by Walter L. Liefeld
Is there biblical precedent for deputation? Do any of the teachings of Jesus or Paul bear on it? Can any of the advantages of deputation be fulfilled in a more scriptural way?
Our committee had been meeting regularly for many months, to recommend standards, curriculum, and procedures for a new seminary overseas. Two of us were able to take up full-time positions at the school; three of us were to be adjunct faculty. All of us would need travel expenses, two would need full support. Then came the word from mission headquarters: Those needing full support should expect to do at least 18 months of deputation. One of them had served on the field before and knew the circumstances. The other was upset.
Of course, there would be benefits. J. Herbert Kane lists some of these in his Life and Work on the Mission Field. In addition to gaining financial support, the missionary will secure prayer support as well. The cause of missions will be promoted and the churches edified. Perhaps others will be moved to go into missions themselves. For the candidate, it will encourage self-reliance, open up new vistas, and provide experience in public speaking (Kane, 1980: 49-54). But, as Kane also notes, this takes a toll of time, money, and energy.
While my colleagues were raising support, all of us were concerned about both their practical needs and the possible delay in opening the seminary. My own questions centered on the relation of deputation to biblical teachings and practice. Is there biblical precedent for deputation? Do any of the teachings of Jesus or Paul bear on it? Can any of the advantages of deputation be fulfilled in a more scriptural way?
Is there anything in the Bible analagous to deputation? There is Paul’s energetic appeal for the "Jerusalem collection" (2 Cor. 8-9). These are Paul’s most memorable – and most quoted – words about generosity. But Paul is raising funds for others, not himself. The funds are not even for missionary work, but for famine relief.
Actually, Paul was very shy, one might even say embarrassed, about making any reference to his own needs. Philippians 4:10-19 testifies to this: "I rejoice…that…you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content…Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles…Not that I am looking for a gift…And my God will meet all your needs…"
When Paul and Barnabas were sent out (Acts 13:1-3), there is no hint of any request for or giving of financial support. They did return to the sending church when they "completed" their assigned mission (Acts 14:26) and reported on "all God had done through them." At the end of the second journey Paul "went up (an idiom for going to Jerusalem) and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch," where he spent "some time" (Acts 18:22f.).
It is fairly clear that Paul did not consider Jerusalem his sending church. If Paul were doing modern deputation, he might have gone around to Jerusalem and perhaps other churches both at the outset and on "furlough," doing more than just "greeting" them. He did, however, intend to visit Jerusalem at the end of his third journey and then to go on to Rome (Acts 19:21). Was he going to solicit their help for that mission?
Although that is not specified, it does seem clear that he intended after his ministry there for the church at Rome to help him on to his next missionary destination, Spain (Rom. 15:24). A word (Greek: propempo) is used in that Romans passage that often implies providing a traveller with material provisions for the journey. In that day there were no "in flight" meals, to say the least!
That word in some other passages provides a clue about how deputation and support worked in the apostolic age. In 1 Corinthians 16:6 Paul writes to the church at Macedonia, "Perhaps I will stay with you a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey (propempo) wherever I go." Paul had already preached the gospel at Corinth. The church was flourishing, so he was free to take a "furlough" there and do "deputation" (which certainly included ministry), receiving provision for his next mission. He also intended to return to Corinth and receive help from them to get back to Judea (2 Cor. 1:16). Paul also wrote Titus to do everything he could "to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way (propempo once again) and see that they have everything that they need" (Titus 3:13).
SIGNIFICANCE OF PAUL’S PRACTICES
Can we conclude from these passages that Paul did some deputation by mail? There is no question that the Greek word Paul used implied providing some support. The same word, propempo, is also found in 3 John 6f., where it unmistakably refers to sending out missionaries: "You will do well to send them on their way (propempo) in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans."
This passage is significant, because it not only shows the importance of missionary support, but also that (1) this support should be provided in "a manner worthy of God" and (2) the missionaries should receive "no help from the pagans." This fits Paul’s practice of not taking money from unbelievers. He "worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you" (1 Thess. 2:9).
It was important for Paul to disassociate himself from disreputable pagan and heretical religious leaders who preyed on the public. By working for a living, Paul proved that "the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you" (1 Thess. 2:3).
Thus, when Paul could have been seeking support from religiously concerned people whom he hoped to lead to Christ, and thereby been financially free to devote his whole time to the gospel, he chose another path: "We work hard with our own hands" (1 Cor. 4:12). This principle is seen also in 2 Corinthians 11:7-15: "Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you."
He goes on to say that he was not a burden to them, but was helped by brothers who came from Macedonia. He did this "in order to cut the ground from under. . . false apostles, deceitful men, masquerading as apostles of Christ." He was not even supported by his co-workers; rather, he worked to support them (Acts 20:34).
All this was part of his principle to be "all things to all men" in order to "win some." 1 Corinthians 9:18 includes yet another comment by Paul on his reason for not accepting money, although he had the "right" to do so, "that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge."
THE IMPORTANCE OF METHOD
What then are we to conclude from Paul’s principles and practices? He did not go around trying to get a support base. He did, however, allow, and even encouraged, churches to give him enough provisions to reach the next city to be evangelized. Once there, he refused all local contributions until a church was established. To show his sincerity, and by that to show the truth of his gospel, he joined the work force, making tents. If contributions came from an established church, he devoted his whole time to evangelizing and church planting.
Thus the missionary’s finances and the means of soliciting support are a part of his or her testimony before the world. This is especially important in a day when sincere TV preachers have to disassociate themselves from greedy ones who are bringing the gospel into disrepute. The public’s perception of deputation is crucial. People are able to see through "prayer requests" about the missionary’s old car or typewriter.
Therefore, in judging what is or is not biblical about deputation, we can’t say that just one method is biblical. Nor can we say that it is only the message, not the method, that is important. The method is important, because of the meaning people attach to it. Fund-raising is particularly susceptible to misunderstanding, not only among unbelievers but also among believers.
In fact, two methods could both be biblical under different circumstances and when done for different reasons. When looking to Scripture for what is "normative," we need to be sure that we are dealing with similar circumstances and goals. In Paul’s day, religious workers were supported by (2) begging from the general public, a discredited practice, (2) gifts from religious sympathizers, (3) teaching for a fee, or (4) working with one’s hands. Jesus told the 12 and the 70 when he sent them out not to take a "bag," presumably a begging bag, with them (Luke 9:3; 10:4). His disciples were to be supported by method (2); Paul chose a combination of (2) and (4).
Paul earned his own support not only to prevent misunderstanding by unbelievers, but also "as an example" (2 Thess. 3:9) to Christians, so they would know the importance of working for a living. (This raises the whole question of whether more missionaries and pastors should do "tentmaking" today, not only to support themselves but also to show that Christians ought to assume responsibility for their own needs.)
This seems quite different from "living by faith." But is it? George Mueller is the great example of "living by faith," but here again, his reasons are important, not just his method. He wrote that he established his orphanage to strengthen the faith of believers, to show them that even the person in secular work should live by faith. With particular regard to those who might stoop to worldly business practices, he wanted "to show them by proofs (emphasis his) and He (God) is the same in our day" (George Mueller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Mueller, pp. 143-146). For him, it was not wrong to appeal to believers. But by not making such an appeal he could demonstrate the faithfulness of God to those who trust him and live by faith.
Deputation is not in itself right or wrong, but one’s motives may be. Is going from church to church an act of faith, or of desperation? Is the purpose truly to awaken missionary concern and help people to be missions-minded Christians, or only to gain financial support? Is it to serve or to be served?
Are there better ways of accomplishing the same goals than by deputation? A number of alternatives are discussed in the following article. All of these methods are as biblical as deputation, given proper motives and reasons. That was Paul’s emphasis. "Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 10:32-33).
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