Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause division and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned: and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
Notice first of all the context for Paul's words: Romans 16! What do we find in Romans 16? We find Christian servants, fellow servants with Paul, fellow ministers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul treated these as brethren, that is, as his equals. He did not "direct their ministries." He claimed no authority over their ministries. These were simply fellow helpers in the gospel.
Now I ask you, if this is the attitude of the chief apostle to the Gentiles, what should our attitude be? Why, then, do we allow men in the church to lord it over us?
And who are the men who "serve their own bellies?" Does this not mean Christian service with a monetary reward? I do not say all Christian pastors serve their own bellies. I do say, however, that without "payment for services rendered" it is impossible for a Christian teacher to serve his own belly. Because if "serving one's belly" simply means "ego-gratification" or something along those lines, would not have Paul been more specific? A man serves his own belly by working for pay, period. But we don't talk about earning an honest living that way, do we? Of course not. The phrase "serve their own belly" is intentionally negative or pejorative, and it concerns earning one's living in a way not authorized in the New Testament. "Serving his own belly" in Romans 16 is not a reference to murder-for-hire, selling illegal drugs, robbing banks, or anything other than receiving for "professional" Christian service payments unauthorized in the New Testament.
Evangelists (missionaries) are to be paid or supported. Not elders. Not pastors. These latter may receive financial help from the saints in the same way that any needy Christian warrants financial help. (See Chapter 22 in my book, "Giving (and spending)." They may indeed be worthy of "double honour," I Tim. 5:17, but this is no "double salary!" For elders/pastors, the church is not their livelihood. I have written many times that I Corinthians 9:14, "They which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" refers to evangelists or missionaries. (See Chapter 21 of my book, "Preaching and teaching" for the difference between the two.)
Teachers may be supported financially, not as "a professional occupying a permanent office in a local church," but as itinerant or part-time or occasional teachers. That is, the teaching is itinerant or part-time or occasional unless it need be that we be taught the first principles of the oracles of God again and again!
But most Christians cannot imagine their churches without a man (or, in larger churches, men) as the head. In fact the thought seems heretical to them. Christ as the Head, with elders overseeing the assembly, seems "simply not enough," a recipe for chaos or anarchy or, at least, "boring church services."
So I say to you, I am not making one cent off these pages, and God forbid if I do! If I ever have the problem of book royalties I will deal with that when the problem presents. However the Lord knows I do not expect to have this problem.
And now on to the real meat of the passage above.
Mark them which cause division and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned: and avoid them.
Well, that is not exactly true. If I were to go into XYZ church on Sunday morning and say, "Hey, you're doing this all wrong," would that not be divisive and offensive? Of course it would be! It would be reprehensible.
But I am not doing that. I am standing "without the camp." Christians are certainly free to exercise their ministries as opportunity presents, whether in or out of the church meetings.
I surely believe that the teachings found on these pages are indeed found in the New Testament. (That does not make me right. Sincerity makes no man right. The Lord will judge.) But how are the teachings found here treated by the churches? They are treated as heretical for the reason that the people are unfamiliar with these doctrines. These appear to them as "strange doctrines." This in itself is no proof of their strangeness. And as our national (and the world's) experiment in "democracy" has shown (note: the U.S. is technically a republic and not a democracy), a majority of the people can indeed be wrong. Then, when you take into consideration the mixture of wheat and tares in the churches, well...
Of course the people have never been taught the things you find on these pages. Their teachers were never taught these things. Their teachers' teachers were never taught these things. Their teachers' teachers' teachers were never taught these things. Ad infinitum. If these things were taught in the churches it would spell the end of the clergy/laity system. And make no mistake, it would be not only the end of the clergy but also of the "laity-as-spectators" as well.
These teachings offend many. In this the churches show an identification with all the pagan religions of the world who require their "holy men." It is worldliness, pure and simple. We surely are to obey those in our midst who are leaders. See Hebrews 13:7,17,24, a threefold witness to this truth. Most Bible translations use the term "leaders," while the ever pervasive King James Version has it "them which have the rule over you," which in suggesting lording-it-over leadership surely serves the cause of ecclesiasticism over and against actual New Testament ecclesiology. Yes, there is real, God-ordained authority for and in the churches. No, we don't practice it.
Ecclesiology is hardly taught in the churches. But of course ecclesiology is practiced in the form of the prevailing traditions beginning with "the order of service." If the origins and Biblical bases for these human traditions are ever expressly taught, why, they are hard to justify from the Scriptures. Unless one reverts to the Old Testament system, of course. Which we have. Any questions arising in the congregation during these particular sermons are of course out of order because no dialogue is allowed "during church." It would "interrupt the proceedings," as if a TV show were being produced. Questions, if they are taken, are only received "after church," or perhaps on Tuesday.
On the other hand there have been dissenters like me to be found all through church history, the latest to be found among the Brethren in the mid-nineteenth century as well as Mr. Milner from the same period.
It hurts to be considered a false teacher because of the doctrines found on these pages. But as it concerns church truth, or ecclesiology, any widely perceived strangeness of the teaching found here just very well may be a reflection on the state of the church and not on the soundness of the doctrines.
Therefore I say that Romans 16:17-18 applies to myriad false teachers in the churches, teaching their sectarian doctrines, not a few of whom are profiting very nicely, thank you.