Author: Keith Sharp
The various denominations divide their membership between the clergy and the laity. The laity are the “people in the pew,” those who are members but not in leadership positions. The clergy is the leadership of the church, the professionals. In some, such as the Catholic Church, their authority is almost complete. The laity depend upon them to tell them what to believe and to administer the “sacraments,” which are supposedly the avenues through which the spiritual blessings come from god. In Protestant denominations their authority is not as total.
In all the denominations, the clergy are supposed to be divinely called to their office. But if this were the case, they should be able to perform miraculous signs to confirm their calling. Jesus called His twelve apostles to go the lost sheep of the house of Israel and gave them great power to prove they were His spokesmen (Matthew 10:1-5); later He sent seventy to the same people with the same message and likewise endowed them with miraculous power (Luke 10:1,9,17); and later still He sent His apostles to the world and gave them the ability to authenticate their message with miracles (Mark 16:14-20; Acts 1:1-8; 2 Corinthians 12:12). If I am to accept that a man or woman is specially called by the Lord to an office in the church, I want to see him, or her, perform miracles to prove it.
Even the apostles of Christ did not exercise dominion (“lord it over” – NASB, ESV) the faith of others (2 Corinthians 1:24), even though they spoke for Christ as His ambassadors and revealed His will (2 Corinthians 5:18-20; John 16:13-15). Regardless of who speaks to us in the flesh, we, as the Bereans, must search the Scriptures to see if the message is true (Acts 17:10-12).
The clergy/laity distinction is unknown to the Scriptures. None is to “lord it over” others (Matthew 20:25-28), but we are all brethren (Matthew 23:8). The Lord forbade His disciples to wear special clothing to set them apart as holy, to be called by honorary titles of distinction, or in other ways to seek or accept religious honor from men (Matthew 23:5-12). We should refuse to call any man “Father” or “reverend” as religious titles.
When He ascended on high the Lord did set offices in His church for the purpose of building up Christians into the likeness of Christ and achieving the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:7-16).
The Lord selected and appointed apostles for the whole church to bear witness to His resurrection, to reveal His will, and to take the gospel to the world (Acts 1:1-8). The very same apostles still rule the church through the New Testament they revealed and recorded (Luke 22:14, 29-30). They have no modern successors, since there are no living witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:21-26; 1 Corinthians 15:8-9).
Likewise the Holy Spirit endowed both men and women with the gift of prophecy (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Acts 2:17; 21:8-9) to speak the will of God by inspiration (cf. Amos 3:7-8), but with the completion of the New Testament revelation the gift of prophecy ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).
Christ Jesus also set the office of evangelist into the church (Ephesians 4:11). Evangelists (those who bring good tidings) are also called preachers (heralds, messengers; 2 Timothy 4:2,5), and ministers (servants) of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 4:6). Evangelists, rather than being officers in the local church, are preachers wherever they work (Acts 8:5,40; 21:8). They do not have to travel to be evangelists, since Philip the evangelist remained in Caesarea for at least around twenty years (Acts 8:40; 21:8). They have fellowship (share in the work of the Lord) with the congregations where they preach and who assist them in their work (Philippians 4:15-16).
The offices within the local church are listed in Philippians 1:1, and there are only two, “bishops” and “deacons.”
The term “bishop” means overseer (Vine) and is so translated in Acts 20:28. The same men called “bishops” or “overseers” in the local church are also called “elders” (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5,7; 1 Peter 5:1-2), meaning “a senior” (Thayer), and “shepherds” (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2) or “pastors” (Ephesians 4:11). They are to rule in the local church (1 Timothy 5:17) and to care for the spiritual condition of the congregation as a shepherd does the physical condition of his flock (1 Peter 5:1-2). They watch for their souls (Hebrews 13:17) and feed them the word of God (Ephesians 4:11).
There was always a plurality of elders / overseers / pastors in a local church (Acts 14:23; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5), and they serve only in the local church where they are members (1 Peter 5:1-2). Thus, the denominational “one man pastor” system is not found in Scripture, nor should any man or group of men make decisions for more than one congregation. All officers in a local church are to be chosen by the members of the church from among the members (Acts 6:1-6). The qualifications a man must meet to be chosen as an elder are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7,11 and Titus 1:5-9.
The congregation also is to choose deacons (servants) from among the members to serve the local church in material duties (Philippians 1:1; Acts 6:1-4). Their qualifications are found in Acts 6:3 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13).
These offices do not constitute a clergy apart from and superior to the members, but are simply functions that those who have met certain divinely given requirements are selected by the congregation from among the members to perform.
Women must not serve in any position where they teach over men or rule over men (1 Corinthians 11:3; 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-12). Women may serve the congregation in ways in harmony with their role of submission to the men (Romans 16:1-2).
All members of the congregation are to actively serve the Lord and one another as they have opportunity and ability (Philippians 1:1; Romans 12:4-8; Matthew 25:14-30). The idea of a laity that simply sits in the pews and contributes money to the church without actively participating in the work of the congregation is also unknown in Scripture. Every member of the local body is to do his/her share (Ephesians 4:16; Romans 12:4-8).
This is the divine pattern for the organization of the local church, and we must hold it fast (2 Timothy 1:13).