Now, I’ve gotten into trouble writing about this before (not that its going to stop me reiterating what is, I believe, a fundamental Christian truth). The fact is this: the Kingdom of God is a classless race of people. The divide between clergy and laity is a Christendom creation. Laity, and indeed ‘clergy’ , is a biblical idea. But let’s expore:
The term laity comes from ‘laos’ which simply means ‘people.’ This is the only ‘class’ of Christian: the people of God. We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation according to the apostle, Peter. Even the word from which we get ‘church’ – from the German Kirche, and before that, from the Greek ‘kuriakos’ means ‘people belonging to the Lord’ and refers to the whole people of God. The ‘ekklesia’ word is a different word altogether and conjures a different idea (more on that another time).
Tracing the term ‘clergy’ in scripture is a severly difficult task. The concept is even more alien than the literal linguistic appearance. The word ‘kleros’ which we get clergy from appears in the New Testament 13 times. Are you ready to be bedazzled by them?
- the “lots” cast on Jesus’ tunic (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:24, and John 19:24)
- Judas Iscariot’s “part” in service (Acts 1:17); the “part” of the service and apostleship from which Judas fell (Acts 1:25)
- the “lots” given on Barsabas and Matthias, and the “lot” which fell on Matthias (Acts 1:26)
- the “lot” which Simon did not have (Acts 8:21)
- the “inheritance” which saved Gentiles receive (Acts 26:18); the “inheritance” which the saints share (Colossians 1:12)
- members of the flock, God’s “heritage” or “allotment”, whom the elders are to shepherd and not to lord it over (1 Peter 5:3)
Great, huh? Suffice to say that whilst the bible uses both terms, there is no case for the kleros being distinct from the laos whatsover. The concept is all rather….well….obscure. There are, of course, roles within the people of God – this isn’t disputed. But those role are about leadership function, safeguarding community and about equipping the body. There is no restriction in the New Testament about who can and can’t do what depending on what Christian caste you are in. The distinction developed in the post-apostolic Christendom era.
So where does all this hit the road? It hits the road when there arises a class of people who begin to demobolise the people of God on the basis of some form of ordination or some other such thing. Now folks, before you lose your teeth….let me just say I’ve been ‘clergy’. I know lots of fabulous godly people who are ‘clergy’. I know a great deal of those are people sincerely and commitedly leading, equipping and ‘oveseeing’ the people of God. The problem, I believe, is the professionalisation of Christian ministry and the distinction between those who are ‘in ministry’ and everyone else. This professionalisation came about simply because the new state religion of the Roman Empire demanded impeccable services, clean rituals and professionals to do it excellently. None of this changes the fact that there are roles within the laos…we still need equippers, safeguarders and leaders. We need the five-fold ministries of Eph 4.
The other place it hits the road is simply the functioning of the body as I’ve alluded to in previous posts. The meetings of the early church for the duration of the apostolic generation and a few following generations we open participatory….everyone brining a prophecy, word, psalm, tongue, interpetation, teaching etc etc through the Holy Spirit with Jesus Christ at the head.
I fought tooth and nail against clericalism in The Salvation Army and I lost. But for me, I made my own decision. I now work in a part of the vineyard that has a more articulated clerical system. However, part of the commitment I admired at Trinity is the commitment in its vision document about every member in mission and every person a missionary. Also, the concept of an equipping ‘staff team.’ I’m happy do be ‘doing my bit’ towards this journey at Trinity. My colleagues at Trinity are great folks with a heart for mission and a heart to serve the people of God, do not mis understand me. The difficulty with this whole issue is that people take this thing personally (which is why people have grumbled about me saying this before). Its not about good people, its about a system which has its roots more in the paganising of the Christian faith than New Testament vision for the functioning of the body of Christ.
Incidentally, I don’t find the term ‘lay’ or ‘laity’ easy at the moment mainly because the way it is used is not true to the biblical concept and is used in contrast to ‘clergy.’ As a Methodist ‘lay worker’ I’m reminded of this obscure theology everytime I write an email! I change it when I can and wince when I can’t. ‘Just call me Andrew….’ is my favourite line! Yet its also so funny when I get mail from Funeral Directors etc addressed to ‘The Revd Andrew Clark’ – I find that quite hilarious! So, I’ll continue to resist these terms until we hear them in their right contexts with as much grace as I can muster.
Let me share my hope….my hope is that on my death bed as an old man (God willing) – the clerical/laity divide will be a thing of the past. I am praying that my generation will be the last clerical generation. Sincerely and truly. Before that, however, my hope is that from my place in Trinity over the coming years, I’ll be able to move on to ‘modelling’ what I keep on saying about all this. The simple issue for me is that the only thing I’m qualified in is the professional leadership of churches so we have some creative years ahead of us as we picture how we support our family whilst facilitating organic expressions of the church. We’re leaving that to God, but its good to be on the journey, one step at a time.
My plea, to both my Army officer colleagues and other dear ‘clergy’ brothers and sisters is that we explore our role, make brave choices, to simply begin the needful process of declericalising Christian ministry in favour of something much truer to the New Testament vision.