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!