has given us that there is a direct relationship between having an equitable wage scale for all church workers and the reception of the blessing of the Spirit of God. We can personally testify to what the church has done for us in terms of salary. We have never been in want. We have never gone hungry. We have never had to beg. Our salaries have motivated us to frugality, and we thank God for this. We believe there has been a direct relationship between God's blessing on our lives and our willingness to live and operate on a denominational wage scale. This does not mean that we need not make any adjustments. Our hearts go out to our younger workers and their families. Today's costs of living, including educational costs, are skyrocketing. Yet God is not dead, and we firmly believe He will bless the dedicated, committed worker in a special way. An equitable wage scale helps build a spirit of unity. Let none tear down the philosophy underlying our remuneration scale.

Ellen White wrote beautifully of the unity such a conscious striving for equality will bring: "The prayers and offerings of the believers are combined with ear nest, self-sacrificing efforts, and they are indeed a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. Men are converted anew. The hand that once grasped for recompense in higher wages has become the helping hand of God. The believers are united by one interest--the desire to make centers of truth where God shall be exalted. Christ joins them together in holy bonds of union and love, bonds which have irresistible power.

"It was for this unity that Jesus prayed just before His trial, standing but a step from the cross. 'That they all may be one,' He said, 'as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me' (John 17:21)" (ibid., p.


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J.R. Spangler is the editor of Ministry.
J. David Newman is executive editor of Ministry.

August 1989

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