They’re willing to do all the work, and the Christians are willing to let them.
When you look at the local churches in the New Testament, you’ll notice that they have certain characteristics that are very unlike most churches today. One that really stands out is the absence of what we might think of as a separated clergy class.
For someone seeking an authentic experience of fellowship in a local body (in the same sense that first century Christians experienced it)—things like “having all things common”—this disconnect can be a real stumbling block. So, you might ask the valid question, where do clergy come from? And why?
One brother at Myrtle Beach Bible Chapel (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina), explained it without judgement or guile this way: “They’re willing to do all the work, and the Christians are willing for them to do all the work.” That’s a pretty simple, practical, direct, and somewhat helpful explanation. But it still leaves some big questions.
Here are a few thoughts that might be helpful.
One of the common misunderstandings of the local church is that it is merely an organization or institution.
If you look at it that way, you tend to think of its leadership structure the way you would think of a business enterprise, charitable or educational institution, governmental body, or military organization. These all have hierarchical leadership (a person at the very top, a group of senior leaders answering to that person, a larger group of middle managers answering to them, and then the rank and file).
When you apply this institutional model to the local assembly (church), you assume a church (if it is to be successful) needs to have similar executive-style leadership. And, following this thinking, you’ll need a strong, charismatic head (pastor, CEO). And below him, silo leaders (specialists who oversee specific things like education, counseling, music, outreach…family, youth, children…singles), so you can grow and provide the services your members require (value proposition your customers demand). And, since everyone wants to be close to his or her leader(s), you’ll also need middle managers taking charge of smaller groups of members (customer affinity groups).
Of course, that’s not how the local church functions in the New Testament. There, Christ is the strong man at the top. All others are “living stones in the building.” So what’s the deal? Is the New Testament model only for the first century or two? Are we living in such unique and demanding times that we require a whole different model?
Well, it’s most likely that our brother’s thought (they’re willing to do it, we’re willing to let them), some ambitious (if misguided) people in Church history, and traditions and habits established over the course of 2000 years all provide parts of the explanation.
They think they’re Israel.
When you blur the lines between the Old and New Testaments…
Many models for local church structure (and even visions of the Universal Church) are based on teachings that blur the lines between the Old and New Testaments. The thinking goes something like this:
- Israel had a separated priesthood (from the tribe of Levi), so the Church must have a separated priesthood.
- Israel had a group of Levites whose job it was to sing, so the Church must have special “singers,” who are separated for holy ceremonies.
- There were certain ceremonial features of Israel’s religious practice—days, feasts, smells, garments, furnishings, practices…sacred architecture. So these things must be required of the Church as well.
You can see these things in High Church practice, and in particular in “sacred traditions,” such as the Orthodox Churches—certain incense is used, bells are rung, specific music is played or sung, all of which is reserved just for their specific purposes. For example, in a Greek Orthodox Church building, you’ll likely find an area of the building called the “holy of holies,” where only priests may go.
This is very unlike any example we see of the local churches in the New Testament. But, when you blur the lines between the Old and New Testaments, and when you conflate Israel and the Church, then it becomes not only acceptable, but necessary that you have a separated clergy (or priesthood), because Israel does.
Kingdom of priests.
For every responsibility given to the Church, and to the local assembly, God gives gifting.
God’s model, going all the way back to Exodus 19:6, was to have a people for himself, made up entirely of “priests.” Exodus uses the term, “kingdom of priests,” applied to Israel. Revelation 1:6 and Revelation 5:10 use a similar term applied to the Church. We are, by virtue of being in Christ, a kingdom of priests. So, what does that mean?
One implication is for every responsibility given to the Church and to the local assembly, God gives gifting to people in the churches to fulfill the responsibility. The job of a priest is work. Dealing with specific schedules. Activities. Being at the beck and call of the Lord. It’s the same with all Christians. We are gifted so that we can do all of the work the Lord wants done. As he gives us the opportunity and the inclination, so he gifts us with the capability.
Practical application of Gifting.
Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 (you can remember it as “the 12s”) give pretty good outlines of the various gifts and how they are to be used. Every Christian has Divinely-granted gifting, by virtue of our salvation. If you’re saved, you’re gifted. But each Christian is uniquely gifted. You are actually tooled and timed to do things for the Lord that only you are suited to do.
God has plans for the Church. We are to proclaim the Gospel, teach the Bible, help and serve each other, pray for each other and for the lost, discern (and correct) error and deceit, administer the local assembly… We are to do God’s business on God’s behalf. How do we do all that?
Well, the Lord gives each Christian certain gifts. He fits us together with our brothers and sisters in local churches. He puts the work before us, gives us the discernment to recognize it, the appetite to do it, and the ability to accomplish it.
One inference of fellowship (as in, “they continued steadfastly in fellowship”) is “enterprise.” When you’re in fellowship in a local assembly, it’s as if you are a partner in an enterprise.
The church of ME.
The local assembly is designed to be an enterprise, in which everyone has a part.
One common misunderstanding of the Church in the 21st Century is a service to which I subscribe, as part of a broader program of balanced and wholesome living for myself and my family. When you fall into seeing the church this way, you tend to pick and choose from the offerings, services, and programs, based on what you believe you and your family need. Of course, in light of the New Testament model, it’s easy to see the problem.
Since the local assembly is designed to be an enterprise, in which everyone has a part, in which each person has a job to do…what happens if you only show up for the parts you like…or the parts from which you take away something of value to you? What would happen if everyone did that? Very soon, the local church would fall apart.
- you have a source of funding…
- you have popular programs that draw crowds…
- you have an exciting performance each Sunday, that stokes you up, thrills your senses and emotions, and even fulfills you intellectually…even gives you good things to do and say in the community…
- you can afford the building, lighting, technology, and special effects…
- you can afford to hire the musicians, singers, set designers, lighting technicians…
- you can build a “leadership team” of motivational speakers, life coaches, counselors, and activity directors…
If you have all those things, then you can keep the local church going, without most people even needing to know what a spiritual gift is (or even being saved), let alone identifying and using their own gifts. And that’s…
…where clergy comes from, and why.
Parenthesis is a New Testament assembly work, created to inspire Millennials to look into the person of Jesus Christ, by looking into the Bible. Find out about (and register for) upcoming events here.