Friday, May 12, 2006

Who's the priest? (A Divided Life? Part 3)

As you may already know, I have been blogging lately on distinctions that are made in the Body of Christ. I talked the first go around about how it seems that the Graeco-Roman mindset has affected Christianity in causing believers to divide their lives into "secular" and "sacred" distinctions. This carries over into many areas of our lives. One such distinction that I feel has had a huge impact on believers is the division between what is known as the "clergy" and the "laity".

Before we get started, let me give you a little of my own personal history/journey. I have ascribed to the traditional model of church since childhood; the model that says that there is a specialized "clergy" that is to lead the "laity" into the things of God. As an adult, I decided to go into pastoral ministry. So, I went to Bible college and studied to be a pastor in the church as I knew it. I became an associate pastor/worship leader in a church, where I was in leadership for a little more than 2 years. I have just recently stepped down to pursue a more simple concept of church. Coming to grips with the distinction between "clergy" and "laity" is one thing that led me to this decision.

In the modern church, the clergy is the leading influence among the believers. The clergy is responsible for everything from preaching to counseling to administrating to recruiting volunteers to evangelism...and the list goes on. The clergy has become the professional caste in Christendom that performs all of the duties that simple laymen and women are not "qualified" to perform. In many circles, the clergy or pastor is considered to be the "head" of a local church; a distinction which the Bible ascribes to Jesus alone. It seems that the Church has adopted the hierarchial model passed on by governments and corporations. We have a "CEO" (the pastor), a board of directors (the elders/deacons), blue collar workers (the "committed" laity) and consumers (unbelievers and "apathetic" believers).

Jesus talked to His disciples several times about order within the Kingdom of God. In speaking of this He said:

"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.
Luke 22:25-26 (NASU) Be sure to check out the references on this one too!

Jesus does not here condemn the oppressive domination of fellow believers. Instead, He shows His displeasure for any form of authoritarianism. Even when this would seem to benefit others, taking authority over brethren in the Body is denounced. Jesus says that we are not to excercise authority even as "Benefactors"--ones who excercise authority for the good of the ones under his/her control. How much authority does the "youngest" have? How much authority does a "servant" have? You get the picture:)

Typically, in a normal gathering of believers, a "professional" clergyman (or team thereof) leads the way and sets the tone. A worship "leader" decides what songs will be sung by all, only to be followed by a pastor or other single member of the clergy who gives a 30 minute to 1 hour "sermon" wherein he/she shares with us "God's Word" for the day/week. Contrast the current model of church to Paul's description in 1 Corinthians 14:

When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.
1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV)

According to this verse, when we come together as believers, everyone has something to contribute and should be allowed to do so. Biblically, no place seems to be given to monolithic discourses in meetings with other believers. Every member functioning is not the exception but the rule. It has even been proven scientifically that a person only remembers about 20 percent of what they hear, while they remember 70 percent of what they say themselves and 90 percent of what they do themselves.

One of the pivotal truths that came out of the Reformation was that of the "priesthood of all believers". This came to the forefront in doctrine, but rarely changed the churches practices. While claiming that all believers have an equal standing before God, we have elevated the "clergy" to a place of preeminence in ministry. Instead of the functioning priesthood of all believers, we go to a building and listen to the same person week after week share with us the "word" that God has given them for us! While the Reformation put the Bible back into the commoners hand, the lay person is left to rely on the pastor or clergyman to interpret it for them. If there really only is "one Mediator between God and man" .........then why do I need to trust in a person to hear the voice of God for me? Didn't Jesus say that His sheep would hear His voice? I take it that "all" is the implied description of participants in that verse; that is, ALL of His sheep will hear His voice. If the Holy Spirit really is my "Counselor", as Jesus said that He was, why should I seek to have a "professional" work through my problems with me? Is He not up to the challenge? Do we really believe that the veil in the Temple was torn in two after all? Are we trying to live under a renovated version of the Levitical priesthood? Am I under the New Covenant, or the Old Covenant?

It seems to me that the role of a professional minister impedes the growth of the rest of the Body and contributes to many believers remaining in an infantile state of Christianity. Instead of letting God flow through me to others (and vice-versa), I pay someone to "do the work of the ministry" in my place.

As long as the caste system of "clergy" and "laity" remains the norm, it will be difficult for most of the Body to learn to function in the gifts that God has empowered them with. If this system remains in place we will probably see a continuance of ministry "burn-out", stagnation among "regular" believers and fewer disciples being released for Kingdom ministry. Until we truly look at all of the Body as "a kingdom of priests", we will remain but a limited expression of what God intended the Church to be. All of the Church must rise up and be the part of the Body that God has called us to be. Only together can we manifest the will of God in the earth. That's what I think:) What do you think?


christy said...

Great post, Raborn :)
I would like to add to that......The "laity" are satisfied for the most part to allow a man to speak God's word to them and for them because that takes the responsibility off their shoulders. I am so glad to know that God's intent is for US to come boldly before Him. He will speak to US when we come into fellowship with Him.
Thanks for the reminder!
Christy :)

Raborn Johnson said...

That is a great point, Christy! We cannot settle for just pointing the finger at the "clergy". Many believers have not had their privelege as priests to God taken from them, but rather, they have given it away gladly. I have even heard people talk about being glad that they don't "know too much", for then they would be accountable to God for that knowledge. What? Hosea 4:6 says that God's people PERISH for a lack of knowledge. Ignorance never trumps responsibility. Truly, ignorance is not bliss! Once again, thanks for a great point, Christy!

Steve Sensenig said...

Raborn, I launched off of this post to write a post on my blog. Bottom line, of course, is that I agree with you! :) Your posts here go so well with what I have been blogging about over the last few months.

steve :)

Raborn Johnson said...

Thanks so much for the link, Steve! Could it be that we are tumbling down the same rabbit hole?:) Hey everyone, make sure to click the link to Steve's post. Great post that dives deeper into this same line of thinking!

Tony said...

Hi Raborn!

Here I am, just like I promised :) Sorry it has taken me a few days to get back to you, but I wanted to digest some of your points.

I really agree with the points you have made in this post ESPECIALLY the business distinctions model of the church with the pastor as CEO. I wholeheartedly disagree with that approach. The megachurch phenomenon, in my estimation, seems to hinder the spread of the Gospel rather than propagate it.

I do see too much of a dichotomy between clergy and laity, which is unfortunate because the NT makes only a minor distinction. I agree with the problems that you have put your finger on, but I think we may disagree on what the solutions are. I am still very much sold on the traditional church model, but I will quickly concede that she does have her problems :)!!!

And you are right; there are some problems with the current megachurch-esque preaching style. I lightheartedly addressed this in a post I entitled "Has Preaching become Entertainment?" (I am not sure how to insert a link in a comment; maybe you can tutor me in my ignorance.)

Many pastors have too long ignored solid, biblically sound teaching in the pulpit that I believe that is a major contributing factor to the number of immature, baby Christians. [Check out Jeremiah 5:30-31, I think it matches a lot of contemporary preaching.] Pastors need to get back to the biblical model of preaching (which would be more teaching than preaching), doing less arguing, philosophizing, story-telling, and culture warring and put the rightful focus back on the Word of God.

This is I believe the premise of Ephesians 4:11, that “He Himself gave some to be...pastors and teachers.” Also, one of the prereq's for a shepherd is to be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). So I don't know if the problem lies squarely on the congregation's back, having elevated the clergy to a place of preeminence, but rather the clergy misunderstanding what their true purpose is in their pulpits.

Neither do I think that preaching and teaching the Word of God in an assembly by someone who has been trained is necessarily the problem; the Bible has great praise for right teaching and preaching, especially among the Body when they have come together. All believers to a certain degree are responsible for teaching in the Body (Colossians 3:16), but it is primarily the shepherd who has been entrusted with this sacred task (1 Timothy 3:2, 2 Timothy 4:1-2).

Plus where you make the statement, "it seems to me that the role of a professional minister impedes the growth of the rest of the Body and contributes to many believers remaining in an infantile state of Christianity," This can and does happen! God does call the clergy to account for the responsible admonishment of the congregations they serve, but ultimately it is up to the Body to receive the teaching.

And, to be fair, I am a pastor!!! I don't know if you got that from my profile. I could lose a lot of sleep at night over whether or not my folks were growing in grace and whether or not I was doing my job adequately. My first obligation is obedience; as long as I am obedient to the call God has placed on my life, the results are up to Him (and MAN am I glad!!!)

So, I think you and I see the same problems, just different solutions!

You are a blessing to read and dialogue with. I plan on perusing more of your posts; hope that's OK!


Raborn Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by! I too have been a pastor (albeit an associate) in a traditional church model. While I am thankful that I came to know Christ while participating in such, I think that there is a better way.

As to your mention of Ephesian 4, this is the only time the Greek word translated as "pastor" is used in description of a human person. Many people use Ephesians 4 as the "proof text" for the "five-fold ministry", but I think that this stretches the text to include what we have become accustomed to. The whole point of Ephesians 4 is not that we should be thankful that God has given 5 "special gifts" to His church, but rather that the entire church has been given gifts which we all must use. Paul later states in 1 Corinthians 14 that when we come together locally, "each one" has something to give; a far-cry from the typical monolithic discourse given by one person each Sunday. In Acts 20, we see Paul "preaching" to the believers in an upper room until midnight. However, upon further examination, the Greek word translated "preached" is probably better translated as "dialogued" or "spoke with". This Greek word commonly carries the meaning of "to dialogue with". Instead of "preaching the word" in the monolithic style that we have become accustomed to (which BTW, probably did not come into the Church until much later---as a result of converts coming from the school of Aristotle and thus, incorporating their training into a meeting of the local church), the early believers met "from house to house". It wasn't about an intellectual excercise, or a motivational message. Instead, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, "Christ is community".

Thanks again for stopping by! It's fun to talk these things out as members of the same Body!:)

Tony said...


I’m glad we are having this discussion :). These are some ideas I really have not heard and they intrigue me.

Can you direct me to a post that may have a testimony of why you left the traditional church? What were the problems that caused you to decide that it was not the “best way?”

It seems that you are arguing for the abolition of the traditional church model as we know it. Correct me if I am wrong. I know the traditional church has her problems, but I don’t know if abandoning her altogether is the solution. I realize we disagree here, but, I don’t want that to disrupt our new friendship, OK?!

I do have difficulty just seeing Ephesians 4 as a proof-text for my position. Just because a directive appears once, given the context, I don’t think that makes it a proof-text, which is also where many folks fall back to argue a position. “Well, we only see that once in the Scriptures.” Is once not enough? Does that make it any less normative? And Paul was speaking to the Ephesian church, which all of his other letters with the exception of Philemon were addressed to churches; called-out assemblies of men, women, and children, meeting for the express purposes of edification. Each one is written to a specific church in a specific place.

The letters to the seven churches of Revelation were also written in that way and each one of those were addressed to the “messenger” or pastor of each individual church. Plus, do you discount the qualification passages for leadership in the Pastoral Epistles? If there are no positions of leadership in the church, then what is their purpose? I am sure you have responded to these types of statements before. I think you and I see the same problems, just different solutions! Also, let me give you a bit of where I am coming from and how I view pastoral leadership.

I am NOT the senior pastor. I am the only staff member of the church I serve. I agree that the term “pastor” has come to mean “professional Christian.” The proper translation of “rulers” (1 Tim. 5:13) and “them that have the rule over you” (Heb. 13:17) says nothing of total authority and total submission. The Greek makes clear that elders are those who are “out front” leading by teaching and manner of life (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-5). Their role is to enable the congregation to make decisions that are necessary to help the body grow into maturity (Eph. 4:11-12). Jesus Christ is the only Head of the church. Leaders are “foot-washers” and servants, not only of Christ but of others. Each and every member of Christ’s body is equally important since each has been given a gift and a strategic place of ministry (1 Cor. 12-14). All competition for rank is therefore eliminated! As Jesus put it, we are all brothers, and becoming “great” means becoming a servant of all, with Christ as our example (Matt. 23).

To use an innocuous example, being a pastor is like my long-haired miniature Dachshund (his name is Max, sleeps curled up at my feet at night)—responding only to the call of his Master. The same is true of every believer. Take it easy on me, OK?



Raborn Johnson said...


I'm coming after ya...(ha, ha)!

I think that the church today has in many ways become a reflection of both the political and business models of our American culture. However, I do not think that the church has wholly deviated from the will of God in this century only. I think that this is a problem that can be traced back well past our century, even to the period of Samuel and Israel's desire for a king.

You are correct in saying that all of Paul's letters were written to churches with the exception of the "Pastoral Epistles". My beef is not with the Church, but instead with the way in which we currently carry this idea out. I love the Church. I am a part of the Church. Please do not hear bitterness in my tone toward God's people, but rather toward a system that I believe is sucking God's people dry.

As to the idea of the messengers mentioned in the Book of Revelation, I don't think that this necessarily refers to what we think of as the modern-day pastor. We really don't know exactly what this is referring to, and for either you or I to read into it any of the churches current ministry titles seems to me to be presumptous at best.

You said:

Just because a directive appears once, given the context, I don’t think that makes it a proof-text, which is also where many folks fall back to argue position.

I would like to respond to this in a post instead of in the comments section. I have many more thoughts on your comments, so I feel it would be more appropriate to answer in a post than to make a verrrrry lengthy comment! Check out the post "Our church...God's Intention?". I hope that this is okay:) I am enjoying your perspective on this issue, but even more, I am enjoying the love, patience, and humility that you are demonstrating in this dialogue...great to have a brother in the Lord to talk these things out with!