Friday, August 12, 2011

From Where Did The Chasm Between Clergy And Laity Arise?

So, I've been reading a dissertation written by Chistopher W. Goff (Asbury Theological Seminary) entitled "Measuring the Clergy/Laity Gap and its Effect on Church Health and Outreach." It is interesting to say the least. This is part of the introduction:
"Almost two thousand years ago, Paul spoke of Jesus, the peacemaker, who broke down the dividing wall separating the Jews and the Gentiles, thus making them one people before God (Eph. 2:14-16). Today, as throughout most of Church history, another wall separates God's people into two distinct groups--the clergy and the laity. Despite the fact that the New Testament makes no such distinction, this division among God's people clearly exists...even when laypersons take part in ministry, they often fall into the role of amateurs who assist the professional clergy in ministry...God calls every believer to be a minister. One could even go so far as to say God not only calls all believers to ministry, but he calls them to a life of full-time ministry. Not only is everyone called, but everyone is also empowered and equipped for ministry by the Holy Spirit." (1-2)
All I can say is, "Excellent! Well stated!" Did you notice a few key things? Let me highlight here:
  1. The New Testament makes no distinction between two groups, clergy and laity. The two groups simply do not exist.
  2. God calls every believer to minister..and full-time at that.
  3. God calls everyone that has been saved.
  4. God equips everyone that he saves for full-time ministry. That is accomplished through the ministry and presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.
So, where did this chasm come from? Here is what Goff presents as an answer to the question:
  1. The apostles began to die and the church developed a new way of organizing itself.
  2. The Church eventually became the Empire's sanctioned religion.
  3. The Church encountered all sorts of crazy heresies and needed to guard itself from false doctrine.
  4. The Church began to structure itself like the typical Greco-Roman structures which had a division similar to what we see between clergy and laity today.
  5. The Church, beginning with Tertullian, started something called ordination.
  6. The Church embraced and mixed political authority with spiritual authority.
  7. The Church "reverted" to an Old Testament structure of priesthood.
  8. The Lord's Supper became a rite that only priests could administer. Without the right credentials, someone could not "perform" the Lord's Supper.
Before you know it, things spiralled out of control. Before you know it, there were different clothes for the two different groups. The Protestant Reformation fixed many of the problems associated with a separation between believers. It broke down, in practice and theology, much of what made up the hierarchy in church. But, in the words of Goff, "Whole body ministry, however, never found its practical expression in the church which emerged from the Reformation" (36). True, true. But, it does not mean that there were not groups that attempted to tear away the hierarchy...the Reformers (yes, Luther, Calvin, etc.) just did not go far enough. Some did, however. The Reformers called them "heretics." Why? Part of the reason was that they had lay-preachers and hated the clergy system.

One of the best books that I read in seminary was The Reformers and Their Stepchildren by Leonard Verduin and Franklin Littell. If you are looking for a good read,buy it.

But, going back to Goff's work, think about the title. Does this gap effect the health of a church and its outreach? What do you think? Hmmmmmmm. I'm inclined to think it does. You'll have to check out his dissertation to see the results that he found through surveys, etc.


  1. Nice article. I read a great quote the other day in relation to the Quakers who don't have traditional clergy/laity divisions, (I'm not a quaker but respected the quote), it said... "It's not that we don't have clergy, we just don't have laity for we are all ministers of God."

    Also, never forget 1 Peter 2:9 "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."

    And again in Revelations 1:6 "[Jesus] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father"

    We are all in the priesthood of God just like God had originally planned for Isreal before they sinned while God was giving Moses the commandments on the mountain. It's clear the church has a hard time moving because only 1 member of the body is active at a time, when it would be much more profitable for the entire body of Christ to be actively working together.

    Only God can break us out of this system of clergy/laity. May it come someday soon.

    1. Kinoli, thanks for this very insightful reply. I, too, look forward to seeing this system torn down. Let's be mouthpieces that lovingly contribute to the (re)education of a future generation of servant-leaders that will go the way of Jesus.