Wednesday, February 11, 2009

False Ideas 5: Clergy versus Laity

It did not take long in church history before a special class of Christians developed that was professional. The idea that there should be a class of professional Christians has plagued Christianity for almost two thousand years, but is just not biblical.

The idea that special people are set apart and called to serve the Lord “full-time” is a cracked lens that distorts our view of everything and we have developed language that supports our view. Those who serve as professional pastors are “called.” everyone else is just working.

The distinction is not biblical. As I read and reread the New Testament without this lens, I find that all are called to follow. It is not the destination of the following that indicates the calling; the calling is the following. So if God calls you to serve as a pastor, your calling is fulfilled among a flock. If you are called to be a contractor, your calling is fulfilled at the contractor’s work site. Whatever your calling, you are to serve your Master well.

The problems with seeing some people as called into special roles are profound. Those who serve the church professionally are seen as more holy than those who do not. Expectations are placed on them that are not placed on other Christians. And as I said earlier, this lowers the bar for those who are not pursuing a ministry vocation, with the result that average Christians do not bear the responsibility of following God fully. They are simply the drones who work hard to finance the real workers who carry the weight of the kingdom. The lives of those who serve professionally are held to higher account. We have a whole list of traits that we must check off before someone is allowed to serve in such a high position.

I do not see this in the New Testament. Jesus calls all of us to surrender our whole life to follow him. This is not a call into a career but into a kingdom. All citizens of Christ’s kingdom are called to serve fully. No Christian is held to a higher level of accountability for his or her character than another. Jesus bled so that all of us could be holy and set apart, not just a few.
Now it is true that leaders are held to a stricter accountability, but that is true whether they are paid to lead or not. And regardless of accountability, each of us is called to a holy life. None is called to a more holy life than another.


Cody Pope said...

What you're saying resonates with me. However, how do you square that with the existence of the Apostles and elders (1Tim 3)? It seems like they were singled out and commissioned by the laying on of hands for a special work that was different from the general population of disciples.

Chris said...

Actually, I was thinking of 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul talks about how he uses his freedom. He says that he has a right (as do many others) to earn their living from the gospel. He never disputes that claim; he only says that he doesn't USE the right. He doesn't contend with those that do, and he doesn't prescribe it for everyone or for a select group; he just says that if one preaches the gospel for a living (within the bounds of "what is beneficial") then one has a right to make their living from just that.

Anonymous said...

While I believe that you have a point, I do think that one needs to be careful in not singling out pastors as the only professionals who fit this role or this genre. I also believe that other professionals, who may also feel "called" to their profession who may also use it in a missional (sp?) way are also called to higher standards of accountability and responsibility. For example, teachers and physicians and psychologists/counselors all also fall into that category. Their practices must be held to a high ethical and moral responsibility and accountability. In the secular world, the maintaining of their licensing to practice depends upon it! But in the spiritual sense, they also can be elevated to that same pedestal, particularly if they are serving on missions trips and other mission-oriented tasks.

Our society tends to "rank" people in terms of their stature and "holiness" and "worthiness" based on the profession they chose or were "called to" and the broken people of the church are also a part of the larger society and can fall into that same ranking trap. SOME pastors/clergy fight this pedestal ranking behavior and present themselves as real people, sinners in need of Jesus just as much as the "flock" members they are overseeing. Perhaps not enough, but some are.

Neil Cole said...

Cody, check out my comments under the next blog post for some answer to your question. Good question btw.