Sunday, 17 May 2015

House church 101 - Clergy, laity and the Priesthood of all believers

This is part 7 in a series on the theology behind house churches. To see the other posts in this series you can find a link to them at the bottom of this entry. As stated previously, these posts are about the nature and practices of the ekklesia. They are not meant to be taken as a criticism of the people of God regardless of how anyone chooses to ‘assemble’.

In this series of posts we have already covered enough scripture to have answered the question of whether there is a legitimate claim in the bible for a separate class of believers (clergy) to rule over a lesser class of believers (laity) in a hierarchical manner. So instead of repeating myself here I thought that I would take a look at some of the things that we have not covered thus far.

The first would be that one may be surprised to discover that clergy (kleros) and laity (laos) are indeed biblical terms. Kleros is used 13 times in the New Testament and is translated in various ways; in Matthew 27:35 for example it is translated as ‘lots’ when the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ garments. In Acts 1:17 and 25 it gets translated as ‘part’ and then in Colossians 1:12 it is translated as ‘inheritance’. The only time that I am aware of kleros referring to people is in 1 Peter 5:3 where Peter, addressing the overseers, warns them “not to lord over God’s heritage (kleros) but to serve as examples to them”. The striking thing about this verse is that it suggests that the entire fold or church is made up of clergy which would certainly fit with what he said in chapter 2:5 regarding the priesthood of all believers.

Laity or laos on the other hand is mentioned 143 times in the New Testament and simply refers to ‘the people’. Nowhere in the bible is there a suggestion that the clergy and laity are a separate group of people. If anything scripture makes the opposite claim, most of the New Testament letters are addressed to the ‘saints’ in a certain locale. People sometimes miss that the words ‘saint’ and ‘holy’ both come from the same Greek word hagios which means 'set apart'.

Likewise, the idea that only some are called to full-time ministry is bewildering to say the least. Christian living is a full-time deal for anyone who wants to follow Jesus regardless of what career they find themselves in (see Luke 9:23, Acts 17:11 and Hebrews 3:13). The consequences of applying the Pareto principle to church ministry (where 20 percent of the church does eighty percent of the work) has had devastating consequences for people on both sides of the line. Consider the following statistics on pastors:-

- 40 percent of pastors have considered leaving their pastorates n the last 3 months.
- Between 20 and 40 percent (depending where you get your stats from) admit to having had an affair while in the ministry.
- 80 percent say they have insufficient time to be with their families.
- 80 percent of spouses wish their husbands would choose another profession.
- Sixty-six percent say they feel pressure to model the ideal family to their congregation.
- Seventy percent do not have someone they consider to be a close friend in their life.
- Forty five percent have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence.

Reliable statistics are a bit harder to find on people who attend but play no active role in church meetings. So instead, I have considered a few scriptures which show how individuals and churches suffer from the institutional model. Consider the following:-

Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation… - 1 Corinthians 14:26

For in fact the body is not one member but many…if the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?...But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased…And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”… - 1 Corinthians 12:12-21

Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. – Mark 4:24-25

To paraphrase, the clergy/laity system puts unfair stress on the few while the majority remain babes in Christ. Ultimately, the whole assembly suffers as each one does not give as God has equipped them to and those who are permitted or ordained to do so oftentimes will end up carrying the load in their own strength. So where do elders fit into things then and what about the five-fold ministers? That is a question for next time, until then, peace.

Other posts in this series

Gathering to Christ
Two kinds of church
the Lords supper
A church without tithing
Temples made by men and the temple built by God
On authority, submission, coverings and accountability

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