The unbiblical clergy/laity division

Daniel,
Thanks for taking the time to ask to clairify my words from earlier, and I trust that you understand that because my statement was made to the general clergy/laity split it was not directed at you personally. At the outset I want to acknowledge that there are clergy like yourself and Christ Wyatt who
There are three main reasons why I say that a clergy/laity split is unbiblical and harmful to the body of Christ.
1.) Jesus told his Disciples (the apostles) in Matthew 20:25 not to be like the rulers of this world and lord their positions over others. Even if clergy are very careful and use all the right self-deprecating language, I don’t see how they can escape the holier-than-thou impression. I also think the constant “we will be judged more harshly than you” is a misnomer because it doesn’t acknowledge the “unordained” masses of SS teachers, “parachurch” teachers, etc. that are all, well, teachers.
In short, the clergy/laity split inherently violates the “do not Lord it over” mentality taught by Jesus and followed by the Disciples. You might object by citing their leadership status but I would point out that their method of leading was not a top-down approach practiced by clergy today but a bottom-up serving which didn’t result in their being seen very much. Clergy are not like that at all.
2.) We are all priests according to the new covenant according to I Peter 2:9. What does this mean, if not that there is to be no more priest/commoner distinction? Was it a meaningless statement? In most prodestant churches we give lip service to this doctrine but rarely live it out. I think the reason for the suppression of this doctrine is the clergy/laity split in a manner not unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to maintain control over it’s “subjects”.
You mentioned there were some who were paid for their ministry and that is true. However there were many, like Paul, who made a big deal of not accepting money from those they ministered to. Combined with the Jewish idea that rabbi’s ought to maintain a marketable skill and what you end up with are bi-vocational pastors at best.
No where do you see the modern pastor, that is a man who has all the responsibilities and duties expected of a modern pastor, described in the text. I believe that is because of…
3.) (I’m hurrying because I need to get going for work.) Every Christiain is said to be a member of the body of Christ and every member is said to be of equal value (except the head, which of course is Christ). How can every member be equal or function properly if there is a clergy/laity distinction in place?
How can we avoid the favoritism James preached against if we claim that missionaries (as wonderful as they are), clergy, children’s teachers, etc. are exalted as somehow more special than everyone else?
How can we avoid the command to not cause divisions (sects, parties, etc.) within the body if we exalt an entire group of people?
In short, every member ought to function as it was designed and ought to be respected and revered as much as all the other members without either thinking itself special or more lowly. The clergy/laity split fundamentally undermines this, placing unnatural burdon on one member (the clergy) and not expecting anything of other members (presumably because they are too stupid or unreliable or untrained).
There is much more to say on this subject, and I fully hope we have time to explore it even more. However I feel it necessary to close my letter on another note by saying that I hope you don’t take my words as a personal attack. I love you and respect the sacrifices you’ve made and the commitment you have to our Lord. I’m not sure what an amicable resolution would be to our present dilemma but I do hope you bear in mind the fact that we are brothers under the same Lord regardless of our ecclesiological differences.

Recently, I was asked by a friend of mine about my position on the common practice of dividing the body of Christ between two distinct classes (castes?) of members, namely the clergy and the laity1. Since this is one of the most notable differences between a simple church and a legacy church I felt it worthy of a somewhat detailed treatment here.

There are three main reasons why I say that a clergy/laity split is unbiblical and harmful to the body of Christ.

1.) Jesus told his Disciples (the apostles) in Matthew 20:25 not to be like the rulers of this world and lord their positions over others. Even if clergy are very careful and use all the right self-deprecating language, I don’t see how they can escape the holier-than-thou impression. I also think the constant “we will be judged more harshly than you” is a misnomer because it doesn’t acknowledge the “unordained” masses of SS teachers, “parachurch” teachers, etc. that are all, well, teachers.

In short, the clergy/laity split inherently violates the “do not Lord it over” mentality taught by Jesus and followed by the Disciples. You might object by citing their leadership status but I would point out that their method of leading was not a top-down approach practiced by clergy today but a bottom-up serving which didn’t result in their being seen very much. Clergy are not like that at all.

2.) We are all priests according to the new covenant according to I Peter 2:9. What does this mean, if not that there is to be no more priest/commoner distinction? Was it a meaningless statement? In most prodestant churches we give lip service to this doctrine but rarely live it out. I think the reason for the suppression of this doctrine is the clergy/laity split in a manner not unlike the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to maintain control over it’s “subjects”.

You mentioned there were some who were paid for their ministry and that is true. However there were many, like Paul, who made a big deal of not accepting money from those they ministered to. Combined with the Jewish idea that rabbi’s ought to maintain a marketable skill and what you end up with are bi-vocational pastors at best.

No where do you see the modern pastor, that is a man who has all the responsibilities and duties expected of a modern pastor, described in the text. I believe that is because of…

3.) Every Christiain is said to be a member of the body of Christ and every member is said to be of equal value (except the head, which of course is Christ). How can every member be equal or function properly if there is a clergy/laity distinction in place?

How can we avoid the favoritism James preached against if we claim that missionaries (as wonderful as they are), clergy, children’s teachers, etc. are exalted as somehow more special than everyone else?

How can we avoid the command to not cause divisions (sects, parties, etc.) within the body if we exalt an entire group of people?

In short, every member ought to function as it was designed and ought to be respected and revered as much as all the other members without either thinking itself special or more lowly. The clergy/laity split fundamentally undermines this, placing unnatural burdon on one member (the clergy) and not expecting anything of other members (presumably because they are too stupid or unreliable or untrained).

There is much more to say on this subject, and I fully hope we have time to explore it even more. However I feel it necessary to close this post on another note by saying that I hope pastors don’t take my words as a personal attack. I love you and respect the sacrifices you’ve made and the commitment you have to our Lord. I’m not sure what an amicable resolution would be to our present dilemma but I do hope you bear in mind the fact that we are brothers under the same Lord regardless of our ecclesiological differences.

For anyone seeking a more in-depth treatment of this subject I highly recommend and of Frank Viola‘s works, particularly Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church. Also, if you have any questions or comments, I encourage you to leave them below!

  1. Helpfully defined by Wikipedia as “anyone who is not in the clergy“ []
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6 responses to “The unbiblical clergy/laity division

  1. Why did God give us the example of appointing elders in local churches and qualifications to hold our elders to if His will was not to have elders lead the church?

    The offices are Biblical and they do not require exalting one man above another. We do however submit to the God appointed leadership in the local church.

  2. Howard Snyder once wrote: "In the New Testament there are functional disctinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity"

    It's this hierarchal division that I am writing against, not the fact that the members of Christ's body all exist to function in diverse ways. Some as teachers, some as elders, etc according to their spiritual gifts.

    I once heard a preacher tell his congregation that he was more spiritual than they because he got to spend all day reading his Bible and praying. Now he obviously couched his statement in the necessary flowery words to keep from being stoned right then and there, but his words are echoed, at least in thought, in pulpits across the land.

    This is a travesty and ought to be called out as the sinful arrogance which it is instead of being lauded as "selfless service to others".

  3. Pingback: A note about senior pastors | Reason To Stand

  4. Well done, Wes. I've just written a post about senior pastors that you may want to check out at http://thechiefshepherd.blogspot.com/2011/01/our-

  5. Indeed, Jesus said call no one on earth Father, as our one father is in heaven. Paul wrote @ 1Timothy 4:1-4 that refusal to allow marriage & not allowing the eating of foods would transfer as teachings of demons into the Christian congregation , and of course all 3 were involved in the formation of the Catholic clergy who demand that they be addressed as …Father…are not allowed to marry& refuse to allow the eating of meat on Friday…both of these last practices having been borrowed from pagan liturgical practices. A helpful insight also into the thought that all christians are priests comes at Rev 5:10 indicating that those who go to heaven act as priest and kings to rule with Christ OVER THE EARTH…obviously after this present world has been destroyed & God's Kingdom thereafter becoming the only governing arrangement for the promised "new earth" wherein the billions of dead will be resurrected into that righteous environment and given a chance to accept Jesus ransom and live here forever….as Psalm 37:29 says.

  6. This reminds me of the people rejecting Samuel and calling for a King like all the other nations.
    God told Samuel that the people were not rejecting him, rather that were rejecting God as their ruler.
    The church has chosen to reject Christ as directly ruling over it. The church has chosen a priest/king system to replace Jesus as its only Lord. That is to say a pastor to rule over them instead.

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