This is the fourth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy or Laity, as do most religious organizations. And because it doesn’t, its preachers are not “credentialed” or “ordained,” as are most in the denominational world.
I have been asked on more than one occasion where and when I was “ordained.” When I have tried to explain that gospel preachers are not “ordained,” “credentialed,” or “called” in the ordinary denominational way, I have been rather quickly and summarily labeled a “lay preacher.” Although I reject the designation, I suppose this is about as close to understanding what a gospel preacher is that a denominationalist operating under the delusion of clericalism will be able to come up with. In point of fact, an evangelist or gospel preacher in no shape or fashion resembles most denominational preachers or clergymen. To understand this, it is important to understand some key words and their definitions.
Clericalism is the domination or rule of the “ordinary” members of a church by those ordained, trained, and invested with privilege and power. Such is the natural outcome of (1) a people who have eschewed Bible authority in favor of the think-sos of men and (2) the inevitable pressure placed upon religion by the world to specialize and centralize. As R. Paul Stevens has pointed out on page 52 of his interesting 1999 book, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, And Ministry In Biblical Perspective:
Clericalism is not only expressed in dominance through knowledge, position or exclusive right (as in sacramental ministry). It often gets expressed as disdain for the laity as unreliable, incompetent and unavailable. Increasingly, in a high-tech, fast-paced society, churches are hiring professionals for everything from childcare to financial management. Such disdain is expressed in the words of Sir John Lawrence: “What does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church, a clergyman dressed in the ways he approves, services of the kind he’s been used to, and to be left alone” (Lawrence quote in Stott, One People, p. 36, emphasis in original).
According to Stevens, this is countered by anti-clericalism, which he describes as, “…the domination of the ‘laity’ and the rejection of ordained church leadership” (Ibid.).
Consequently, and according to the truths taught in the Bible, true New Testament Christianity will always be, as long as it remains authentic, anticlerical. In other words, the local church, although it is to be guided by a multiplicity of God-ordained leaders (elders, bishops, pastors), does not have, nor will it be seeking, a professionally trained and ordained seminarian as its leader or “pastor.” Such, as we learned in an earlier article, is totally foreign to God’s word. In fact, Paul was very careful to warn the churches of the first century that the God-ordained plan of several men meeting the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 (namely, an eldership) exercising the oversight of a local church would eventually be corrupted by those who made up these elderships because they desired to “draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:28-31).
Therefore, it is certainly disappointing, but not unexpected, that by the third century Christendom had almost totally and wholeheartedly adopted the clergy-laity distinction, an idea that was completely at odds with New Testament teaching. The “preverse things” (Acts 20:30) these elders or bishops would teach is first recorded in the words of Ignatius of Antioch (AD 50-110), who argued for the necessity of having a single bishop in order for there to be “unity” and “peace” in “the Catholic Church,” as he called it:
Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself [I Eph6:1], your godly bishop, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ.” Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him], either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters. Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father [according to the flesh], and as the Apostles were to Christ and to the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and of spirit. [I Mag 2:1,6:1,7:1,13:2] In like manner let all men respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles. Apart from these there is not even the name of a church. [I Tr 3:1] Follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God’s commandment. He that honoureth the bishop is honoured of God; he that doeth aught without the knowledge of the bishop rendereth service to the devil [I Smy 8:1,9:1], Lightfoot translation (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_of_Antioch).
Although he did this in the face of the continuing heresies of Docetism, Gnosticism, and Judaizing that had become so prevalent in the churches of the latter half of the first and early second century, it is interesting that the source listed above prefaced the quoted material by saying: “Ignatius is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyality to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters, and give the impression that there was usually more than one bishop per congregation.”
About this, the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia says:
It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of the testimony which the Ignatian letters offer to the dogmatic character of Apostolic Christianity. The martyred Bishop of Antioch constitutes a most important link between the Apostles and the Fathers of the early Church. Receiving from the Apostles themselves, whose auditor he was, not only the substance of revelation, but also their own inspired interpretation of it; dwelling, as it were, at the very fountain-head of Gospel truth, his testimony must necessarily carry with it the greatest weight and demand the most serious consideration. Cardinal Newman did not exaggerate the matter when he said (“The Theology of the Seven Epistles of St. Ignatius,” in Historical Sketches, I, London, 1890) that “the whole system of Catholic doctrine may be discovered, at least in outline, not to say in parts filled up, in the course of his seven epistles.” Among the many Catholic doctrines to be found in the letters are the following: the Church was Divinely established as a visible society, the salvation of souls is its end, and those who separate themselves from it cut themselves off from God (Philad., c. iii); the hierarchy of the Church was instituted by Christ (lntrod. to Philad.; Ephes., c. vi); the threefold character of the hierarchy (Magn., c. vi); the order of the episcopacy superior by Divine authority to that of the priesthood (Magn., c. vi, c. xiii; Smyrn., c. viii; Trall., c. iii); the unity of the Church (Trall., c. vi; Philad., c. iii; Magn., c. xiii); the holiness of the Church (Smyrn., Ephes., Magn., Trall., and Rom.); the catholicity of the Church (Smyrn., c. viii); the infallibility of the Church (Philad., c. iii; Ephes., cc. xvi, xvii); the doctrine of the Eucharist (Smyrn., c. viii), which word we find for the first time applied to the Blessed Sacrament, just as in Smyrn., viii, we meet for the first time the phrase “Catholic Church,” used to designate all Christians; the Incarnation (Ephes., c. xviii); the supernatural virtue of virginity, already much esteemed and made the subject of a vow (Polyc., c. v); the religious character of matrimony (Polyc., c. v); the value of united prayer (Ephes., c. xiii); the primacy of the See of Rome (Rom., introd.). He, moreover, denounces in principle the Protestant doctrine of private judgment in matters of religion (Philad. c. iii). The heresy against which he chiefly inveighs is Docetism. Neither do the Judaizing heresies escape his vigorous condemnation (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07644a.htm).
In that letter to the church of Smyrna referred to above, Ignatius’ exact words were, “Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” It is only fitting, then, that his remains are today being venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as they repose in a church (“St. Clement”) in the city of Rome.
It is ironic but true (remember, the Devil loves irony) that the Greek word kleros, the word from which we get our English word “clergy,” is used in the Bible to refer to the whole people of God, not just a few (cf. Kittle and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, III, 763). In fact, all the people of God receive a “place” or “inheritance” (kleros) through the gospel. As Jesus is reported to have said to the apostle Paul, “I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance [kleros] among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:17-18). Nowhere does the Bible use this word to describe someone appointed to an office in the church. It is important to note that the word was not used to refer to “clergy” until the third century. It was at that time that “laity” began to be used, as well, for it goes without saying that a “laity” can only exist when it has an opposite against which to define itself, and throughout the first and second century there was simply no such opposite. Thus, it ought to be clear to anyone interested in what the Bible says about church matters that the clergy-laity distinction so prevalent in Christendom is totally unscriptural and an invention of man and makes up at least some of the “perverse things” of which Paul warned the first century church of (cf. Acts 20:30).
The church of the first century had no “laity.” All were “clergy,” in the Bible sense of that word, in that all members of the Lord’s church had obtained a “place,” “portion,” or “inheritance” in the kingdom of God. As such, those who make up the Lord’s church or kingdom are described as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Pet. 2:9), a “kingdom of priests” (Rev. 1:6), a “holy priesthood” that is able “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). In such a place, there is no room for some earthly mediator or priest. The glorified man, Jesus Christ, who now rules as King of kings and Lord of lords, is not just our High Priest, but He is the only “man” authorized to be the Mediator between us and the Father (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).
I wish that the denominational world could see, by faith, that glorious and all-sufficient church for which Christ died as it really is — truly a church without laity. However, I am afraid that the “clergy” will do their utmost to keep their counterparts ignorant about the true structure and governance of the Lord’s church. What a pity.
We’ll have more to say about this in the next article, Lord permitting.